Wednesday, December 10, 2014

A Review: "So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore?"

A friend I love and respect recommended Jake Colson's So You Don't Want to Go to Church Anymore?  I personally found the read both encouraging and irritating.  In fact, I was so encouraged and irritated that I wrote a review.  

There is so much in this book that I find compelling.  In particular, I resonate with many of (the apostle?) John’s insights regarding our relationship with the Father through Jesus.  What we tend to complicate, to overlook, and to even run away from is in reality so simple, so basic, and so good.

For instance, John asks Jake:

“So you think God owes you better?”
“Doesn’t he? Why should I try so hard to follow him if he won’t watch out for me?”
“So that’s it,” John replied, leaning back on his chair. “You grew up with the idea that your goodness would actually control the way God treats you. If you do your part, he has to do his.”
“That’s not true?”
“Jake, God’s doing his part all the time."

"If we could control God, he’d turn out like us. Wouldn’t it be better to let him have his way with us so we become like him?”

Amen!  And similarly, I think he nails it when discussing how “doing church” can actually become a functional replacement of our relationship with God – an idol:

“Nothing we as believers can ever do together will make up for the lack of our own relationship with God. When we put the church in that place we make it an idol and others will always end up disappointing us.”

Or again:

"The location isn’t the issue, but whether you are caught up in religious games or helping each other discover the incredible relationship God wants with us.”

In fact, I find much of what John mentions by way of criticism of our “organized religion” on point.  I am beginning to think ministry is where I hide from him.” That’s golden!  And this comment in particular, summarizing his overall project, expresses to my mind a noble endeavor:  

“I want to expose the system of religious obligation in whatever ways it holds people captive, but that’s not the same as being against the institution." 

Having said that, three questions occur (and keep reoccurring) to me as I read all of John’s comments regarding the church.  First, are all obligations (“shoulds”) that emerge from our corporate life bad?  Secondly, is the “institutional” form of church life bad?  And thirdly, is life in Christ apart from an “institution” even possible?

Regarding the first matter, John says:

“If there is anything I’d say we should do, it would be to stop ‘should’-ing on ourselves, and others.” Laughter flickered around the room and more than one person looked to their spouse asking what he had just said.  “Certainly there are things that are right and things that are wrong. But we’ll only truly know that in Jesus. Remember, he is the truth itself! You will never be able to follow his principles if you’re not following him first.”

John’s words hung in the air through an awkward silence. I could see the gears churning in minds all around the table. I knew what they were feeling.

Marsha finally spoke choking a bit through tears, “I think you’re right John. The reason I follow rules is because I don’t know how to follow Jesus like you’re talking about. I just try to do what’s right and I’m tired of being attacked by people who say we’re in rebellion if we’re not in one of those blasted buildings on Sunday morning.”

John leaned toward Marsha. “I know this isn’t easy. But just because people say something doesn’t make it so. Jesus is teaching you how to live free. Others will find that threatening, as you will yourself at times. The system must devour what it cannot control.”

Maybe he means here pressuring one another in wholly artificial and manipulative ways; but isn’t the New Testament replete with “shoulding” one another? We’re repeatedly told to “encourage one another,” “exhort one another,” “teach one another,” etc.:
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
These are all imperatives – to believe, to trust, to obey, and even to love.  We should “should” each other.  Not, of course, manipulatively, through guilt or personal threat.  After all, we live by the gospel – and it isn’t a contractual arrangement.  We “should” each other as the gospel “shoulds” us: from the realities that are already ours in Christ (e.g., as dearly beloved children, love each other…as saints, holy in Christ, be holy…as justified men and women, offer your members to righteousness, etc.).

Regarding “the institution,” John seems quite pessimistic:

"The institution provides something more important than simply loving each other in the same way we’ve been loved. Once you build an institution together you have to protect it and its assets to be good stewards.  Even love gets redefined as that which protects the institution and unloving as that which does not. It will turn some of the nicest people in the world into raging maniacs and they never stop to think that all the name-calling and accusations are the opposite of love.”

“It’s love with a hook. If you do what we want, we reward you. If not we punish you. It doesn’t turn out to be about love at all. We give our affection only to those who serve our interests and withhold it from those who do not.”

“That’s why institutions can only reflect God’s love as long as those in it agree on what they’re doing. Every difference of opinion becomes a contest for power."

"Do you see how our definitions of love get twisted when institutional priorities take over?"

I wonder however if John has misdiagnosed it here. It seems, even in the context of the story, that the problem isn't the institution per se, but the people.  The institution functions in this case as the displaced object - the rationalization of our various sin.  In the quote above, for instance, it isn't the "institutional priorities" that's the problem.  That's the excuse, of course, but not the real issue. 

John actually acknowledges this when he says, 

“The problem with church as you know it, Jake, is that it has become nothing more than mutual accommodation of self-need. Everybody needs something out of it. Some need to lead. Some need to be led. Some want to teach, others are happy to be the audience. Rather than become an authentic demonstration of God’s life and love in the world, it ends up being a group of people who have to protect their turf. What you’re seeing is less of God’s life than people’s insecurities that cling to those things they think will best serve their needs.”

Later, he grants this distinction with Jake: "Always separate the failure of the system from the hearts of the people in it."

In the case above, the fault lies in the hearts of people; the heart of the problem is not "the institution." For the lead "pastor," it's selfishness and sin - he's protecting himself, and not the mission (e.g., reaching out to troubled kids) or the flock (e.g., discipling them through their self-absorption).   Rather, honesty and a frank re-articulation of the purpose and character of God's people from God's Word is what would best serve the "institution" here. (And, in the case of this pastor, a resignation, as he has disqualified himself).   

Again the author seems to acknowledge this very point:

“It’s just a weak moment, I’m sure. He’s in trouble with some important people and is only trying to do what’s in the best interest of the church.”

“Is that what he told you, or did you come up with that whopper on your own?”

But if that is so – the notion that the best interest of the church, as an institution, is served by selfish ambition and self-protection is a "whopper" - then calling for the de-institutionalization of the church misses the point, doesn't it? Regarding church polity and organizational concerns, it’s been said that even if the worst structures are in place, a church that loves one another will still thrive; but a church with the best and wisest polity yet without love will always be a disaster. 

Along these lines, I think the real apostle John – the so-called “apostle of love” – incisively addressed the critical issue when he encouraged (should’ed) the churches: “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 

On the one hand, John seems to grant that an “organized” fellowship – whatever form it takes, big or small - does no necessarily promote these “religious games”:

“That’s why I’m excited about our new house church. We can deal with real issues like this.”
I expected him to encourage me to go for it. Instead he just looked at me as if I hadn’t heard a word he’d said. It took me a moment to sort out why and then it dawned on me. “Is this that game, too?” “It doesn’t have to be,” John answered, “but it could be, the way you’re going about it.”

But on the other hand, it would appear John thinks that “organization” always poses a threat:

“Just keep in mind the simplest lesson that has been repeated countless times since Jesus was here: the more organization you bring to church life, the less life it will contain.”

Apparently, once a “church” becomes organized to the point of becoming an “institution” (wherever exactly that threshold is, I’m not clear), then problems multiply:

“Institutionalism breeds task-based friendships. As long as you’re on the same task together, you can be friends. When you’re not, people tend to treat you like damaged goods. Now you know what that’s like from the other side and one of the big things Jesus is doing in you now is to free you from the game, so that you can live deeply in him rather than worrying about what everyone else thinks about you.”

I do not doubt that whenever people “come together,” whatever the form and level of their organization, problems will arise.   The problem is us.  Hence, semper reformanda!  But I wonder whether it’s true that increased organization necessarily produces “task-based friendships,” anxiety “about what everyone else thinks,” where “every opinion is a contest of power,” where “love gets redefined” as protection of the institution’s assets, and where you “find yourself manipulating people to serve you rather than Father’s love moving you to serve them.”

“Structures are about gaining power and getting your own way. Those who are growing to know him don’t need them.”

Really?  Is it really the case that organized church - structure - corrupts an otherwise simple faith?  I wonder.  But perhaps the more basic question is this: Is “church-as-institution” even optional?

Perhaps it’s true that:

“Any human system will eventually dehumanize the very people it seeks to serve and those it dehumanizes the most are those who think they lead it. But not everyone in a system is given over to the priorities of that system.”

But is the church-as-organization a purely human system?

John says,

“Jesus didn’t leave us with a system; he left us with his Spirit— a guide instead of a map. Principles alone will not satisfy your hunger. That’s why systems always promise a future revival that never comes. They cannot produce community because they are designed to keep people apart.”

Depending on what he means by “system,” I might agree.  However, Jesus did leave us with leaders and instructions on “life-together,” if not a system, as well as His Spirit.  He gave us a guide, with many other guides beneath Him, and a map – or at least a blueprint.  He gave us instructions on how we live together, love each other, teach each other, and even discipline one another.  He gave us His Spirit to “remind [us] of these things,” and “guide [us] into all truth.”  And He gave us leaders.  In particular, He gave us apostles.  John of course was one of them. 

Jesus not only poured out the Spirit of God, He’s building Him a Temple (1Cor.3:16-17).  And through the ministry of the apostles, Jesus, like any good builder, began by laying a firm foundation (1Cor.3:9-11).  Upon this rock He’s building the temple of God (Eph.2:19-22; 1Pe.2:4-5; 2Cor.6:16) – a divine institution (1Tim.3:15), you might say.  And in continuing to build-up this household, Jesus gives, in addition to the apostles, other leaders to equip God’s people to serve (Ephesians 4:11).  In fact, it is only as the members of this body serve together that overall growth takes place (Eph.4:12-16).

From these basic truths, we see two realities.  First, there is clearly organization in the community of God’s people.  Secondly, spiritual growth does come through the body, as well as to the body of Christ. 

Regarding the first, it is clear that Jesus established His “church” or “synagogue” (note their basic synonymy in Aramaic) with an authority structure.  This authority was first delegated to the apostles, Peter being foremost among them (Matthew 16:16-19).  And this authority extended among all the apostles (Matthew 18:15-20, note the plural “you” in vv.18-20) and into the organized fellowships they established (e.g., 1Cor.5:1-13; 2Cor.2:5-6).  This authority, though diffused throughout whole body, was delegated to ‘representatives’ the Holy Spirit raised up within the congregations (Acts 20:28-31; 1Pet.5:1-4).  These “overseers” or “elders” were initially raised up and appointed by the apostles and their assistants (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).

In addition to elders, it would appear that “deacons” were also typical among the apostolic churches (Phil.1:1; 1Timothy 3).  Whether or not Acts 6 narrates the emergence of this “office,” it is a clear example where more organization brought more life, not less (see 6:1-7).   Or consider the organization required to care for the widows in 1Timothy 5:3-16.  Apparently even among the apostles there was paperwork!  At any rate, the two-fold “office” we see on the pages of the New Testament demonstrates that the apostolic pattern of authority was established among the churches in a consistent, organizational structure. 

Order was not only found among those with leadership gifts.  Every member served the entire congregation with the “various forms of God’s grace,” as wisely distributed by Jesus for the church’s edification (1Cor.12:4-31).   These were to be thoughtfully administered by all (1Pe.4:10-11) in an orderly and constructive fashion (1Cor.14:26-33). 

The organization of Jesus’ church is not an enemy to its organic character, but critical to it.  Few things are more organized than a living organism. 

If the churches enjoyed a basic, internal order, they were also marked by boundaries.  Not only were the members of the community answerable to those leaders entrusted with their care (1Thess.5:12-13; Hebrews 13:17), such that they identified with a particular community led by particular individuals they both knew and submitted to, but the leaders themselves had a sense of “who’s in” and “who’s out” – of who was within their charge.   Moreover, the very act of “ex-communication,” in which the church removes an individual from fellowship, presupposes a boundary - a line demarcating who was part of the community and who wasn’t (Matt.18:17), who was inside and who was outside (1Cor.5:12).

All of this to say, the church Jesus builds through the apostles, far from being a loose network of ever-fluid, ill-defined relationships, is expressed in local congregations organized around Jesus, ordered with a qualified and commissioned body of leaders, and some semblance, at least, of a recognized membership.  

Secondly, life comes to us not only through the word of the apostles by the Spirit (John 15:26-16:22; 1John 1:3), and not only through our prayer and intimacy with the Father directly with the Son (John 15:1-8), but also through our fellowship with one another.  I make this basic point because the apparent apostle John in the book appears to flatly contradict it:

"I’ve found that when people are discovering what it means to live in Father, they won’t need commitment to keep them linked. He will be enough to do that. “But don’t we learn how to trust him through the body?”
“Actually, it works the other way around. Trust doesn’t flow out of body life, it flows into it!”

But surely it flows both ways!   After all, the whole body grows “as each one does its work,” and so “builds itself up in love” (Eph.4:16; e.g., 1Pe.4:10; Eph.4:29)
And again:

“Scripture doesn’t use the language of need when talking about the vital connection God establishes between believers. Our dependency is in Jesus alone! He’s the one we need. He’s the one we follow. He’s the one God wants us to trust and rely on for everything. When we put the body of Christ in that place, we make an idol of it, and you end up wrapped up in knots over the situation you’re in.

It is true that we need Christ alone.  But as such, Christ supplies us with all other things we need, including the fellowship of the saints - in service to which we serve the Lord Himself (e.g., Matt 25:31-46), and through which the Lord serves us (e.g., 2Cor.9:12-15).  If I can make the mistake of putting the body of Christ in the place of Christ (as we’re often guilty of doing in the West, as displayed in Catholic sacerdotalism and Protestant pulpiteerism), I can make the opposite mistake of dismissing the means of grace by which God blesses the world.   After all, the fullness of Christ in all the world is found, remarkably, in the church, the body of Christ (Eph.1:23).

John says again:

“We share body life together, not because we have to, but because we get to. Anyone who belongs to God will embrace the life he wants his children to share together. And that life isn’t fighting over control of the institution, but simply helping each other learn to live deeply in him. Whenever we let other factors get in the way of that we only use love to get our hooks into people.”

True, but sometimes “body life” causes us to grumble and grieve (1Pe.4:9; Eph.4:26-32).  We need encouragement and exhortation.  John also assumes that the organizational factors of the church “get in the way” of our living “deeply in him.”  Or, at best, they are useless to produce deep growth (see p.158).  In fact, our lives organized together in various ways (e.g., 1Cor.14:23-33; 1Tim.4:11-16; Acts 2:42) are all part and parcel of our living more “deeply in him,” (e.g., 1Jn.1:7; Col.3:15-4:1; Eph.5:17-6:9; Phil.1:27; 2:1-13).

It is true that John told the churches, “the anointing you received remains in you and you do not need anyone to teach you,” (1John 2:27) – if we have the Spirit of Jesus, what else could we need?   And yet John teaches them anyway (2:20-21).  Why?  Because the Spirit continues to sustain and remain in them through the word of the apostles, and by extension, through the ministry of the church as she faithfully administers the gospel of grace.   


Lastly, every gathering of believers has some organization, some structure, whether it is acknowledged or not.  Life together demands deliberateness, intentionality and planning.  Like any family, we need structure - leadership, boundaries, rhythms, and even a budget!  Life together will be fraught with tension, offense, and ruptures, but love covers a multitude of sins, and where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The End of Protestantism?

In his provocatively titled article, “The End of Protestantism,” published nearly a year ago in First Things, the brilliant and controversial PCA minister, Peter Leithart, argues that we dump “Protestantism” and become “Reformational Catholics”:
Protestantism has had a good run. It remade Europe and made America. It inspired global missions, soup kitchens, church plants, and colleges in the four corners of the earth. But the world and the Church have changed, and Protestantism isn’t what the Church, including Protestants themselves, needs today. It’s time to turn the protest against Protestantism and to envision a new way of being heirs of the Reformation, a new way that happens to conform to the original Catholic vision of the Reformers.
Leithart’s case for Protestantism’s demise, however, is less impressive than his title. One wonders if the clever cleric is being satirical.  “A Protestant,” he points out for us, “wears a jacket and tie, or a Mickey Mouse t-shirt, to lead worship; a Reformational Catholic is vested in cassock and stole.”  
The problem begins with Leithart’s thin-air definition of a Protestant: “a not-Catholic…Whatever Catholics say or do, the Protestant does and says as close to the opposite as he can.” Delightful stereotype!  Narrow and unhistorical.  But what could be more stereotypically Protestant than defining this movement of the Church in a totally idiosyncratic way.  In that same “Protestant” spirit, I choose to define a “Reformational Catholic” as a rainbow-colored unicorn - a wonderful animal that only exists if you don't look (or think) too hard.    
But I’m getting ahead of myself.  What is Protestantism, really?  It is more commonly defined as a branch (branches?) of Christianity emerging from the cataclysmic, 16th century reform movement in which clergy and laity alike protested the various moral and doctrinal corruptions of Rome.  Regarding the sad state of affairs during this period, the former Pope, Joseph Ratzinger, writes: 
... the Church was split into two or three obediences that excommunicated one another, so that every Catholic lived under excommunication by one pope or another, and, in the last analysis, no one could say with certainty which of the contenders had right on his side. The Church no longer offered certainty of salvation; she had become questionable in her whole objective form--the true Church, the true pledge of salvation, had to be sought outside the institution. It is against this background of a profoundly shaken ecclesial consciousness that we are to understand that Luther, in the conflict between his search for salvation and the tradition of the Church, ultimately came to experience the Church, not as the guarantor, but as the adversary of salvation.
The church was ripe for radical change.  When Martin Luther posted his fateful 95 theses on October 31st, 1517, it was like setting a match to a pile of dry leaves.  
However, our proud heritage of ecclesiastical reform didn’t begin with the pestering priest of Wittenberg.  Neither was it launched by such “proto-Protestants” as Huss or Wycliffe - the so-called “morning star of the Reformation.”  Rather, it is a reflex of the church as old as St. Paul (Galatians 2:11-14). Whether instigated by controversial figures like Peter Waldo and the various Fraticelli brotherhoods, or by transcendent saints like Francis of Assissi, the reform reflex has always been a vital part of the Church. 

Protest, it would appear, is a necessary function of orthodoxy.  Negatively, this "protestant impulse" entails a vigilant and critical examination of the doctrines and practices of the Church against the apostolic tradition as principally embodied in sacred scripture and interpreted according to the gospel of Christ.  Positively, it entails a constant protest (prōtestārī) or public proclamation of the same, apostolic message.
Accordingly, the early fathers were eager to maintain and demonstrate the Church’s doctrine and practice as sanctioned by the apostolic tradition enshrined in Scripture (see J.N.D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, 1978, pp.29-51). And this meant that not all traditions of the Church were equal.  As Cyprian of Carthage quipped in response to Pope Stephen’s appeal to Roman tradition: “custom without truth is the antiquity of error.”  Throughout the ages theologians have critically engaged the varied traditions of the church in light of their understanding of Scripture.  So Tertullian questioned the (increasing) practice of infant baptism in the 3rd century.  So Augustine in the 5th century nearly single-handedly overturned the received Chiliasm of the early fathers (wrongly so, in my apocalyptic book). So Ratramnus in the 9th century and then Berengar of Tours in the 12th century ably disputed the developing consensus regarding the corporeal transformation of the Eucharistic elements.  So many through all eras of the Church have rejected the widespread use of religious images and icons, such that in the 4th century Synod of Elvira, and again in the 8th century Council of Hiera, employing images in the Church was expressly prohibited (even while the Second Council of Nicea overturned the decision 20 years later).  And on and on it goes.  

However, this is NOT to suggest that all who received the traditions reverently and critically were theologically aligned with the 16th century movement known as Protestantism.  To suggest such would be to commit the same error Leithart does in his article.  As Mike Braun observes,
…with his parade of Romanized saints Leithart swallows whole camels of medieval nonsense by forcing Ignatius and the Cappadocians to line up with Dante and Teresa of Avila.  Leaping from the Patristic Age to the Dark Ages, Leithart moves with equal agility from guilt by association to an apparent sanctification by association.
By grouping all these under one rubric, he obscures real differences.  His family tree is impressive for its breadth of shade, but one wonders whether all the branches are rooted in the same plant.  Such a broad ecumenical vision is, in the end, more phantasmal than real.  
But Leithart speaks truly when he asserts, “all tradition must be judged by Scripture, the Spirit’s voice in the conversation that is the Church.” Isn’t this precisely what the Nicene theologians did in response to the Arians' claims that their Homoiousian Christology represented the tradition of the fathers?  Isn’t this precisely what the Reformers did in response to Trent’s claims that their works-based soteriology was “the true and sound doctrine, which “the Catholic Church, the Holy Ghost reminding her thereof, has always retained”? And isn’t this precisely what we ought to continue to do in response to those who claim to be the spokesmen of “the one, holy, catholic church”? 
Indeed, Leithart is right: protestantism needs protesting today.  This is embarrassingly obvious, isn't it?  As I scan the best-selling titles on the shelves of Christian bookstores or grimace at the saccharine smiles on so-called Christian television, I'm reminded of David Wells' observation in The Courage to Be Protestant: we cannot even mock American Christianity anymore.  All our disparaging caricatures turn out to be hyper-realistic portraits.  Even Leithart's stereotype finds a real target. But then again, Protestantism has always needed protesting.  And this it has always admitted: Ecclesia reformata semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei.  And, as Dr. Wells persuasively argues in his book, this it must continue to do if it is to survive.

For the glory of Christ and His Church, then, viva la revolucion!  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Apostolic Church (Part II): Apostolicity of Doctrine & Mission


“We believe the successors of the apostles only in so far as they tell us those things which the apostles and prophets have left in their writings.”  Thomas Aquinas (On Truth, 14.10-11)



In our first post we considered the fourth mark of the church, according to the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: Apostolic. We concluded that this mark consists properly of “apostolicity,” or faithfulness to the apostolic tradition.  In addition to an “apostolicity of doctrine,” this entails the further dimension of “apostolicity of mission.”  That is to say, apostolicity consists of both gospel doctrine and gospel obedience.  However, in the Catholic tradition, “apostolicity of mission” is understood very precisely in terms of apostolic succession - the chain of duly ordained bishops throughout history linking the church to the apostles of Christ.  

This particular conception of the church's continuity finds its roots in the ancient appeal to the apostolic foundation of the churches originally framed by the orthodox opponents of Gnosticism (i.e., Irenaeus,[1] Hegesippus and Tertullian[2]).  Over against the Gnostic claim to a “secret tradition,” derived from the apostles, these early fathers argued that any authentic “apostolic traditions” would have been preserved and expressed in the churches’ official doctrine and practice by virtue of their historical proximity to the apostles and “apostolic men.” However, this common sense appeal to an empirical connection with the apostles’ ministry[3] appears as a plank in the argument for fidelity to the apostolic tradition – not an additional leg in defining apostolicity.  Hence, in Tertullian’s basic proof for the “apostolic” character of a church, a demonstrable succession of bishops appears unessential:

But should they [the heretics] even effect the contrivance [of producing a list of bishops from the apostles], they will not advance a step. For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles, will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory, so the apostolic men would not have inculcated teaching different from the apostles, unless they who received their instruction from the apostles went and preached in a contrary manner. To this test, therefore will they be submitted for proof by those churches, who, although they derive not their founder from apostles or apostolic men (as being of much later date, for they are in fact being founded daily), yet, since they agree in the same faith, they are accounted as not less apostolic because they are akin in doctrine...[4]
           
Over time, the evidential argument for a lineal succession of presbyters and bishops was “expanded,” as Justo Gonzalez explains, to become an ecclesiastical norm, according to which “a true bishop had to be one consecrated by a bishop (or bishops) who was himself consecrated within the succession, and so on, back to the apostles.”[5] Early church historian Everett Ferguson writes,

Apostolic succession as formulated by Irenaeus was from one holder of the teaching chair in a church to the next and not from ordainer to ordained, as it became... Apostolic succession arose in a polemical situation as an effective argument for the truth of Catholic tradition against Gnostic teachings. As so often happens to successful arguments, it came to be regarded as an article of faith, not just a defense of the truth but a part of truth itself.[6]


But in its final expression, this “article of faith” becomes an ecclesiastical fence, consigning all those outside the supposed line of succession - the precise identity over which there is no small contention - invalid presbyters, whose assemblies are “sects,” not churches in communion with the “one true church.”[7] As a result, these “lines of succession” follow the major fault lines in Christendom today.   Here I agree with Peter Leithart that when we define “apostolic” in this way, we seem to lose something of the “catholic” aspect.

If I were to become Catholic or Orthodox, I would have to conclude that I have never participated in a full Eucharistic service. I would have to conclude that neither I nor my pastor friends have ever stood in loco Christi in the liturgy. I would go from a church where every baptized Christian is welcome at the Eucharist to a church that excludes hundreds of millions of validly baptized Christians, and I would never again share the Lord’s Supper with Protestant friends or family members. Becoming Catholic or Orthodox would, in my estimation, make me less catholic, not more.

Apostolic Succession in the First Century Church 

But if this understanding of “apostolic succession” is in fact a few steps removed from the sub-apostolic fathers,[8] how much further is it removed from the apostolic age?  Patristic scholar R.L. Williams writes,

Scholars do not expect to find in the New Testament a precursor of the monepiscopacy in succession from the apostles. While bishops are mentioned, they are not clearly single bishops. There are only hints in that direction. No succession seems to be associated with them. Furthermore, what can be said of the possible existence of a line of succession in the New Testament is not based on apostleship....Luke knows succession terminology [Acts 7:4524:27], but he never applies it to Christian leaders....The Pastorals provide officials to continue protecting their churches (Titus 1:579-14; cf. 2 Tim 2:2) but not to continue the office or position held by the apostle or his lieutenant.[9]

“Monepiscopacy” is that form of church government in which a single bishop presides over a church or churches in a region.  According to this structure, there are three tiers of ecclesiastical office: bishop (episcopos), elder/priest (presbyteros) and deacon (diakonos).  Though this three-tiered hierarchy has often been presumed throughout church history to be the pattern of the first century church, it is now generally recognized that such was not the case.[10]  Rather, as Chrysostom and Jerome pointed out, in the apostles’ usage presbyters are identical to bishops.  Jerome explains the emergence of the mono-episcopate (a single bishop distinct from the college of presbyters) in the second century as a development of “church custom” – as opposed to dominical appointment[11] – from what began as a “chief among equals” role.[12]

In the earliest stages of the sub-apostolic church, however, we find a two-fold office: elder/bishop and deacon.  For instance, Clement, who Irenaues tells us “saw the blessed Apostles and conversed with them, and had yet ringing in his ears the preaching of the Apostles and had their tradition before his eyes,”[13] writes,

So preaching everywhere in country and town, [the apostles] appointed their first fruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe. And this they did in no new fashion; for indeed it had been written concerning bishops and deacons from very ancient times; for thus saith the scripture in a certain place, I will appoint their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith (1Clement 42:4-5).

Similarly, the Didache, an ancient Christian treatise dated between the late first and early second century, reads,

Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers." (15)

This reflects the twofold structure we see exemplified in the New Testament itself (e.g., Phil.1:1; 1Tim.3:1-13).  Of the two offices, it is the office of bishop/elder that the task of preserving and advancing the apostolic tradition is especially entrusted.  

In 2 Timothy 2:2, we find the clearest expression of ecclesiastical “succession” in our Bibles.  Here Paul instructs Timothy to entrust to “faithful men who will be able to teach others” the content he has heard from the apostle publicly and repeatedly.  Paul’s referring of course to his pattern of teaching, which he commanded Timothy to guard only a few verses prior:

Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

There is undoubtedly then an “evangelical succession” envisioned by the apostles, in which the gospel message – or what Tertullian would later call, “the rule of faith”[14] - is passed on from generation to generation throughout the course of the church’s history and mission. We can therefore affirm with Roman Catholics a “material succession” in the church, consisting in “a series of persons from the apostolic age to the present.”

But who are these persons?

Paul describes those to whom Timothy is to pass on “the good deposit” as “faithful men who are able to teach others.”  In the context of the Pastoral letters, this would certainly include, if not consist entirely of, the elders/bishops Timothy was enjoined to install in Ephesus (and Titus in Crete).  These men were to be marked by faithfulness in their public, personal and familial life.  Moreover, they were to be “able to teach,” (1Tim.3:2).  Similarly Paul tells Titus regarding this office (πρεσβυτέρους):

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (1:9)

Though the whole body of Christ, having been corporately entrusted with “the faith” (Jude 3), was called to be faithful and able to instruct and admonish one another (e.g., Col.3:16; Eph.4:15), these men were appointed in the church as “overseers” of the “household of God,” stewarding the deposit of the apostles’ doctrine in giving sound instruction and refuting error.  This is precisely how Clement understands the succession of leadership from the apostles to proceed in the churches:

Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed those ministers already mentioned [bishops and deacons], and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry (1Clement 44). 

Similarly, in contrast to the traditional doctrine of apostolic succession through the monepiscopacy, “Irenaeus's succession was collective rather than individual. He spoke of the succession of the presbyters (Haer. 3.2.2), or of the presbyters and bishops (4.26.2), as well as of the bishops (3.3.1).”[15]  

However, the supposed lineal succession of bishops from the apostles onward is critical to what Roman Catholic theologians call the “formal succession” of the Church:

… the legitimate transmission of the ministerial power conferred by Christ upon His Apostles… [in which] no lacuna can be allowed, no new mission can arise; but the mission conferred by Christ must pass from generation to generation through an uninterrupted lawful succession.

This scheme sounds watertight – and that of course is the whole point.  It has to be in order to guarantee the Apostolic character of the Church, as Rome understands it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to hold water.  As we've seen, it goes well beyond the biblical and historical evidence to claim an uninterrupted lawful succession of bishops tracing back to the apostles.  Moreover, if there is a biblical succession from the apostles (and there is), it cannot be construed as a succession of apostles.  Beyond the replacement of Judas by Matthias in Acts 1, which entailed qualifications no man after the first century could possibly fulfill, there is no suggestion in the New Testament of a “succession” of apostles, whether through the bishops[16] or otherwise.  As Roman Catholic theologian Hans Kung writes:

As direct witnesses and messengers of the risen Lord, the apostles can have no successors…Apostleship in the sense of the original and fundamental ministry of the first witnesses and messengers died out with the death of the last apostle.[17]

What is bequeathed is the apostles’ “pattern of sound words,” not their mantle. 

However, if the apostolic message was passed on through the elders/bishops, what about apostolic authority?  With the great responsibility of “guarding the good deposit,” there surely came an accompanying authority. In fact, there did.  And this authority was divine, having been invested in the apostles through God's revelation of Christ to/in them and commissioning of their ministry (ἐπιταγῆς, 1Tim.1:1; Titus 1:3; Rom.16:26; παραγγέλλω, 1Tim.1:3; 6:13; cf. 1Cor.7:10, 25). They in turn invested authority (ἐπιταγῆς, Titus 2:15; παρ-αγγέλλω, 1Tim.4:11; 5:7; 6:17) into the so-called “apostolic assistants” or lieutenants - for these acted on the apostle’s behalf, and with a measure of his authority, to “put into order what remained.”

Accordingly, the content of their charge (παραγγελία, 1Tim.1:5, 18),[18] which again finds its source in the Lord Himself (e.g., 1Thess.4:2), and is constitutive of the apostolic “tradition” (e.g., 2Thess.3:6) and “sound doctrine in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which [Paul has] been entrusted,” (1Tim.1:10-11) is committed to Timothy that he may in turn instruct others (1Tim.1:18).  And the leaders installed by Timothy and Titus were in turn entrusted with the same charge (cf. 1Tim.1:3-11; Titus 1:5-9) within each local assembly.  Finally, as we read in 2 Timothy 2:2, Paul envisions that such men will, with “the charge” entrusted to them, identify, instruct and empower other men to do likewise.  This is the true apostolic succession.  

All this to say, the elders/presbyters have been entrusted with a weighty authority, handed to them by Christ through the charge of the apostles, to faithfully lead the church of the living God.  Having said that, we must recognize that the authority of this charge is not located solely in the council of elders (πρεσβυτέριον, 1Tim.4:14; cf. 2Tim.1:6).  The authority belongs to Christ and has been diffused through the entire extent of His Body.  If the leadership of the church has legitimate authority within the church to call the members to obedience (Heb.13:17), then the church itself has legitimate authority[19] to recognize and appoint - and, if need be, remove - its own leaders (e.g., Acts 6:3-6; cf. 2Cor.2:1-11; Rev.3:20). So we are not surprised to read in the Didache the ancient charge to “appoint for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord,” (15).  Even Cyprian of Carthage, who raised the episcopate to its most exalted position, notes that the people (laity) have this responsibility and authority:

On which account a people obedient to the Lord's precepts, and fearing God, ought to separate themselves from a sinful prelate, and not to associate themselves with the sacrifices of a sacrilegious priest, especially since they themselves have the power either of choosing worthy priests, or of rejecting unworthy ones .[20]

This is critical because sometimes, as Ambrose noted, it is the churches that are faithful over against their leadership:

That many times have the clergy erred; the bishop has wavered in his opinion; the rich men have adhered in their judgment to the earthly princes of the world; meanwhile the people alone preserved the faith entire.[21]

This problem would prove no minor nuisance in early Christendom, as Athanasius knew all too well. He writes regarding the apostasy of the official “Church in his day: “the fact is that [heretics] hold the places [in the Church], but you the Apostolic Faith…you are outside the places indeed, but the Faith, within you.”[22] The locus of authority, then, isn’t the church itself or an organ of the church - faithful though they may be - but the Word of God.  After all, even the command of the apostolic office was to be resisted were it not “in line with the gospel” originally established through that same organ (Galatians 2:11-14; 1:8-9).  It is from this divinely authoritative Word, then, that leaders are to lead; and it is in submission to this gospel that the church is to follow.  Hence the Didache describes how we discern who the true teachers and leaders are:

My child, remember night and day him who speaks the word of God to you, and honor him as you do the Lord. For wherever the lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord... Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not. But if he teaches so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord (4, 11, 15). 

Through a bright line of faithful men and women - some ordained and some not - the word of God has been transmitted to us.  This “great cloud of witnesses” constitutes the “material succession” of the church from the apostles.  And as we pass on faithfully to others the good deposit, maintaining not only “apostolicity of doctrine” in the preservation of the gospel, but also “apostolicity of mission” in its advance, so we find ourselves within the “one holy catholic” line of succession, extending through all the illustrious saints of the church, to the glorious apostles, and finally to Christ Himself.  But this isn’t our only connection to the sovereign Head of the Church. “For wherever the lordly rule is uttered, there is the Lord,” even to the end of the age (Matt.28:18-20). 



[1] "It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about" (Against Heresies 3:3:1).
[2]Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men.” (The Prescription against Heretics, 32).
[3] E.g., Irenaeus argues, "Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time" (Against Heresies, 3:3:4).
[4] Prescription against Heretics, 32, 37-39.
[5] Essential Theological Terms, (Westminster John Knox Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-664-22810-1), p. 15.  Similarly, Philip Schaff writes, “To estimate the weight of [Iraneaus’] argument, we must remember that these fathers still stood comparatively very near the apostolic age, and that the succession of bishops in the oldest churches could be demonstrated by the living memory of two or three generations. Irenaeus in fact, had been acquainted in his youth with Polycarp, a disciple of St. John. But for this very reason we must guard against overrating this testimony, and employing it in behalf of traditions of later origin, not grounded in the scriptures.” (History Of The Christian Church, 2:12:139)
[6] Encyclopedia Of Early Christianity (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1999), pp. 94-95.   He goes on to explain, “The sacramental understanding of ordination that grew up in the fourth and fifth centuries shifted the emphasis to a succession from ordainer to ordained, but the earlier historical type of succession was preserved in the lists of local bishops." (p.95)  Similarly, William DiPuccio writes, the original concept of apostolic succession (which included deacons or presbyters as well as bishops) was not so much a succession of ordination, as a succession of living faith and truth as these are embodied in the Scriptures and the ancient Rule of Faith.” 
[7] A popular, online Catholic encyclopedia asserts, “Apostolicity is not found in any other Church. This is a necessary consequence of the unity of the Church. If there is but one true Church, and if the Catholic Church, as has just been shown, is Apostolic, the necessary inference is that no other Church is Apostolic. (See above quotations from Newman, "Diff. of Anglicans", 369, 393.) All sects that reject the Episcopate, by the very fact make Apostolic succession impossible, since they destroy the channel through which the Apostolic mission is transmitted. Historically, the beginnings of all these Churches can be traced to a period long after the time of Christ and the Apostles. Regarding the Greek Church, it is sufficient to note that it lost apostolic succession by withdrawing from the jurisdiction of the lawful successors of St. Peter in the See of Rome. The same is to be said of the Anglican claims to continuity (MacLaughlin, "Divine Plan of the Church", 213; and, Newman, "Diff. of Angl.", Lecture 12.) for the very fact of separation destroys their jurisdiction. They have based their claims on the validity of orders in the Anglican Church. Anglican orders, however, have been declared invalid. But even if they were valid, the Anglican Church would not be Apostolic, for jurisdiction is essential to the Apostolicity of mission. A study of the organization of the Anglican Church shows it to be entirely different from the Church established by Jesus Christ,” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01648b.htm.   Similarly, John Henry Newman earlier argued, “We [priests of the Church of England] have been born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. The Lord Jesus Christ gave His Spirit to His Apostles; they in turn laid their hands on those who should succeed them; and these again on others; and so the sacred gift has been handed down to our present bishops, who have appointed us as their assistants, and in some sense representatives. ... we must necessarily consider none to be really ordained who have not thus been ordained,” (Tracts for the Times - Number 1, pp. 2-3)
[8] Regarding Clement and Ignatius, Ferguson writes, “1 Clement 42-44 taught the apostolic institution of the offices of bishop and deacon in the church. After the appointment of the first bishops and deacons, the apostles provided for the continuation of these offices in the church. This was not the same as the later doctrine of apostolic succession, and it is to be noted that Clement included deacons as well as bishops in his statement. Ignatius, the first witness to only one bishop in a church, did not base his understanding of the ministry on succession. The one bishop was a representative of God the Father, and the presbyters had their model in the college of apostles (Trall. 3),” (Ibid.).
[9] Robert Lee Williams, Bishop Lists (Piscataway, New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2005), pp. 47, 60-61.
[10] “It is a fact now generally recognized by theologians of all shades of opinion, that in the language of the New Testament the same officer in the Church is called indifferently “bishop” (episkopos) and “elder” or “presbyter” (presbyteros).” J.B. Lightfoot, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians, (Crossway: 1994), p.109.  This was often recognized by the ancients too. Chrysostom (c. 350 - 407), for instance, wrote, “presbyters of old were called bishops...and the bishops presbyters.
[11] Commentary on Epistle to Titus, 1:5. 
[12] “When subsequently one presbyter was chosen to preside over the rest, this was done to remedy schism and to prevent each individual from rending the church of Christ by drawing it to himself. For even at Alexandria from the time of Mark the Evangelist until the episcopates of Heraclas and Dionysius the presbyters always named as bishop one of their own number chosen by themselves and set in a more exalted position, just as an army elects a general, or as deacons appoint one of themselves whom they know to be diligent and call him archdeacon.”  D.A. Carson similarly explains the emergence of the third office of “bishop” in this way: The changes came about for many reasons. The first step occurred early in the second century. The church was expanding so fast Christians were happy to embrace a lot of roving teachers who were able to communicate the Christian faith to people in one locale, then move on to another locale, and so forth. Moreover, this was culturally acceptable because there were a lot of roving "philosophers" in those days who earned their money by such itinerant lecturing. But eventually some of these roving preachers proved to be heretical or near-heretical. Alternatively, and equally sadly, some who were formally orthodox became grasping or greedy. Eventually rules were imposed on the churches about what should be done in this regard. There is a very famous document dated from the beginning of the second century, some years after the last of the New Testament documents was written, called the Didache, which gives a handful of rules about what to do. If a traveling teacher comes by and he wants to stay for more than three days, don’t trust him. If he asks for money, don’t trust him. You give him a bed and food, but if he asks for money he is probably a charlatan. And above all, if he does not adhere to the glorious gospel of our blessed Jesus, then do not trust him, even if he formally adheres to the other stipulations. The fact that such rules existed hints at the scope of the problem. So eventually, what happened was almost predictable. I myself have been to parts of the world where the church is expanding very quickly, and very large numbers of immature believers desperately need serious teaching. Sometimes in one small geographical area you find, say, ten, fifteen, twenty, thirty churches, most of which are painfully ill-taught. But among this collection of churches, there might be two or three that are led by pastors who really are better informed, better trained, more discerning, and more widely read, than the common run of pastors. Pretty soon they are consulted by the others. This group of two or three more mature pastors soon exercises remarkable (even if informal) influence over pastors and churches that are less gifted. Who else will protect these small and immature churches from dangerous teachers – not least if those dangerous teachers come like wolves in sheep’s clothing? One can imagine the leaders of smaller, weaker churches saying to an itinerant, "You know, I don’t know if I should take you on or not. Go see Pastor Jim over there, have a chat with him, and if he says you’re okay, you’re okay." So the itinerants go and get checked out by Pastor Jim. Well, de facto, Pastor Jim is now exercising a kind of veto ministry over everybody else in that area. He is becoming a bishop in the second-century sense. Thus the bishop was soon seen as the one who defined doctrine and in some sense protected the churches in his region. Not too surprisingly, already by about A.D. 115 to 120, Ignatius goes so far as to say that where the bishop is, there is the church. You cannot imagine anyone saying that sort of thing in any New Testament document. But however good the motives that called forth these developments, the plain historical reality is that now the church was lumbered with the beginnings of a fledging power structure that would attract more and more authority to itself. It is not difficult to understand the further developments that took place across the centuries,” from a transcript of a talk given at Capitol Hill Baptist Church. 
[13] Against Heresies 3.3
[14] "Now, with regard to this rule of faith - that we may from this point acknowledge what it is which we defend - it is, you must know, that which prescribes the belief that there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen 'in diverse manners' by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; then having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises amongst ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics." (Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, 13)
[15] Ferguson, Ibid.
[16] Ferguson notes, “Hippolytus is apparently the first for whom the bishops were not simply in the succession from the apostles but were themselves successors of the apostles (Haer., praef.),” Ibid.
[17] Cited in E. Clowney, The Church (Inter Varsity: 1996), p.77
[18]παραγγελία strictly, of passing on an announcement a proclaiming; in the NT (1) as a directive from an authoritative source order, command, charge (Ac.16.24); (2) as doctrinal teaching about right living instruction (1Th.4.2).  Derivative of παραγγέλλω, strictly, pass on an announcement; in the NT (1) as issuing a directive from an authoritative source command, give (strict) orders, direct, instruct (Mt.10.5),”
[19] It is striking that even in the apostolic era, “no names” initiated and established church plants without official authorization (see Acts 11:19-26).  Note that even after Barnabas arrives from Jerusalem, there is no indication that his coming conferred any legitimacy or authority to the Antioch church, but merely affirmed the work the Lord had done through these entrepreneurial “laymen.”
[20].He goes on: “For which reason you must diligently observe and keep the practice delivered from divine tradition and apostolic observance, which is also maintained among us, and almost throughout all the provinces; that for the proper celebration of ordinations all the neighbouring bishops of the same province should assemble with that people for which a prelate is ordained. And the bishop should be chosen in the presence of the people, who have most fully known the life of each one, and have looked into the doings of each one as respects his habitual conduct. And this also, we see, was done by you in the ordination of our colleague Sabinus; so that, by the suffrage of the whole brotherhood, and by the sentence of the bishops who had assembled in their presence, and who had written letters to you concerning him, the episcopate was conferred upon him, and hands were imposed on him in the place of Basilides." (Ep.67:3, 67:5; cf. 54:6).
[21] Cited in John Daille, A Treatise On The Right Use Of The Fathers (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1843), p. 158.
[22] "I know moreover that not only this thing saddens you, but also the fact that while others have obtained the churches by violence, you are meanwhile cast out from your places. For they hold the places, but you the Apostolic Faith. They are, it is true, in the places, but outside of the true Faith; while you are outside the places indeed, but the Faith, within you. Let us consider whether is the greater, the place or the Faith. Clearly the true Faith. Who then has lost more, or who possesses more? He who holds the place, or he who holds the Faith? Good indeed is the place, when the Apostolic Faith is preached there, holy is it if the Holy One dwell there....But ye are blessed, who by faith are in the Church, dwell upon the foundations of the faith, and have full satisfaction, even the highest degree of faith which remains among you unshaken. For it has come down to you from Apostolic tradition, and frequently has accursed envy wished to unsettle it, but has not been able. On the contrary, they have rather been cut off by their attempts to do so. For this is it that is written, 'Thou art the Son of the Living God,' Peter confessing it by revelation of the Father, and being told, 'Blessed art thou Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood did not reveal it to thee,' but 'My Father Who is in heaven,' and the rest. No one therefore will ever prevail against your Faith, most beloved brethren. For if ever God shall give back the churches (for we think He will) yet without such restoration of the churches the Faith is sufficient for us. And lest, speaking without the Scriptures, I should seem to speak too strongly, it is well to bring you to the testimony of Scriptures, for recollect that the Temple indeed was at Jerusalem; the Temple was not deserted, aliens had invaded it, whence also the Temple being at Jerusalem, those exiles went down to Babylon by the judgment of God, who was proving, or rather correcting them; while manifesting to them in their ignorance punishment by means of blood-thirsty enemies. And aliens indeed had held the Place, but knew not the Lord of the Place, while in that He neither gave answer nor spoke, they were deserted by the truth. What profit then is the Place to them? For behold they that hold the Place are charged by them that love God with making it a den of thieves, and with madly making the Holy Place a house of merchandise, and a house of judicial business for themselves to whom it was unlawful to enter there. For this and worse than this is what we have heard, most beloved, from those who are come from thence. However really, then, they seem to hold the church, so much the more truly are they cast out. And they think themselves to be within the truth, but are exiled, and in captivity, and gain no advantage by the church alone. For the truth of things is judged," (Athanasius, Festal Letter 29).