It is amazing that the passage under consideration should have ever been brought forward in support of the dogma, of apostolic succession. The only apostolic succession mentioned in the New Testament is the church's appointment of Matthias to flll the vacancy made by the death of Judas Iscariot. That was the end of apostolic succession. It is surprising that an absurd dogma was ever palmed off on the credulity of mankind. No man could be in the apostolic suceession except one who had been with the disciples all the time that Christ went in and out among them, in order that He might be a witness with them of His resurrectlon. (See Acts 1:21, 22.) If there is anywhere on the earth to-day a real successor to the apostles or any one of them, he is now nearly 1900 years old! The vanity of the claim to uninterrupted, apostolical succession has long since been proved by Archbishop Whately, who said "there is not a minister in all Christendom who is able to trace up with any approach to certainty, his own spiritual pedigree."
But, I do thoroughly and joyfully believe that our Saviour most emphatically affirmed the perpetuity of His church, when He declared that "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" Matthew 16:18. Of course, I use the word church in the ordinary sense of a local assembly, or a company of baptized believers banded together to do Christ's will.
Some have maintained that by "the gates of hell" our Saviour meant the portals of the spirit-world, through which the generations of men pass away from mortal view.
Others maintain that by "the gates of hell" He meant the powers of evil.
If He meant the former, then His declaration was equivalent to this: While time lasts, out of every generation of men that comes into the world and passes out through the portals of Hades, I will call some to be my disciples and replenish my church.
If, on the other hand, by "the gates of hell" He meant the powers of evil, then His declaration was equivalent to this: While time lasts, the forces of evil, however powerful, malignant or persistent, shall never prevail against, or utterly destroy, my church.
According to either interpretation, the perpetuity of the church of Christ is assured. My belief in this blessed truth will never suffer any abatement under any circumstances of misfortune, disaster, revolution or prevailing iniquity or infidelity, until my faith shall have first been shaken in the authenticity of the Saviour's language or in the omnipotence and faithfulness of the Saviour Himself.
The perpetuity of the church is further assured by Christ's appending to His last command to His disciples to go into all the world and preach His gospel to every creature, the solemn declaration, "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world, Amen." The gospel ministry, charged with the work of preaching the gospel to the end of time, will endure no longer than the church that raises up and sends forth the ministry endures. Therefore, the church will endure to the end of time, and Christ its head, will be with it.
It is true that there are some men who bring to bear against this doctrine of the church's perpetuity, and all attempts to corrorborate it by historical testimony, all the force there is in sneer and ridicule - the best arguments they have to offer; but, whether the church can he historically traced back to the Apostolic age or not, we have ground in the promise of its Founder for the belief that the church has an unbroken line of existence reaching back to the mother church in Jerusalem, whether that line be traceable or untraceable by any living man.
Is there a church of Christ on earth to-day? I believe there are thousands of them. How shall we know them? Compare the terms of membership, the doctrines, the ordinances, and the form of government that characterize the religious organizations of to-day with the terms of membership, the doctrines, the ordinances, and the form of government that characterized the churches of the Apostolic age. Doing this, the honest inquirer may find many gospel churches in this twentieth century.
If gospel churches were in existence in the first century of the Christian era, and gospel churches like the apostolic ones are in existence in the twentieth century, where is the historian so wise and ubiquitous as to affirm with unerring certainty that in any given, intervening century, or in any given year of that century, there did not exist a single gospel church anywhere on the face of the earth!
If I find shad in Neuse River at Smithfield and then find shad in the same river at Newbern, must I or some one else drag the net all the way from Newbern up to Smithfield in quest of shad, before I can reasonably believe that shad can be found at intervening places between Smithfield and Newbern? Must a man likewise refuse to believe in the perpetuity of the church of Christ until some investigator shall have gone up the stream of time to the days of the apostles, and shall have located a gospel church for every year, and day, and hour, and minute, and second, of all the intervening centries? And a man must refuse to believe even though the voice of Christ is sounding into his ears - "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it!" I beg to be excused from any such incredulity.
But, do not gospel churches die out? Yes, indeed; thousands of them have become extinct and are forgotten. Thousands of famillies have died out, too, from the beginning up to the present; but the family, as an insttitution of God, still abides, and will abide on the earth to the winding up of its affairs. So, thousands of churches have died out; and yet the church, as an institution of Christ, still abides, and will abide on the earth till the clock of time shall have struck its last hour.
I have now finished my self-appointed task. Well or ill done, I have done my best to impart in plain language what I believe to be important truth to the reader who has been so kind as to read carefully what I have written. If I have been helpful to any honest inquirer, seeking to find among the many widely differing religious organizations of to-day the true church of Christ, the knowledge of such helpfulness would fill me with profound gratitude.
Calypso, N. C.
[From the Biblical Recorder, No. VIII, March 5, 1902, p. 1. On-line edition. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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