Frank Viola and George Barna's book Pagan Christianity boldly declares that everything most churches are doing is wrong: meeting in church buildings, having an order of worship, sermons, pastors, Sunday morning dress, ministers of music, tithing and clergy salaries, the way baptism and the Lord’s Supper are conducted, as well as Christian education. These are not the way church was done in the first century. In fact, they believe that they have pagan origins.
The book is an interesting read and it raises lots of issues worth discussing. Of course, it assumes that the the expression of the church in the first century is exactly what is to be followed today. I'm not sure that is totally true. After all, Jesus and the first Christians didn't use mobile phones and email, so maybe we shouldn't either!?
I'm also not so sure that Jesus is that overly fussed about forms or expressions of the church as he is about the heart, spirit, and priority of his church. Where the church is truly a community of Christ-followers, empowered by the Spirit to participate in God's mission in the world, I think a variety of forms can emerge within different contexts and cultures. After all, it takes all sorts of different churches to reach the all sorts of different people in our world.
However, there is no doubt that it is good to review all of our current beliefs and practices in light of Jesus and the church he established, as recorded in the New Testament documents.
Here are a few interesting links to some responses to this book:
- Some comments by a reputable Biblical scholar, Ben Witherington. See here and then here.
- Discussions on this book on the Christianity Today web site. Part 2 continues here.
- A review by a friend of mine, John Stanko.
You might also like to check out Frank and George's web site where they present more support for their claims.
What do you think?