You know, the Church was founded and grew rapidly, according to Jesus’ plan, with no New Testament scripture at all. It grew on the preached word of he Apostles. There was not a single jot of Gospel scripture for 20+ years after Christ ascended, and even then it may have taken years to be copied and distributed to all existing Churches. John’s Gospel was not written until 60+ years after the Ascension, and again, it took years to be copied and distributed. It is quite possible that many had not seen the written Gospel for nearly 100 years after Christ ascended.
But, and this is the huge “but”, all Christians had heard the Gospel message as Jesus intended - preached by the Aposltes and their successors. That is how the conversion of sinners took place. Read the prologue to Luke (Luke 1:1-4). Four verses that absoutely establish the efficacy of the oral preaching Tradition. In those four short sentences, we learn that Theophilus, an early Christian, learned nothing - zero, zip, nada, from Luke’s Gospel. Luke wrote the Gospel only to confirm the oral teaching that Theophilus had already received.
Since coming to CAF and hearing the non-historical insistence by some of our guests that the bible is somehow a “foundation” or “sole rule” for faith, I have wondered just what role the “bible” (which did not exist as an agreed upon collection of books and letters until hundreds of years later) played in the early Church. Well, since there were some scriptures, but no “bible” for centuries, it clearly played a limited role.
Apostolic authority, which Jesus gave to His Apostles, and which was used to both form and grow the Church, was handed on - by the laying on of hands - which is the very definition of the word “tradition” In fact, the thing that most bible Christians will not admit is that the bible itself is a tradition, since it was “handed on” by the earlier Church to the current one. Anything that is handed on is a tradition. Without Apostolic succession, there would be no bible as we know it. King James Version loyalists, for example, would be wandering in a sullen fog today.
Yet, the Catholic and various Orthodox Churches would be preaching the Gospel just fine with no bible, as they did when unified in the early days. They alone have the Apostolic authority to continue the Church. Oh, the lack of collected scriptures would be a loss most certainly, but it did not impede the early Church from growing at fantastic rates.
Bible-based Churches, on the other hand, could not have existed for several hundred years after Christ, since there was no agreed-upon bible! As well, they would disintegrate today without the bible (even though they are disintegrating with the bible!) since their foundation would be lost. For this reason, Christ founded His Church on a living Apostolic Tradition, since the Word of God is living and cannot be confined to the pages of a book - no matter how inspired that book is. The earth is not large enough to contain either God, or His word. John tells us so in chapters 20 nd 21 of his Gospel.