Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola & George Barna is presented by the authors as the first installment of a pair of books. Pagan Christianity is considered to be the ‘deconstructive’ analysis of ‘institutional church’ and the second book, Reimagining Church is offered as the ‘constructive’ portion of the pairing. So, Pagan Christianity homes in on a handful of central church practices that exist today and seeks out their origins and developments. In each of these cases it is Frank Viola & George Barna’s intention to show the reader that the practice they are likely to be familiar with does not find its origins in the New Testament but rather in the Greco-Roman Pagan world.
Among the the main topics traced, considered and exposed are:
- Church Buildings (which were not in widespread use for the first 300 years of the church)
- Liturgy (the current Protestant ‘service’ is based squarely on the Roman Catholic mass)
- The Sermon (mimicking the highly esteemed Greek philosophers/orators)
- The Pastor (a protestant name for the church fathers’ development of ‘one-bishop-rule’)
- The Worship Team (a very modern addition to churches but based upon the old Greek dramas and temple practices)
- Tithing & Salaries (all part of the gradual development of the clergy/laity division and professionalising of ‘the ministry’ )
- And much more, including, ‘dressing up for Sunday’, distortion of the Lord’s supper and baptism, etc.
Yes, many of the words in the above list do originate from the Bible but their current day outworkings in the case of ‘institutional church’ are all exposed as being pagan.
If you are a simple, honest Christian with no axe to grind and no denominational institution to defend you will not have any difficulty comprehending and acknowledging the simple facts of the matter as you consider the origins of all these practices. If, on the other hand, you cannot abide the thought of your particular ‘institution’ being exposed as being unbiblical, and not at all ‘by the Book’ as it may claim, then you may well struggle with accepting some of the material evidenced in this book. This may apply even more so if you are in any kind of ‘professional ministry’ – here’s my personal favourite quote from the book – the authors’ quote another source, who says…
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.
Other Thoughts About Pagan Christianity
I only review books on this website as recommendations and I have no hesitation in recommending Pagan Christianity for its main thrust and content. However, given my own keen emphasis on biblical church and the fact that this, I believe, is a very current topic, I will, on this subject voice a few queries /question marks on a few points…
#1… There is a chapter (or portion at least) addressing the development of and use of the term ‘personal saviour’. I have to say I could not quite grasp what the authors were trying to say about this. If their point was that Jesus should only be seen as a ‘corporate saviour’ (head of the body) and this negates Him also being a ‘personal saviour’ (concerned with individuals) I couldn’t disagree more. Somehow I don’t think that was the point but I couldn’t quite see what they were attempting to tackle and how this fitted with the main flow of a book.
#2... Another chapter portrays a well-meaning man (“Joe Housechurch”) who has seen the light, left ‘institutional church’ and has found others of like-mind with whom he can meet (I say hallelujah!). However, according to the authors there is no possible way of this meeting becoming an authentic ‘organic church’ without the involvement of a ‘church planter’ (presumably this means apostle). Now, I believe apostles planted churches, I believe that God still calls some to be apostles and every gift and gifted person is God’s gift to and for the edification of His people, but… to say that there is no other ‘method’ that God can use to squarely establish a new church flies completely in the face of the constantly used term ‘organic’. Of course God can use whatever means and persons as are available to initiate His churches. Genuinely gifted evangelists can be used of The Lord to save souls but it is not the only way God can save a soul. Genuine [big question!] apostles can be used of God to plant and nurture churches but it is not the only way God can plant or water an authentic expression of His Life. To overstate the role of apostles (church planters) is unbalanced in my view.
#3… In the small notes toward the end I noticed the positive endorsement of the usage of ‘traditional creeds’ as an aid to maintaining some control against heresies creeping in. Now, the authors had earlier made the observation that many church traditions came into being as well-meaning attempts to keep things on a right track but the whole point of the book is to make the reader understand that man-made traditions, however well-meant, invariably work against the true, authentic expression of church life. Do we really, really (!) believe in ‘Sola Scriptura’? and can we really, really (!) trust God to sort the problems in His church? And yes, there will be plenty in any truly ‘organic’ situation.
Having mentioned the above queries I feel it is important to once again reiterate that the main topics of this book – in short, the vast majority – is a really good, quality assessment of church traditions – their origins, their developments and our need to rethink and reject all that replaces the church practices that have been recorded in the New Testament. I’ll be looking for anyone with ears to hear to pass this book onto.
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Related Reading ~ Bible Study: His Church (study on Biblical Church)