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Christian primtivism is the logical idea that the church Jesus founded was the church He wanted. It’s connected to the idea of restorationism, that teaches that we should restore Church to its original form when it starts to behave weird and contradict Scripture. As you’ve probably noticed I’m a passionate restorationist, and while I love and cooperate with people from the historical churches I think that their tendency to contradict the Biblical Church is quite harming. A couple of days ago a friend sent me an article on Catholic Answers called The Problems with Primitivism by Dwight Longenecker, which says that we should really not try to model church as Jesus and the apostles modeled it. Allow me to disagree. I will quote each of Longenecker’s arguments and turn them on their heads:
1 Cultural Relevance
First, each restorationist movement, although it seeks to return to the ancient church of the apostolic age, is actually produced as a reaction to the circumstances of its own age and culture. For example, the peasant movement of the Bogomils came out of a church weighed down with corruption and aristocratic influence. The radical reformers in 16th-century Europe and the New World were influenced by the utopianism, the rise of the nation state, and revolutionary spirit of their age… Restorationists believe they are restoring something ancient. In fact all they do is create an expression of Christianity which is a reaction against the circumstances and assumptions of the age in which they live.
Well, I know of no restorationist movement that claims that we need to speak Arameic and live in the Roman Empire to be the original church. All churches adapt the Gospel to their culture and historical context – including the Catholic Church. It’s hard to argue though that since we need to adapt to our culture we need to believe in purgatory and seven sacraments.
2 Information about the Early Church
Second, while restorationist movements are reactions to the particular age in which they live, they are also conditioned by the long history of restorationist movements. For hundreds of years, Protestants have perpetuated a particular vision of the early Church. Each new restorationist movement borrows those ideas, never questioning whether the tradition they are inheriting is actually true to the reality of the early Church or not. Therefore, the restorationist doesn’t so much restore primitive Christianity; he simply replicates are earlier restorationist model, reproducing what he has been told early Christianity was like.
It’s true that some restorationists are lazy, not double-checking their doctrines and practices by Scripture, but the same thing can definitely be said about Catholics. For example, they believe that there are seven sacraments – neither more nor less – an idea that originated with Peter Lombard in the 12th century! All restorationist movements at least try to break unbiblical traditions and restore biblical Christianity, Catholicism however is not even trying.