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The Original/Primitive Church


ChristKnight

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Churches such as the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, etc, that make "one true church" claims all claim to be either a continuation or restoration of the "original/primitive church". In some way, we all claim to be the same Church established by Jesus Christ anciently. Catholics and Orthodox point to writings by the Early Church Fathers (ECFs) as evidences for their beliefs, yet they differ on certain issues, including ecclesiology (I've noticed that in general, Orthodox apologists tend to emphasize the differences between the two churches than some Catholic apologists). Some Latter-day Saint apologists may point to some of the same ECFs in support of our beliefs, usually in the case of exaltation.

So, how can we know what the original/primitive Church really taught and practiced? How far back must one go to refer to writings that reflect the beliefs of that Church (many traditional Christian apologists may refer to writings from the 300s-400s AD in support of certain beliefs, while LDS would believe that such documents are not from the "primitive Church"). Is it all just an issue of interpretation, or can we point with certainty to what the "original/primitive Church" believed and point to a Church today that reflects those same beliefs and practices?

I have my own thoughts on the issue, but I'd like to hear what others have to say.

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From the LDS pov, one has to go back to NT times as the universal apostasy began almost immediately. So we don't use (or need to use) the ECF as proof text. However, much "LDS" doctrine remained in the early orthodox church which took a few hundred years to disappear. The early Church just after NT times and a little beyond believed in such critical doctrines as:

The plurality of Gods

An anthropomorphic God

Jesus as a God and a Being distinct from the Father

Deification of man

Three Degrees of salvation

Would have rejected the creedal trinity

Would have rejected creation ex nihilo

Would have rejected Sola Fide

Would have rejected Eternal Security (Once Saved Always Ssaved)

Water Baptism required for salvation

Works required for salvation

Preaching of the Gospel for the dead and baptism for the same

Esoteric rites

etc.

What this means is one can trace the Bible (and ECF) predicted universal apostasy by looking at the historical doctrines. While some lasted into the 5th and 6th centuries, most disappeared after the 2nd and 3rd.

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In the first and second centuries A.D., about the time that we'd consider there to be an "original" or "primitive" Church, Christians were not unified in their beliefs. Even what we'd consider the "orthodox" Christians -- so excluding groups like the Valentinians, Sethians, other Gnostics, the Marcionites, and hardcore Jewish-Christians like the Ebionites -- there wasn't yet a Church correlation. In the days when it took weeks to months to deliver messages across an empire of localized churches, even orthodox Christian leaders couldn't always maintain what they saw as the orthodoxy. A disciple of Paul in Rome might be and probably was quite different from a disciple of James in Judea.

The disputes in doctrine among Christians (although principally among clergy, not the common Christian) is epitomized in the years preceding Nicaea when the Christian world was divided over the relationship between the Father and the Son. What did "the Church" teach then, when both common Christians and their clergy were believing and teaching conflicting ideas, and all were members of the Church? Creeds would later formalize what "the Church" believed and taught, like it did at Nicaea, but in the first and second centuries there wasn't (for the most part) any sort of guide on what constituted "official doctrine."

So instead of asking what the original Church believe, it might be more appropriate to ask what the original Apostles believed. And unfortunately for the most part, aside from Paul, we only have hearsay. Likely they did not always teach the same thing in the same way, and probably sometimes downright disagreed over doctrinal points.

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In the first and second centuries A.D., about the time that we'd consider there to be an "original" or "primitive" Church, Christians were not unified in their beliefs. Even what we'd consider the "orthodox" Christians -- so excluding groups like the Valentinians, Sethians, other Gnostics, the Marcionites, and hardcore Jewish-Christians like the Ebionites -- there wasn't yet a Church correlation. In the days when it took weeks to months to deliver messages across an empire of localized churches, even orthodox Christian leaders couldn't always maintain what they saw as the orthodoxy. A disciple of Paul in Rome might be and probably was quite different from a disciple of James in Judea.

The disputes in doctrine among Christians (although principally among clergy, not the common Christian) is epitomized in the years preceding Nicaea when the Christian world was divided over the relationship between the Father and the Son. What did "the Church" teach then, when both common Christians and their clergy were believing and teaching conflicting ideas, and all were members of the Church? Creeds would later formalize what "the Church" believed and taught, like it did at Nicaea, but in the first and second centuries there wasn't (for the most part) any sort of guide on what constituted "official doctrine."

So instead of asking what the original Church believe, it might be more appropriate to ask what the original Apostles believed. And unfortunately for the most part, aside from Paul, we only have hearsay. Likely they did not always teach the same thing in the same way, and probably sometimes downright disagreed over doctrinal points.

I agree.

Another perspective might also be shown to us by the parable of the wheat and the tares beginning in Matt. 13:24

If one reads carefully it will be noticed that once the field is sown with wheat and then adulterated with tares, there is a commandment NOT to attempt a restoration by weeding out the tares.

There is sufficient knowledge in the existing Biblical scriptures for sincere individuals who seek God and to lead a good life to be saved without finding a "one true church".

Notice also in the time of harvest that the tares are gathered out FIRST not the wheat. The wheat is gathered after the tares are burned. Thus, I believe that Christ will restore Israel and re-establish his kingdom immediately following the Second Coming. Not before.

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I think the Bible is fairly well preserved, although it can be difficult to interpret. It reflects the primitive church well enough, provided there is sufficient sincere study. It is probably the best place to start, from a professional research standpoint.

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I think the Bible is fairly well preserved, although it can be difficult to interpret. It reflects the primitive church well enough, provided there is sufficient sincere study. It is probably the best place to start, from a professional research standpoint.

Do different books of the New Testament always agree with one another? I don't think they do. I think the authors of Mark, John, James, and Ephesians all would have disagreed with one another on a number of points.

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Do different books of the New Testament always agree with one another? I don't think they do. I think the authors of Mark, John, James, and Ephesians all would have disagreed with one another on a number of points.
Yeah, it depends on the translation, in part. If you can figure out how to reconcile them reasonably well, you'll be onto something, I think.
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Churches such as the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, etc, that make "one true church" claims all claim to be either a continuation or restoration of the "original/primitive church". In some way, we all claim to be the same Church established by Jesus Christ anciently. Catholics and Orthodox point to writings by the Early Church Fathers (ECFs) as evidences for their beliefs, yet they differ on certain issues, including ecclesiology (I've noticed that in general, Orthodox apologists tend to emphasize the differences between the two churches than some Catholic apologists). Some Latter-day Saint apologists may point to some of the same ECFs in support of our beliefs, usually in the case of exaltation.

So, how can we know what the original/primitive Church really taught and practiced? How far back must one go to refer to writings that reflect the beliefs of that Church (many traditional Christian apologists may refer to writings from the 300s-400s AD in support of certain beliefs, while LDS would believe that such documents are not from the "primitive Church"). Is it all just an issue of interpretation, or can we point with certainty to what the "original/primitive Church" believed and point to a Church today that reflects those same beliefs and practices?

I have my own thoughts on the issue, but I'd like to hear what others have to say.

The LDS Church doesn't claim to be an exact restored "image" of the primitive church. It is a new dispensation of the gospel, with many new doctrines revealed (or to be revealed) which may not have been revealed then. Take the Book of Mormon for example: there was no Book of Mormon in the primitive church. When we talk about a "restoration," we mean above all a restoration of the authority which was lost; and secondly, a readjustment of many doctrines and practices which have been changed, distorted, or lost over the centuries following the Apostasy; such as the Trinity, the mode of baptism and the issue of infant baptisms, or "works" vs. "faith" based salvation etc. LDS doctrines and practices are not derived, directly or indirectly, from the primitive church; therefore the ECFs can't hep us in that regard. They can, however, be helpful by showing traces of current LDS beliefs and practices in the primitive church, which are now abandoned by mainstream Christianity; such as belief in the deification of man and plurality of gods for example.

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So, how can we know what the original/primitive Church really taught and practiced? How far back must one go to refer to writings that reflect the beliefs of that Church (many traditional Christian apologists may refer to writings from the 300s-400s AD in support of certain beliefs, while LDS would believe that such documents are not from the "primitive Church"). Is it all just an issue of interpretation, or can we point with certainty to what the "original/primitive Church" believed and point to a Church today that reflects those same beliefs and practices?

Actually I like to read the book of Acts and see if there is a Church that resembles that early organization... for me there really is only one that comes close, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As for "proof" or "proof texts" of the early fathers, it is really of no importance to me. For truly the "letter killeth but the spirit giveth life" in short the only way one can know for absolute certainty is to rely on the power of the Holy Ghost to make these things known unto them. I do not derive my testimony of the restored gospel from apologetic writings, scholarly sources, or ancient texts alone. If the spirit of the God does not do the teaching then it is only the theories of men. The reason for the Book of Mormon was to teach plainly the Gospel of Christ and to point to the direction of His Church... it is to be a second witness, an independent voice from a different people and if one studies it and includes God in the equation then one may determine the truth contained in it. It's witness is as profound as the witness contained in the Bible, plus it indicates a divine source... which is why I believe the historical or archeological aspects are not as undeniable as the Bible is... yet it supports the Bible's witness. Yet it is the divine witness that can only come from God that can prove these things. The key is it takes faith, and without faith it is impossible to please God or to find His kingdom. The diffence in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is that we claim the same organization that existed in the primative church, not that we search through the ashes of history or the tangled vines of tradition to originate our doctrine, but we declare an independent revelation from the same source that the original church had, revelation through living prophets and apostles. We do no wrangle over texts or historical records or debate in scholarly forums but we believe it is from a divine source which we all can personally access to confirm to our hearts it's validity.

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So instead of asking what the original Church believe, it might be more appropriate to ask what the original Apostles believed. And unfortunately for the most part, aside from Paul, we only have hearsay. Likely they did not always teach the same thing in the same way, and probably sometimes downright disagreed over doctrinal points.

I agree, and I think that if Jesus actually taught what we would call "doctrine" there is no way to trace what it was or might have been.

We have evidences of practices like baptism and baptism for the dead, and generalized beliefs about the nature of God as our Father, the Holy Ghost, what we call "the sacrament" and other practices, but that is about all.

But maybe that was part of the plan. It requires that we rely on The Spirit.

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So I was reading the conversion story of Richard Sherlock, who left the Church for the Catholic Church. He mentions a few things that I think are related to this thread (ignoring various errors in his presentation of certain LDS beliefs), which is a topic that I find particularly important. Quite often (or at least from what I've read), I've noticed that LDS that leave the Church for churches like the Catholic and Orthodox Churches often do so because of the connection that they have with early Christianity, which is something that writers and apologists for those faiths always emphasize (in contrast to various Protestant churches that don't have that continuity). Of course, many of the writings of the Early Church Fathers that document this continuity come from the 2nd-3rd centuries onwards, with much more diversity the further back we go.

So, while I always agree that the Spirit is important in all of this, in agreement with the Bible, I think that it is also important to connect (if possible) the unique Mormon beliefs with ancient Judaism and Christianity, to show that they just didn't originate in the 1800s, but are actually "restored". While the belief in ongoing revelation means that certain things are revealed in latter-days that weren't found anciently, or certain anciently revealed doctrines are more fully understood now, we should also be able to find certain beliefs in that ancient milieu. This is why I like books like Restoring the Ancient Church, All Things Restored, etc. I think that Mormons can also be "head converts" (from the link) in addition to Spirit converts, since both are connected.

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The LDS Church doesn't claim to be an exact restored "image" of the primitive church. It is a new dispensation of the gospel, with many new doctrines revealed (or to be revealed) which may not have been revealed then. Take the Book of Mormon for example: there was no Book of Mormon in the primitive church. When we talk about a "restoration," we mean above all a restoration of the authority which was lost; and secondly, a readjustment of many doctrines and practices which have been changed, distorted, or lost over the centuries following the Apostasy; such as the Trinity, the mode of baptism and the issue of infant baptisms, or "works" vs. "faith" based salvation etc. LDS doctrines and practices are not derived, directly or indirectly, from the primitive church; therefore the ECFs can't hep us in that regard. They can, however, be helpful by showing traces of current LDS beliefs and practices in the primitive church, which are now abandoned by mainstream Christianity; such as belief in the deification of man and plurality of gods for example.

I agree with you, especially the last bit about showing traces of current LDS beliefs and practices in the primitive Church.

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I agree with you, especially the last bit about showing traces of current LDS beliefs and practices in the primitive Church.

Thank you. To give a more direct answer to this particular question you had asked in the OP:

So, how can we know what the original/primitive Church really taught and practiced? How far back must one go to refer to writings that reflect the beliefs of that Church . . . Is it all just an issue of interpretation, or can we point with certainty to what the "original/primitive Church" believed and point to a Church today that reflects those same beliefs and practices?

That particular question is in fact unanswerable, for the reasons explained in the Book of Mormon:

1 Nephi 13
:

28 Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.

29 And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest—because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.

That means that no matter how far one goes back in Christian literature, that inadequacy will never be resolved. The only way that it could be resolved would be if we discovered the original manuscripts which hadn't been tampered with--either by chance or by revelation. The likelihood of discovering it by chance I would say is near zero. Revelation is the only other way. The JST already goes some way in restoring those missing pieces; but it doesn't go far enough. One day the Lord will reveal to us original manuscripts by means of which this mystery will finally be solved--but it will still be solved only for LDS. It will mean anything to Catholics, Protestants, or other groups who do not believe in latter-day revelation.

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So I was reading the conversion story of Richard Sherlock, who left the Church for the Catholic Church. He mentions a few things that I think are related to this thread (ignoring various errors in his presentation of certain LDS beliefs), which is a topic that I find particularly important. Quite often (or at least from what I've read), I've noticed that LDS that leave the Church for churches like the Catholic and Orthodox Churches often do so because of the connection that they have with early Christianity, which is something that writers and apologists for those faiths always emphasize (in contrast to various Protestant churches that don't have that continuity). Of course, many of the writings of the Early Church Fathers that document this continuity come from the 2nd-3rd centuries onwards, with much more diversity the further back we go.

So, while I always agree that the Spirit is important in all of this, in agreement with the Bible, I think that it is also important to connect (if possible) the unique Mormon beliefs with ancient Judaism and Christianity, to show that they just didn't originate in the 1800s, but are actually "restored". While the belief in ongoing revelation means that certain things are revealed in latter-days that weren't found anciently, or certain anciently revealed doctrines are more fully understood now, we should also be able to find certain beliefs in that ancient milieu. This is why I like books like Restoring the Ancient Church, All Things Restored, etc. I think that Mormons can also be "head converts" (from the link) in addition to Spirit converts, since both are connected.

The problem with this construct is that it opens the door (widely) for introduction of all kinds of heretical doctrines and beliefs. So that if one can find apocryphal (or even one tiny little scriptual reference) support, say, for the doctrine of baptizm for the dead (even though that support might in reality be apostate), one can therefore try to make the case that the ancients were practicing it, so it must be a true doctrine.

New doctrines are indirectly supported by the newly reinstated "lost doctrines". "See, we have found an old doctrine and restored it (which gives us legitimacy and proves our prophetic power) and not only that but here is a NEW doctrine regarding the sealing of wives for all eternity. Why, you can even have another man's wife sealed to you while she's still married to him! Isn't it marvelous........"

Truly it allows one to acheive a self ascribed legitimacy that is a most enviable place to be in.

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