My response which I will defend here is twofold:
One, that these verses do not show that the Church was “plunged into the long dark ages for more than a thousand years”.
And two, these verses do not show the Catholic conception of apostolic succession to be false.
The verses are from this article:
Here is the pertinent paragraph:
“Nevertheless, the devil also seems to have scored a great victory in that he instigated a deadly hatred, against the human teller of this secret. It is very important to see that from the time he told this mystery, Paul was forsaken by many of his old friends. Study carefully Philippians 2:20 and 21; Colossians 4:11; II Timothy 1:15; II Timothy 4:10; II Timothy 4:17; Ephesians 6:19 and 20. The great apostasy which plunged the Church in the long dark ages for more than a thousand years, commenced with the rejection of Paul’s message, mystery and ministry. At least eighty per cent of the confusion and delusion of our troubled days is also directly attributable to the same cause.”
First, I will admit that these verses showing very early apostasy are *consistent* with there being “The great apostasy which plunged the Church in[to] the long dark ages for more than a thousand years, commenced with the rejection of Paul’s message, mystery and ministry.”
But they do not prove any such thing happened, and they are also consistent with a quite opposite situation with a faithful remnant of a Church under severe persecution (what I would say), which is what we find in the scripture (St. John) and in the late 1st and early 2nd century with men like Pope St. Clement (90’s) and St. Ignatius (107). These men also speak extensively about unity and apostasy. Clement does so to the SAME Corinthian church Paul had written to! That right there shows that the Corinthians had not apostatized even as late as the 90’s. In 107 Ignatius writes to 6 different churches (including Ephesus, where St. John had been) that had not apostatized. And as far as these apostates rejecting Paul in some *specific* way, no, because every single other (I’m pretty sure) New Testament writer besides Paul gives examples of or speaks against apostasy. For instance if we look at 1John, which was probably written in the 90’s, he also talks about apostates and “anti-christs”. 30 years after Paul’s death there are still Christians apostatizing, just like today. Also Paul nowhere implies in these verses the apostasy is universal (could effect the entire Church.)
These verses do not prove a mass apostasy started with Paul any more than the rich young ruler leaving Jesus or many of his disciples who leave Him in John 6 proves that that was the point of a great apostasy, or that the apostles abandoning him on the cross proves it. We all can agree that in the early church before and after Paul there was apostasy. No one denies that, but the entire NT taken as a whole paints a picture of a Church losing apostates yet surviving intact.
Second, these verses do not show the succession (which we clearly see in scripture) to have been broken or to not be in effect in the NT. One of the great things about succession is that it shines light like a laser on apostasy. In fact it is the only way to objectively identify apostasy. When multiple men claim to speak with the authority of God and all use scripture to back their claims, succession can show us who is legit and who is not. The actual scriptural proofs for succession are not the topic here, so I wont side track.
My point is merely to say that these verses are consistent with apostolic succession and in no way disprove it or show it to not be in effect in NT times. Apostolic succession does not imply there will not be apostasy from the Church, in fact it assumes it! It is an objective way of identifying the Church and who seperates from the Church. Those who do not even claim apostolic succession (such as you Pauline Dispensationalists) generally have some other way of determining if they are an apostate. (for your denomination I believe it would be something on the order of "not recieving the free gift of God's grace") But history (even right away in NT history) has shown that abandoning physical apostolic succession and the teaching of the apostles is what makes an apostate. That is why John says “they went out from us”, and why Paul says he hands people over to Satan. There is a positional change, not just merely a change of doctrinal opinion, but a change in *who’s authority* the apostate is under. From the apostles and their successors they leave to go to some other authority.
I will comment briefly on a few of the verses:
Here is a link to Biblegateway with the scriptures all on the same page for reference:
Phil. 2:20-21: “For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.” Paul is highly recommending Timothy, one of the faithful men whom he has ordained in the line of succession. His point is not to say the whole Church is apostate, but that Bishop Timothy is a diamond in the rough. (Btw, in 2 Tim. 2:2 Paul give the first four generations of apostolic succession.)
Col. 4:11: “and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me.” He is talking about those “fellow workers” he is working with directly, face to face. He is not implying everyone else is apostate. Side note: Notice he is working for the “Kingdom” program as well, which is the only NT program.
1Tim. 1:15: “You are aware that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes.” Paul is talking about those who have left him to rot in prison, as the following verses show. He is not saying that every believer in all of Asia (Turkey) has apostatized.
2 Tim. 4:10, 17: (The writer of the article meant 16, not 17 I think) Again Paul is merely talking about those who have abandoned him in prison. As verse 9, and 10-15 put into context. There is no “Great Apostasy” that is “commencing with the rejection of Paul’s message”. Just in chapter 4 alone, Paul mentions 14 people by name that are not apostate, he mentions a whole household, plus 5 cities (including “all the brethren” at Rome, including the future pope Linus who is also mentioned) including Ephesus and Corinth which have non-apostate churches.
Eph. 6:19-20 I am at a loss. I don’t understand how this verse relates even a little bit. Paul asks for prayer that he may boldly preach the gospel. How does that relate? Perhaps it was mis-cited?
I set out to show two points. And I think I have shown here how #1 these verses *do not* prove that “The great apostasy […] plunged the Church into the long dark ages for more than a thousand years, commenc[ing] with the rejection of Paul’s message, mystery and ministry.” And that #2, they do not in any way contradict the clear NT teaching on apostolic succession. Even if half the NT Church apostatized, there still was a sizeable Church that we see (in the NT and early Christian writings) handing down the apostolic faith.
At the very least, someone inclined to use these verses as reason to believe that a “Great Apostasy” began directly after Paul must concede that it is quite reasonable for others to disagree about that particular interpretation even based on scripture alone. (The vast majority of Protestants disagree vigorously with that interpretation) If we include post NT history which shows a continuing faithful church directly seeded by the apostles…
...the case becomes even more undeniable.