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The Quest for the Primitive Church

The “nostalgic longing for a simpler and purer church” has caused a great number of contemporary Christian movements to engage in the search for the true Christian identity.4 Republican Methodists, Cumberland Presbyterians, Primitive Baptists and many other movements represented this idea in America.5 The Church of God was also born in the historical presuppositions created by this quest for the Primitive Church. They were all eager to rediscover the original power and relive the original experience.

 

II. Triangle of Primitive Faith

The modern call for Primitivism derives from the idea of personal experience with God. There is yet no truth for and about Pentecostalism that does not emerge from experience.6 Irrational in thinking and in an intimate parallel to the story of the Primitive Church, Pentecostalism combines the discomfort and weakness of the oppressed and persecuted. It is the story of one and yet many that excels through the piety of the search for holiness and the power of the supernatural experience of Pentecost. It is the call for the reclaiming and restoration of “the faith once delivered to the saints.”

Such idea of “looking back to the church of antiquity” derives from a Puritan background and is indisputably Wesleyan. In a letter to the Vicar of Shoreham in Kent, Wesley writes that the parallel between the present reality and the past tradition must remain close.7 For Wesley, the primitive church was the church of the first three centuries.8 Equality in the community as in the primitive church was the contexts in which Wesley ministered.9 Everyone was allowed to preach, both deacons and evangelist, and even women “when under extraordinary inspiration”10

Of course for Wesley, the Primitive Church was restored with the Church of England.11 The main characteristic of restoration was the personal experience of God.12 It was vividly presented by the Wesleyan interpreters in the quadrilateral along with reason, tradition and scripture. Such scheme, however, may not be fully sufficient to describe the Pentecostal identity, as well as the paradigm of the Primitive Church.

The experience with God in a Pentecostal context carries a more holistic role which is connected with the expression of the individual’s story and identity in both a personal and corporate ecclesial setting. Through the experience then they become a collaboration of the story of the many, and at the same time remaining in the boundaries of their personal identity. Thus, the experience holistically and circularly surrounds the Pentecostal experience of the individual and the community expressed in prayer, power and praxis.

 

A. Pentecostal Prayer

If Pentecostalism has discovered and acquired any of the characteristics of the Primitive Church this would be the prayer of the early saints. Prayer is also the means for universal identification with the Pentecostal movement.13 The Bible School of Charles Fox Parham in Topeka, Kansas had a prayer tower where prayers were ascending nightly and daily to God.14 It was through prayer and laying on of hands when around 11 p.m. on December 31, 1899, Agnes Ozman was baptized in the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues.15 Six years later the Apostolic Faith stated that the beginning of Pentecost started with prayer in a cottage meeting at 214 Bonnie Brae.16

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Category: In Depth, Summer 2018

About the Author: Rev. Dony K. Donev, D.Min. is a graduate of the Pentecostal Theological Seminary and cofounder of the Institute of Bulgarian Protestant History. He is the author of scholarly articles in textual criticism, protestant history, Christian media and contemporary church movements. In 1999 with his wife Kathryn, they established Cup and Cross Ministries International with a vision for restoration of New Testament theology and praxis. They are currently serving as missionaries and leadership developers in his native Bulgaria.

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