Friday, January 11, 2008

Pagan Chrsitianity

a Biblical thought...
As Jesus was getting into the boat, the demon-delivered man begged to go along, but he wouldn't let him. Jesus said, "Go home to your own people. Tell them your story—what the Master did, how he had mercy on you." The man went back and began to preach in the Ten Towns area about what Jesus had done for him. He was the talk of the town. (Mark 5:18-20)

a Book thought...
Our church communities must have a healthy balance of men and women serving Jesus, using their gifts, and having a voice in the church. The lack of this balance is not healthy and is noticed by those who like Jesus but not the church. (p134 Kimball)
a Dave thought...
Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices (Revised and Updated) by Frank Viola and George Barna Have you ever wondered why we Christians do what we do for church every Sunday morning? Why do we "dress up" for church? Why does the pastor preach a sermon each week? Why do we have pews, steeples, choirs, and seminaries? This volume reveals the startling truth: most of what Christians do in present-day churches is not rooted in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles. Coauthors Frank Viola and George Barna support their thesis with compelling historical evidence in the first-ever book to document the full story of modern Christian church practices.

After reading the first chapter this book definitely looks like a fascinating read. Frank talks about the 4 C's that make a church healthy... Corporate Display, Communion, Community Life, Commission, he suggests that we may see one or two of these lived out in a church but it is very rare to be operating in all 4. He gos on to say that another unique characteristic of the church till the 5th century is that it didn't just care for its own but the world around it. It is worth a read and if you are like me and still working your way through the real essentials for a church, and not just happy to dish up what our people expect, it may help us get a bit closer to dressing up the bride, like she should be.

Just a thought.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Viola writes in a style typical of iconoclasts and hyperactive reformers. He has discovered something almost everybody else has missed and he seeks to be our teacher. Before he lays out his agenda, you know he has one. With inflated urgency he uncovers the apostasy he has discovered in (to name a few sins): the order of worship, preachers and preaching, church buildings, dressing up for services and the order of New Testament epistles. The title Pagan Christianity reflects his thesis that all such things have no basis in the Scriptures but were appropriated over time into the modern practice of "churchianity." The promotional blurb makes the claim: "This book is reserved for those who are ready to embark on an eye-opening venture that challenges every aspect of their church experience as well as offering a better alternative." Out with the old, in with the new.

Frank Viola is "a high school Psychology and Philosophy teacher," who in "his spare time...plants house churches, speaks at church-life conferences, and authors books on Christ and His church." On one of the opening pages he says that he "left the religious system." One of his arguments against preaching is "it suffocates mutual ministry." And as he debates the case against church buildings, he implies the friendlier, warmer atmosphere of a house (the sofa over the pew). So the agenda emerges. He is a destroyer of one system in the interests of promoting another. This phenomenon (the house church movement) is built on certain common premises: (1) smaller is better, (2) informality {though defined by the leaders} is preferable over order, (3) spontaneous/conversational teaching is superior to a prepared orderly presentation, (4) diversity is celebrated, (5) breaking from "tradition," and (6) opposition to pulpits, buildings and treasuries. All of these items (like a systematic theology) show up in some form in Viola's book, urged upon the reader as a warmer, more spiritual atmosphere and derived from the New Testament (not as a "manual," but more like a love-letter hermeneutic).

Viola's proof is highly touted on the back cover and in promotional material: "Viola proves his point by documenting every claim he makes." Well, there are abundant footnotes. Yet proof lies not in the quantity of footnotes but the content. Often, the author quotes himself! Or he quotes from others who have said what he is saying. There is a conspicuous deficiency in Scripture citations and no attempt to expound passages. He makes only passing reference to key passages on the subjects addressed. He is heavy on what a passage does not say, but usually silent on the real meaning. Some of his historical references bear some scrutiny, but he falls far short of "documenting every claim he makes."

He is critical and cynical about the claim: "The New Testament is our guide for faith and practice," but then seeks to make his case by quoting almost every book in antiquity except the New Testament, with weighty dependence on modern writers who also "left the religious system." What we need on these subjects is serious, objective and prayerful exposition of Scripture. No doubt, there are subjects and issues to be critically visited, but with Scripture in hand. That will serve us better. (I just remembered - I was engaged in conversation with a prominent reformer 30 years ago who was pleading for an emphasis on "grace" that I had reason to question. When I asked him where I could find this "approach" he was so zealous about he said, "read my books." I was really asking him for a higher authority! I have found this characteristic of militant reformers, citing their own writings as proof of their own writings!) Barna’s contribution is little more than typical Barna chasing another fad.
Some areas of disagreement:
1. I disagree with the underlying premise of the entire book - a premise that says the early church was untainted and uncorrupted by human tradition. I often ask this question to those who want to get back to the early church: Which early church do you want to be like? Corinth, Galatia? Thessalonica? Sure, we can learn from the earliest churches. But I disagree that there is some pristine, uncorrupted, untainted early church that we must aspire to be.
2. I dislike the way Viola and Barna put forward their argument. They leave no room for discussion on the issue. If you disagree with them, you must love the traditions of man more than God. It becomes impossible to enter into honest dialogue because of the way they have set up the predicament.
3. Pagan Christianity is a historical book that hates history. That might sound like an oxymoron; after all, the book is filled with historical dates and references. But the authors are convinced that all Christianity from the second-century on has been wrong, unbiblical, and harmful to the gospel. In other words, church history is the story of a church that does not at all resemble what Jesus intended. Mmm. Enough to make one suspicious and to leave the book on at the bookshop.