The True Successors of the Apostles



Gary Ray Branscome


“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves,” for “from your own number men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw the disciples away after them”. (Matthew 7:15, Acts 20:30)


At the time of the reformation, the hypocrisy of those who claimed Apostolic-succession while contradicting and condemning what the Apostles taught was obvious. They not only opposed the Gospel but hunted down and burned at the stake anyone who owned an English translation of the Bible. And, if, after searching a house, they could not find an English translation of the Bible, they would burn them anyway if they so much as found that one of their children knew the Lord’s prayer in English. That was the situation in England at the beginning of the reformation.


That fact alone should make it obvious that those who claim Apostolic-succession have no legitimate claim to authority. The Apostles not only did not set up a hierarchy, they warned believers against trusting in men. Furthermore, the congregations that they started were organized along the same lines as the synagogues they had grown up in. In those synagogues ordination was simply a Jewish custom. Christ did not institute it, and there is no divine promise connected with it. Moreover, the Jews ordained the lay-elders of the congregation, not the paid Rabbi. Those elders, not the paid Rabbi, were the overseers (bishops) of the congregation, and they were answerable to the congregation. It was human egotism, and the lust for power (the mystery of iniquity), not the will of God, that gradually twisted that system (in which the Bible was the supreme authority) into a hierarchy. A hierarchy that replaced the Word of God as set forth in Scripture, with the word of man. An ungodly system in which some men exalt themselves over God’s people, and even try to usurp for themselves the place of God Himself, as the head of His church.


Ordination to the ministry by the laying on of the hands and prayers is not a divine ordinance, but a church custom or ceremony, for although ordination is mentioned in Holy Writ, it is not commanded (1Timothy 4:14; 5:22; 2Timothy 1:6; Acts 6:6; 8:17.) [Christian Dogmatics, Francis Pieper, Vol. 3, page 454.]




          The only men who can honestly claim to be the successors of the Apostles, are those who teach the doctrines that the Apostles have given us to teach. Nevertheless, you know as well as I that virtually everyone claims to be teaching what the Bible says, no matter how far they are from the actual words of Scripture. They all have their own ideas, explanations, and opinions! However, those ideas and explanations are not the Word of God, and therefore are not the doctrine given to us by the Apostles. In order to teach what the Apostles taught, we must teach what the Apostles actually (explicitly) said, not the ideas men have come up with!


           When Paul wrote his epistles, he did not want those who read them to make up explanations or dream up “principles”, and then teach those explanations or “principles” to the congregation. On the contrary, the words, “For we have not written anything to you, other than what you read or understand” make it clear that the only meaning God wants us to teach, is the plain grammatical meaning of the words themselves (2Corinthians 1:13). Only those who teach what the Bible clearly and explicitly says, without trying to supplement it with their own explanations, are the true successors of the Apostles. Any meaning that men place on the words of Scripture, other than the plain grammatical meaning of the words, is not of God. Yet, in church after church, the plain meaning of the words (the Word of God) is ignored, while the opinions of men are eagerly promoted.


As Dr. Francis Pieper put it, “We human beings in our perverse desire to reach false heights, like blind idiots, take no notice of the divine simplicity of the words of Christ. The first and foremost duty of the exegete consists in holding the flighty spirit of man to the simple word of Scripture and, where he has departed from it, to lead him back to the simple word of Scripture.” [Christian Dogmatics”, Vol. 1, page 360]




          Because the Apostle Paul set forth the basic doctrines of the Christian faith in his letter to the congregation at Rome, some regard that epistle as the first Christian book of theology. In it Paul systematically set forth the truths that he wanted to proclaim in person, but was unable to at that time (Romans 1:10-13). Therefore, let us take a quick look at that book.


In order to lay the groundwork for his presentation of the doctrine of Justification by Faith, Paul condemns both the sins prevalent among gentiles (Romans 1:18-32), and the sins prevalent among the Jews (Romans 2:1-29). He then drives home his point by asking, “What then? are we (Jews) better than they (Gentiles)?” (Romans 3:9). The answer, of course, is NO! Verses ten to eighteen of chapter three then support that answer with several quotes from the Old Testament. However, everything that Paul said, up to that point, was aimed at driving home two important doctrines. The doctrine that all men are sinners, and the doctrine that the law cannot make anyone righteous (verses 19-20). In verse 19 we are told that the law condemns everyone that is under it, and in verse 20 we are told that the law, can never make us righteous in the sight of God, because God gave the law to reveal our guilt (Romans 3:10-20). [Compare verses 10-12 with Psalm 14:1-3, 53:1-3 and Ecclesiastes 7:20; verse 13 with Psalm 5:9 and 140:3; verse 14 with Psalm 10:7, verses 15-17 with Isaiah 59:7-8; and verse 18 with Psalm 36:1.]


Having shown that all are guilty the sight of God, and that the law cannot take away that guilt, Paul then devotes the rest of chapter three to the doctrine of Justification by Faith (Romans 3:21-28). In chapter four, Paul goes on to clarify and explain the doctrine of Justification by Faith, and that explanation is our doctrine of Imputed Righteousness.

In chapter five, Paul sets forth the doctrine of the atonement, as he reminds us that Christ’s suffering and death is the source of our forgiveness, and thus the focus of our faith (Romans 5:5-11). He then draws a parallel between Adam’s sin, which brought condemnation to all men, and Christ’s atonement, which provided a way of salvation for all men. And, what he says in those verses is our doctrine of The Fall and Redemption (Romans 5:12-21).


These are the basic doctrines of salvation, and no one, and I mean no one, who contradicts any of those doctrines, or makes any statement of Scripture of no-effect, by explaining away what it says, has any right to claim to be a successor of the Apostles.

I am aware that the epistles have much more to say that just this. However, much of what they say does not deal directly with the salvation message, but with various problems that cropped up in the respective churches. Nevertheless, whenever the epistles address the topic of salvation, they simply summarize or compliment what is said in the book of Romans. The third chapter of Galatians gives us the doctrine of The Law and the Promises, the fifth chapter of Galatians enlarges on what Romans eight says about the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer, and the second chapter of Ephesians summarizes the salvation message.  The point I am trying to drive home is that the true doctrine consists of what the Bible clearly and explicitly says, not what men say, and only those who teach that doctrine can honestly claim to be the successors of the Apostles. 




After presenting the doctrines of salvation, the Apostle Paul goes on, in the book of Romans, to deal with questions that relate to those doctrines. Chapters six through eight deal with the question of how we should live if we are not under the law, and keeping the law does not make us righteous. However, if we are true successors of the Apostles we will teach what the Bible actually says, instead of man-made explanations. Only those who are themselves in darkness think that the Bible needs to be explained. Those who have the truth know that it means just what it says.


Because everything necessary for our salvation is clearly and explicitly stated in the words of Scripture, we do not need all of the ideas and explanations by which men attempt to clarify what God has said. On the contrary, anything men come up with tends to lead people away from the truth of Scripture. The church today, in spite of all of its books, is full of confusion because it has lost sight of the doctrine explicitly stated in God’s Word.




          The point I am trying to drive home is that the true doctrine is not some abstract philosophy deduced from Scripture, but the plain meaning of the words. And because those words are the words of the Apostles, the only men who can honestly claim to be the successors of the Apostles are those who let those words be their doctrine.


A church that is truly Apostolic, “does not base its doctrine on any exegesis, not even on the exegesis of Luther, but on the bare words of Scripture… all error in doctrine can be traced to the refusal of the teacher to continue in the wholesome words of Christ. This refusal prompted Luther’s constant warning against substituting an interpretation (gloss) for the Scripture words themselves.” [Dr. Francis Pieper “Christian Dogmatics”, Volume one, page 323]