Ministers and laypeople of the Protestant Church of Christ,
If the Protestant Church of Christ is following a pattern, it resembles that of the heretics—all of whom lifted themselves over the Scriptures as self-appointed interpreters of Scripture, and over the Church by claiming such authority; who then defined new orthodoxy, and called it old. The early proto-Protestant heretics of antiquity, with whom you would largely, but not fully, disagree with doctrinally, were at least as credible as your restorers. Why should we not believe that they, and not you, represent the true Church? And less credible than the first heretics were the original Protestants of the sixteenth century, who too believed they were restoring what had gone into apostasy; but you do not follow Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli. No, you follow men who followed such men—the Protestant Church of Christ is the progeny of disgruntled Presbyterian ministers who, for no reason, believed they could, by their own power, resurrect the mystical body of Christ from a supposed blasphemous death, which could never occur. In other words, there was no “Great Apostasy” and there was no “Restoration”, but there is a real Church of Christ that teaches, and actually believes: to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:21).
You have little choice but to pretend there was such a great falling away, because history does not reveal, in any way, a pre-Restoration sympathizing Church. All of history testifies to a single historical Church, and it is Catholic through and through; it believed in baptismal regeneration (as you would agree), but it also believed in Baptism for infants, the primacy of St. Peter’s chair, Confession to a priest, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, purgatory, the communion of the saints, and so on. Your theory of Apostasy provides a supposed way around the facts of history, and it supports your preferred way of doing religion. And so your ministers continue to teach that the absence of your group’s ecclesiology, and theology in general, for over one thousand years is the result of a disappearance of the Church from the planet, instead of what is most likely the truth: your style of Christianity never existed, the real Church never died, and the Restoration, as you call it, is sect-gratifying wishful thinking.
The Protestant Church of Christ does not utilize the Scriptures to discover a prophesied Great Apostasy, as it claims; it abuses a few passages of Scripture to force a Great Apostasy—a theory that ignores the tide of inspired texts that work against your group’s theory and support the Catholic Church of Christ. Scripture, history, and reason all testify to the fact that your group has not restored any pristine Church, but that it engages in private interpretation of another Faith’s Scriptures, decides for itself what “Church” ought to be, and since it is unable to match its theory to anything from history (reality), it then concludes that its group vanished—that Jesus, essentially, built His Church in your group’s image, which would not exist for centuries. But before I illustrate its selective and erroneous use of Scriptures that many heretical sects cling to as their own, I will remind you that its wish for the death of Jesus’ mystical body is unscriptural, a tradition of men—opposition to God.
Was the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3) fumbled, just to be recovered by any sect? “Faith” was not the Bible; the “Faith” created the Bible, so is it not more reasonable to consult the body that created the Bible than any community that merely adopted an abridged version of it? How do you know your group rightly interprets the Bible, or contains the correct Faith? What is the source of that pride, pride that insists the Faith once for all delivered does not include the Sacred Tradition, was not once for all delivered, and was not delivered to the saints, but to you instead, or to any modern, self-promoting group?
Do you not believe Jesus when He told St. Peter, You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18)? Did the Petrine Ministry—to feed my sheep (John 21:17)—die? Is your theory of Apostasy more powerful and more meaningful to you than Jesus’ promise to be with you always, to the close of the age (Matthew 28:20), or does your wish to be right trump His Church’s ability to remain faithful? Is your modern community, somehow, more capable of remaining faithful than the ancient body Jesus chose, and gave the Counselor to be with them for ever (John 14:16)? Did the Spirit of truth that dwells in the Church die as well, and thus, prove Jesus wrong by leaving us desolate (v. 17)? Does death shall not prevail against it, always, and to the close of the age mean anything to you, or does the conspicuous absence of your group’s presence in history somehow override the promises of God?
So when did it happen? Can any of your elders or ministers suggest a day, a decade, or even a century when the Apostasy began—when the Church was weakened to a point that it needed to be reborn by men from Kentucky many centuries in the future? If toppled, would not a structure built on such a mighty foundation create an echo of some sort? A fact of this importance must surely have left a fingerprint, so where is the evidence?
Your apologists who illustrate the Catholic-ness of pre-Protestant Christianity do not suggest an Apostasy as they believe, but rather, they inadvertently suggest the history of Christianity is indeed Catholic! The pain it must cause them to persuade people of intellectual curiosity that the absence of evidence is actually proof for your group’s ancient existence must be unbearable, or rarely tested. Should one not learn from the wisdom of Gama’li-el, who surmised that if the Christian Church is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God (Acts 5:38,39). In other words, your group, which believes the Church failed and was overthrown by infidelity, might be opposing God.
The real Church is of God, and it was not overthrown. Our King does reign, but how could the King reign for ever and ever (Hebrews 1:8) without a kingdom? And is not the Church His kingdom? And does not the angel Gabriel tell our Lady that Jesus will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end (Luke 1:33)? Did His kingdom with His ministers change the unchangeable characteristics of the Church by ceasing to be a mustard seed, by ceasing to be bread without yeast (cf. Matthew 13:31-35), by putting its lamp under a bushel (Matthew 5:15)?
The real Church says No! St. Paul taught that the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable (Romans 11:29), and faith is a gift, and our Lord’s passion is a continuous gift, from generation to generation (Luke 1:50). His city, purchased with blood, is eternal, or as the psalmist wrote, As we have heard, so have we in the city of the LORD of hosts, in the city of our God, which God establishes for ever (Psalm 48:8). Were the centuries of anticipation as revealed in the Old Testament thwarted so early after Jesus’ passion? Was Daniel describing a temporary Church when he wrote, And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever (Daniel 2:44)? Should we believe Jesus was referring to His Church when He said, Every plant which my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up (Matthew 15:13)? People who teach such nonsense are blind guides. And if a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit (v. 14).
Did salvation history end with the death of Christ’s Bride at some undetermined moment that escapes even your “true church’s” recollection, only to be brought back to life by your “true church’s” interpreting power? Were your restorers better than Jesus, because they resuscitated her while He left her to die? Were your restorers more instrumental than the Apostles, because they assigned themselves the more difficult task of restoring (re-creating) what the Apostles were only assigned by Jesus to maintain (perpetuate)? Were your restorers greater than the supposed apostate fourth-century Catholic fathers who matter-of-factly discerned the canon of Scripture and compiled the Bible for the world-wide Church, because they took her Holy Writings for personal and sectarian gain, and essentially propagated the blasphemy that someone greater than God had snatched the Church out of the Father’s hand (John 10:29)? Your group is founded on the theory that the Church failed, but the Catholic Church of Christ rests on a Savior Who accomplished His mission and kept His promises—it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock (Matthew 7:25).
Some of you choose to retreat, and reframe the “Great Apostasy theory” in a manner that is less extreme by changing it into a “Remnant theory”—that a near-total apostasy occurred, that a small group, somewhere, remained faithful. The theory is not unique; many American-born sects embrace it, and of course, the invisible remnant surely practiced the same style of religion that any modern group wishes to support. Is there any record of a remnant community that practiced what could be construed as Protestant Church of Christ Christianity? Sure, you might superficially associate yourself with fringe groups such as the Lollards or Albigensians, but any examination reveals the gap between your theological tenets. And it is possible for any sect, as with the Mormons and the Seventh Day Adventists, as well as your group, to read itself into the Scriptures and into history, and then believe that “the Church of Acts” is, as always, “our” Church.
And that is how your group avoids the obvious truth that Scripture and history reveal, which is that the only Church that existed was the Catholic Church. There is no remnant artifact that you are able to associate yourselves with, and there is no document that suggests a remnant community—it is a modern theory to avoid the Catholic Church. But you have no choice; you must devise some rationalization, so you force your pretend group into a pretend history, and then expect the world to accept your pretense, and respect it as “true”, and “biblical”, Christianity.
If there were some sort of remnant that would be sympathetic to your latter-day communities, then it was a rather fruitless group, a group that existed for one thousand years or more yet never created an existing single piece of writing that you could point to! Presumably, your ancestors were literate, because they would surely have been “Bible-only” Christians; which would be difficult, because the printing press had not been invented in the western world until the fifteenth century. So what version of the Bible did your remnant use? There surely were collections of Scripture—the canon was determined in the fourth century by bishops of the Catholic Church, and then the Scriptures were painstakingly copied by hand for its purpose: use within the Catholic Liturgy. So did the remnant utilize the Catholic canon, or did it utilize the abridged Protestant canon that was created in the sixteenth century—the canon that you since adopted yourselves, yet still deny that you are Protestant? And that raises another question: Where are the remnant’s Bibles? The real Church of Christ had Bibles, but your group, with your supposed remnant ancestors, does not. Your group relies on Catholic labor (and Protestant labor that relies on Catholic labor) for your inspired text—there is no “Protestant Church of Christ Bible”. The oldest manuscripts can all be traced to rites of the Catholic Church, not to any Protestant group. Would not your group, which claims to be the true Church, which is a “Bible-only” community, if it were anchored in some way to the nascent Church, be able to supply a single Bible, or even a single fragment of Scripture of any kind, instead of relying, again, on Catholic labor?
Where, physically, were your remnant ancestors? Would not the Church resemble Daniel’s prophecy: the Church became a great mountain and filled the whole earth (Daniel 2:35)? Where is your earth-filled mountain? Would a person not see a mountain, even from a great distance? If the remnant Church filled the whole earth, why was the earth so empty of it? Would we not see the mountain’s lights, or did your ancestors keep their candles under a bed (cf. Mark 4:21)? Is not Christ’s kingdom a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28), and did the Church not pray for the servants of God to speak his word with all boldness (Acts 4:29), and did they not receive that gift (cf. v. 31)? Would you presume the irrevocable gift was, again, revoked?
If the remnant were the Church of Acts, as you would presume, then would they not have turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6) instead of vanishing into a mountain-less corner of the world for over one thousand years and leave no impact of any kind whatsoever? Where are your heroes, your cloud of witnesses? Have you no saints that lived after the Apostles, yet before your latter-day figures, who are worthy of mention? If so, do they not deserve bronze busts on your university campuses alongside your nineteenth century restorers? Or are there too few of them, because even a near-full apostasy would have rendered the planet almost hopeless for the promises of Christ—the gospel.
And woe to those hopeless generations that Mary must have overlooked when she prophesied, For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed (Luke 1:48), who were cursed, stuck between forgivable times of ignorance (cf. Acts 17:30,31) and the nineteenth century, when your group, presumably, decided to shed its sloth and get serious about its mission, yet still refuse to call her at all.