I’ve been asked to comment on this thread about “Apostolic Succession”:
I don’t have much time to spend on this, but I do want to suggest that any Protestants who are thinking of “crossing the tiber” over this issue — and even those who have — ought to give some serious consideration to the overview that Jason Engwer did on this topic:
Jason digs deeply into the earliest church and determines what they believed, based on what they really said. Contrast this with Bryan’s method here. For any of you who have studied the New Testament in any detail, note that Bryan does not make an exegetical argument for the current papacy/magisterium from the New Testament and from “what the Fathers believed”. Rather, he begins with the current situation as a mere assumption, and then he goes back and finds quotes that “kinda sorta” support some notion in the direction of what he’s trying to prove.
For example, Bryan cites Irenaeus extensively on succession lists in Rome. But he offers this in isolation. There is no consideration whatsoever for the context that Irenaeus is writing in, nor even the other things that Irenaeus wrote about. Consider:
The historian Eric Osborn, in a recent study of Irenaeus, concludes:
“The subjection of all churches to Rome would be unthinkable for Irenaeus.” (Irenaeus Of Lyons [New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005], p. 130)
The Roman primacy Irenaeus refers to is a result of non-papal factors, such as the Roman church’s historical relationship with two prominent apostles, its familiarity to other churches, and probably its location in the capital of the empire. Irenaeus believed in a form of Roman primacy that doesn’t imply a papacy.
Why are Catholics going to this passage in Irenaeus to begin with? A few hundred pages of Irenaeus’ writings are extant, and we have descriptions of some of his non-extant writings. He frequently addressed issues of authority, repeatedly appealing to the authority of the apostles, the authority of those who knew the apostles, the authority of scripture, etc. He never appeals to papal authority, nor does he ever even mention it. Yet, Catholics so often tell us that the papacy is the foundation of the church, the center of unity, that it’s the solution to a wide variety of problems in Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy, etc. How likely is it that Irenaeus would have believed in the concept of a papacy, yet would have said so little of it? The fact that discussions of the papacy in Irenaeus place so much emphasis on this one passage, which doesn’t actually say anything of a papacy, is revealing.
Bryan also posits the false dilemma, “who has greater proximity and historical authority, Irenaeus or Francis Sullivan?”
Francis Sullivan has a complete record of the history of the church. He is able to cross-check his facts against things that other writers from that time period were saying as well. And it’s true, various witnesses say different things. In some cases this may be acceptable; in other cases, there are direct contradictions. Irenaeus is generally reliable, but he has a somewhat narrow and faulty view. For example, Irenaeus holds that Jesus lived until he was 50 years old, something that is contradicted by many other factors. As well, Irenaeus clearly states that Peter and Paul “founded” the church of Rome. But Paul’s letter to the Romans clearly speaks against the notion that Paul founded that church, and as the movements of Peter are traced, there is virtually no evidence that Peter was even in Rome, much less than that spent 25 years there (as has been traditionally held for centuries).
Too, the records are muddied, given that (as I’ve written), some early witnesses clearly say that Paul ordained Linus (who is traditionally given as the first “pope” after Peter. What does that do to the supposedly “petrine” succession? What does that say about Irenaeus’s “succession list”?
I point this out because Bryan cites Wilson for not having demonstrated “gaps”. There is a huge gap here, and it is from an early source that was protected from Roman meddling.
Bryan is just too sure of himself and his Catholic dogmas — it is the result of the method he uses, simply to assume Catholic dogma is correct. But his “proof texts” are highly questionable.
Another point of his method is that he does not examine official sources of Protestant doctrines. He does not seek out the best sources who write about “apostolic succession.” He picks a questionable writer in Doug Wilson. Wilson is knowledgeable, but he hardly speaks for even one of the traditions within Protestantism.
Francis Turretin explores the topic of “succession” in the context of “the definition of what the church is” in Book 3 of his “Institutes. Yet (in the tradition of Karl Keating, who “tore apart” Jimmy Swaggart’s arguments in “Catholicism and Fundamentalism”) Bryan picks apart the works of second-tier Protestant commentators like Doug Wilson and Keith Mathison, whose arguments are weak to begin with.
In considering whether to “cross the tiber,” it is not a legitimate exercise to compare the whole Roman package with individual second-rate commenters.
The legitimate way to consider Rome’s legitimacy is to consider its claims, and examine its claims directly, and render a verdict on Rome itself. If you can dismiss Roman claims as not being true, then you survey the Christian world, and what you are left with, however improbable (that is, however improbable Bryan thinks it is), that is where the truth lies.