I noticed in a comment that Lutherans have apostolic succession I figured this was a purely Catholic/Anglican/Orthodox thing is there a comparable Sacrament of Holy Orders in the Lutheran world?

  • Actually, apostolic succession was very important to the Methodist church in America too; so much so that they sent ministers to Scotland to receive the formal blessing from the Anglican church there when the English church refused it (if I am not getting my denominations and history mixed up).
    – user32
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 20:44
  • @software monkey, yeah I think you probably mean Episcopal instead of Methodist. Or maybe not since it's in Scotland, that's pretty interesting anyway.
    – Peter Turner
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 20:46
  • The early Episcopalians (as distinguished from loyalist Anglicans) in the new USA did have a bishop, Samuel Seabury, consecrated in Scotland. scotshistoryonline.co.uk/episcopal-church.html . I don't know about the Methodists.
    – user116
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 23:46
  • A link in the question to what (apostolic succession)[en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostolic_succession] is (supposed to be) would have been nice (no need to use WP, if you prefer some other site, that'd be grand). Commented Sep 9, 2011 at 20:05

6 Answers 6


The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America embraces apostolic succession. This has been true since Called to Common Mission, an agreement of full communion with the Episcopal Church of the USA, took effect a decade ago. When our bishops are installed (only pastors are ordained) a bishop who holds apostolic succession (often an Episcopal bishop) is present.

Agreeing to this was not simple, because North American Lutherans have long rejected it. But the churchwide assembly accepted the argument that full communion was more important than staying divided from the Episcopalians over this.


Apparently different Lutheran churches have different practices, with two Scandinavian state churches being the most notable proponents of apostolic succession (source):

  • Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Finland
  • Church of Sweden

These churches don't have the Sacrament of Holy Orders, as Luther rejected it. Still, bishops, priests and deacons are ordained, thus retaining apostolic succession.

A chart of the succession shows how Luther (an ordained Catholic priest) passed the succession to Mikael Agricola, the bishop of Turku, Finland.

Note that not all Lutheran churches hold the doctrine of apostolic succession.

  • This is something I'm not very familiar with, but I know a lot about ELCF and tried to answer to the best of my ability. Sorry if there are errors. Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 22:55
  • This doesn't make any sense to me. Martin Luther was (as far as I know) only a priest, never a bishop in RC church. Also, he was excommunicated long before ordaining any successors. Any references on exactly what it takes to constitute apostolic succession?
    – Bit Chaser
    Commented Sep 22, 2014 at 22:13
  • @disciple obviously excommunication by the Catholic church wouldn't matter to Lutherans. There probably are different views to this; I've heard it claimed that being ordained as a priest is enough. OTOH en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… mentions that in Sweden Catholic bishops converted to Lutheranism. Commented Sep 23, 2014 at 13:02

United Methodists have a "clandestine" form of apostolic succession. John Wesley an Anglican priest and founder of the Methodism movement was secretly and illicitly consecrated a bishop by a rogue Greek Orthodox Bishop named Erasmus. There is much debate as to whether the succession from Wesley onward was validly continued or whether there is a break in the succession.

As for the Evangelical Lutherans, in 1999 the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Episcopal Church formed an ecumenical full communion agreement known as "called to common mission". As part of the agreement from that point forward all evangelical Lutheran bishops will be consecrated by episcopal bishops until all evangelical Lutheran bishops are in the apostolic succession. Additionally, all future evangelical Lutheran pastors will be ordained by bishops in apostolic succession. Strict adherence to the called to common mission document requires that any Lutheran pastor that wishes to serve in an episcopal church must be ordained by a bishop in the apostolic succession.

Also, the Swedish Lutheran church always retained apostolic succession as did several other European Lutheran branches. The Lutheran church when it came to America began having pastors ordain other pastors, then pastors installing bishops and in doing so, broke the line of succession. The episcopal church simply gave American Lutherans back something which they had but lost... The historic episcopate. Luther was never against the concept of the apostolic succession. He was against papal supremacy and the intense divide between the clergy and the laity that existed during the Middle Ages. After his death some of his followers took it a step further renouncing apostolic succession completely and purposely breaking the line of succession. This was done by the Danish Lutheran church as well as several other Lutheran branches.


The Lutheran Confessions throughout were intended to merely address abuses in the Catholic Church. Where no abuses were addressed, the intention was to maintain the doctrine of the Catholic Church (see Augsburg Confession, at the end of Art XXI)

Therefore Lutheran Churches tried to maintain Catholic faith and order, and this includes Apostolic Succession. However, when certain Kings, rulers and some religious authorities refused to allow the ordination of priests/presbyters (aka pastors) or the consecration of new bishops who followed the Reformation in their realm the reformers had to continue the succession through their own presbyters. This has some historic precedent, as this was a lesser seen practice in the early church. This precedent was outlined in Melancthon's "Treatise on the power and primacy of the Pope", which was later included in the Confessions.

However, most Lutherans are now prepared to acknowledge that this succession through presbyters was a measure to be taken in the light of the political situation at the time, and that the historic episcopate was never intended to be rejected by the reformers. The issue at hand for the reformation has never been that the episcopate was "necessary" for the church but rather that it was "beneficial" for the church. Thus the churches which maintained their succession - where it was possible- can claim to be following the original intentions of the reformers. (See Bishop Bo Giertz's book "Christ's Church; her biblical roots,her dramatic history, her saving presence, her glorious future" for a good outline of Apostolic Succession in Lutheranism)

Of course there are many American so-called "Confessional" Lutherans that make outrageous claims about Lutheranism rejecting the historic episcopate and its succession but they have never agreed among themselves on the doctrine of the church and ministry anyway. They inherited a congregationalist church polity (a rather democratic system) which is incredibly messy and divisive from their immigrant founders. Sad but true. Unfortunately this amorphous perspective of doing church has spread through the English speaking Lutheran world due to their various prodigious publishing houses. It's even entered some newly founded European Confessional churches.

The real bottom line difference between the Reformation view of Apostolic Succession and that of the Roman Catholic church (and some Anglicans) is that Lutherans do not believe that having the Apostolic succession through bishops validates or makes "real" the sacraments of the church. Following the lead of St Augustine of Hippo, the Lutheran church emphasizes the word of God connected to the elements as instituted by Christ as that which validates the sacraments and gives them their saving power. There is ample evidence of this in the historic faith as well. For this reason many Lutherans over the centuries have not felt the need to pursue the restoration of the historic episcopate, but nonetheless some churches have taken those steps as the situation has arisen. Several European and Slavic Lutheran churches have restored their historic episcopate and a few American churches have as well. While not all of those bodies could be considered Confessional or orthodox Lutheran Churches some certainly are.

  • 1
    Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. For more on what this site is all about, see: How we are different than other sites. While your answer provides some interesting information and references related to the question, it does not seem to address the specific question asked, which is whether there is a Sacrament of Holy Orders in the Lutheran world similar to that in the other denominations mentioned. Commented Oct 8, 2017 at 14:50

The ELCA did not receive Apostolic Succession from the Episcopalians. Bp. Mark Hanson was installed Presiding Bishop on October 6, 2001 at Rockefeller Chapel in Chicago, IL, at the hands of other Lutheran Bishops within the historic episcopate. Episcopal Bishops were present though. The five Lutheran bishops came from Africa, Asia, Europe and Central America. They included Bishop Medardo Gomez Soto of El Salvador; Bishop Owdenburg Mdegella of Tanzania; Bishop Ambrose Moyo Zimbabwe; Bishop Julius Paul of Malaysia; and Bishop Maria Jepsen of Hamburg in Germany. Jepson was the only one of the five installing Lutheran bishops not in the historic episcopate. The service marked another milestone in the full communion agreement between the ELCA and Episcopal Church, Called to Common Mission (CCM).

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    – Community Bot
    Commented Nov 21, 2022 at 3:35

Lutherans have NEVER believed in the TRIFOLD "Office of the Keys", that is: that there is indeed a "spiritual distinction" in the rankings of the Priest, Deacon, and Bishop, from an Ordination perspective.. That there is but ONE office of ministry called "Pastor", and so all that is needed for Holy Orders - which like Confirmation, is a solemn rite, not a Sacrament - is another Ordained Minister of the Word to declare them (should they be found worthy) not in sacrament become, but in duty hold, the Authority of the "Office of the Keys" (which is Christ himself) and all of the Priestly powers thereof (such as the consecration of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist, the preaching office of the scriptures, and the 'In Persona Christi' for the Sacrament of Absolution)..

However, (not a doctrine) the ranks of Deacon, Parish Pastor (parish priest), and Bishop have all been retained for the sake of organization, THOUGH WE DON'T AND NEVER WILL ACCEPT THE NECESSITY FOR AN EPISCOPATE - as this contradicts our teaching in Sola Scriptura, that Bishops and Councils must always submit to the inspired Scriptures as HIGHEST AUTHORITY.

  • 1
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    – ThaddeusB
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 21:41

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