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The Quest for the Primitive Church

The change of context is a subject to a compound collectiveness of spiritual, ecclesial, economical, governmental, social and political formations and deformations, and as such it is uncontrollable by the individual. For the church, however, identity must remain the same in order for the Church to identify with the story of Christ. The complexity of such preservation is satisfied through the message of the Church.

Three major primitive developments have been accredited to the Pentecostal message: primal piety (holiness), primal speech (glossolalia), and primal hope (eschatology).41 It is also important to note that, “long before the Spirit was an article of doctrine, it was a fact of experience in the primitive church.”42 As the believers first experienced the blessings of God and then compared their experience with Scripture, their message was more pragmatic than dogmatic.43

The Pentecostal movement rediscovered and reclaimed what they believed was the original message of the Primitive Church. “Full Gospel,” as they called it, including justification, sanctification, healing, the second coming and spirit baptism.44 Yet, Scripture was constantly present in the search and at the finale, the five characteristics came together to form a distinctive message representing the “Everlasting Gospel.”45

Reflecting on the sociological setting and cultural context, the message of the Pentecostalism was against the social attitude of sinfulness and for the ecclesial context of primitivism, meaning restoration and preservation. Eight characteristics of this early message must be preserved in order for Pentecostalism to remain in its primal identity. They are as follows: Order of salvation, Circumcision of the heart, Jesus Christ, The Trinity, Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Initial evidence, Return of Christ and Healing.46


Epilogue: Toward Neo-Primitivism

In the beginning of the twentieth century, the quest for the Primitive Church was a search for social identity and a connection with primitive Christianity. What the Pentecostals experienced was not anything new or unknown for the Church; it was new and unknown for them. Thus, it was not that they discovered God, but it was that God discovered them. The quest for the Primitive Church resulted in a quest for discoursing self-identity and a process of self-realization.

In the beginning of the twenty first century Pentecostalism is the fastest growing Christian movement, and is expected to be larger than Catholicism by 2030. Yet, the quest for the Primitive Church continues as a search for ecclesiastic reality and ego realization. Since reclaiming of past moral values, ideas and praxis is shown insufficient, in order to reclaim the basics principles of faith and praxis, which are the corner stone of its uniqueness, Pentecostalism must combine the idea of restoration with the idea of preservation of the primitivism and identity of the Christian Church. The conclusion of this research therefore is a call for neo-primitivism.







3 Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996), p. 221. Cf. Joseph B. Tyson, A Study of Early Christianity (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1973), p. 273.

4 Matry G. Bell, ‘James Robinson Graves and the Rhetoric of Demagogy: Primitivism and Democracy in Old Landmarkism’ (Ph. D. dissertation, Graduate School of Vanderbilt University Nashville, 1990), p. 92.

5 Herman A. Norton, Religion in Tennessee 1777-1945 (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1981), pp. 44f, 102. Bell, p. 95.

6 James Cone, God of the Oppressed (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1975), p. 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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