A great post on the subject over at Thoughts On The Way:
In short, apostolic succession is the succession of apostolic authority into the hands of the episcopate. It is clear that the authority of Jesus was given to the apostles after Jesus’ resurrection. They embodied his earthly presence. They were his body embodied.
What happened to this apostolic authority after the passing of the apostles? One of the most significant (and specious) assumptions among Protestants is that this authority ceased but remained enshrined in the Bible. But this is not the case. For starters, there was no Bible per se for several centuries. Moreover, St. Clement, writing to the Church in Corinth from Rome in ca. 95 AD/CE (keep in mind St. John wrote around the same time), unequivocally stated that apostles knew that a great strife would arise over their office after they left, so they invested bishops with their authority, though not their title (cf. 1 Clem 44).
Furthermore, little to no dissenting information exists in the early period (and perhaps until the 16th century, but I need to do more research here). St. Ignatius’s mantra, writing while traveling towards his impending death (ca. 112 AD/CE), was no bishop = no church (cf. e.g. Ign. Mag. 6.1, 2; 7.1; 13.2; Tral. 2.1–2; 3.1; 7.2; Phila. 1.1; 3.2; 4.1; 8.1; Smyr. 8.1–2; 9.1), because God gave authority to Jesus, Jesus to the apostles and other clergy whom they lead. Thus, for St. Ignatius one cannot be connected to Jesus and God apart from the bishops and the catholic Church. Concomitant with this, one should not partake of the Eucharist or baptize apart from the Bishop or one he appoints. Keep in mind: this cannot be a personal power-play (he himself was a bishop) as he writes while in route to his own martyrdom.
St. Cyprian, St. Augustine and many, many others echo this same sentiment. St. Cyprian is famous for such statements as, “There is no salvation outside the Church,” (Ep. 61.4) and “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother” (On the Unity of the Church, 6). St. Augustine and many others, including (much to the chagrin of Protestants) Martin Luther, believed likewise. Now I have had a well-meaning, renown professor of Church History tell me that Cyprian said this because by Church he meant the place where the Gospel resides. However, after carefully reading Cyprian for about a year, I can tell you that this notion is untenable and needs to be defenestrated. But, as my friend from Reading Rainbow used to say, “… but don’t take my word for it.” A cursory reading will show that Cyprian thinks of the Church in terms of episcopal succession of the apostles.
Now, I genuinely think that these same men would not say the exact same thing today. It is easier to say these things when you can count on your own body parts the number of divisions within the Church. However, there are now 50,000+ denominations (read: divisions) in Jesus’ body.
However, the image I think of is the biblical one: the body of the Lord Jesus. At present, it is severed and dismembered—bleeding and wounded. I will not say that those outside of a branch of the Church with apostolic succession are not in the Church. But I will say that, amidst the sad divisions in the body of Christ, Churches that retain their apostolic succession are the vital organs of heart, brain, etc. The severed arm is still a part of the wounded body, but it is not a vital organ.
That’s why, when people ask why we joined the Anglican Church, my short answer is “we want to be organically connected to the life of the early Church. We want to be vitally connected to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.”
So does it matter? Yes. I do not think this is a salvation issue. But, to be clear, I do think this is an obedience issue, as God desires his Church to be one (cf. John 17.20–26)
My only comment for Matt (the author) or Lauren (the blogger) would be: How can something be an obedience issue and not a salvation issue? Isn’t part of the meaning of “salvation” to be brought into conformity and into the likeness of God… to become partakers of the Divine Nature?