The Roman Catholic Church has a doctrine called “Apostolic Succession,” which is the belief that the papal line can be traced directly back to the Apostle Peter. Regardless of what you might think of this perspective, did you know that if you are a follower of Jesus, you are part of an apostolic succession?
Somewhere along the way, someone (a parent, friend, co-worker, relative, neighbor) passed on the faith in Jesus Christ to you. Someone passed on the faith to the person who shared it with you, and someone passed on the faith to that person as well. If it were possible to do so, we could trace the succession of faith from one generation to the next all the way back to one of the apostles or, at the very least, someone within the first-century circle of Christ followers.
My personal story of apostolic succession could be told a thousand times over. My parents led me to Christ. Their parents led them to Christ, and my great-grandparents led my grandparents to Christ. Beyond that, I’m not sure how the story goes, but it eventually leads back to the apostles and the first-century church.
One person succeeding the faith to another person is the biblical model of discipleship. We are to “entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). Timothy embraced the faith that dwelt in his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, and the Apostle Paul charged him to pass it along to others (2 Timothy 1:5; 4:1-2).
Is this the mission we embrace in our churches? Is this the mission we embrace personally? One might wonder based on the state of the American Church. While Christianity is flourishing in the East, the Church is largely ignored in the West. Why?
Partial blame lies in a self-centered faith so often promoted in American Churches. We concern ourselves far more with “what’s in it for me” than equipping God’s people for works of service (Ephesians 4:11-13). While I might get a hearty “amen” from some, it’s too easy for us to look at the speck in our brother’s eye and ignore the log in our own.
I can’t speak in regards to different church traditions, ethnic churches, and inner-city churches, but I can speak in regards to my forty-plus years of experience in predominantly white, middle-class, suburban, evangelical churches. We have placed our deck chairs on the Titanic, and we play our violins while our ship is sinking.
We continue to “serve the Lord,” meaning we conduct worship services, pass communion trays, and collect the offering, but nationally there is little net increase in church attendance in comparison to population growth over the past decades. As Ralph Moore puts it, “We’re building bigger churches while closing smaller congregations, and the community around us couldn’t care less” (Making Disciples, 16).
If you don’t see the problem, you’re not going to look for a solution. Well, I see the problem, and it looms large before us. But I also see a solution. When we Christians take the focus off ourselves, and join Jesus on His mission to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), we are one step closer to being the redemptive community He calls us to be. This is not only a “Church” issue; it is a personal issue—for all who claim the name of Jesus are to be ambassadors for Christ and “proclaim…how much Jesus has done for us” (Mark 5:20).
I encourage you to consider how you are joining the apostolic succession by passing on the faith that was at one time entrusted to you. There is no mystery involved in the process and no program requirement. You only need a surrendered heart, a love for people, and a commitment to the Lord and His command to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20).