The Bishop of Rome has weighed in. The Roman Catholic Church is The Real Thing. It's not New Coke, or Coke Light or Coke Zero -- it's Coke Classic, and all the other Churches are RC Cola or Tab.
"Other Christian denominations, it [Rome] argues, cannot be called Churches in the proper sense because they cannot trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles."
Good, but the doctrine of apostolic succession has weak Scriptural support and fails to account for the Sovereign Spirit of the Lord, who is surely not captive to the hands of fallible and potentially evil men.
The Roman Catholic Church has historical legitimacy, but lacks functional legimacy to the extent that its teachings deviate from those laid down by the apostles (as encapsulated in the New Testament Scriptures).
Since Christianity is, at heart, a message, and people become Christians not primarily by rites of the Church but by hearing the word of God and believing it, the Holy Spirit is presumably free to raise up believers in any time and any place who may or may not have any formal connections with the orginal historical church.
And the Church should rejoice in this!
On the day of Pentecost, the authenticating sign was not the presence of bishops or apostles, but the Holy Spirit. The same is true today.
It is true that each church in a geographical area is to have properly appointed overseers, but there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that they must all report to the bishop of a particular jurisdiction, i.e., Rome, or that only bishops directly or indirectly appointed by him have present-day legitimacy.
I respect the Roman Catholic Church. I honour it for its faithfulness during years of great trial and persecution. And I bless it for faithfully handing on the canon of Scripture. But it is a ship that is laden with barnacles that the New Testament would scrub and clean. It lacks authority when it claims authority for itself that is unwarranted by Scripture or history.
May Christians be brought together in unity in Christ by His Holy Spirit. May those who love the Lord in all denominations be blessed, and may those who claim to love Him but in fact hate Him and despise the witness he has given, be accursed (according to Scripture).
May the two-edged sword of the Spirit cut through the Churches and may the Lord's voice be clearly heard.
And may His sheep hear his voice and follow Him.