Question about Methodism and Apostolic Succession

Hey guys, my Methodist friend claims that Methodists have a claim to Apostolic succession. This article gives an overview of the claim and some proofs for it:

As Catholics, what are we to make of this assertion? Obviously, they are heretics, but how should we address this unique claim? Thanks!

No, they can’t legitimately claim apostolic succession because that terminology involves being able to trace the appointees on one’s bishops all the way back to the apostles. Some Scandinavian Lutheran synods, otoh, can make that claim, as well as the Moravians.


Okay, thanks for the answer! It seems, though, that the Methodists derive this claim to Apostolic succession through Wesley’s ordination by a Greek Orthodox bishop. Wouldn’t this, then, make Wesley have Holy Orders?

Good question, but according to what I have read on this, no, and I believe the reason is that since Westley did not become Orthodox.

IOW, it’s not just that person- it’s also where the person hangs his hat.

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In my experience (I spent five years at Duke Divinity School, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, among numerous Methodist students and faculty), Methodists who do care about claiming apostolic succession don’t claim that John Wesley was ordained bishop by a Greek Orthodox bishop, but, following Wesley himself, claim that there is essentially no sacramental difference between a bishop and a presbyter. Since Wesley was clearly an Anglican presbyter (set aside the Catholic position that Anglican don’t have valid orders, because Methodists don’t care about that claim), he would have the power to ordain, if his position that presbyters and bishops are the same office is correct.

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From a Catholic perspective, whether Wesley actually converted to Orthodoxy wouldn’t matter. If he were indeed ordained a bishop by an Orthodox bishop (and I rather doubt he was), then he would sacramentally be a bishop with the power to ordain, even if he had not actually become Orthodox.

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Even if you could somehow trace Methodist bishops (or priests) in a tactile, personal succession back to the apostles, a break in apostolic succession would have occurred somewhere along the line, due to defect in form and/or intent.


Fascinating angle. And in the same light, they can perhaps claim St Thomas as the first Methodist!:grin:

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Um, no… that’s not the Church’s stance on Methodists.

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Okay, I get your point, but I was more trying to express the fact that we do not have a unity of faith with them, their claim to Apostolic succession notwithstanding.

They don’t believe in Christ’s physical presence in the Eucharist, do they? Unless they do, they’re not doing the work of a priest. If the denomination had someone with valid holy orders at some point, it seems that it would have quickly been lost when the presbyterate stopped doing the job of the presbyterate.

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Heretics? Only if they were Catholic and apostatized. You are not a heretic if that is what you have been taught, or if, for other reasons, you believe it to be the truth.

Put this question to them:

Q1: If Apostolic succession is so doggoned important, why not just be Catholic and not have to constantly explain things?

The only answer which even fits:

A: So we can be Catholic and not Catholic.

Q2: Does that make any sense at all?

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For extended discussions on this, and both the Orthodox and Catholic vagante, put this into your search engine:


As a wrench in that . . .

The Catholic West follows the Augustinian understanding of orders, an indelible mark and a character that follows the ordained man even if he breaks with the church (the various vagante bishops).

AFAIK, all Eastern Orthodox subscribe to the Cyprian understanding, which means that when breaking communion, Orders do not follow the priest or bishop.

It’s difficult to follow the argument without further research. I suspect the writer is misusing words. Take this sentence, for example:

Thomas Coke, our first bishop, was an ordained presbyter in the Church of England who was irregularly consecrated as a “superintendent” by John Wesley, who himself was an ordained Anglican presbyter.

I’m pretty sure that the Church of England has never used the term “presbyter” as the formal designation of its own clergy. Wesley was certainly an ordained Anglican priest, but calling him a “presbyter” serves only to muddy the waters.

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Maybe this is my fault, since I associate apostolic succession with right teaching and the Fullness of the Church, but if these Methodists are so hung up on it, why break off from the Church of England to begin with? Or otherwise, why make such a big deal about it? The Church of England, they would say, also have it, and they reject their authority (if the CoE even claims to have any divine authority). Apostolic Succession, then, isn’t such a big deal, it would seem.

Methodism grew out of Anglicanism which is, as you say, a heretic movement. Anglican orders are utterly void, as the Church has decided…

Whether at some point Anglican or Methodist ministers have succeeded in finding a valid bishop to consecrate them as bishops is only part of the question. The form and content of the consecration would also have to be valid, as well as the intentions.

Even if all these criteria were fulfilled, one would have to ask: why go to all that trouble to validate your episcopacy under Catholic canon law if you reject Catholicism?

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Methodists don’t believe in the seven sacraments in the same way that is taught by the Catholic Church.


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