19 Trinity 2008 – Confirmation

The Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity
September 28, 2008
Acts 8:14-18 (Lesson for Confirmation) & Acts 2:42
‘Apostolic Witnesses’

Here is a question for our newly Confirmed and our newly Received. Who confirmed you, or who was it received you this morning? The obvious answer is ‘Bishop Anthony,’ or ‘Bishop Rasch.’ Now if you chose to answer in a less personal and more ecclesiastical way, you could answer ‘a bishop who is a Successor in the long line of Successors to the Apostles.’

Now here is a more difficult question. To which of the original Apostles is he a successor? Was it one of the Eleven who continued after Judas had done away with himself? Was it Matthias, who was elected by the Eleven to fill the vacancy of the traitor Judas? Was it Paul or was it Barnabas both of whom in time became numbered among the Apostles? Personally speaking, I haven’t a clue as to which one of the Apostles I am a consecrated successor to.

But be assured, one’s apostolic lineage can be traced. In the parish hall at St. Luke’s, our parish church in La Verne, California, hangs a large framed document, whereon is to be found an ecclesiastical ‘family tree.’ Upon that document is recorded the Apostolic Episcopal lineage of Bishop Arthur David Seeland, our recently retired Bishop Ordinary and Diocesan. And his genealogical ecclesiastical line traces itself back all the way to the Apostolic era.

I know that my connection to the Apostles comes through three validly consecrated bishops, one of whom is our new Bishop Ordinary and Diocesan, Bishop Henry Joseph King. I know that of the three or more validly consecrated bishops that consecrated Bishop King, one of them was Bishop Arthur David Seeland, our recently retired bishop. I know that of the three or more validly consecrated bishops that consecrated Bishop Seeland, one of them was Bishop James Orin Mote. And I know that of the three validly consecrated bishops that consecrated Bishop Mote, one of his consecrators was Bishop Albert Chambers, and so on. And the entire line of bishops leading up to Bishop Chambers can be traced back through generations beyond, back to the time of, and to the hands of, one of the Apostles themselves.

We wish this morning to have a deeper look at what the Apostolic Succession is all about. We wish to examine what Apostolic Succession means for the life of the Church in general and in particular for those who were Confirmed or Received this morning. For that matter what it means also to everyone who is member of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. Lets begin by employing what I hope will be a helpful analogy.

The recently concluded world Olympic games included many forms of athletic competition. Included among the games were track and field events, and more specifically the ‘relay’ race. Many of us saw live, or by way of replay, a ‘relay’ race in which not one but two batons were dropped. And of course, the minute the baton was fumbled and hit the ground, that team of runners was automatically and instantly disqualified from competing.

If their team had continued to run, and even if they were fortunate enough to cross the finish line before any of the other competitors, they would not have been declared the victors. Because they would have not the baton in hand! The ‘evidence’ of an unbroken chain of relay, the tangible guarantee they had competed according to the rules, would be missing.

Of course during the modern Olympics there are television cameras all along the way, and usually there are television cameras on truck beds just ahead of the runners to capture the race from front to back, and from beginning to end. With respect to that fact, it could almost seem that the baton has become obsolete! What with all of the professional, technical, electronic coverage one should be easily able to see whether each relay runner made contact with the hand of the team runner just ahead who was about to replace him.

But can you just imagine how many times the judges would have to replay the tape to determine that every runner made physical contact according to the rules? What a nightmare! So the old baton is just as useful as ever for determining compliance with the rules of this event. Understand then, if you drop it you are disqualified! If you cross the finish line without it – you’re out! Because as ever, the baton is the indisputable proof that the team that began the track event is the same team that crossed the finish line. This is the original team that started. These are the genuine participants that finished. This team played by the rules, and having finished the race first, they are declared Victors.

To explain our analogy: The ‘race’ is the mission of the Church to bring the Gospel of Salvation to the whole world. The ‘shot’ that was sounded to commence the race, was our Lord’s Commissioning of the Apostles and the Holy Spirit’s Descent on Pentecost. The ‘runners’ in the race are the Apostles, and their Successors the bishops, to whom they have successively handed on the ‘baton,’ generation after generation. So for the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, Apostolic Succession is the method by which the ‘baton’ was and is handed on, insuring validity and continuity and genuineness.

And to conclude our analogy, the ‘baton’ is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Crucified on the Cross and Risen from the Dead. Jesus entrusted this Gospel to the Apostles, the Holy Spirit descended to empower them, and the Apostle’s were off and running!

Unlike the documentation afforded by television and digital recording, or cameras in coverage by the press, there were no such devices busily recording this race. In fact, the ‘first edition’ of the literary volumes telling of the events concerning the Lord would not be written or available until the mid to end of the first century, and even then there would not be a complete and officially recognized compilation of events until many generations after. The Apostles had to relate the story themselves. And very soon they realized that they would have to commission and empower others to succeed them to carry on the truth of the Message before their certain demise.

The ESSENTIAL message they preached and needed to insure was carried on was that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah, the world’s Saviour, that he was both human and Divine, was born of a young Virgin woman, that he spoke and taught the Truth of God, and that he cured and healed the maimed, blind, deaf, leprous and demon possessed, and that he even restored the dead to life. And that he died upon a Cross in order to save ALL mankind from Sin and Eternal Death, and that one the third day JESUS CHRIST ROSE FROM THE DEAD! And that final truth was the Primary miracle the Apostles were personal witnesses to, and were to witness to.

Jesus Christ did not select the Apostles to be chiefly his Church’s administrators, or fund-raisers, or business leaders, but to be PERSONAL WITNESSES to His Resurrection. Because upon the fact of that astounding miracle rests all of his other miracles, teaching, promises and commandments. The Apostles were present to WITNESS the RISEN LORD. And save John, all of the others would eventually see martyrdom rather than deny that which they had personally witnessed. But long before the majority went to their martyrdoms, they began to raise up others, to whom they entrusted their personal witness and testimony to the truth of his Resurrection.

Here is a brief example of what happened, and of how the ‘baton’ began to be passed forward. Peter who tradition says died a martyr’s death at Rome, earlier consecrated Euodius, who in turn consecrated Ignatius of Antioch, and so on. John who tradition says died a natural death around 100 years of age, consecrated Polycarp (who would later become bishop of Smyrna). In time Polycarp consecrated Irenaeus (130-200 A.D.), and so on.

The importance of maintaining the Apostolic Witness and the necessity of continuing the Apostolic Succession of bishops was for the very life of the Church. The fact is observed by the same St. Irenaeus, who remarked that, ‘The bishop is the Center of the entire Sacramental life of the Church.’ Underscoring this he writes, ‘Where the bishop is; there is the Church!’ Note that he doesn’t state where the New Testament is – because as yet there was no New Testament, just a small handful of circulating documents.

He says: Where the bishop is; there is the Church! And he is speaking of the Universal Church as founded by Jesus Christ, as it has continued and been advanced through his Apostles and their legitimate successors, who provide men with the Fullness of the Faith, administer the Sacraments, preach the Word and uphold and teach the Divinely revealed Truth as promulgated in the historic Creeds.

Theologically, one is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, if that branch of the Church possesses four marks, four touchstones of authenticity: the Apostolic Succession of bishops, priests and deacons, the seven Sacraments, the Holy Scriptures and the ancient and historic Creeds.

The bishops are the Guardians of the Faith, they attest to the accuracy of the Word, the validity of the Sacraments, the timeless truth of the ancient and historic Creeds. And what is more, they are the LIVING WITNESS, through the unbroken line of contact that can trace itself all the way back to those first Apostles who laid down their lives rather than deny what they had WITNESSED with their own eyes – JESUS CHRIST RISEN FROM THE DEAD!

But bishops are flesh and blood human beings. And in time some compromised the Apostolic witness. Arius (he lived from the mid 3rd to the mid 4th century) was a bishop in Egypt. He began to deny the true Divinity of Jesus Christ. His teaching began to influence many of his fellow bishops. So many in fact, that his heretical teaching nearly enveloped the entire Eastern Church. God acted through Athanasius, a 4th century bishop of Alexandria, and Arius was condemned as a heretic and his teaching condemned as heretical by the First Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D..

Athanasius, this faithful bishop and Guardian of the Faith, saved the Church from heresy and got it back on track. There have been other challenges to the orthodoxy of the teachings of the Universal Church. Each successive century has had them in one form or another. Sometimes they are merely the old heresies in new dress. In the final quarter of the last century, ‘modernist’ bishops in the Church of our former allegiance, chose to set aside the authority of the Scriptures in matters of Faith and doctrine, in the holy Orders of the Church and in other of the holy Sacraments, and in matters of morality and the discipline of the Church. (e.g. Bishops Robinson, Pike and Spong, who denied either the Trinity or the Divinity of Christ).

This presented a real dilemma for the faithful who felt little choice but to remove them selves from this increasing apostasy supplanting the historic Catholic Faith. New bishops had to be chosen and be validly consecrated to uphold and carry forth the Catholic Faith, as it has historically been believed and practiced within the Anglican witness of Catholic Christianity. Three faithful, believing bishops stepped forward to assure the continued Apostolic Witness with the Imposition of their hands upon four new bishops, thus transferring to others a continued, legitimate and valid Apostolic Succession to maintain the Apostolic Witness that Christ is God Incarnate and that Christ ROSE FROM THE DEAD.

I promised that we would also consider what the Apostolic Succession means for and to you. What it means is that you can rest assured that Christ the Good Shepherd will never desert his flock nor abandon them to false shepherds who would devour the Sheep. He will always raise up true shepherds, as he did with Athanasius, and as he has done in our present time, to faithfully tend his sheep for whom he laid down his life and rose again.

This morning one of his shepherds, acting in accord with the Doctrine, Discipline and Worship of this established branch of his One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, administered one of the seven Sacraments, conferring upon those who this day submitted them selves before Christ the sevenfold Gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Knowledge, Understanding, Council, Fear of the Lord, Strength & Piety. And, in just a few minutes ALL will come forward to the Altar Rail to participate in receiving another of the seven Sacraments, the Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because one who administers these sacraments to you has been chosen and consecrated in the unbroken line of Apostolic Succession that leads back to the Apostles, you can rest assured that what you have received or will receive today is valid, conveys supernatural grace and is efficacious for the nourishment of your soul.

The Gospel we preach is not of men; we do not preach innovation, but only what God has revealed through his Divine Son and as is attested in the Holy Scriptures, and has been believed and taught by His Holy Church without diminution for nearly two thousand years.

Be assured by what you have received today: The Holy Spirit will defend you with His heavenly Grace, that you may continue God’s child and servant for ever, and that as you begin to utilize the Seven Gifts you received you will increase daily in his Holy Spirit more and more until at last, at the General Resurrection on the Last Day, you come to His Eternal Kingdom.

The holy Apostles have passed forward the ‘baton’ of Faith so that through their Apostolic Successors, in the end you may have the victory and the prize that is Life Eternal through Jesus Christ, our RISEN Lord and Saviour.