APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION The direct, continuous, and unbroken line of succession transmitted to the bishops of the Church by the Apostles. The bishops, who form a collective body (that is the leadership of the Church), are considered to be successors of the Apostles; and, consequently, the duties and powers given to the Apostles by Christ are transmitted through "the laying-on-of hands" to the bishops and priests who succeeded them by ordination (cheirotonia) to priesthood.
Apostolic Succession has been a water shed issue since the second century, not as a mere dogma, but as crucial to the preservation of the Faith. Certain false teachers came on the scene at that time insisting they were authoritative representatives of the Christian Church. Claiming authority from God by appealing to special revelations, some were even in venting lineages of teachers supposedly going back to Christ or the Apostles. In response, the early Church insisted there was an authoritative apostolic deposit passed down from generation to generation. They detailed that actual lineage, showing how its clergy were ordained by those chosen by the successors of the Apostles chosen by Christ Himself.
Apostolic succession is an indispensable factor in preserving unity in the Church. Those in that succession are accountable to it, and are responsible to ensure that all teaching and practice in the Church is in keeping with her apostolic foundations. Mere personal conviction that one's teaching is correct can never be considered adequate proof of accuracy. Today, critics of apostolic succession are those who stand outside that historic succession and seek an identity with the early Church only. The burgeoning number of denominations in the world can be accounted for in large measure because of a rejection of apostolic succession.