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The Quest for the Primitive Church

It would have been easier to define and reconstruct the basic list of church practices if at least a minimal structural system, formal government or doctrinal statements existed. Both the Primitive Church and the Early Pentecostalism, however, lacks all this. It was this deficit that creatively shaped the identity of the Church and presupposed its further search for primitivism. In a parallel to the Primitive Church, doctrines and formal teachings came later only to preserve the already formed identity based on the prior experienced divine interventions.33

As such, the religious practices were more experiential than doctrinal. They were both present in the atmosphere of worship and in the daily lives of the believers. It was the ecclesiastical necessity for preservation based on the understanding of the Primitive Church that brought unto existence practices and doctrine in Pentecostalism.34

 

III. Preservation of Pentecostal Primitivism

Preservation constitutes the Christian answer of the questions of the meaning of the whole.35 The unprecedented reality of ecclesial primitivism is evident in the Christian identity. Naturally, identity is not a constant characteristic; therefore, it is not universal. Thus declared postmodernism.36 The ever-forming identity’s then is a subject of the context within which the Christian community is born and exists. The context of the Primitive Church is easily identified in the threefold formula of persecution, presence and parousia.

Persecution was the present reality of the Primitive Church. In the three centuries before Constantine ten imperial persecutions took place under Nero, Domitian, Trajan, Marcus Aurelius Antonius, Septimus Severus, Maximus, Decius, Valerian, Aurelian and Diocletian.37 While constantly persecuted, the Primitive Church saw itself as a natural continuation of the true Israel’s. The early Christians were then the proper heirs of the wilderness covenant and as such assumed all benefits and responsibilities of the covenant. Contrary to the original intent, however, persecution only served as a tool for preservation of the faith of the Early Christians, where only the true ones remain faithful to their beliefs. The true Israel was again in the wilderness, but instead of Pharaoh and his army, this time their persecutor was the traditionally accepted religious system of which they became aware critics.38

Like the cloud in the wilderness, the presence of God was assumed as the only comforting and directing power for the Christian community. The idea of comfort was possible only thought the future and yet present hope of parousia. This expectation is described with the Aramaic term maranatha translated as: “Lord, come,” as a prayer for Christ’s return or “Our Lord has come,” as a confession of His coming in humility, and “Our Lord is come,” i.e., is present in worship.39 As a recognized formula in the first Christian community it serves both as a confession of the presence of the exalted Christ and fervent and an expectant cry for His coming again in glory.40 As such, it reflectively describes the dynamics of the Primitive context.

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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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