Protestants often imagine that their particular Christian community is very similar to the early Church. One thing they are sure of is that their community is more like the early Church than the Catholic Church is today. There was a reason for the Protestant Reformation, right?
Of course, there were many human reasons for the Protestant movement to spread, including the fact that power hungry political leaders and princes were thrilled to gain autonomy from the Pope, Latin was no longer the language of the people and this created demand for services in the vernacular, and some priests wanted the chance to marry. Abuses with indulgences and corrupt priests and bishops also created demand for reform. All of this led to the Council of Trent in the mid-1500s for those who remained in communion with the Church while various Protestants broke communion...which led to the inevitable question: who was now to be the authority in matters of faith?
The real innovation of the Protestant movement was not a recovery of the early Church- far from it! It was the private interpretation of Scripture and doctrines, enabled by a new technology called the printing press which resulted in more common believers to have their own copy of the Scriptures (a good thing) and then to create their own personal interpretations and disunity (a bad thing). In other words, for those who created their own interpretations then the new authority in matters of faith would be the "Magisterium of Me!"
Many Protestants will claim that they are subject to God's word (the Bible) and nothing else (...except their own interpretive lens). Is this like the early Church? Would a Christian have said this in 40 AD? Consider that for the first 15 or so years of Church history none of the New Testament had been written! Or that the exact 27 New Testament books were never listed by any Church Father as the canon until 367 AD, after even the council of Nicea in 325 AD!
A perfect example of authority in the early Church is the Jerusalem Council, in Acts 15, taking place around 49 AD. Questions were raised about the Jewish laws and gentile converts. Church leaders endowed with the Lord's teaching authority (Luke 10:16) could issue a binding answer, to be held by all the faithful. This is not private interpretation. Even St. Paul, who had a direct personal calling from Jesus, had to check his gospel with Church leadership to make sure he was "not running in vain." (Galatians 2:2). If St. Paul had to be in accord with Church teaching, shouldn't you? THAT is what the early Church was like. That is what the Catholic Church is today and has been since her founding (Matthew 16:18). Private interpretation, the foundation of Protestantism, is nowhere to be found.
Imagine that we were in a group of people listening to Jesus teaching us (this really happened!). Would we all be bound to believe exactly the same things, as He had taught them? Yes, of course! And this is precisely why the Church holds to this fact of unity in doctrine and not personal interpretation. It always has and it began literally with the doctrine of the Lord.
Protestants would do well to consider Dei Verbum from Vatican II, the most recent ecumenical council of the Church:
But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, "handing over" to them "the authority to teach in their own place."(3) This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2).