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You may have noticed that I haven’t blogged for a week; that’s because I’m spending much time nowadays finishing my first book! It’s about how signs and wonders are combined with peace and justice in the Bible, throughout church history and today. During the last week I’ve focused on the history part, researching and writing about saints like Francis and Agnes of Assisi and radical church movements like the Moravian church and the Jesus Family in China.
I am so encouraged to see these myriads of people who combine miracles and activism. Did you know that Maria Woodworth-Etter, who is often considered the grandmother of the Pentecostal movement, was baptized in the Spirit in a Quaker church and at one time ministered in a denomination founded by Mennonites? Or that the Salvation Army, famous for its evangelism and social ministry to the poor, experienced tons of signs and wonders in its early days?
I have now arrived to the part where I discuss movements that only have one half of the Biblical Holy Spirit Activism combination. Like patriotic, prosperity-preaching Pentecostalism, or miracle-doubting progressive liberalism. Interestingly, both of these streams originated roughly at the same time, the 20th century. They are not just unbiblical, but historically unique. (more…)
In school, I learned that there are three major branches of Christianity: Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christianity. I haven’t questioned this until recently: why aren’t Orthodoxs called protestants, since they’ve rebelled against the Catholic church just as we have (or perhaps, from their perspective, Rome rebelled against them during the great schism)?
An argument against that is that the Orthodox church(es) claim, just like the Roman Catholic church, to be the uncorrupted church with direct historic lineage to the holy community of the Biblical apostles. Protestant churches, however, recognize that these churches are not that uncorrupted, but that false doctrines and practices has developed during the millennia.
In fact, many Catholics and Orthodoxs will admit that they believe in things that there is no evidence that the Biblical church believed in, but they will argue that when the church(es) introduced these things it was because it (they) had matured, and got to think about more fundamental things than how to survive persecution.
So basically, we have two streams of thought here: those who think that the church changed in a good way (which we, for simplicity’s sake, can call evolutionism) and those who think it changed in a bad way. Those who think the church changed in a bad way, usually propose that we should go back to the good way. This is commonly called restorationism or Christian primitivism, the idea that we should restore Christianity to its Biblical, primitive form. As many of you know, I am a restorationist Christian.
A denomination could simply be defined as a Christian organization with one specified leadership. It isn’t necessarily about theology. Two Christian movements with exactly the same theology would still be two denominations if they had different leaderships. This is important to remember. When we talk about being one as Jesus prayed that we would be (John 17), also known as ecumenicalism, this could be understood in several different ways: either that we should find unity in faith, love and practice, or that we should unite under the same leadership, forming one denomination. Ulf Ekman, the Swedish Pentecostal pastor who converted to the Catholic Church, seems to have the latter understanding of ecumenicalism since he often explain his decision by saying that he wanted to obey Jesus’ wish that all His disciples should be one.
For the same reason, many Christians are a bit fed up with new denominations, getting horrified when hearing that there are over 30 000 of them (which is an exaggeration), and at least here in Sweden we have had a trend the last 25 years where local churches as well as whole denominations unite and form the same organization under the same leadership.
In such a context it would perhaps sound weird – even dangerous – to promote a formation of a new denomination. Don’t we have too many already? It may be so that the Holy Spirit is doing something new and fresh to revive the body of Christ, but that should be channeled within the existing churches rather than becoming new ones. A church split is viewed as something intrinsically bad, always. Even Martin Luther wanted to reform the Catholic church rather than starting a new church, didn’t he?
I’m not a reformer, Im a restorer. While several intentions of the reformation were good, the emphasis on reform in itself doesn’t express what we really want the church to look like, and so I know several Lutherans who defend unbiblical teachings and changes with the claim that the church should be constantly reforming itself, which isn’t a very Biblical idea. Restorationist Christians on the other hand, like Anabaptists or Pentecostals, have emphasized that we should restore the Biblical church and thus has a clearly expressed goal with the reforms. Just by looking at the Holy Scriptures, we see how Jesus did church, how the apostles did church and how they thought that we should do church. And they didn’t call it “church”, since that’s obviously an extremely boring word, they called it the Way (Acts 9:2); the Lifestyle, basically.
The charismatic movement, which I am a part of, have used restorationism to resurrect a hunger for the baptism of the Holy Spirit and miraculous gifts. But there are some things that I think still needs to be restored in most charismatic churches: mandatory evangelism, organic simplicity and community of goods. I will explain more about what these three things mean and how they should be practically restored in mainline churches in three blog entries, this being the first.
So what do I mean with “mandatory evangelism”? Well, the apostolic church which was funded and lead by guys who knew Jesus personally had two sorts of meetings, or “services” if you like: “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46). They both met in the homes and in the temple courts. The latter was the place where Jesus had His theological debates – it was a place where all the religiously interested came to worship God and discuss with each other. And the early Christians both join the Jews for prayer in the temple (Acts 3:1), and to heal them (3:6-10) and preach the Gospel to them (5:21).
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.