From Peter to Francis: A Biblically Misguided Route

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to replace him brings up, once again, the Roman Catholic claim that the pope is the successor of the apostle Peter as the head of the church of Jesus Christ here on earth. To the Catholic, Francis now sits on Peter’s throne.

The first question to be determined, of course, is: Did Peter have a throne? If he really was the early church’s proto-pope, then it’s reasonable to assume he had a throne—or at least something like it. And if he left a successor, who in turn left a successor and so on, then I suppose it’s reasonable to say Francis is now the throne’s rightful owner. This is the first question to consider since the mere fact of the office’s existence deserves to be examined in light of the Word of God. After all, Catholics and Protestants take Scripture to be authoritative and infallible. A concept with such incredible import, then, must have some kind of biblical foundation. But does it?

To be fair, it’s true the Lord Jesus distinguished Peter from the other disciples on several occasions. He was among the first to be called (Matt. 4:18) and his name always appears first on lists of the Twelve (Matt. 10:2, Mark 3:16). Jesus includes him among his closest disciples (Matt. 17:1). It was to Peter that Jesus said, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:17), and it was to Peter that he spoke the famous words: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:18-19).

However, it’s not apparent in Scripture or church history that Peter had preeminence over his colleagues or other Christians. It’s also not apparent that his fellow apostles, other local churches, or even Peter himself recognized his role in the church as exclusive in its representation of Jesus Christ. Certainly he was respected and revered as a leader, but these readily admitted realities do nothing to bolster Rome’s contention that the pope functions as an infallible mouthpiece of God.

The Bible is clear on this point. The apostle Paul felt perfectly comfortable confronting and scolding Peter publicly when he acted improperly toward Gentile believers in Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14). Moreover, it was the apostle James—not Peter—who served as the leader at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and when a decision was made it was sent on behalf of the “apostles and elders.” Clearly, first-century Christians didn’t esteem Peter in a separate category.

Matthew’s Gospel corroborates this point, such that Jesus’ promises to Peter were never understood as an exclusive delegation to Peter alone. In fact, just a few chapters later Matthew applies the same responsibility to the entire congregation:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them. (Matt. 18:15-18)

It’s instructive to note how Paul viewed Peter. Along with Apollos and himself, Paul views Peter as a mere instrument through which God accomplishes his work (1 Cor. 3:22). He certainly recognizes Peter as a leader in the Jerusalem church—but among other apostles (Gal. 1:18-19). He mentions they were pillars of the church, but then proceeds to narrate the episode in which he openly confronted Peter (Gal. 2:11). Quite revealing is what Paul writes about his own calling: “For he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles” (Gal. 2:8). According to Paul, then, the same Spirit enables these two apostles; no apostolic hierarchy exists.

Indeed, not even Peter saw himself as a primus inter pares. When he entered Cornelius’s house to preach the gospel, the Roman centurion knelt before him in devotion. Peter, however, eschews the response: “Arise, I also am a man” (Acts 10:26). It seems no one in the first century—not even Peter himself—assumed Jesus intended him to be the unique intermediary on which the Christian church through all time would be built.

How Did God Preserve the Gospel?

This introduces a second question: Is there such a thing as legitimate Petrine succession? Here, it’s apt to quote Peter’s own words. In 2 Peter 1, aware of his impending death, he exhorts Christians to guard the memory of the gospel that the apostles had preached to them. And how does he do this? Not by pointing to a supreme successor, but by recording truth in the sacred pages of Scripture.

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet. 1:19-21)

So how did God design the preservation of his gospel? The answer isn’t through a pope or person, but through a book written over centuries by persons “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” God’s trustworthy revelation in the gospel is preserved via the infallible, authoritative Word. It’s clear Peter desires to leave a legacy, which these letters are sufficient to do as they keep Christians aware of all God desired them—and us—to know. There’s no notion here of an eventual replacement, of someone taking his place to pass on to other successors the treasure of the Christian faith.

Put simply, I don’t question Francis as the leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Nor do I question him as the legitimate papal successor to Benedict XVI. What I do question is any understanding of Christianity that puts forward Francis, Peter, or any other man as the exclusive, infallible head of the church—Christ’s vicar with unique status before God.

  • the Old Adam

    “What I do question is any understanding of Christianity that puts forward Francis, Peter, or any other man as the exclusive, infallible head of the church—Christ’s vicar with unique status before God.”


    Me too.

    We have one mediator and it is Christ Jesus.

    Isn’t that good enough? Apparently not for Rome.

  • Anthony Shook

    I was raised in the Roman Catholic church and have questioned this “apostolic succession” for some time (since coming to understand and surrender to the claims of Jesus on my life). I still remember the rituals of the Catholic Church (not sure if they’ve changed as it has been many years since I went to a Catholic service) and better appreciate now the emphasis on the holiness of God. Francis seems a man who is a fit leader for this church, just as any pastor must lead, but I hope that he will lead from the heart and not as some political power (though the pope does have such).

  • Theo K

    Excellent article!

    May God use it to open the eyes of the blind.

  • Pingback: Peter, the first Pope? | Effectual Grace()

  • Daniel Gardner

    Rev. Augustus, what an excellent article! Thank you for using your gifts — in both English and Portuguese — to help God’s people have stronger convictions regarding biblical doctrine.

  • Griffin Gulledge

    I don’t think you should cede: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 16:18-19), as proof Peter was singled out. As James White has often argued in his debates with Catholics, the early church fathers are divided on ‘this rock’. Many say the rock was the apostles, many the faith of Peter, but very few say it was Peter himself. That, in my mind, is their strongest argument for Peter’s primacy and I think we need not cede it to them.

    Thanks for the article! It was great.

  • Clay

    The notion of apostolic succession is there in the earliest writings of the Church. The writings of Clement I, Hegesippus, and Ireanaus all show that they understood the office of bishop to be established by the apostles and in succession to the apostles (all of them, not just Peter). These men served so close to the time of the apostles, that the only reasonable explanation for why they had this understanding of the bishop is that apostolic succession was part of the original Tradition established by the apostles themselves. All Christian groups who trace their historical roots to the apostles hold to apostolic succession.

  • Clay

    Also, to say that the gospel is preserved solely through the Bible is to ignore the role of the Church and her bishops (in succession to the apostles) in preserving correct, orthodox interpretation of the Scriptures.

  • Clay

    One more thing. “..if he left a successor, who in turn left a successor and so on, then I suppose it’s reasonable to say Francis is now the throne’s rightful owner.” This isn’t really how apostolic succession works. Apostolic succession goes beyond just the pope. All bishops are in apostolic succession because they were ordained by a bishop who was ordained by a bishop…who was ordained by an apostle. And there is no question that in the Scriptures we see the apostles ordaining leaders of the Church. So apostolic succession has more to do with the system of ordination within the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, maybe the Anglican churches than it does the succession of popes. After all, the pope does not appoint his successor, nor does any Eastern Orthodox primate appoint his successor. But I can’t tell if this article is criticizing the idea of apostolic succession in general, or just the current Roman Catholic understanding of the papacy (a criticism I would agree with).

  • Ali

    Oh really clay, so why does the eastern orthodo church nor agree?

  • Augustus Lopes

    Clay, the article is about the RC understanding of papacy, as the title says. I probably wasn’t too clear in the text, anyway. I will just say that in my understanding the truth is in the Scriptures. No bishop/elder/presbyter/pastor has the power to create new truth, add anything to the Scripture or subtract from it. Neither their interpretation of Scripture is the same as Scripture itself. God has preserved his revelation thru history by means of preserving the Scriptures and always keeping to himself a people – not necessarily bishops/etc. – who by the illumination and internal witness of the Holy Spirit, as they read the Bible, do receive the truth and pass it around/proclaim it. Thank you for your comments anyway, they helped me to clarify this point. Cheers.

    • Clay

      I agree that no bishop is infallible or has the ability to create new truth. And certainly some bishops have been heretics. But apostolic succession of bishops is a part of the Church’s tradition going back to the apostles themselves and has been a crucial part of how the Holy Spirit has preserved the gospel within the Church.

      • Augustus Lopes

        OK, Clay – so, just for me to understand you correctly: would you please name or indicate who are the bishops today that are the apostles’ rightfully successors?

        • Clay

          I belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church, so my belief is that Bishops within the communion of the Orthodox Church are today’s successors to the apostles both in lineage and in doctrine. Now that I go back and re-read your post, my comments might be off topic since you are discussing the papacy and not apostolic succession in general. Thanks for the discussion though.

          • Nick

            What is apostolic succession actually for? If it was to ensure the continued passing of the gospel tradition, then it makes more sense to say this is why the NT was written (and particularly it makes sense of why the letters and particularly the gospels were written when they were, particularly in relation to John and Peter).

            Apostolic succession, after the first century or two, makes no sense as a means for the continued passing on of the primitive gospel tradition, because current ‘apostles’ have no better insight into the ‘gospel’ outside of the written tradition than any lay person does! They may have studied them more, but that has nothing to do with succession. Hence why I believe the RC position centres on authority and a kind of hereditary regency – ecclesiastical authority makes more sense than doctrinal authority.

            • Clay

              Apostolic succession is a marker of the Church. Jesus promised that the gates of Hades would not prevail against the Church. Paul refers to the Church as the “pillar and ground of the Truth”. Ignatius of Antioch, disciple to the Apostle John, taught that the presence of the bishop was required for the gathering of the church to really be the “Church”. I used to be a protestant and was confused and frustrated by the contradictory doctrines and scriptural interpretations. Protestants don’t have a way to establish one interpretation as more authoritative than another. At least Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox can make a legitimate claim to being part of the actual Church who received and has passed down the original deposit of Faith, the Holy Tradition of the Church (which I should note is the Tradition which actually produced the Scriptures in the first place). I think its fairly easy to see how the RC Church added new things to that Tradition over time. I found that the Eastern Orthodox Church has apostolic succession, which as I said has always been a sign of where the the Church is, and has not added to the teaching of the apostles. So to me, that’s the point of apostolic succession – a marker of authority and apostolicity in a world of contradicting claims about what the Gospel really is.

            • Nick


              Thanks for the response. I think what you’ve pointed out is at the crux of what the RC and Protestants (and perhaps Orths) argue about over apostolic authority. Apostolic authority, if it is anything, is not about formulating doctrine, at least in the sense of adding to Scripture, if we remember that the NT itself is largely a written copy of the apostolic deposit. I am willing to accept that it may have something to do with interpretation, but clearly apostolic succession is not a guarantee of correct teaching (I think we would agree the RC is case in point). What if the church disagrees with its leadership? Peter himself exhorts the churches to watch out for false teachers (2 Peter 2), so clearly leaders can stuff up

              Speaking as a Reformed Anglican, I am well familiar with episcopal authority, but that authority itself is founded under Scripture, not alongside it. While Ignatius has a lot to say about bishops, it’s not clear to what extent this ecclesiastical structure was universal throughout the first and second century churches. While Ignatius says nothing is to be done in connection with the church without the bishop (by which he means without the bishop’s authority), we also have to read this against the words of Jesus, that whenever two or more gather in his name, there He is also (Matt 18:20). So what does he mean by authority, and what specific relationship does this have with the operation of the church (because it clearly does not mean all Christian activity by members of the church)?

              In any case, I think it is safe to say even the words of Ignatius do not have doctrinal formation in mind. The sacraments are mentioned (Smyra 8), but not interpretation of Scripture. It’s worth pointing out that Ignatius often enjoins submission to all pastoral offices, not just the episcopate, in equal measure, and in fact talks about the authority of the Bishop not in terms of a succession, but simply in terms of being a ‘type’ of the relationship of God, the apostles, and the institution of the church (Magnesians 6).

              The problem I have with the phrase ‘apostolic succession’ is that it intimates a passing of some special apostolic authority or secret knowledge in relation to right interpretation of Scripture, in a chinese whispers kind of way. The reality is that a bishop has no more insight into doctrine than any other non ordained person trained at a theological college – the difference is the authority that they carry in the episcopal office. However, authority can be used wrongly, as the Pauline letters attest, and as I’ve argued, it’s not at all clear that that authority allows a bishop to interpret Scripture in a way that is additive to Scripture or otherwise in conflict with the interpretation of the Body of the Church.

              I agree that interpretation is in large part guided by leadership – no Protestant would deny that. But the authority of leaders is derived from Christ by virtue of their place of leadership, and their doctrine is founded on the words of the apostles in Scripture, not from succession.

              And it’s a misnomer to say the Tradition we have now is the same Tradition (read: oral teaching of the apostles) that existed in the first century, as if that Tradition somehow has been sustained seperately (but concurrently). That is precisely why the teachings of Jesus and the apostles were written down – to preserve the original oral teachings beyond the lifespan of the teachers. So if you’re going to say Tradition produced Scripture, then you have to also concede that Scripture is a much better record of the Tradition than tradition is.

              Finally, it’s always dangerous to simply say that your church is where the Church is because it has not changed its teaching. The RC’s believe that. We’d both agree that they’re wrong. So what then is the standard of truth for their own Tradition, if the Tradition is itself corrupt? How do we know that your Tradition, or my Tradition, isn’t similarly corrupted? How much better to test against Scripture, in which it is possible to see uncorrupted apostolic teaching?

            • Clay

              Ultimately apostolic succession matters because of the Eucharist. Ignatius of Antioch wrote no bishop = no Eucharist (and no Baptism). And Jesus says no Eucharist = no life (as an Anglican surely you would agree with that interpretation of John 6:53). Ignatius was a disciple of the Apostle John, so this teaching about the connection between the bishop and the Eucharist is clearly part of the apostolic tradition.

              As to your last comment about how we know that one tradition is right vs. another, there are no easy answers. I have come to the conclusion I have come to through prayer and studies, but others much smarter and more pious than me have come to other conclusions, and I don’t judge. But the fact that there are schisms doesn’t bother me – the Scriptures are clear that there will be schisms from the Church. Apostasy is to be expected. But that doesn’t mean pluralism and relativism should be accepted as the norm as it has been in protestant denominationalism. There is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, therefore the Church must be one. Ultimately that’s why I chose to join the Orthodox Church – I see a clear unity in the worship and teaching of the Orthodox Church today with the Church as it has existed for the past 2,000 years. And today, the Orthodox Church is located across diverse geographical areas where the Church developed during different times and within very different cultures, yet there is unity in worship and doctrine. That to me is a sign of the life of the Holy Spirit – it’s inexplicable any other way.

  • Jason

    I appreciate what Clay points out about apostolic succession going back to the apostles themselves, as a way of preserving the message of the gospel…in the absence of the New Testament.

    My knowledge of Church history is admittedly spotty, but isn’t this concept of apostolic succession what St. Iranaeus was using to combat gnostic heresy when he wrote (in Book 3, chapter 4 of his Against Heresies):
    “Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?”

    So in the absence of a full canon, what recourse did the early church have?

    • David Hoffelmeyer

      Apostolic succession was an important argument used by early church fathers to defend the gospel against heresies. However, the idea wasn’t, “We are the God-ordained successors to the throne(s) of God’s kingdom,” but rather, “We are followers and actual disciples of the original apostles, so why listen to these gnostics and Marcionites who reject the Prophets’ and Apostles’ teaching?”

      Apostolic succession originally wasn’t about the papacy, but about the church recognizing true doctrine versus heresy.

      • David Hoffelmeyer

        Justo Gonzalez wrote a great chapter on this very issue in the first volume of The Story of Christianity. I think the old edition is available on Kindle for a decent price, and you could probably get a used paperback on Amazon. Anyhow, it’s a fun and very enlightening read on Church History from a reformed perspective.

  • Justin

    I think there are quite a few nuances missing from the argument here. I think that those who would like to know more could check out a debate on this issue (between 2 good debaters):

    • Monica

      Nice. Great minds think alike, I wrote many similar points myself.

  • Niko

    Hello Mr. Lopes, I wrote a response to your article on my tumblr. I linked to it here in case you wanted to take a look at it.

    • Augustus Lopes

      Thanks, Niko, I will make sure I will read it. please forgive me if no proper response from me appears – I am in the middle of post-doctoral research here in Philadelphia, so little time to have fun with he friends. Cheers!

  • Augustus Lopes

    Clay, I sincerely see no material difference between the claims of the Orthodox Church and that of Roman Church to the apostolic succession. Either one of you is right or both wrong, as believe. As far as I know, this was the reason for the original schism in the 5th century. My main point is that you put tradition on the same level as Scripture and from the writings of selected Fathers you infer that the apostles left a succession of bishops. I see none of this in Scripture. Actually I have nothing more to say to you than what already was said by Calvin and other reformers as to the pretensions of apostolic succession. If you were confused by the different lines of evangelical churches it is because you probably never understood what is the core of Gospel truth, that has been held, believed and defended by Christians and that can be summed up in salvation by faith alone in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, very man and very God. However believes in this, whether be an Orthodox, a Roman Catholic or an evangelical there you find true apostolic succession. So, there is a beautiful unity among the rich variety of evangelicalism/reformed/protestant churches. Your claim to be the only true church sounds a bit narrow. I have a more modest claim: wherever the Gospel is faithfully preached according to the Scriptures there you find the Church. Given the choice between a church with apostolic succession and a false gospel, or a church without succession but with a true gospel, the biblical solutions seems clear to me: choose the church with the true gospel.

    • Clay

      “I sincerely see no material difference between the claims of the Orthodox Church and that of Roman Church to the apostolic succession.” I think this is probably true. I don’t think the Orthodox would dispute Rome’s claim to apostolic succession in terms of lineage. We would say that Rome departed from the apostolic faith by adding to it with doctrines such as papal infallibility/universal authority, Immaculate Conception, and others. But the schism happened in 1054, not the 5th century.

      “Wherever the Gospel is faithfully preached according to the Scriptures there you find the Church.” This begs the question, what is the Gospel according to the Scriptures? Whose interpretation of Scripture is right? There are many points of departure between Orthodox doctrine and reformed protestant doctrine. And the Orthodox are just as capable as reformed protestants of proof-texting their doctrine. This is why Tradition is so important. It involves the Scriptures, which are part of Tradition, but also includes the interpretation of Scripture.

      • Augustus Lopes

        Clay, what I meant with the 5th century was that the Assyrians and Orientals left the Orthodox Church in the years after the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), in refusal to accept some of that council’s doctrinal decisions. Of course the schism came much later.

        The Gospel according to the Scriptures is that one preached by the apostles and that anyone can read and understand, like: “I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you— unless you believed in vain.
        For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1Co 15.1-3). I don’t need a bishop to understand that or John 3.16. By introducing tradition you create a mediator besides Christ to God and prevent people to openly read and by themselves come to the knowledge of truth, subjecting their minds and consciences to a lineage of bishops. People have read their Bibles without bishops and have come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Sorry, Clay. I rather stay in the freedom of the Gospel. Rest my case here and stop here. May the Lord bless you.

        • Clay

          You are right, there are some, even many, things in Scripture that are plain and clear that all little “o” orthodox Christians can agree on. But there are many things which are not so clear. For example, if the Gospel is that Christ died to give me life, then the question of how do I receive that life becomes of utmost importance. Passages like John 6:53, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” speak to that question but are not self explanatory. It is only within the context of the apostolic understanding of the Eucharist that that passage makes any sense. So in this way, I supposed that you could say Tradition is a mediator, not in opposition to Christ, but to lead someone to Christ by explaining how Christ comes to us in Holy Eucharist.

          • Augustus Lopes

            Glad you agree. As for your example, John 6:53, if you follow the golden rule of interpretation – the Bible is its best own interpreter, that is, read the context and other passages for the meaning of a not so clear one – it will become clear that by eating his flesh and drinking his blood Jesus meant people believing in him and thus, by faith, feasting in him and being nourished in him, of which, of course, will also happen in the Lord’s Supper if you take the elements in faith. Jesus had said that those who believed in him have eternal life (5.47) and then used the figure of eating bread and drinking wine as an illustration of this. When it caused scandal among the Jews, and many went awasy, Jesus said to his disciples, “But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father” (5:64-65). So, it is pretty clear from the context that to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus is the same as receiving him by faith as the Son of God, our Savior.

            This example you brought makes it clear the biggest difference between Orthodox and Reformed Christians, that is: the concept of Sola Scriptura, that asserts that the Word of God alone can be clearly understood and interpreted by the individual believer and is sufficient on its own to be the final authority in Christian doctrine. Orthodoxy argues that the Holy Scriptures (as interpreted and defined by church teaching in the first seven ecumenical councils) along with Holy Tradition are of equal value and importance.

            So I guess we can argue a long time to no avail. Our pressupositions are clearly put before each other and I guess I understood your point. Thank you for that.

            • Clay

              Yes, the presupposition issue is why I felt compelled to post in the first place. As your post’s title illustrates, you are relying on your presupposition of Sola Scriptura to argue that apostolic succession is misguided. But that will not convince Catholics or Orthodox of anything because we do not hold to Sola Scriptura in the first place. So you’re sort of preaching to the choir. But then again it was posted on a reformed protestant website, so I guess that was the point.

            • Clay

              Also, “Sola Scriptura” is an extra-Biblical tradition itself, since the Bible does not teach Sola Scripture. So I come back to my earlier statement that we all give authority to some kind of tradition – it’s unavoidable.

  • Augustus Lopes

    As for what Calvin says about apostolic succession, I suggest to those interested to take a look at the several quotes from his writings somewhere in the middle section of this site. I found it very helpful:

  • Clay

    I’ll also add that extra-biblical tradition is not only important, it is unavoidable. The Scriptures are not some kind of systematic, self-explanatory theological textbook. They have to be interpreted, which involves tradition. The question is, where and when did any given church’s tradition originate?

    • Nick

      Clay, I’m interested in putting some meat on this interpretation issue. Pick a passage from Scripture with some doctrinal content in it. Then we’ll discuss it and see if we can’t come to some agreement about what the interpretation is. Probably stick with something written by Paul, John or Peter, so the apostolic theme is clearer.

      My feeling from my time in high Anglican churches, and also from spending a lot of time with Anglicans and Catholics, is that often people will appeal to teaching from Tradition early on in the piece to make sense of Scripture, rather than using Scripture to interpret Scripture, and exhausting that possibility as much as possible before resorting to Tradition. I came to think that this was strange, because if the NT contains the clearest conceptualisation of the apostolic deposit (this is a reasonable assumption, given the influence of the disciples on their writing), then one would want to understand them as much as possible on their own terms before resorting to later interpretations several steps removed.

    • Dave

      Clay and Augustus, I appreciate what you’ve both mentioned. As an Anglican, I continue to wrestle with and have sympathies for both your and Augustus’s thoughts (hence, the reason for me being Anglican). I long for the day that Reformed, Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican and other Christians can have a journey forward in dialogue, asking for the Holy Spirit’s help in how to address the clear divisions we have in front of us. The world is becoming more depraved each day, having no desire for the Lordship of Jesus Christ and, while we shouldn’t pretend there aren’t clear doctrinal differences between us, we should always be mindful of Jesus’s prayer in John 17.

    • Paul

      I applaud Augustus and Clay for having a clear and civilized debate on the differences between the Protestant and Orthodox traditions. This discussion is truly one that builds up a person instead of creating useless dissension. Being a Protestant believer myself, I have struggled deeply with the claims of the Eastern Orthodox church, and this dialogue made the points of contention very clear for me.

      On the whole, I have found that those devoted to Orthodoxy belief tend to possess a level head and a sensitivity to things(which can’t be said about the majority of those in the Protestant church.)However, I have decided to adhere to my Protestant roots, and here is why:

      It says in Romans 10:8-10 (HCSB) – “On the contrary, what does it say? The message is near you, in your mouth and in your heart. This is the message of faith that we proclaim: If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation.”

      No matter what presupposition you hold to, if you have any respect for the Scriptures, I believe that the message of salvation through faith alone that does not depend on the partaking of communion/Eucharist is self evident and extremely clear. How could the verse be any clearer than this.

      While I was contemplating the claims of the Orthodox Church, I had once visited an Orthodox Church. I found the church very beautiful, but being a Korean-American, I realized that if I chose to join the Orthodox Church, I was faced with leaving the comforts of my own culture and upbringing to embrace a foreign culture and aesthetics that was foreign to me. However, this is not the way of the gospel. The gospel infiltrates and redeems the culture as it is to transform it to be unique and pleasing to God, our Father,in its own way. I believe Apostle Paul was very clear on this (sorry for lack of references, I want to wrap this up.)

      Lastly, as Augustus Lopez pointed out above, I absolutely feel that the claims of the Orthodox church(however well-meaning they are)is harmful to the spiritual life of the believer who received the gospel in its purity. It undermines the confidence he has before God, which is built up on the foundation of the promises made by the WORD of the gospel. It is harmful to the conscience and the soul.

      James 1:27 says “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in the distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
      Yes, we Protestants are messy, disorganized and divided on certain doctrines; however, from what I’ve seen, the Protestant church is more active and involved in its service to the community than any other church or religion. The Eastern Orthodox may have very beautiful and profound doctrines (particularly the doctrine of the Holy Trinity), but the Protestant Church is spurred by the love of God found in the simplicity of the gospel: the forgiveness of sins found in Jesus Christ, which is received through hearing, pure and simple.

  • Augustus Lopes

    Clay, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate every tradition that can be proved to be biblical. I am more like those guys at Berea that “were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17.11) – even though they were taught by Paul. I can find biblical evidence for Sola Scriptura, but cannot find any for apostolic succession to bishops and praying to dead people.

    And, yes, preaching to the choir is also good, some people there may need to hear it again. Or even a friend like you, who was just passing and is welcome.

    • Clay

      As a point of correction, the Orthodox do not pray to dead people. We request the prayers of saints who have departed this life but are very much alive in Christ.

  • Monica

    I had rather a few thoughts in response to this, a bit long for a comment:

  • Adam Borsay

    Clay asks a good question when he says, (paraphrased) that we can agree that it we are saved by Christ, but how do we know the mechanism by which we become saved? I personally do not find it so difficult to understand through Sola Scriptura that “repent and believe….declare with your lips the Jesus saves” and that it is not hard to “interpret” that. The question I would have for Clay, or any “tradition is necessary” camp is; Is it possible for someone who has no association with a Church to read scripture and come to a saving faith by responding to the work of the Holy Spirit? Or can they not be saved unless someone else instructs them on how to do it?

    • Clay

      It may be easy enough to interpret “repent a believe”, but that is a command to action, not mere mental assent. And I have found that living a life of true repentance is not easy at all. The Orthodox Church through her saints, sacraments and liturgy has helped me to learn how to repent, and this is the only proper response to the Gospel. I can only speak for myself – I don’t judge the state of anyone else’s heart. I did not understand true repentance or belief in God before coming into contact with the Orthodox Church.

  • Anglican

    I think this article is a great intro to this discussion, but my sense is that there are some more fundamental issues we need to engage with as Protestants to do justice to the arguments on both sides, both for ourselves and for Catholics. One of these is the relation between scripture, tradition and the authority of the church, and as an Anglican I can say that one of the resources that has been helpful for me has been the ecumenical discussion between our church and Catholics on this issue (ARCIC). You can find it here:

  • Scott Barber

    Hey All,

    Thank you for opening up the discussion here. Authority in the church is indeed such an important issue and we can’t think about it enough. Here is an article that might shed a bit of light on an issue that is in the background of any discussion of Petrine authority, namely apostolic succession. Let me know if you found it helpful at all!

  • Scott Barber

    While I’m at it, this is also a really helpful article on the Papacy:

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  • Jim E in Fl

    A Pope is only considered ‘infallible’ when speaking as the mind of the church (“ex cathedra”) on matters of faith and morals, and only then in conjunction with the entirety of the magesterium who have to agree unanimously on the declaration. The Pope cannot just wake up one day and issue an executive order stating “This is the way it is from now on!”. Well, he can, but it won’t be valid. The MOST he can do is compose and encyclical (or letter, also called a ‘bull’) that states his views on traditional teaching — such as ordination of women, antisemitism, marriage and family, pro-life issues, etc. (e.g., Humanae Vitae).

    Fair disclosure, I don’t believe he is infallible even when issuing an ex-cathedra statement, either. but if we are going to come against a teaching of a denomination not our own, we must make sure we have our facts right.

    In Christ,
    Jim E