There are many church bodies and bishops who are not particularly concerned with apostolic succession. Generally they leave such concerns to those who do require it, but it is not a defining detail in their own ministry. I grew up and pastored in such an environment. In my youth, Apostolic Succession was never a topic of conversation at home, and we knew for certain that our christian relatives and ancestors, both lay and ordained, were about God’s work and demonstrators of holiness and Christian virtue. It is a tiny number of Christians today who believe that only their way and group will be in heaven.
LITURGICAL BISHOPS – In the various Lutheran church bodies, we now find bishops. Originally, when various Lutheran churches developed, usually in national groupings, there was sometimes apostolic succession. The Church of Sweden, for example, became Lutheran in toto. Later, in the new world, it was subsumed in the 1962 merger of the ULCA (early German immigration), Soumi (Finnish), the “happy danes” who drank alcoholic spirits, and the Slovak Zion LC. one of two Slovak immigrant churches, as well as the Swedes,which all were independent Lutheran bodies. Apostolic lines became so blurred as to become impossible to untangle. When I was first ordained into the then LCA, we used the title synod president. This later changed to bishop. The bishops functioned the same way as apostolic bishops. They ordained and provided pastoral oversight to allpastors and clergy in their synod or district. In my synod all congrergations used a common liturgical service. There were two sacraments recognized, and a number of rites. Frequency of Holy Communion varied from 2 times a year to every service. Most common was about once a month with quarterly next common. Many visitors to a Lutheran church would find the service closely resembling a Catholic mass, although the desire of Lutherans to separate themselves from Catholics precluded using that term. Lutheran bishops had no uncertainty that they were called by God to the ministry, and that it was valid. Nor were their congregants and pastors in doubt.
LESS LITURGICAL BISHOPS – Many main line Protestant church bodies choose not to use the term bishop but has leaders who exercise pastoral and/or administrative authority over pastors and preachers. Often their actions were almost identical to a bishop’s function. As to liturgy, every group which holds a service by definition has a liturgy, a work of the people. It may change radically from service to service, yet is always a liturgy. Even a quiet Quaker gathering qualifies.
The Methodist Churches, descended from John Wesley, a clergyman of the Anglican church for his entire life. He founded the Methodism renewal movement in England among Anglicanism, a method of Christian life, which became today’s Methodist Church. Methodist bishops in function have very similar authority to those of apostolic bishops. Liturgy, theology, and culture expressions are main differences. It would be a rare Methodist congregation which is “high church” in the U.S.A. today. Most are definitely “low church” in liturgy, as are the great majority of Anglicans in the U.S. A., England and worldwide.
INDEPENDENT LOOSE BISHOPS – Those bishops who are totally independent and have no one to whom they are responsible have the capability to do the most damage. Often they are self-consecrated or appointed. They are not recognized in their office by reputable church bodies. It may be damage to congregants through hurtful teachings or practices. It also may be damaging to responsible church bodies as his practices or teachings hurt the reputations or cause confusion among the faithful.
SOME FINAL PERSONAL THOUGHTS – One of the blessings I’ve received from apostolic succession is the strong identification with 2000 years of Christian predecessors. The fundamentals of Christian life and practice are vivid to me in this history.
It also has strengthened my love and respect for my fellow members wherever in the body of Christ, for my time as a Methodist and as a Lutheran…, and helps explains my problems as an independent christian.