#4 (and following): The remaining lesser proofs that Wharton and the Protestant Church of Christ provide are presented in the same manner as #3, which is a posited theory followed by a referenced verse without quoted text. In other words, commentary (not Scripture) is presented as the word of God, such as (in Wharton’s words):
• “The local church chose its own missionaries (Acts 13:1-3).”
• “The local church was instructed to judge and discipline her own members (Matthew 18:17; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15).”
• “The local church was to settle her own internal problems (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).”
• “Each local church was responsible to respond to the Lord’s instruction (Revelation 2:1-3:22).”
And as with #3, a complete reading of each passage pre-supposes the Catholic hierarchy. The object of your group’s theory (ecclesial independence) is, however, dependent on the erasure of Catholic authority and Scripture. But your group’s supportive proofs are straw men; they do not reduce the Catholic paradigm, but rather, support it, because the Catholic Church agrees with the actual content (not Protestant commentary) of each passage. In other words, She agrees with what she wrote and stamped as Sacred Scripture, and the Scriptures mean what She wrote them to mean.
The Catholic Church’s hierarchy does not micro-manage the daily functions of each parish, nor instruct who, among her parishes’ members, might become missionaries, and she does not deny the local church the ability to form any decision or judgment; but rather, she grants each local church the freedom for such activities. In other words, the very fact that each local church is free to manage her own affairs in any regard is a result of the hierarchy’s authority, and freedom in some cases does not translate to parish self-rule in all cases.
Furthermore, and as with every scriptural proof that might be drawn by your group, these supportive texts, internally, historically, and logically, all pre-suppose the object your community has designed them to eliminate: the Sacred Magisterium of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church—the real Church of Christ.
Where does the Protestant Church of Christ’s wish for local church autonomy (which, of course, translates to world-wide congregational autonomy) come from? Does it come from Scripture? Which Scripture? Not one scriptural passage your group produces supports its theory. What the Scriptures reveal, however, is thoroughly Catholic. Properly ordained ministers were called; they did not grab what should be handed, they did not appoint themselves, nor were they appointed by a community outside the communion of St. Peter and the Apostles. The Apostle John reminds his audience that legitimate Church authority rests in the Apostles (which mandates succession), and he condemned specific people who like to put himself first . . . [and] . . . does not acknowledge . . . authority (3 John 9). Catholics believe that God, through His Church, calls men to ministry and that self-ordained ministers, or ministers ordained by communities that are not in communion with the nascent Church, are false apostles, possibly putting themselves first. But still, the Protestant Church of Christ demands that its model is “biblical”.
The historical reality of your group’s birth in 19th century Kentucky sheds light into the mystery. Protestant Church of Christ preacher Leroy Brownlow, from one of his 1974 sermons (with more than one million copies distributed, as claimed), offered insight into your group’s Americanism and kingdom-shaped expectation by likening its ecclesiological preference for self-rule with a political model:
Autonomy is defined as “right of self-government; a self-governing state; an independent body.” In the first century each congregation was such . . . . There was no tyranny of one church over another. The church in Rome or Jerusalem had no authority over the churches in other communities. Men outside the congregation had no right to exercise authority and power within the congregation. The elders and deacons in one congregation had no authority to exercise despotic rule or any other kind of rule over the elders and deacons in another congregation. Each church was free and independent . . . .15
Words like “tyranny” and “despotic” reveal a bigoted foundational starting point for the Protestant Church of Christ’s ecclesiological model. The Catholic Church of Christ is a different kind of kingdom, it is Christ’s kingdom, and proper followers of Christ do not compare Christ’s Bride to tyrants or despots; nor do they build their own communities out of fear of tyranny or build for themselves a model that history has proved to simply not work. Such unreasonable prejudice is summarized well by Philosopher Peter Kreeft:
The Catholic Church is a hierarchy, not a democracy, . . . How perverse and suspicious we must be to think “tyranny” whenever we think “hierarchy”. That is like thinking “counterfeit” whenever we think “money”, or “rape” whenever we think “sex”.16
Both Wharton and Brownlow conclude their arguments for church autonomy by reiterating their group’s founding (re-incarnational) premise: Apostasy and Restoration. Completing Wharton’s one and one half pages of proofs for local church autonomy, he wrote, “Local church autonomy is the safety valve against full-scale apostasy.”17 Brownlow wrote, “The wisdom of God is seen in such an arrangement for his churches . . . . If one became affected by evil practices, other churches would not be so affected.”18 But is the “wisdom of God” found within so many contradicting Protestant communities who have adopted the premises of autonomy and private interpretation, who argue among themselves, cannot find communion with each other, teach vastly different doctrines, have exploded into hundreds of denominations and groups that refuse to be called denominations? Is Jesus’ prayer for unity found within the broad umbrella of non-Catholic Christianity detectable? Is it not obvious that in order for a man to raise his Bible overhead and plant a congregation that believes just as he believes, that he must first insist and persuade others that the hierarchy is a hoax? One model is apostolic; the other is entrepreneurial. One is reflected in the Scriptures; the other is not. One is Jesus’ intent; the other is represented by groups that believe their model is true simply because they want it to be true.
If the “Bible only” provides a command, example, or inference for the Protestant Church of Christ’s model, it has not yet been presented in any manner that shoppers can discover. What your shoppers are able to find, however, is an oft-repeated preference, a theory, lots of rationalizations for self-called positions, but no scriptural support. Every Scripture the Protestant Church of Christ offers is not actual Scripture; they are interpretations disguised as Scripture. If the Scriptures support your model, then the passage(s) have evaded all of Christianity for centuries until your group discovered it, yet refuses to share it or direct anyone to it.
15 Leroy Brownlow, Why I am a Member of the Church of Christ (Fort Worth: The Brownlow Corporation, 2004), 39,40.
16 Peter J. Kreeft, Handbook of Catholic Apologetics (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009), 436.
17 Wharton, 87.
18 Brownlow, 40. Note: The Protestant Church of Christ, however, does believe that a full-scale (or near full-scale) apostasy occurred. Therefore, Brownlow’s premise harms other in-house theories and indicates that the early churches were not as autonomous as he suggests.