Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pagan Christianity

I've been reading PAGAN Christianity - a book by Frank Viola and George Barna - a great read on the origins of most of our western church practices... if you are stuck in normal church structures (the need for a building, a service on sunday, a message by a 'pastor' an ordained clergy etc..) this book is an important read...
read a review at the Ooze:
Basically the authors are making three points:

1) A great deal of what we do in church today does not come from the New Testament.

2) Much of what is practiced originated out of Greco-Roman customs and traditions (paganism, not Judaism), and/or human-made inventions.

3) Many of these practices actually hinder the church from being what God designed her to be.

The over-arching question the authors seem to be asking is: Do the practices of modern institutional churches reflect a God-ordained/inspired development, or are they a departure from it?

For many years I've been confused (not to mention bored) by the practices of 'the church' compared to the New Testament account of how Christianity was practiced and spread... if you are needing a refresher on why those practices are lacking in creating a revolution I'd suggest a read of this book for a start.
I've also been thinking about some changes in the salvation army in the last 50 years... our meetings used to culminate and focus on 'the mercy seat' - the place where we ENCOUNTERED God.. the best means to encourage people towards this was not through a long sermon (read William Booth's How To Preach for details) but through TESTIMONIES of people who had ENCOUNTERED GOD... participation, participation - transaction and the like... don't get me started on the 'special and ordained' priesthood of 'officership' that somehow took the responsibility of the 'church or corps' over from the soldiery... I mean it's crazy... somehow the disappearance of the mercy seat and the emerging of the 'pulpit as the centre' etc.. has transformed us into well a pagan church basically. It's a bit nuts.
Who knows, maybe we'll break it down into bloggable sections for you over the next few days.
Turns out luck isn't the only thing for pagans...


Andrew Bale said...

GSR made the same point (from a practical rather than academic standpoint) in 'Heathen England' over 130 years ago!

Grace and peace, A

Jilliefl1 said...

The sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at
http://www.ReimaginingChurch.org .
It’s also available on Amazon.com. Frank is also blogging now at http://www.frankviola.wordpress.com .

Also, for a look at the purpose and vision behind these books, check out Viola's brand new book, "From Eternity to Here" at http://www.frometernitytohere.org .

Rob Reardon said...

Say it loud, Danielle! I've been struggling with the same confusion and boredom for years. It seems as though nobody in leadership or in our corps want to listen or even acknowledge we have problems. We cannot give up telling it like it is while at the same time offering a willingness to be part of the change.

David said...

If people are unsure of the likelyhood of change within the Salvos, here's a suggestion for them: Why not start your own movement or join another existing one that you think more closely matches "biblical norms"?

I think I know some of the answer already. The Salvos provide a nice hierarchical status with a cultural expectation of servile deference to authority. The uniform makes for kow-towing convenience. The atraction of position trumps the loneliness of humility.

Bernard said...

Ben Witherington has reviewed this book in depth on his blog, highlighting both strengths and weaknesses.



Anonymous said...

Ben Witherington is well worth the read. here is a sample. We are given the usual litany about Christians meeting in homes, and how they did not have church buildings. This is of course partially true, so far as we can tell, but frankly they didn’t just meet in homes, nor were there any mandates for them to do so saying “in order to be truly Christian thou shalt meet in cramped quarters.” They also met in Solomon’s Portico, which is to say in the Temple precincts as the early chapters of Acts informs us, and furthermore they went to synagogue services in purpose built buildings, and furthermore they occasionally rented halls, like the Hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus, and later in the first century, as the archaeological evidence makes clear, they met in caves, namely the catacombs in Rome, as well. I don’t see much of a movement in the church today to go back to cave dwelling The authors of this book are right to critique the modern western church for having an edifice complex, and spending too much money on buildings and too little on missions, evangelism, other forms of ministry. But there is absolutely nothing in the NT which either suggests or requires that Christians should only meet in homes. And furthermore, the major problem with these sorts of arguments are that they ignore the differences in social setting, then and now. Christians met in homes so often and for so long because they were part of an ‘illegal religion’ a ‘superstitio’ as the Roman’s called it. They did not meet in public because they wanted to meet in peace, and in freedom. It isn’t because they thought ‘small group house church ministry is cool or Biblical’. This however does not in any way suggest that bodies of believers should not have purpose built buildings. That’s an example of over reading the evidence by a long shot. And this brings me to another of the claims— that there is no evidence of church buildings before A.D. 190 when they are mentioned by Clement of Alexandria. Here archaeology can provide us with some help. A visitor to Capernaum can see, through the glass floor of the modern church there, the ‘house of Peter’, which was expanded into a Christian meeting place. It was no longer just a home, it was enhanced so it could be a better place of worship—house becomes church building. How do we know this? Because of the Christian graffiti in the walls left by Christians, some of which goes back at least to the early second century, and probably back to sometime after 70 A.D. when both Jews and Christians relocated, and one of the places they went was Capernaum. Then too, one should compare the recent news reports that in Jordan by the river they have found perhaps the very earliest church structure—associated with the 70 and possibly even dating from the late first century. The point is this, early Christians did not have an allergic reaction to buildings, not even to purpose built buildings. It was the social situation which dictated what it was wise and prudent to do about housing Christian meetings in that era, not some theological principle. It is not helpful to say, “until 300 there were no buildings first built as churches”, unless you add “until the 4th century Christianity was illegal!”