A note on the (too-short) quest for the true succession

If someone claims that there is found in Scripture a need for an infallible teaching authority for the Church which is a legitimate succession from the original NT Church, the first question that comes to mind is: “If you need this to understand the Bible, then how did you arrive at this conclusion?”

Is your conclusion authoritative? Are all Bible believers obligated to agree with you.

But if someone claims this reasoning means they are obligated to become Roman Catholic, then another question surfaces, “How do you know that the Roman Catholic church has this teaching authority and this unbroken succession?”

This is where the quest for truth succumbs to some serious and questionable shortcuts.

Because to agree with Roman Catholic claims one must claim that either:

  1. all such claims for the Roman Catholic pope are self-authenticating so that all people know they are true whenever they are declared and only disbelieve them through self-deception, or
  2. the proper results studying the history of the Church from the time of Jesus to the present day.

But no one I know of argues for (1) and no one I know of ever thinks of going to the trouble of bearing the burden of (2).  I’m not sure but I don’t think this was always the case.  One gets the impression that the early Reformers and their opponents concentrated on exactly this point.

Nowadays (2) is appealed to in theory but truncated in practice.  Really, since we know there must be a succession, and RCs have some sort of claim that they are it, we simply must take them at their word because we know there has to be one and no other candidate is on the field (unjustly ignoring the Eastern Orthodox in my opinion, though I’m not EO either).

But maybe we know nothing of the kind.  Maybe the fact that Roman Catholic claims are false should send us back to question our conclusions about Scripture telling us we need a succession and an infallible teaching authority.

And maybe the very fact that the succession claim means that all Christians are allegedly obligated to do this kind of study of Church history itself makes the conclusion seem doubtful.

3 thoughts on “A note on the (too-short) quest for the true succession

  1. Andrew

    I agree with all of this, though one point in defense of the RCC can be made about the last comment: it depends on your view of the epistemic status of testimony. If we are permitted to trust testimony prima facie, then things like historic succession could be known simply because of testimony absent a reason to doubt it. I think that this is actually the basis upon which the average Protestant knows the contents of the canon.

  2. mark Post author

    True, which may exempt a raised Roman Catholic from the requirement for a justified belief, but it still is an issue in writing to Protestants or explaining leaving Protestantism.


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