David D.G.Hart discusses the primitivism that both Roman Catholics and Protestants often share. In, “Development of Doctrine — Protestant-Style,” he addresses the issue of “ecclesial deism.”

According to Hart, those who maintain that the church somehow betrayed its origins in the early patristic era until the time of the Reformation seem to forget the fact that,

Truths don’t simply fall out of the sky, pile up in neatly proportioned columns, steps, and arches, and remain intact for time immemorial. Instead, truths evolve (or develop if you don’t like Darwinian associations).

This is also true for the biblical corpus:

Redemptive history shows the unfolding of the gospel across millennia of salvation history, such that the seed of Genesis 3:15 does not blossom until 2 Samuel 7 which does not bear fruit until Luke 24 which then generates the harvest of Acts 2.

But Hart’s polemic here is not so much against Protestant as much as it is against certain Roman Catholic claims. Hart states:

To say that what we have in Roman Catholicism is what the early church had in the first three centuries is like saying that some angel of God left some gold plates containing the final revelation buried underground somewhere in upstate New York.

In order to remain faithful to the church catholic, it seems then that the challenge is to sail between the two currents of ecclesial deism and primitivist accounts either of doctrine or ecclesiology. Perhaps the task is not to uncover the past as it was, but to discover it as it is now.

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