Wednesday, June 15, 2016

William Livingston, The Moravians, Primitive Christianity

In my last post I noted the Moravians might be like the Quakers in their belief in simplistic primitive Christianity. I crossed out that parenthetical clause because after researching them further, I'm not so sure. I don't know enough about them yet to make that assessment.

I do know that William Livingston, who loved the Quakers, also defended the Moravians. The Moravians were viewed as "heretics." Livingston was an anti-heresy hunter.

That was the point of "primitive Christianity." As George Washington once put it, "[I]n religion my tenets are few and simple."

It was this doctrinal indifference that permitted religious pluralism to flourish in the American Founding. That's the thesis to  Chris Beneke's "Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism."

Beneke argues that Livingston's proposed Christianity was "devoid of theological content." To Livingston "Christ was the promised Messiah" whose moral instruction ought to be followed. But the contents of that instruction could be "contained in a sheet of paper."

This was "primitive Christianity."

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Primitive Christianity" is a Reformation chimera, at least post-Luther and Calvin's Reformation.

Christianity was never primitive in the Barney the Christosaur sense, never existed in the 'I love you, you love me and that's all there is' idiot children sense.

From the very first, the Early Church hassled over theology and doctrine. It's in the Bible, even. It's called the Acts of the Apostles. For the record. Christianity was an extension of Judaism, so could you be a Christian if you don't keep kosher?

[Acts 10, for those keeping score.]

Now it is true that Protestantism revolted against the Catholic Church's seemingly endless list of doctrines. But "primitive Christianity" had no staying power either. Look at the evangelicals and fundamentalists of today.
Still Trinitarians, which is doctrine, not explicit Biblicism.

Like "unitarianism," "primitive" Christianity was a fad. They are scarcely to be found today. In fact, in the Unitarian Universalist Church of the 21st century, you don't even have to believe in God, let alone Christ.

True story.