Tertullian on Tradition and Apostolic Succession

Sounds boring intriguing, I know. Just hang in there and let me explain dear reader. In the early church (circa right after Jesus ascended through the first handful of centuries), our Christian predecessors dealt with a rise of heresies as they struggled to define the theology that Christ left with them. In this excerpt, we have Tertullian giving a second-century analysis of varied sources of theology. He calls into question whether a theology valid based on its direct lineage with the original apostles (read: disciples):

“The apostles first bore witness to faith in Jesus Christ throughout Judea, and established churches there, after which they went out into the world and proclaimed the same doctrine of the same faith to the nations…It is therefore for this reason that we lay down this ruling: if the Lord Jesus Christ sent out the apostles to preach, no preachers other than those which are appointed by Christ are to be received.”

For Tertullian, having this direct connection to the apostles was very important as it deterred the growth of heresies. So let’s take this concept and fast forward to today’s church population, where in we have thousands of denominations. Would this same concept have prevented the formation of such a diverse expanse of denominational plants? Now, I use the term denomination loosely because I am not just referring to the Protestants, but Catholics and Orthodox as well. For several of these denominations, they hold fast to the idea that they can trace their roots all the way back to the apostles and therefore have more authority based upon their apostolic succession.

As I mulled over this concept and questioned my own beliefs (am I heretic since I can’t trace it back?), a proverbial phrase that I use often came to mind: “Are they right or righteous?” At what point does being “right” negate the purpose of being “right”? In other words, can I become so caught up in having the “correct” theology that I overlook my brother’s needs? It is a double-edged sword. On the one hand it is a tool for gauging our interpretation of God’s will (the Bible, through prayer, etc.). At the same time, it can be used to shattered the faith of someone we love to the point that our opinion becomes more valuable than the person we are using it against.

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