Saturday, June 25, 2016

Primitive Christianity, Reformation, Restoration, Scripture & Canon

Wow, lots of words there.

As it relates to the American Founding, I've noted the Quakers, Christian-Deists & Unitarians, and perhaps some of the orthodox Christians had an affinity for "Primitive Christianity." What it means is that Christianity before it was corrupted by the clerical class. The Roman Catholic Church were the biggest villains. But Anglicans, Calvinists and others -- especially if they were "fundamentalist" on their churches' doctrines and creeds -- were suspect.

All sincere believers wish to "get it right." And they all agreed it was "right" when Jesus existed and instructed His followers. So to the extent that others have it wrong, everyone wants to "restore" the original teachings and practices of Jesus to correct other people's errors (or at least not be personally subject to them).

To the extent that things went wrong, it came shortly thereafter.

My research shows however, that those who endorsed "Primitive Christianity" thought that by the time the Council of Nicea occurred (325 AD) the Church was already "corrupted." Martin Luther wouldn't be a good "primitive Christian." He thought that the early church during this period was doing the right thing in "filling out" the faith with doctrine. Ditto with Calvin.

They were "reformers" who wished to "reform" the "catholic" (universal) church into something layered with sophisticated doctrine, just correct Rome's errors, with Thomas Jefferson as the most notorious example. 

Interestingly, "the Bible" as a canon was not fully settled until around the late 4th Century. Believers always had books of scripture they thought inspired. But the Early Church Fathers dickered on the exact details. And even when they "settled" it by writing the Vulgate, disputes continued and continue to this day regarding which exact books belong. (The Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Bibles all contain different numbers of books.)

So to a primitive Christian, what we think of as "The Bible" would have been compiled by a corrupted church. We should thus see how this could inspire the Christian-Deists and Unitarians to continue to "edit" the canon.

But because primitive Christians took their faith seriously, there would still be certain essentials of the faith that were non-negotiable. They wouldn't include orthodox Trinitarian doctrine or belief in the divine inspiration of every word "the Bible" (whichever canon one adheres to).

This is essentially (if I understand him right) what John Locke taught in "The Reasonableness of Christianity."

Finally, those anathematized by the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds have incentive to look before to a golden era of "primitive Christianity" in order to justify their beliefs. This would include not just Christian-Deists and Unitarians, but also today's Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. And the Quakers who don't believe in creeds.

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