Sure, it could happen.
Explanation #2: The apostles set up a hierarchical system of bishops, priests, and deacons complete with the doctrine of apostolic succession and we need to read the relevant New Testament texts in light of that and adopt the same system today.
Writing in the late second century bishop and theologian St. Irenaeus said, “[I]t is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the infallible charism of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father.”
The Church Fathers are full of disturbing stuff like that. If you must read them, read them as quoted in Calvin and Luther. Taken on their own, they’re disturbing.
Rule #5: Affirm “The Great Tradition,” but Don’t Ask What’s Included in the Great Tradition
Connected to the Church Fathers is the Great Tradition, something that has made a comeback recently in the thinking of evangelicals. For example, the Urban Ministry Institute, a division of the evangelical ministry World Impact, wants to revive the Great Tradition. They write:
As the roots of our orthodox faith, the Great Tradition is grounded in the Apostolic Tradition set in the bounds of the historic orthodox faith as defined and asserted in the ecumenical creeds of the ancient and undivided Church, with special focus on the Nicene Creed. It confesses the Ancient Rule of Faith, the core Christian confession expressed in that adage of [the fifth century monk] Vincent of Lerins: “that which has always been believed, everywhere, and by all.”
Some evangelical leaders have begun espousing theology somewhere between wobbly and downright heretical. Somehow it has escaped these “post-conservative evangelicals” (sounds like an oxymoron to me) that they’re repeating the errors the Protestant Mainline churches made over a century ago, errors that caused them to slip from mainline to oldline to sideline to what they are today: side show. Nonetheless, since no one gets published by agreeing with everybody else, evangelical theology is being kicked down the slippery slope into the same subjectivity, private judgment, and irrelevance that marks its mainline cousin.
Traditional evangelicals trying to do damage control feel a need to put a hedge around the Scripture and around orthodox theology. The chosen hedge for some is the Great Tradition. As one evangelical thinker writes, “Scripture is primary, but the Great Tradition is the authoritative guide to its interpretation.” Unless evangelicals accept this, he goes on, “[evangelicalism] will risk disintegrating into ever more subjectivist and individualistic sects, many of them neither evangelical nor orthodox.”
Now an evangelical appealing to the authority of the Church is already more than just a little strange. But beyond that, when he affirms the Great Tradition, what he really wants is orthodox Trinitarian theology and Christology as expressed in the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds. And while I’m all for that, it’s a very Protestant pick-and-choose approach to something larger than the Creeds.
If we are to follow Vincent of Lerins’ rule of “that which has always been believed, everywhere, and by all,” we can’t stop with the Trinity and the two natures of Christ. We need to take it all.
As pointed out in Rule #4, above, the Great Tradition includes bishops and apostolic succession. Hence, the Church is “one, holy, and apostolic.” Reinterpreting apostolic as “based on the writings of the apostles,” that is, “biblical” really isn’t an option particularly if you’re going to affirm the Great Tradition to keep others from doing the same sort of reinterpreting to the Bible.
The Great Tradition includes the real real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, not some sort of spiritual real presence. In his book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, Robert Louis Wilken quotes Justin Martyr (AD 103-165): “So also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by being renewed, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.” If you want the Great Tradition, “symbolic presence” and “spiritual presence” were not options and neither is the notion that the Lord’s Supper is an “ordinance” rather than a “sacrament.”