Modern Prelates Are Not Apostles
To determine whether modern bishops are apostles, it is necessary in the first place to determine the nature of the apostleship, and ascertain whether modern prelates have the gifts, qualifications, and credentials of the office. Who then were the apostles? They were a definite number of men selected by Christ to be His witnesses, to testify to His doctrines, to the facts of His life, to His death, and specially to His resurrection. To qualify them for this office of authoritative witnesses, it was necessary, (1) That they should have independent and plenary knowledge of the gospel. (2) That they should have seen Christ after His resurrection. (3) That they should be inspired, i.e., that they should be individually and severally so guided by the Spirit as to be infallible in all their instruction. (4) That they should be authenticated as the messengers of Christ, by adherence to the true gospel, by success in preaching (Paul said to the Corinthians that they were the seal of his apostleship, I Cor. 9:2); and by signs and wonders and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost. Such were the gifts and qualifications and credentials of the original apostles; and those who claimed the office without possessing these gifts and credentials, were pronounced false apostles and messengers of Satan.
When Paul claimed to be an apostle, he felt it necessary to prove, (1) That he had been appointed not by man nor through men, but immediately by Jesus Christ (). (2) That he had not been taught the gospel by others, but received his knowledge by immediate revelation ( ). (3) That he had seen Christ after His resurrection ( and ). (4) That he was inspired, or infallible as a teacher, so that men were bound to recognize his teachings as those of Christ ( ). (5) That the Lord had authenticated his apostolic mission as fully as he had done that of Peter ( ). (6) “The signs of an apostle,” he tells the Corinthians “were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds” ( ).
Modern prelates do not claim to possess any one of these gifts. Nor do they pretend to the credentials which authenticated the mission of the apostles of Christ. They claim no immediate commission; no independent knowledge derived from immediate revelation; no personal infallibility; no vision of Christ; and no gift of miracles. That is, they claim the authority of the office, but not its reality. It is very plain, therefore, that they are not apostles. They cannot have the authority of the office without having the gifts on which that authority was founded, and from which it emanated. If a man cannot be a prophet without the gift of prophecy; or a miracle worker without the gift of miracles; or have the gift of tongues without the ability to speak other languages than his own; no man can rightfully claim to be an apostle without possessing the gifts which made the original Apostles what they were. The deaf and dumb might as reasonably claim to have the gift of tongues. The world has never seen or suffered a greater imposture than that weak, ignorant, and often immoral men, should claim the same authority to teach and rule that belonged to men to whom the truth was supernaturally revealed, who were confessedly infallible in its communication, and to whose divine mission God Himself bore witness in signs and wonders, and divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost. The office of the Apostles as described in the New Testament, was, therefore, from its nature incapable of being transmitted, and has not in fact been perpetuated.
There is no command given in the New Testament to keep up the succession of the Apostles. When Judas had apostatized, Peter said his place must be filled, but the selection was to be confined to those, as he said, “which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John unto that same day that He was taken up from us” (). The reason assigned for this appointment was not that the apostleship might be continued, but that the man selected might be “a witness with us of His resurrection.” “And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” (Incidentally, it may well be considered very doubtful whether Matthias may be considered an apostle. Paul certainly was an apostle, and the Scriptures inform us that the number of apostles is twelve.—H.V.) And that was the end. We never hear of Matthias afterward. It is very doubtful whether this appointment of Matthias had any validity. What is here recorded ( ), took place before the apostles had been endued with power from on high ( ), and, therefore, before they had any authority to act in the premises. Christ in His own time and way completed the number of His witnesses by calling Paul to be an apostle. But, however this may be, here if ever exceptio probat regulam. It proves that the ranks of the apostles could be filled, and the succession continued only from the number of those who could bear independent witness of the resurrection and doctrines of Christ.
Besides the fact that there is no command to appoint apostles, there is clear evidence that the office was not designed to be perpetuated. With regard to all the permanent officers of the Church, there is, (1) Not only a promise to continue the gifts which pertained to the office, and the command to appoint suitable persons to fill it, but also a specification of the qualifications to be sought and demanded; and (2) a record of the actual appointment of incumbents; and (3) historical evidence of their continuance in the Church from that day to this. With regard to the apostleship, all this is wanting. As we have seen, the gifts of the office have not been continued, there is no command to perpetuate the office, no directions to guide the Church in the selection of proper persons to be apostles, no record of their appointment, and no historical evidence of their continuance; on the contrary, they disappear entirely after the death of the original twelve. It might as well be asserted that the Pharaohs of Egypt, or the twelve Caesars of Rome have been continued, as that the race of the apostles has been perpetuated.
It is true that there are a few passages in which persons other than the original twelve seem to be designated as apostles. But from the beginning of the Church until of late, no one has ventured on that account to regard Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and Titus, as apostles, in the official sense of the word. All the designations given to the officers of the Church in the New Testament, are used in different senses. Thus, “presbyter” or “elder,” means, an old man, a Jewish officer, an officer of the Church. The word “deacon” means a domestic, sometimes a secular officer, sometimes any minister of the Church; sometimes the lowest order of church officers. Because Paul and Peter call themselves “deacons,” it does not prove that their office was to serve tables. In like manner the word “apostle” is sometimes used in its etymological sense “a messenger,” sometimes in a religious sense, as we use the word “missionary”; and sometimes in its strict sense, in which it is confined to the immediate messengers of Christ. Nothing can be plainer from the New Testament than that neither Silas nor Timothy, nor any other persons, is ever spoken of as the official equal of the twelve apostles. These constitute a class by themselves. They stand out in the New Testament as they do in all Church history, as the authoritative founders of the Christian Church, without peers or colleagues.
If, then, the apostleship, from its nature and design, was incapable of transmission; if there be this decisive evidence from Scripture and history, that it has not been perpetuated, then the whole theory of the Romanists concerning the Church falls to the ground. That theory is founded on the assumption that prelates are apostles, invested with the same authority to teach and rule, as the original messengers of Christ. If this assumption is unfounded, then all claim to the infallibility of the Church must be given up; for it is not pretended that the mass of the people is infallible nor the priesthood, but simply the episcopate. And bishops are infallible only on the assumption that they are apostles, in the official sense of the term. This they certainly are not. The Church may make priests, and bishops, and even popes; but Christ alone can make an apostle. For an apostle was a man endowed with supernatural knowledge, and with supernatural power.
Infallibility Founded on a False Interpretation of the Promise of Christ
The third decisive argument against the infallibility of the Church is, that Christ never promised to preserve it from all error. What is here meant is that Christ never promised the true Church, that is, “the company of true believers,” that they should not err in doctrine. He did promise that they should not fatally apostatize from the truth. He did promise that He would grant His true disciples such a measure of divine guidance by His Spirit, that they should know enough to be saved. He, moreover, promised that He would call men into the ministry, and give them the qualifications of faithful teachers, such as were the presbyters whom the apostles ordained in every city. But there is no promise of infallibility either to the Church as a whole, or to any class of men in the Church. Christ promised to sanctify his people but this was not a promise to make them perfectly holy in this life. He promised to give them joy and peace in believing; but this is not a promise to make them perfectly happy in this life, that they should have no trials or sorrows. Then, why should the promise to teach be a promise to render infallible. As the Church has gone through the world bathed in tears and blood, so has she gone soiled with sin and error. It is just as manifest that she has never been infallible, as that she has never been perfectly holy. Christ no more promised the one than the other.—end of this quote from Hodge as far as this article is concerned. The Lord willing, we will continue with this quotation in our next article.
At this time we wish to make an observation. It is, of course, true that Christ has never promised the individual believers and children of God that they will never err either in walk or doctrine. This none will deny. However, we must surely distinguish between the individual children of God and the Church of God. The Lord Jesus has surely promised His Church that He will lead it into all the truth. And this certainly must mean that this guidance of the Spirit will be infallible. Every guidance of the Holy Spirit is infallible. And when the Scriptures contain the promise that the Church will be guided into all the truth, then we understand this to mean that the Church, whenever confronted by the lie and called upon to defend the truth over against the lie will certainly be led, unerringly, into the truth of the Word of God. Only, we must understand that the Church, as Church, is led unerringly into the truth, and not that a single man, as the pope, is infallibly led by the Spirit of God into all the truth of the Word of God.