Is today's Church into a revolution that will someday be understood as greater than the 16th Century Protestant Reformation?
Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna will certainly add fuel to the fire of those affirming so. Most evangelicals would consider such a suggestion as absurd, or at best, exaggerated. Yet, undeniably, there is a grass roots revolution taking place on a global scale in Christendom about what it means to be the Church of Jesus Christ.
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?
Of course, one must read the book to understand why Viola and Barna indeed question "church" as most of us know it.
Beware, though. This book comes with a WARNING:
If you are unwilling to have your Christianity seriously examined, do not read beyond this page...Spare yourself the trouble of having your Christian life turned upside down. (pg.7)
A glance at the content chapters will suffice as to the reason for the warning!
1-Have We Really Been Doing It By The Book?
2-The Church Building: Inheriting the Edifice Complex.
3-The Order of Worship: Sunday Mornings Set In Concrete
4-The Sermon: Protestantism's Most Sacred Cow
5-The Pastor: Obstacle To Every-Member Functioning
6-Sunday Morning Costumes: Covering Up The Problem
7-Ministers of Music: Second-String Clergy
8-Tithing and Clergy Salaries: Sore Spots On The Wallet
9-Baptism and the Lord's Supper: Diluting The Sacraments
10-Christian Education: Swelling The Cranium
11-Reapproaching the New Testament: The Bible Is Not A Jigsaw Puzzle
12-A Second Glance at the Savior: Jesus The Revolutionary
-The Next Step
-Final Thoughts: Q&A with Viola and Barna
If not already offended at some of the chapter titles, I can almost guarantee you will be after reading what is actually said concerning these staples of institutional Christianity! As difficult as it is to read material that questions church as we know it, this is a well documented book, with over 1200 enlightening footnotes from church historians, theologians down through the ages, the reformers and church fathers themselves, and an extensive eleven page bibliography.
Each of the above issues is traced back to its roots of origin and how it evolved over the years into what we have today. The traditions are then examined in the light of what the New Testament actually teaches. Each is shown--in its current form--to NOT be a New Testament practice, but rather, traditions rooted in paganism absorbed by the church down through the ages. Today, what we assume as "normal Christian practices," would have been strange aberrations for first-century believers.
Of all the chapters, the toughest for me to deal with personally was the chapter, Reapproaching the New Testament. The authors question the evangelical church's "clipboard approach" to the Bible where we cut and paste portions of text from one document into another to say "Scripture teaches..." I am still giving this whole issue some thought, but admit a lot of what they point out is true.
But I predict the most controversial chapter will be Chapter Five, "The Pastor" where the birth of the one-bishop rule is traced. Suffice it to say, this makes for some challenging reading, that will most certainly be hotly contested by many in our established church institutions.
One note of clarification: I do not hear the authors saying that because these practices are pagan, that they are wrong. Many things we do today are rooted in paganism (eg. our calendars, days of the week, etc.) What I do hear them asking is, which of these current practices/traditions actually hinder the church from being the church that God designed and ordained her to be?
Reviews of the soon-to-be-released Tyndale publication of "Pagan Christianity" are beginning to appear all over the blog world. If this title and subject interests you, check out some of the following reviews from people whose opinions I respect:
Pagan Christianity by Alan Hirsch
Pagan Christianity by TallSkinnyKiwi (Andrew Jones)
I Can't Believe This Book Is Getting Published a good review by Brant Hansen
Should we have a Pagan Christianity? by GodGrown
Pagan Christianity creates ripples by MessyChristian
Answers to questions and objections about PAGAN CHRISTIANITY by Frank Viola himself
Audio interview with Frank Viola on the Nick and Josh podcast shares interesting background material on why the book was rewritten and republished from the original 2002 "Pagan Christianity", along with some clarifications and insights from Frank
For those willing to "choose to 'take the red pill' and be shown 'how deep the rabbit hole goes'...if you want to learn the true story of where your Christian practices came from...if you are willing to have the curtain pulled back on the contemporary church and its traditional presuppositions fiercely challenged...then you will find this work to be disturbing, enlightening, and possibly life changing." (PG, page 7)