First, if we are returning to a primitive Church, where will we discover just how that primitive church worshipped, what they believed and how they lived? We turn to the Book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament. But even within the pages of the New Testament we find differences of opinion and practice between the early churches. The Church in Corinth, for example, had problems with sin and speaking in tongues that the churches of Ephesus and Phillipi don’t seem troubled with. Furthermore, the church in the New Testament is already growing and developing in its understanding of the Church and the gospel.
Secondly, can the New Testament be the sole guide to what is primitive? If so, why do all the different Protestant sects come up with a different version of what is primitive? The Seventh Day Adventists say it is primitive to worship on Saturday. The other Protestants groups disagree. The Baptists say baptism by immersion is primitive and mandatory. Lutherans, Presbyterians and Methodists disagree. Some Mennonites and Amish demand communitarianism, others disagree. Pentecostals say speaking in tongues, signs, wonders and healings are a mandatory part of the package. Others say not. Who is to say just what is primitive and what is not?
Thirdly, where do we make the cut off point for what is Primitive and what is not? Do we stick only to the New Testament, or do we allow the witness of those Christians who wrote in the next generation after the Apostles? Is the church of the late first century the only primitive church we may emulate, or may we look to the church of the second, third or fourth centuries as well? If so, who makes such a decision and why?
If we allow Christianity of the fourth century to be primitive, shall we allow the fifth, the sixth and the seventh? Any attempt to devise a cut off date as to what is primitive and what is not is artificial and arbitrary. Furthermore, those Christians who wish to go furthest back and not, let’s say, allow anything from the fourth century cannot do so, for they rely on the Christians of the fourth century for their definition of orthodox Christian belief, the canon of Scripture and the proper understanding of the incarnation.
The fourth major problem with Protestant Primitivism/Restorationism is that too many of them are either ignorant of, or willfully ignore the witness of the early church that we do have. In addition to the New Testament, we have historical records of what early Christians believed, how they worshipped and how they behaved. The writings of the Apostolic Fathers, the description of Christian belief and practice from the Didache and Justin Martyr all signal a type of Christianity that is far more congruent with Roman Catholicism (and Eastern Orthodoxy) as it has always been lived and practiced, than the worship and lifestyle of modern day Protestantism. If our friends are really interested in restoring the Primitive Church why don’t they study the evidence that shows what that primitive Church was really like? If they did, perhaps they would not like what they find. Continue Reading