COC #4: The Church of Christ Pre-Dates the Bible

Non-Catholic Christians,

How impossible it is for any “Bible-only” community to be the true Church of Christ! Can you not understand that the ontological priority of a sacred library of books must be a sacred body with the authority to have recognized and labeled it as such, that an inerrant text requires an inerrant author, that the Spirit who aided the writing is the same Spirit who aids interpretation—that you would have no reason to believe the books that comprise the New Testament are inspired if it were not for the authority of a God-intended Sacred Tradition?

Absolutely, a Church existed before the first character of St. Matthew’s Gospel was written, and was St. Matthew not a Christian—a citizen of the real Church of Christ? Was St. Matthew a “Bible-only” believer, or did he believe the Word was Christ Jesus? The kingdom is at hand, it is where Christ is, and Christ is with His Holy Bride. Jesus was tented in Mary’s womb, thus she was the first Christian, but was she a believer in Protestant-styled sola Scriptura as members of the Protestant Church of Christ are at this late time? 

We know Jesus could write (cf. John 8:6), but He did not write a book; He allowed His Church to manage the writing. Yet with no writings of ecclesial matters from our Lord, the Apostles managed to create and perpetuate proper ecclesial governance, and that proper ecclesial governance existed before the New Testament Scriptures existed in any fetal form. If “Bible-only” Christianity is true, should we not, then, assume the nascent Church, with its fledgling ecclesial structure, was illegitimate and with no authority at all—that the structure the Apostles created was not Jesus’ intention simply because there was no detailed New Testament scriptural mandate? Are we to believe that if the primitive Church leaders had never decided to write the New Testament—if doing so was not good to the Holy Spirit and to them—that there would be no true Church today?

Was St. Paul a “Bible-only” Christian? Did he refer to the Old Testament or New Testament for every authoritative teaching? What St. Paul did was acknowledge that the Church, not the Bible, is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Timothy 3:15), that through the Church, not the Bible, the manifold wisdom of God might be known (Ephesians 3:10), and that the [Old Testament] Scriptures are inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16); but a reasonable argument cannot be made to support any theory that St. Paul supplanted the authority of the Church with what that Church would write and then label as inspired at some point in the future. The pattern of apostolic ecclesiology is foreign to the modern theory that the Book is the sole authority in matters of religion, usurping the pillar and foundation of truth; but detecting uncomfortable patterns is not what the Protestant Church of Christ is inclined to do. 

With no doubt, the real Church of Christ existed before the Bible. And with no doubt, the Catholic Church of Christ continues to recognize the body through which proper ecclesial governance is maintained, which constitutes the embodiment of authentic Christian doctrine and unity. That embodiment is precisely the institution that, after she came into existence, began to write letters, evangelistic pleas, and historical accounts—the New Testament. Was that Church designing its own undoing by creating the Bible? Would its authority and status as the pillar and foundation of truth cease because it would create New Testament Scripture? Was the pattern usurped? If so, and if “Bible-only” Christianity or sola Scriptura is true (Jesus’ intent) then should we not expect such an important truth regarding the Faith to be presented somewhere within Scriptura?

Can an honest student argue that St. Peter and St. Paul would find communion with the Protestant Church of Christ—a collection of communities that originated in 19th century Kentucky, who were not called, but rather, promoted themselves as inerrant interpreters of another Faith’s Book? Your Church was designed by men who took a product that was already in existence (the Bible), which was created by a body that was already in existence (the Catholic Church). Instead of allowing the Bible to reflect what was already alive, the Protestant Church of Christ uses the Sacred Scriptures to kill what it wishes dead, and then uses the deceased’s Scriptures as a template to construct new ecclesial communities and read itself into God’s written word—it cannot create, it cannot maintain; it imitates.  

Your group’s ecclesiology and practices are based on patternistic theology (biblical precedents and commands). The patterns you select are arbitrary, and you have neither the authority nor charism of infallibility to rightly divide them; admitting to your use of pattern theology is a self-attestation as to how your group is not the nascent Church. Has your group ever provided any reason why anyone should believe your patternistic theories and conclusions? Why are your group’s insights correct? Who in your midst has the extra-biblical authority to provide such a stamp? Why is your model more reliable than the sect’s next door? Moreover, how is it that you have somehow determined the proper pattern from which to imitate and bind your fellow believers? You must admit that sincere men and women of opposing Protestant sects have attempted to discern, divide, and decode the Scriptures with vastly different conclusions than yours. In other words, as affectionately as I know how to ask: Who do you think you are? 

Can you not realize that a pattern presupposes a Church that was already in existence—that an actress is self-evidently not who she is pretending to be? Does “X” become “Y” by imitation? The Catholic Church of Christ does not search the Scriptures for clues as to how proper governance should be constructed, which is exactly what your restorers did. No, the Catholic Church’s Book belongs to her, is a mirror that reflects the beauty of who wrote it, is a result—not a cause—of her own existence; the true Church cannot imitate itself.

Together, the authority and teachings of that real Church of Christ (Sacred Magisterium, Sacred Tradition), along with her inspired writings she produced as carried along by the Holy Spirit, and with the full Old Testament (Sacred Scripture), comprise the double-edged sword of the word of God. The Protestant Church of Christ possesses less than half of it (abridged versions of the Bible only), and no reliable means of properly interpreting it—every interpretation you develop is a guess, whether you admit it or not.