Friday, March 04, 2011
John Wesley and Apostolic Succession
One of the "controversial" claims made by the Rev'd Dr Peterson at M11 was that only ordained clergy can/should consecrate the elements. This came up today in a conversation I had with a friend of mine who is a student at Neshota House Seminary. His argument goes something like this:
1) Wesley understood that the church, to be the church, must have the sacraments;
2) Wesley understood that to have the sacraments, the church must have ordained priests;
3) Wesley understood that to have priests, the church must have bishops in Apostolic Succession to ordain priests.
4) When the church would not send bishops, Wesley was faced with a dilemma: (a) don't have the sacraments; (b) allow lay-persons to consecrate the elements; (c) appoint Methodist "superintendents" to ordain clergy so their can be a priesthood to consecrate the elements.
5) Wesley chose (c) and engaged in theological/exegetical gymnastics in order to get around Apostolic Succession in order to provide a priesthood in America to celebrate the sacraments.
6) The end result of Wesley's breaking of Apostolic Succession is the loss of a Methodist priesthood and ultimately a loss of a truly sacramental church.
Here is his final claim:
7) If Wesley would have been able to foresee the result of his circumventing of Apostolic Succession, he would not have done so.
His argument is quite interesting and could be discussed at a number of points (please feel free to do so). My questions regard his conclusion: Is #6 a fair critique? Did Wesley's move away from Apostolic Succession (in the Traditional Anglican/Catholic/Orthodox understanding) lead ultimately to the present state of sacraments in the Methodist churches? Do you think Wesley would have done things differently at this point if he had it to do over again? Why or why not?