July 20, 2008

Pagan Christianity: A Hard Look at Why We Do Church the Way We Do.

Early Church Father Tertullian was once quoted as saying "Custom without Truth is error grown old." Personally I have often asked tough questions of why we as the church do the things we do. In other words why is it we have the same order of service Sunday after Sunday? Why is it that only the pastor that gets the liberty of preaching? Why do we have such expensive buildings? Why do some churches require their laity to dress up in their finest every Sunday? Why is it that if you want to be an evangelist or pastor one does not need to go to church, but must go to seminary (where is this ever in scripture??!). Why is it we have "Worship Leaders" but yet worship is supposed to be a lifestyle led only by the Holy Spirit?

For those who have the courage to ask the tough questions of the present day church as to "Why do we do what we do Sunday after Sunday?" then I have a book for you! For those who have always wondered "Is this REALLY the way the apostles and the Early Church Fathers conducted church?" Then there is a book that answers many of these tough and often avoided questions. George Barna and Frank Viola have written an intriguing book that looks at just where most of our church traditions and liturgy come from. The results are alarming and yes may even cause some people to take a collective step backwards and reevaluate how and why we do church the way we do.

Although this post is not a review of the book, I do want to discuss or mention just some of the points Barna and Viola address in the book. It is my hope that my audience here has the courage to go out and buy the book and take to heart what Barna and Viola are addressing and get to the truth of how the true church of Jesus Christ is suppose to look and function.

The Church Building: Was it really Christ's intent that His followers build and own expensive edifices? Was the New Testament church really supposed to meet in such lavish or expensive buildings? To date Christian churches in the United States OWN over $230 BILLION worth of property and buildings - collectively this is more capital assets of some of the top Fortune 500 corporations in the WORLD! Wouldn't it be better served that this money be spent to serve the poor or be used for global evangelism?? Ever wondered why we need to sit in pews or have a stage from which the pastor speaks from?

Order of Worship: Why is it that the "Pastor" is at the very center of every church service? Why is it that the modern day church service seems to choke or make no room for anyone to give a word of exhortation or share an insight, or start a song, or spontaneously lead a prayer?? Why does it seem the service is so set in concrete and makes little or no room for the Holy Spirit to openly work or move?? Why is it we are forced to be a muted staid pewholders?? The answer: Surprisingly most if not all of the liturgy or church service stems from the churches early roots in Roman Paganism and Catholicism. Although the Reformers brought some changes, most of these changes simply shuffled things from being Priest centered to now Pastor-centered. The truth is most of how we do church is not rooted in the bible but from Paganism brought forth by Roman Emperor Constantine.

The Sermon: Why is it that Sunday after Sunday the sermon is delivered by the same person? Why is it that the sermon is required to be given to a passive and muted audience? Why is it that the sermon is more like a theatrical monologue rather than a free flowing dialog between fellow believers? Why is it the sermon is more like a cultivated and prescribed speech (Three points and a conclusion?). Ever wish you could stop the pastor and ask a question or for a further explanation. There is good reason why the current systems does not allow for this to occur.

The Pastor: Why is it in order for someone to "preach the gospel" that individual must have been taught at a seminary or bible college? Is ordination really biblical?? Was all truth really supposed to come from one individual or was the church to operate in a more organic manner? The reality is the present day pastor is really born out of a single-bishop rule spawned out of a Roman Pagan inspired system. A single pastor system essentially elevates one person to unrealistic expectations or responsibilities that is neither biblical or practical.

Sunday Morning Costumes: Just where did the notion that we must put on our "Sunday Best" when attending church? Doesn't the notion of requiring people who want to attend church to put on a suit or their finest clothes contrary to that of the message of Christ?

Minister of Music: Barna and Viola put forth an interesting argument here. They reference 1 Corinthians 14:26 whereby Paul says: "What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, everyone of you has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification." The interesting thing here is note the use of the word "everyone of you has", doesn't the Worship Leader make this impossible by limiting the headship if Christ in leading his followers into singing praise songs to the Father? When worship is limited to being led by only those who are "talented", this then becomes more like entertainment than corporate worship. Doesn't the worship of Christ belong in the hands of ALL God's people?

Tithing and Clergy Salaries: This has to probably be one of my favorite chapters. Did you know that for the first 300 years of the church did not promote nor require tithing? Did you know if someone wanted to be a pastor or evangelist they took a vow of poverty and were put in the same category as widows and orphans? The amazing thing is tithing applied to the Old Testament era where taxation was needed to support the Levite priests. But yet today this is the only Old Testament Law still upheld by the present day church. Again the only reason the present day church upholds the tithing requirement is it must have some means of paying for its expensive buildings and salaries. But yet didn't Jesus come to do away with the "Temple Tax" or set us free from the bondage of supporting the Old Testament clergy system? Besides, tithing has become a so called litmus test for Christian discipleship. As a matter of fact I have personally known of churches who require their staff or anyone in a teaching capacity to pay tithes. No tithes - no position. But yet where is any of this scriptural? Again, tithing eliminates giving from the heart and again allows an external "righteousness" to be established in the church.

Although these are not all the points addressed in the book, these are for the most part the major issues both Barna and Viola see as things that are limiting Christ's church from truly functioning as an organic entity. The point I truly appreciate about this book is its straight forwardness and courage to take on the current church establishment. Granted, Barna and Viola have received their fair share of hate mail and threats, but yet when we look over the canvas of church history so did many others who where so bold and courageous to approach or question the church establishment of their day - Barna and Viola in my opinion will be found years from now to be considered and recognized as church heroes. It is my hope that you will have the courage to read this book, and to be honest with yourself and address many of their points on how we can honor Christ as an organic body of believers.


Anonymous said...

Greetings. To the point:
If you read other things Viola has written, you come to find his views aren't exactly Scriptural either. His views lead to anarchy, and simply won't work out in real lif3e. There are men called and equipped to lead, and they have authority in Christ, and they are to "rule", and rule well. No amount of running to the Greek can avoid the truth of the English. Viola has many good points, but he doesn't have all the answers.

Preston N said...

Anonymous - I am curious as to your comment. All men are called to lead and ALL have been given the authority by God to share the gospel. What we need less of is men who feel they need to be our sole conduit between us and God. Christ came to do away with men who feel they have the sole authority from God and use church to satisfy their own self-worth.

Besides I'll take the Greek any day over your so called "english".

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
It’s also available on Amazon.com. Frank is also blogging now at http://www.frankviola.wordpress.com