Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Every time I log onto QuakerQuaker I see that "Primitive Christianity Revived, Again" line. This morning I went back and glanced over William Penn's essay by that name.
Primitive Christianity encompassed a great range of theologies from Arian to Nestorian and Gnostic, and within the church as now constituted there are the theologies of Paul, the synoptic gospels, and John, all different on a close reading. It was the purpose of the creeds to define Christian orthodoxy (for state purposes). The letters of John seem to be an effort to reconcile that branch of the church with Paul's, so even within what we now consider mainstream there was diversity.
Penn's primitive Christianity seems to be based on canonical scripture as it was then known. Penn, with his Oxford education, would have only known of those heretical Christians through the eyes of early orthodox (i.e. established church) writers, we now know of the even greater diversity. So when we say Primitive Christianity Revived,
Again, what is the primitive Christianity of which we are thinking? I would suggest all of the above. Quakerism is more about orthopraxis than orthodoxy. So why did I bring it up? Just to help us each, myself included, clarify our thinking.
I am hugely encouraged by the title and 'foray' into this topic of "Primitive Christianity'.
I once was totally delighted that we had a 'better perspective' of Christ-following 'now' with 'greater diversity' 'encompassing a great range of theologies'... I found a shocking pile of indicatiors to the 'contrarywise'.
I have used the Jesus of Nazareth name and powers (or LIFE and Power as George Fox repeated constantly) to remove cancer. to drop blood pressure. to cause intelligent beings who love to ruin and defile humans to 'go away'. My life is rough and full of problems, but it is sweet, wild and truly supernatural, because of discovering 'Primitive Chrisitanity'. My life is still SWEETLY blessed by the silent worship that many denominations do not utilize!
I was fairly 'robbed' of "Primitive Christianity' by the form of Quaker-izzm that i was raised up in. George Fox's book of miracles was buried somewhere amidst fine political commentaries. (i learned more about 'real' Quaker life decades later from 'The Peacable Kingdom" and other research)
Ram Dass was way more interesting reading to everybody than Yeshua of Natsaret and the history of his followers. Discernment and leading by spirit seemed to be quite absent or 'displaced' in the home, with ugly verbal battles, porno, and 'polite assasinations' of 'types' of people ('fundamentalist christians' especially) who might be 'narrow minded' or 'convicted' about anything 'straighline-righteous-biblical' due to the behavior of 'some christians'. This resulted in ignoring or casually shoving away 'healthy, good, kind or immensely beneficial precepts in 'canonical scripture' (a downright painful term, that)
Nobody; not one person stated the simple 'Literary miracle' of the 'New Testament' writings to me. Simply stated it is this; that 1500 years before the printing press, a one tiny set of accounts and letters was painstakingly duplicated in the Greek 'business language' -Koine. (no upper and lower case-no ability to captalize !) The New Testament was duplicated in such immense numbers 'by hand'. Why? There is no other book, let alone a 'set' of books that comes anywhere even barely close to these 'duplication numbers'. So many copies of this 'one set' (without the 'apocryphal gospels') were distributed it is as if there were a 'spirit-led duplication machine' in the peoples!! I did not know this until i was approximately 40 yrs old. As a 'literary person' of intellect; I was ROBBED.
(this point may seem 'primitive' or 'off point' but it was just plain HIDDEN from me from all my 'elders.. the same with the 'Dead Sea Scrolls discovery' and the strange event of the Septuagint Hebrew-Greek translation 250 years before Yeshua of Natsaret.
Very 'ordinary' people create a 'thesis' and go about the work of creating a web of 'logic' finding defenses and support for that position. The 'comfort thesis' is often an intellectual form of 'the emperors new clothes'; shockingly foolish and a tragic waste of time. The worst thing is when 'human lemmings' follow the Jim Jones' and
The Extraordinary people hammer at their own presentation until all that is left is truly solid. When utilizing the term 'Christianity' we get into a pretty sloppy field of interpretations and commentaries. I hammered at my own 'picture' of 'Primitive Christianity' using the tools i found. A humble man, who had been abused in a dangerous Cult, a scholar, title lawyer presented the "Primitive Christian' writings in 'easy to read english'. If George Fox had access to these writings, i betcha he would have been just as motivated by them as he was reading the 'ploughmans bible' ..for the first time in english! (A Dictonary of Early Christian Beliefs -Bercot /Henderson publ.) (scrollpublishing.com)
When utilizing the term 'Primitive Christianity' the work of Eusebius is awful important, as well as the William Penn discourse.
Thanks so much for raising this !! -your servant David-Stephen
Hi Gene: Oh no, you're sounding like my wife Julie (as a Quaker gone Catholic with Orthodox interests, she frequently asks the same questions). I'll dodge trying to give any official answer on behalf of QuakerQuaker and will just share why the term resonates for me.
First, I like reading William Penn, popularizer of the "Primitive christianity revived" phrase. His vision of Quakerism feels both very tolerant and very Christian, a rare mix that I think speaks to the best of Friends' beliefs. As a tagline, it shared my hope that this website could be a place where people would engage more fully with the Quaker and Christian roots. And it's evocative: it begs the question you've just asked: which primitive Christianity? And just what is a primitive Christianity? It's a good entre into the kind of discussions I'd like to see here.
It's good to see you here asking these sorts of questions.
I don't usually have time to get involved in the interesting discussions going on at QuakerQuaker. I am trying to keep up with reading the early Christian writers outside the New Testament, but I have trouble understanding why there is so little trust in how the conflicts played out. There were a number of challenges to the gospel writers, some of which were actually dealt with in subtle ways in those gospels: adding the birth narratives to solidify the assertion that Jesus WAS a physical reality, born in the line of David, born a human being, the warnings in John's letters against the gnostics and also very supportive of the idea that Jesus was the Word made flesh. Judaizers, gnostics, docetism - all these are pretty authoritatively side-lined by the New Testament writers and the other earliest writers - Clement, Ignatius and Polycarp. What I have never seen Friends wrestle with is these early "fathers'" reliance on the authority of the bishops, presbyters and deacons. What does Penn say about this ubiquitous referencing of bishops?? I think the willingness to submit to this authority was undermined by the later spread of Arianism, even among some of the bishops, but perhaps that's what cause the increased hope and reliance on the weighty Roman bishop. I know it's all complicated, but I appreciate your efforts to bring the matter to people's attention.
In “An Account of the Convincement, Exercises, Services and Travels of that Ancient Servant of the Lord, Richard Davies, with some relation of ancient Friends and the spreading of Truth in North Wales” Richard Davies confronts a Welsh Bishop who is an adviser to Charles II and asks, in Welsh, why he, also an ancient Briton, who first received the Christian Faith in England, did persecute those who were now coming to it in the latter days. (he replied that it was because they voted for opponents of the King to be seated in Parliament) This fits with the narrative that a Christian missionary reached England in time for there to be a church that was large enough to be recognized at the Council of Arles in 314, that this church was decimated by the Angle-Saxon invasion but provided a remnant that gravitated to, and then grew under the tutelage of John Wycliffe in the late 14th Century, becoming the Lollards out of which Quakerism sprung.
My own experience is, having been raised in a community of "refugees from organized religion" and knowing all that was wrong in Christian doctrine, I discovered that Fox objected to the same doctrines, but he used scripture to support his arguments. Clearly, Fox had a different perspective on the text.
Wycliffe spent his last years as a country parson in the village of Lutterworth - where Fox went after leaving leaving home "and spent some time". Fox also speaks of his mother as being 'of the stock of the martyrs' (i.e. Lollards persecuted by Queen Mary in the middle of the 16th Century) and his father as 'righteous Christer, a weaver" (Lollards were involved in the textile trade which enabled them to spread the Bible in English). Fox also knew the Bible extremely well and only used chapter and verse citations when he was trying to convince a churchman, or in marginal notes - as was done in the Wycliffe and Tyndale Bibles.
Yes. This is Primitive Christianity Revived.