Lutheran 'Apostolic Succession'?

Hello all,

I’ve read somewhere that some Lutheran churches, particulary in the Scandinavian countries, do claim to have valid Apostolic Succession. Is this true? Do Lutherans think it matters?

Additionally, I have a further question:

  • Where does the acceptability of Luther’s doctrines come from? I don’t mean this to be rude or condescending, I actually quite like Martin Luther myself. But why are Lutheran’s ideas plausible? Why is Luther more believable than, for instance, those who ended up creating the Baptist denomination?

I again mean no disrespect to Martin Luther. I am very fond of him.

Some do, yes. Whether Rome considers their succession to be valid, I cannot say, but there are some (high) Lutheran churches which have preserved episcopal polity and pass on Apostolic Succession through the laying on of hands.

Additionally, I have a further question:

  • Where does the acceptability of Luther’s doctrines come from? I don’t mean this to be rude or condescending, I actually quite like Martin Luther myself. But why are Lutheran’s ideas plausible? Why is Luther more believable than, for instance, those who ended up creating the Baptist denomination?

Honestly, this one is hard to answer. From an objective standpoint, Luther was attempting to end many abuses which were occurring within the RCC. Of course, certain ideas which developed around him and are now prevalent in Lutheranism (such as the ever-contentious sola scriptura) are hard to defend when considered from an objective perspective based on the history of Christianity. Beyond this, I honestly cannot say that I know the fine details of Lutheranism or the Baptists enough to really say why one might be more believable than the other.


I believe you are right that there are some Lutheran episcopacies as you stated…I remember our instructor teaching this…after the Orthodox, the Anglicans and some Lutherans still retaining episcopals…thus making them defined as churches. With no episcopal succession, all other Protestant churches are considered as ecclesial communities because they only have baptism, one sacrament. The more sacraments dropped, the more a church is defined rather as an ecclesial community.

Other than that, I read in on source that Luther did not address the penitential and ongoing conversion process indulgences are supposed to address, meaning people then and now do not pay their way into heaven, and that he no longer believed in the succession of faith passed down from the apostles.

One of the problems for Germany was that there was no German bishops that would ordain new Lutheran priests, so without German Bishops, the ordained Lutheran priests/pastors used the laying of hands as in the early church to ordain newly trained pastors. The Nordic countries had bishops that converted.:signofcross:

The acceptability of Luther comes from the Catholic Church. Luther is acceptable in so far as he agrees with the teachings of the Church. Since Luther was a Catholic monk and theologian, there’s a fair amount of overlap.

Luther was also a 1st generation reformer, so he was a direct descendant of Catholicism and closer thereto than later reformers. He had a high regard for liturgy and traditional forms, which contributed to the similarity to Catholicism (and thus credibility).

The ELCA in the U.S. also has bishops and maintains that they have apostolic succession through their relations with the Episcopal Church in the US.

Most Lutherans do not think that Apostolic Succession is necessary, though, due to the belief that Christ is “wherever two or three are gathered in His name” and the Church is “wherever the Gospel is preached and the sacraments rightly administered”. In other words, most Lutherans believe it does not matter who touched whom, but whether their beliefs and teachings reflect those of the Apostles as handed down through scripture.

Yeah but while his attempts at reform finally caused the Church to take internal reform seriously, the Church itself never adopted any of Luther’s theological reforms.

I realize that Luther’s reforms were quite moderate, but as a priest, shouldn’t he have technically accepted the authority of the Church who rejected his theses pertaining to the faith itself?


Well, does Apostolic Succession matter? Seems to be this now you see it, now you don’t idea is going on here? Does it exist in the Lutheran Church or not?

Where are the “links” which confirm the Lutheran Churchs Apostolic Succession? Which Apostle do they relate back to? :shrug:

I fail to see the church going any futher than Luther in succession. And he wasn’t in a position to change anything or elect anyone with authority to Christs Church. A German Priest and professor of theology? How does apostolic succession arrive from this?

Is Apostolic Succession important??? WHY? :shrug:

God Bless, Gary

It’s not just about Apostolic Succession , it’s also about the proper form and intent of the sacrament . Remember , the Church of England had , had Apostolic Succession , but then changed the form because they changed the intent . Apostolic Succession by itself is not sufficient .

I disagree. It is about Apostolic Succession and those with the authority by Christ to bind and lose.

You may have the proper form and intent of the sacrement, but without the God given authority by Jesus Christ that leaves you lacking and absent just as Luther was and the Church of England is today.

Is there Truth in these churchs? Of course and its acknowledged by where they stand in regards to the ecumenical councils. Seven is high on the list.

In essense very close to the CC. But close falls short of complete.

In theory if the Church of England and the Lutheran church became a carbon copy of the CC today but yet still not in communion. Did everything exactly as the Catholic Church does? Would they be the Catholic Church then? Why not?

God Bless, Gary

The class I was in was taught by a bishop who was on the actual commission at Vatican II on ‘Ecumenism’. He said that although these Lutheran churches are indeed churches with an episcopacy, they do not have the Eucharist.

Recall at Mass the Epiclesis, the priest taking his hands and placing them over the gifts at the altar…and calling down the Holy Spirit to change the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Without papal and Catholic bishops in communion, the Lutheran ordination does not have the Holy Spirit that comes through licit ordination…the Holy Spirit…Who came to us through the Apostles.

The seat of Peter holds the keys to the Blood of Christ. The seat is always there inspite of corruption, even of a pope. And the Church is reforming…we have had good popes since the Reformation.

The Orthodox do have valid Eucharist because they have Apostles who were founders…

I mean, I would think so, right? Or some reason to establish the authority to interpret?

I mean what gives any of us the right to say that our way is correct and another’s incorrect? Yes the scriptures, but everybody interprets the scriptures, right?

Someone must have gone to Luther and said ‘what makes you think there really is justification by faith alone when we’ve always taught something else?’ He must have had a response to it, no?

Someone must have gone to Luther and said ‘what makes you think there really is justification by faith alone when we’ve always taught something else?’ He must have had a response to it, no?

The response of the Lutheran Confessions on this is that they didn’t always teach that–the Church Fathers are quoted in the Augsburg Confession as supporting salvation by faith.

Also, it should be noted that the Lutheran position tends to ultimately not be faith in the sense of mere belief that saves, but living faith, as the JDJ declares. So works are still important, but they are the result of the kind of faith that saves (which Roman Catholicism is open to according to the JDJ). There is plenty of support of this in the Church Fathers, especially Augustine and Ambrose, and that is why the RCC is open to it.

I would agree that justification by faith alone and the standard Catholic belief on on faith aren’t so different. I’d say it’s more of a difference in terminology and focus than anything else. I would say that Luther railed against those who simply went through the motions and saw things superstitiously (given the huge peasant populations) rather than really by focusing on Christ.

When do Lutherans believe the Church began to get corrupted? Was their a major event that disoriented the Church? Is there a problem of authority at all?

Well the blatant problem at that time with indulgances set off the chain of events. But the Bible and I theory doesn’t apply, nor does it with anyone at the seventh ecumenical council. Feed my Sheep is repeated 3X so we can rest assure Good Works are in this equation.:smiley:


Your last post is exactly what the bishop taught us…Luther had scruples, himself extremely inclined to excessive mortification. Our visiting bishop was on the Commission of Ecumenism at Vatican II…and said so much indeed is phrasing…I noted in class I had read prior saints teachings…and the Bible…it is by grace we are saved…all we can give Christ in return is extreme gratitude…

I think one area that still separates us. It appears that Luther redefined the term “church” to suit himself. In doing so, he departed from what the Apostles taught about the nature of the Church.

It is true that the Church founded by Christ is found where the gospel is preached, and the sacraments are rightly administered, but there is also much more to what defines the Church than these two characteristics.

The Church is not at liberty to abandon that which was passed down to us from the Apostles.

St. Irenæus (Adv. Haeres, IV, xxvi, n. 2) says: “Wherefore we must obey the priests of the Church who have succession from the Apostles, as we have shown, who, together with succession in the episcopate, have received the certain mark of truth according to the will of the Father; all others, however, are to be suspected, who separated themselves from the principal succession”.

“For, since ye are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, ye may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing… he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience” (Letter to the Trallians, Chs. 2, 7). “See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop… It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honors the bishop has been honored by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Chs. 8, 9). “Do nothing without the bishop; keep your bodies as the temples of God; love unity; avoid divisions; be the followers of Jesus Christ, even as He is of His Father” (Letter to the Philadelphians, Ch. 7). “Now it becomes you also not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth, but to yield him all reverence, having respect to the power of God the Father, as I have known even holy presbyters do, not judging rashly, from the manifest youthful appearance [of their bishop], but as being themselves prudent in God, submitting to him, or rather not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of us all… I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God… neither do anything without the bishop and presbyters” (Letter to the Magnesians, Chs. 3, 6, 7). “Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God… For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself” (Letter to the Ephesians, Chs. 5, 6).

I think it might be helpful to quote what the confessions say on the matter. In the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Melanchthon writes:

The Fourteenth Article, in which we say that in the Church the administration of the Sacraments and Word ought to be allowed no one unless he be rightly called, they receive, but with the proviso that we employ canonical ordination. Concerning this subject we have frequently testified in this assembly that it is our greatest wish to maintain church-polity and the grades in the Church [old church-regulations and the government of bishops], even though they have been made by human authority [provided the bishops allow our doctrine and receive our priests]. For we know that church discipline was instituted by the Fathers, in the manner laid down in the ancient canons, with a good and useful intention. 25] But the bishops either compel our priests to reject and condemn this kind of doctrine which we have confessed, or, by a new and unheard-of cruelty, they put to death the poor innocent men. These causes hinder our priests from acknowledging such bishops. Thus the cruelty of the bishops is the reason why the canonical government, which we greatly desired to maintain, is in some places dissolved. Let them see to it how they will give an account to God for dispersing 26] the Church. In this matter our consciences are not in danger, because since we know that our Confession is true, godly, and catholic, we ought not to approve the cruelty of those who persecute this doctrine. 27] And we know that the Church is among those who teach the Word of God aright, and administer the Sacraments aright, and not with those who not only by their edicts endeavor to efface God’s Word, but also put to death those who teach what is right and true; 28] towards whom, even though they do something contrary to the canons, yet the very canons are milder. **Furthermore, we wish here again to testify that we will gladly maintain ecclesiastical and canonical government, provided the bishops only cease to rage against our Churches. **This our desire will clear us both before God and among all nations to all posterity from the imputation against us that the authority of the bishops is being undermined, when men read and hear that, although protesting against the unrighteous cruelty of the bishops, we could not obtain justice.

The position of the reformers seems two-fold. 1) AS is very important to the Church, as professed by the Fathers of the Church, and we very much desire and would prefer to maintain it. 2) If the opportunity to maintain it is denied to us, we rely on Divine Law, and the practice of the early Church - presbyter ordination - to maintain validity of our clergy and sacraments.
Hopefully, Lutherans today will not allow our reliance on #2 to overshadow our recognition of the importance of, and desire to maintain #1.



Luther seemed to feel that his opinions had more authority than those who questioned him.

“My word is the word of Christ; my mouth is the mouth of Christ” (O’Hare PF. The Facts About Luther, 1916–1987 reprint ed., pp. 203-204).

[Specifically, what Martin Luther wrote in German was "“Ich bin sehr gewiss, dass mein Wort nitt mein, sondern Christus Wort sei, so muss mein Mund auch des sein, des Wort er redet” (Luther, 682) - also translated as “I am confident that it is not my word, but Christ’s word, so my mouth is His who utters the words”(God’s words - the violence of representation. Universitatea din Bucuresti, 2002., September 25, 2003).]

"You tell me what a great fuss the Papists are making because the word alone in not in the text of Paul…say right out to him: ‘Dr. Martin Luther will have it so,’…I will have it so, and I order it to be so, and my will is reason enough. I know very well that the word ‘alone’ is not in the Latin or the Greek text (Stoddard J. Rebuilding a Lost Faith. 1922, pp. 101-102; see also Luther M. Amic. Discussion, 1, 127).

The Church was reacting as much to Luther’s presentation of himself that “my will is enough” as they were anything that he wrote.

The recent Joint Declaration on Justification affirms that the Church is in agreement with Luther on substantial points of the doctrine of justificaiton.

I dont’ think Luther ever intended to become separated from the Catholic Church. He wanted to address corruption that he thought was running rampant. He criticized the actions of the current bishops.

His standard was taken up, though by those who had witnessed clerical ignorance, debasement, and secular contamination for centuries.

When you say “is there a problem of authority at all?” it seems that you are asking about the present.

Yes, the Lutheran confessions separate them from the Catholic Church primarily on the issue of authority. Luther rejected the authority put in place by Christ. His followers continue to do so.

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