Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola, George Barna (Book Review) ~ BitterSweetLife

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola, George Barna (Book Review)

I picked up Pagan Christianity? with intense interest, plowed through it with shrinking enthusiasm, and closed it with bewildered distaste. Now there are about a million reviews up (or at least over 20), but I'll add my perfunctory take to the mix. So you can know what to really think. ;)

Frank Viola's big idea is that Christianity as we know it today has been largely molded by--that's right--pagan influences. And to an extent, he's right. Pagan Christianity?'s historical research is its most interesting feature, as Viola chronicles how Christianity subsumed various traditions from surrounding cultures and embedded them in areas of church practice. Problem is, this is not exactly the stuff of scandal, since the Bible doesn't explicitly set out rules and regs for Christian attire, architecture, pastoral salaries, etc.

Here is how Pagan Christianity? crumbles under its own weight.

  1. The book tracks church traditions that are rooted in surrounding culture. Fair enough. We need to be up front about the fact that "church" tradition borrows from the culture in which it finds itself. There is no alternative; Christ also assumed the trappings of the Jewish culture into which he was incarnated. It's important, however, to discern between timeless truths and timely cultural practices, guarding the first, adapting the second.
  2. The book points out various ways in which the church has taken cultural practices and elevated them as esteemed of "sacred" traditions. While this is somewhat helpful, Viola starts to sound nutty at times because his criticism is so widespread and scathing. Examples: "The message of the steeple is one that contradicts the message of the New Testament. Christians do not have to reach into the heavens to find God. He is here! (p. 33). "The sermon actually detracts from the very purpose for which God designed the church gathering" (p. 86). "Nothing hinders the fulfillment of God's eternal purpose as does the present-day pastoral role" (137). And believe me, there is more. Much, much more.
  3. Finally, the book suggests that since "pagan" influences have infiltrated Christianity at virtually every level, a radical abandonment of current practice is called for. No more church buildings. No more sermons. No more hierarchical leadership. No more paid clergy. Wipe the slate clean and start from scratch...based on the "New Testament" model.

Pagan Christianity? becomes irritating when Viola attempts to point to a supposedly clear "New Testament" model of church which is not really present in the scriptures he cites. His strength is history, not exegesis, which perhaps explains why these elusive NT "church blueprints" are not common knowledge. They represent Viola's preference, not a scriptural norm.

Viola believes that "a free-flowing, open-participatory gathering is envisioned in the New Testament...without human control or interference" (265). At the same time, he fails to notice passages that speak clearly to the need for recognized leadership within the church, and mandate orderly gatherings and authoritative instruction.

Pagan Christianity? has moments of usefulness based on Viola's efforts to track the historical development of current church customs. He reveals that practices that are often regarded as sacrosanct today are, in fact, mere traditions--not actually inviolable. However, selective biblical interpretation, a bewildering perspective on culture, and over-the-top critical statements sabotage the book's supposed mission of reforming the Western church.

* Pagan Christianity? gets one star out of three: it has its points.

Addendum: Want a few more specifics? I don't usually break down books at this length, but this one has generated so much discussion that I thought some additional detail would be helpful. Here are some of the notes I scrawled at the conclusions of various chapters in Pagan Christianity? (Chapter 1 was an intro.)

The Church Building (Chapter 2)
Gist: People, not architecture, cause sacred space. Eye-opening, but it doesn't deliver the kind of scandalous expose promised. More a historical examination of evolving practice (with "pagan" roots) without a good answer to the "So what?" question. So why are buildings always of the devil? Useful cautionary observations get glazed over by a bent toward overstatement.

The Order of Worship (Chapter 3)
Gist: Protestant order of worship is unbiblical, i.e., it is not in the NT. Passive church members are bad. Church has become a spectator sport. I agree, to a degree. But I'm not sure this means large, planned meetings are evil. And where do we find a snapshot of these completely "open," splendidly fluid services the authors keep mentioning? In this book? In the NT? The authors read too much into I Corinthians 14 and come up with a radically "open" model that is unsupported by context and other texts. I Cor. 14 is not a passage about church services.

The Sermon (Chapter 4)
Gist: We don't want passive audiences listening to impractical monologues by religious specialists. Amen to that. Except the authors never demonstrate that sermons are unbiblical, far from it--only that they are not perfunctory for every church gathering.

The Pastor (Chapter 5)
Gist: Clergy/laity is a destructive dichotomy and elders should be recognized internally, not externally ordained. Church should not be primarily a preaching station. Every member should have freedom to minister in services. These are all good points, but none of them leads to the authors' airtight conclusion that the pastoral role should be erased, or that church meetings must always have a non-linear, small-group vibe. The NT elevates the role of every believer, but also calls for strong, humble leaders to, well--lead.

Sunday Morning Costumes (Chapter 6)
Gist: There's no biblical reason for clergy or members to dress up for church. No argument here. Maybe this is why a lot of people don't.

Ministers of Music (Chapter 7)
Gist: Leading worship should not be relegated to a talented few but initiated by the whole congregation based on I Cor. 14:26. But nowhere are we told that the NT is prescriptive for worship practice (e.g, "From now on, you should conduct church like this...") and I Cor. 14 certainly is not written with an eye to regulating music. How exactly does a congregation spontaneously initiate worship, assuming that it's larger than a dozen people? Or maybe that's an innate assumption here, that churches should be very small?

Clergy Salaries (Chapter 8)
Gist: The tithe is not biblically required (it's an Old Testament law requirement) and the uses it is put to now (buildings, clergy) are suspect. Also, there's no biblical precedent for paying pastors. Good point about tithing. However, the authors fail to emphasize the benefits of generosity (as in Randy Alcorn's The Treasure Principle) and totally sidestep NT passages that speak about gospel workers getting paid for their efforts (I Corinthians 9).

Baptism and the Lord's Supper (Chapter 9)
Gist: Baptism and the Lord's Supper have been hijacked from their original purposes. Baptism is intended to immediately follow conversion, as a public profession of belief. the Lord's Supper was a full communal meal, enjoyed in an atmosphere of joy and celebration. I agree. But in my opinion, merely pointing to how we've shrunk these profound practices into dry rituals (grape juice and crackers, anyone?) is not of much help.

Christian Education (Chapter 10)
Gist: Christian "education" tends to be very intellectual and rationalistic, devaluing discipleship and experiential faith. The authors get it about half right here. The overly-dry mind-stuffing they describe is alive and well in the academy today, and yes--divorced from spiritual growth, it doesn't much help the aspiring minister. However, the authors fail to do justice to the "spirit and truth" dynamic we find in scripture. We need to grapple with truth mentally. Yes, spirituality becomes exhausting when it's merely an intellectual discipline, but if we put our brains in our pockets, we'll just have that much more ground to make up as we pursue genuine worship. God wants our hearts and minds to work in tandem as we know him.

Approaching the New Testament (Chapter 11)
Gist: We often read the Bible in an individualistic, noncontextual, artificial way--and chapter and verse references may aid this. I agree with the spirit of this chapter: Better to live out of the entire biblical story and theology than from our favorite plot points. However, some of Viola's examples make me very nervous. Like the part where he tells us that the Great Commission is not really a commandment for all believers. Simply bad exegesis.

Good enough. The last couple chapters are more a recap and call to action. In summary, the subtitle of Pagan Christianity? could be Question everything. I'd amend it to, Question everything--including this book.



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30 comments:

must_decrease said...

Wow! Solid review. I received a similar vibe the other day when someone mentioned they had been reading through this same title. As far as leadership in the local church is concerned, did Viola give any reference to Paul's teaching on this found in 1 Timothy among others? and if not, what should the structure be?

Matt

brad brisco said...

Matt, Tower of Power? What are you listening to man!?

Ariel, thanks for saving me a couple of hours tomorrow. I am simply going to send people this way when it comes to my review. Although I would have given it two out of four popcorn bags. Anyway you know book reviews were borrowed from pagan cultures!

R. Sherman said...

Nice review.

It sounds as though the author became emotionally invested in his thesis before examining the relevant evidence and then decided to shoe-horn stuff into the paradigm.

Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

Oh, and re: The Lord's Supper. If we're going to be Biblical about it, we should be consuming matzos and Manischewitz because it was a Passover meal after all.

Cheers.

Ariel said...

As far as leadership in the local church is concerned, did Viola give any reference to Paul's teaching on this found in 1 Timothy among others? and if not, what should the structure be?

He may have mentioned it in passing...but I'm going to hazard a guess and say no. Viola's perspective here didn't make a lot of sense to me, as he argues that church should be non-hierarchical and non-regulated, effectively leaderless--and then mentions later that he believes in elders. Not sure where that leaves you.

My understanding, for what it's worth, is that we have the most biblical warrant for a plurality of elders working together to lead a church--modeling unified, trinitarian cooperation, playing to each other's strengths, covering for each other's weaknesses.

I am simply going to send people this way when it comes to my review. Although I would have given it two out of four popcorn bags.

Happy to save you the time...you realize that four popcorn bags give you more latitude than three stars, right? ;)

Anyway you know book reviews were borrowed from pagan cultures!

Don't know if I should mention this, but...recent research has revealed that blogs are also borrowed from pagan culture. As are the internet, computers, and electricity. Stop where you are, back away from industrial society, and make a break for Alaska. No doubt you'll find me by the roadside. Traveling by pack mule takes time...actually, scrap the pack, I think a pagan designed that. But be looking for my upcoming book:Pagan Humanity?

It sounds as though the author became emotionally invested in his thesis before examining the relevant evidence and then decided to shoe-horn stuff into the paradigm.

Of course I can't substantiate that, but as educated guesses go, it's not a bad one.

DLF4Christ said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jeanette said...

Great discussion. Dear must_decrease, George and Frank do answer the 1 Timothy 5 passage in the book. They give it almost an entire page. If someone just skims the book oppossed to reading it, they will certainly miss that and many other points. You can also read Frank's responses to questions about leadership at http://www.ptmin.org/answers.htm as well as reviews written by Alan Hirsch, Andrew Jones, Michael Kruse and others. They give a very different perspective on the book than the review here.

Jimmy Snowden said...

Mr. Flowers,
I have not yet read "Pagan Christianity," therefore I have no basis of knowing whether or not it is a good book. You suggest that other people not give this book a bad review. I am sure that there are many folks who see things differently than you that would ask you to not give books by Dever and others with similar church polity and structure a bad review either.

The fact is that when a book is published it will get both good and bad reviews. If you see Pagan Christianity as a good book then go start some churches. Here's the point, don't be surprised if others disagree with it. Let the challenges come. Telling people to not give a bad review of the book does no good. What you need to do is take the challenges head on. Answer the critics. Telling people that the reason they don't like the book is because they don't love Jesus (or that they are too busy making out with institutional Christianity) is not going to convince (or help) any one.

Not trying to slam you--I have been guilty of similar things in the past. I am just trying to say, "Answer the objections with hard core verifiable data." Until you do this, don't expect anyone to swallow "hook, line, and sinker" everything Barna and Viola have to say--there are simply too many views out there to just make blanket statements like this without backing anything up.

Ariel said...

Someone posted an entire book review as a comment? Huh? I deleted that... If you want to read Mr. Flowers' review, you can find it here: www.myspace.com/daviddflowers

There are a variety of opinions out there about this book...as hinted in the first paragraph above, where I link to over 20 other reviews, both positive and negative.

Ariel said...

Jimmy, good point here:

Here's the point, don't be surprised if others disagree with it. Let the challenges come. Telling people to not give a bad review of the book does no good. What you need to do is take the challenges head on.

We can almost guarantee that there will be good and bad reviews of any given book. Ultimately, books speak for themselves, and people come to independent conclusions about the value of what they say.

David D. Flowers said...

I apologize if I gave the impression that readers should should swallow "hook-line-sinker." I in no way meant to imply that someone should not give the book a "bad review." I was only trying to challenge people to study the issues for themselves and understand what is being said in the book before they jump to conclusions and spout off something ridiculously off the mark from the author's intended meaning.

J. R. Miller said...

Hi, an excellent alternative to Viola's book is "The Ancient Church As Family" by Dr. Joe Hellerman. His work is well researched and addresses many of the "pagan" influences on our faith. Dr. Hellerman's contribution is a blend of good history AND respectful discourse.

freedom seeker said...

Why don't we just look at the American culture? It's pagan and heathen. We currently live in a free society, and can openly share the Gospel, and disciple others. What happened?

Pagan Christianity? YEP! I don't even have to read the book to question it's validity - all I have to do is look at the church. It validates it on its own.

Biblical Pastors? NOVA, (National Organization for Victims of Abuse), list them behind the military and police as the profession with the highest incidence of spousal abuse.

The VAST majority of people forget the Sunday "sermon" before they leave the parking lot. The real need being met on Sunday is the need of the "pastor" to validate his "title." In addition, Sunday is NOT the sabbath - Saturday is. The Romans put Sunday in to coninue its pagan homage to the SUN god.

You suggest Viola says scrapping it, and starting over with a tone of incredible unbelief. Are you suggesting we keep it like it is?

The church was bought out by the Romans because they feared its orginal organic growth - pure and simple, and the "institutional" church has been a harlot ever since.

Join the REVOLUTION!

www.ylifeonline.org

Ariel said...

@ freedom seeker: I appreciate your enthusiasm. However, my impression is that you're throwing the baby out with the bath water--or, as I like to say, tossing the coffee out with the grinds.

The church has always been a composite of authentic faith and self-serving "religion." Therefore, to scrap everything and start over is kind of redundant, to say the least...we may as well make it a daily ritual (which the Reformers, in fact, suggested, in a spiritual sense: "semper reformanda").

You suggest Viola says scrapping it, and starting over with a tone of incredible unbelief. Are you suggesting we keep it like it is?

I don't think anyone who actually cares about the church wants to keep it like it is. My problem with Viola is that I don't think the changes he subscribes are necessarily the ones the church most needs.

erin said...

Question more for "freedom seeker." Where did you get the statistic about pastors being the third leading profession for spousal abuse? I have looked and have found no other source to substantiate your claim. I also have not been able to find the "National Organization of Victims of Abuse." I am doing a paper and would like to include your statistic, however, I would need a study or source to be able to include it. Where did you get it?

John said...

erin - I found the nova website - trynova.org...

Dennis said...

Awesome review, well stated. I'm a little more sympathetic to efforts to revive New Testament forms, but this book definitely comes with a narrowly defined preconception and forces everything into it. I'm going to put a link to your review on my blot where I'm doing a multiple post review of my own. http://authenticmeansreal.blogspot.com/

drpepper30 said...

Ariel:

First, I am surprised that so many are willing to agree with a review of a book they haven't even read.

Second, I am not sure you have given it a thorough reading yourself, including the footnotes. I would rather think this, than that your review does not seem intellectually honest.

Third, you are correct in saying that 1 Cor. 14 is not referring to a church service, since there was no such thing until the traditions and institutions were established. However, if you are saying that the context of 1 Cor. 14 is not a local church gathering (or meeting), then what is it? 1 Cor. 11:17 makes it clear that Paul is referring to the meetings of the church. 1 Cor. 14:23, 26 specifically mention the gathering of the "whole church" (NIV). Please enlighten me as to how this passage does not refer to the church meeting.

Fourth, I find it ironic that those who would make reference to 1 Cor. 14:33 and the issue of "order" in the church are also willing to dismiss the rest of the passage, as if practicing those things would be "disorderly." Does that make ANY sense, biblically?

Dan McGowan said...

over the course of my 50 years on this planet, 38 of them "in the church" and at least 25 of those in "church leadership" I can say without a doubt that ANYONE who shares an opinion that is outside of what "the normal church" teaches (note, I did NOT say, outside of what THE BIBLE teaches) will be viewed as an outcast, nutcase, lunatic and heretic. Why? Because they are QUESTIONING the traditions that have been in place since before they were born!

We can scoff all we want - but the truth is the American Church ain't working. Not overall. We are NOT really reaching the lost, nor loving and caring and serving the way JESUS did. Sometimes we do nice stuff, and shake a hand or smile. But we are FAR from what we read in, say, Acts 2:42-47.

Frank and George may not be 100% dead on with every single accusation. But what they have to say MUST be at least read - and read with eyes that are not "churchy-rose-colored" because that tanits the truth.

Benjamin said...

Seems Frank is getting what he desired--a discussion...

@Dan: I agree the lens should be crystal (glass, not ruby), but that means we do not squint to overlook errancy inside what they say...the notion of returning to Biblical roots has been exalted for the past century or so; however, the methods have usually led to short sprints and then stagnation. The question we're left with is: Why?

I'd like to know. While I don't exactly, I'm banking its in the field of perseverance and faith in God doing what He wants...and that's a large area to cover.

Cheers, (We're all 'Brits' around here;)
Benjamin

Ariel said...

Man, whenever I think this comment thread is dead, it comes snarling back to life like the monster in a slasher movie. That's OK. Even monsters have a right to life.

@drpepper30: First, I am surprised that so many are willing to agree with a review of a book they haven't even read.

Newsflash: People read reviews to assess the quality of books they may never read. Sometimes the review will eliminate the desire to grab the book, sometimes bolster it. A central function of a review is to persuade and inform. Name of the game.

Second, I am not sure you have given it a thorough reading yourself, including the footnotes...

I read everything, including the footnotes, including Viola's interview site--but have since stopped keeping up with the ever increasing volume of Q&A and "clarification" soundbytes. IMO, a book ought to be able to stand on its own two feet--I mean, spine. Otherwise it dies the death of a thousand qualifications, which is what I see happening with this particular tome.

Third, you are correct in saying that 1 Cor. 14 is not referring to a church service, but...

Not sure I'm following your argument here, but how about this: I encourage anyone interested in the contextual intent of Cor. 14 to go read it. I don't think this is exegetical rocket science.

@Dan: Frank and George may not be 100% dead on with every single accusation. But what they have to say MUST be at least read - and read with eyes that are not "churchy-rose-colored" because that tanits the truth.

The American church is in trouble but there are plenty of alternatives to Pagan Christianity? as far as assessment goes. A number of them are more helpful, IMO. Forgotten Ways (Hirsch), No Place for the Truth (Wells), even Generous Orthodoxy, with its blind spots (McLaren). So no, Viola's book is not required reading.

@Benjamin: the notion of returning to Biblical roots has been exalted for the past century or so; however, the methods have usually led to short sprints and then stagnation.

I like the way you put that. "Reformation enthusiasm" won't be very helpful if we go sprinting impulsively in the wrong direction.

I'm think I'm getting a little snarky over some of these comments; keep in mind that I don't think the book is an abject failure. It will be a shocking WOAH! experience for some people who have never considered the church's traditions carefully before. That's not a unique contribution in recent Christian literature, but it can be a very helpful one.

ArmedWithTruth said...

I was raised in various Protestant churches, Baptist, Assemblies of God, non-demoninational etc., and have been a Jehovah’s Witness now for about 5 years. I have read this book recently, and although I do not agree with it fully theologically speaking, it is well written, and there are some very valid points. In fact many of the points in it (for example about tithing, and paid clergy) are a major reason I was turned off to the churches I grew up attending, and thus am now part of a religious organization that does not preach tithing, or have paid clergy at that. Another thing I appreciated about the book was the section on churches having one single individual with the title “Pastor”.

J. R. Miller said...

I like the fact that your review focused on the substance of the book, and did not engage in personal attacks.

I have been in contact with Frank and am putting together an interview that will be posted on my blog. If you have any questions you would like him to answer, let me know.

email me a question and a page reference to the book. My email is joe [dot] miller [at] emerginglife [dot] org

Anonymous said...

Frank Viola has captured many truths about the biblical church but when it comes to the role of the elder he throws the baby out with the bathwater. He is correct to want to jettison religion. The religion that calls itself “Christian” (both catholic and protestant) is not the true church. The rightly divided word gives wonderful direction for the true church. The true church does not have a denominational name: It is the body of Christ. No middle men, no popes, no go betweens, just the one and only Jesus the anointed one as the head. Members of the true church have Christ in them (Col 1:27) and have an unbreakable relationship with God through Christ.

Will there soon be yet another new denomination based on Violaism? It like the rest of the modern ”emerging church” has a strong emphasis on social gathering with all who come welcome to spew their weird religious doctrines while the bible is avoided? We need the rightly divided word of God now more than ever. In 1 Peter 5:1-3 elders are exhorted to “feed the flock of God.” There is only one source of food for the flock of God: The Word of God. See chapter 4 Partnership One With Another: Neil Tolman 1993 at: http://www.neilshouse.com/POA4.html#4
Thanks, Neil

Deacon & Usher said...

We really appreciate all of this philosophical stuff, but until one has been in the church for a period of time, much of this is just philosophy. The order of the church is not the concern here, nor the paganism which makes up so much of the church. It's the harm the church is causing and the good that doesn't ever come from the people who Christ intended to make up the church. The modern church is made up of secure pastors in a vocation, coming from pedigree and fine schools who sink or swim with their rhode-scholar oratory, their ability to manipulate the common ones and their fine promises that they personally know they'll never be able to deliver on.

The reality in this thread and in today's church is that most have something to lose and the arguments reflect all of these more-than-obvious motives. Until one lives in the "other" mindset and is willing to risk all, then the arguments fall on deaf ears.

In this thread the following vocations and interests include:

Church Planter
Comedian
Church Leader (anonymous Neil)
A church hating non-believing JW debater
The author - a traditional church-goer, student and philosopher
An amateur writer
A writer-pastor Christian (professed leader of grass roots movement)
A reformist technology soccer fan
A young anti-reformist reveolutionary
A Master Divinity student
A midwest attorney/elder
A theological church planter/entrepreneur
A young midwestern church planter

Gist: If none of you had anything to protect and were willing to walk away from church as you know it, you'd see things differently. Frank isn't right as he has things to protect - the organic church for one - but he has been about it for 20 years.

Gist 2: Throw out the paganism in the church and people wouldn't have their preferences, their peaves, their committee meetings, their personal worship agendas, their name on the cornerstones of their pretty new buildings and they wouldn't get to sit around and debate the sermon, the preacher's new expensive suit, their reasoning for not giving to the mission fund because they cannot see the results and so on.....

Protect your materials, your opinions and your preferences, fail to learn what you don't know.

Deacon and Usher
deaconandusher.wordpress.com
deaconandusher@yahoo.com

Ariel said...

I haven't commented on this post for a couple months, but I'll come out of retirement again for a second.

@deacon&usher, I fail to see what you're trying to communicate. From the top.

We really appreciate all of this philosophical stuff, but until one has been in the church for a period of time, much of this is just philosophy.

Like any book dealing with ecclesiology, PC deals in big picture thinking, or "philosophical" assumptions about church--as does the Bible at various points. That's because what we believe guides how we act. Might as well toss out theology otherwise.

The reality in this thread and in today's church is that most have something to lose and the arguments reflect all of these more-than-obvious motives.

Am I missing something here? Are you saying that anyone with a vested interest in church should not be trusted to speak about church? Because that would be, like, a clownish backflip sequence of ridiculosity.

Gist: If none of you had anything to protect and were willing to walk away from church as you know it, you'd see things differently.

Am I right in assuming that, while everyone else who has commented on this post is mired in subjectivity and self-interest, you have gained objectivity and distance from which you can set us on the right path?

Because that would be worth a chuckle, and I've been looking for a good reason to laugh all day.

J. R. Miller said...

I agree with you Ariel. I would even go a step further, that if someone does not have something to "lose" then they really have not experienced church. If one can simply "step away" from their church and not feel a sense of loss, then they have not been faithful to invest in the Body of Christ.

Tom Duregger said...

The greater issue here is who are we making disciples of? Clement of Rome, Tertullian, Cyprian, Constantine, Augustine, etc. up through history, or are we being and making disciples of the actual Jesus Christ?

If what Jesus and the Apostles did and said are secondary, then I would question whether or not we are following Him. The Body of Christ is supposed to demonstrate the actual person of Jesus Christ, therefore, His life (example) and teachings must be foremost.

The primary purpose of attempting to show people that most of what is done in "Christendumb" today does not reflect the person, teachings, and example of Yahushua the Jewish Messiah. Many people are willing to praise and worship the historical personality - Jesus - without any regard to the who He was on earth, what He said, or what He did.

The reason to withdraw from religious systems who misrepresent Jesus Christ is so that those who want to follow Him can clear their heads, seek the Jesus of the Bible, and start over in a simple walk of faith based on a relationship with the real Jesus. Following Him is not, in this life, a matter of social well being.

It is about becoming a Learner (Disciple) of Yahushua the Jewish Messiah. He is the one who sets the pace, He is the primary historical and contemporary figure that we must seek, if we are to truly by His disciples. If one must submit to a human hierarchy it becomes nearly impossible to obey the Lord because that setting requires one to attain the approval of men before stepping out in faithful obedience to the Lord.

It is a question of headship. Who is your spiritual head, the Lord, or a human hierarchy?

Smaller groups, without the burdens of the real estate, salaries, etc.(the basic stuff being pointed out in "Pagan Christianity?") and the forced associations and allegiances required in of the people within these institutional systems, are the pattern set by Jesus and the Apostles for the good of His Beloved, the Body of Messiah!

J. R. Miller said...

Ariel, first let me say that you have one a good job answering the concerns and accusations raised by commenters.

Second, I have to admit that the marketing of this book has been genious. Here are the two marketing techniques used by Viola and Barna that I have seen reflected in the comments here...

1. "If you disagree with the book, you have not read it."
2. "If you read it and disagree, it is because you have a self-serving interest in the institution of church."

Based on the marketing, here are the conclusions people are making.

1. Any true Christian will leave the "institutional" church. Conversely, only false Christians will stay.
2. The church for the past 1,700 years has produced false disciples (as illustrated by our last commenter) and only now through the work of Viola and Barna is the true church being rediscovered.

If one examines revivalism from the past 2 centuries, it follows much this same pattern of condemnation of everyone who is different or does not embrace ones opinions of Scripture.

This is really getting ugly and sad.

Serena Rainey said...

This is silly.
I used to be an Evangelical Friend (the majority of Friends (Quakers) today as generations ago are Evangelical, not Liberal/Unprogrammed or Orthodox Friends). That denomination is one of three (see parentheses above) derived from George Fox's original 17th Century Religious Society of Fiends. Part of the impetus for the formation of the RSF was the very escape from culture and structure Viola demands. Part was security and part was a financial issue. However, the outcome was that a group with various doctrines or none at all separated and claimed the name "Friends" for themselves, preserving a few but not most of the traditions; another separated and kept even fewer of the early traditions. A tiny percentage stuck with as much as they could preserve of both. You see, the pracice of no clergy, no sermon, and no church building makes preserving a body of knowledge extremely hard. As the movement grows, it becomes impossible. That's why EF's no longer try to get by without such customs. Because it doesn't work.

Denise Charles said...

I am currently reading the book and though I agree with some aspects of it I think that there are a few anomalies and I too have a problem with its purist tone. While the author makes several relevant points re Pastoral dominance, congregational passivity, erroneous teaching on tithing and the Greeco/Roman influences on traditional Church worship among others, there are several areas where to my mind he falls down (too numerous to mention in this forum). The author does not do a good job of describing what the church really is. His impression of church (even while he cries down the institutional church) seems to suggest that church is somewhat limited and held captive by the tone and structure of its Sunday gathering. He is still limiting his discussion to organisational church. What churches do on Sunday is merely but one expression of the Church and has nothing to do with the true organism of the church, the body of believers, who on the basis of an INDIVIDUAL experience with Christ, become a part of this organic body. I think Viola misses the point by thinking that the organic church is merely a way of "doing church" that is "non-institutional" etc. The Church in its organic expression to my mind, crosses time lines, ethnicities, races, nationalities, and denominations. This is the Church of which Jesus spoke when He said that the gates of hell will not prevail against it. If this Church was truly held captive by the Church's institutionalism over the centuries, then the gates of hell would have prevailed and we wouldn't be having this conversation; the Church would have died. Viola's tone also seems to imply that God's hands has been virtually tied because churches which exist today may not be exact replicas of the New Testament paradigm of church. We are actually still the New Testament church which will continue to evolve till Jesus returns; this is one of the vagaries of being human and living in a fallen world among fallen, imperfect people and systems. If the New Testament church was all that Frank suggests it was cracked up to be, there would have been no need to write epistles. Paul in fact wrote epistles/letters because he was attempting to deal with the many challenges and imperfections which the church faced then; just like today. And by the way I am a part of an informal, simple gathering (similar to House church)but am a bit disappointed that the book is coming across as a case for the existence of house churches; nothing wrong with House churches but because I start my home business in my basement does not mean that it has to remain there to preserve the spirit or ethos of my values as a businessman. We must be careful not to adopt an attitude of following practices as a rigid "letter of the law" as opposed to understanding the principle/spirit of the thing. The global church today is much larger than what would have existed in the NT so chances are that we will evolve different modes of functioning. It seems trite to be suggesting that because there are no worship leaders/worship teams in the NT that it is therefore un-biblical to have them now. There were also no new testaments to read in the NT church; yet we read them now. A good book to stimulate discussion but academically flawed in its failure to understand the role of history in shaping and emerging God's eternal plan. Remember "Jesus Christ Lamb of God slain before the foundations of the world"? God is always several steps ahead of us flawed human beings, even when we do have a knowledge of and experience with Him. Be assured this conversation will continue.

 

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