The second edition of Frank Viola’s book Pagan Christianity (with the addition of co-author George Barna) is making a huge splash in the blogosphere – perhaps a larger splash than the first edition. It seems that certain sectors of the church are seriously considering this book (whether they agree or disagree with the premise) while other sectors are ignoring it.
I read the original edition of the book a few years ago. At that time, I thought that Viola had some very important things to say, but that at times his message was lost behind his over-the-top rhetoric. I was hoping the rhetoric would be toned down in this new edition, but apparently this is not the case. (However, I would still recommend this book highly!)
As I read Pagan Christianity, I thought Viola’s purpose was to demonstrate that many of the practices that we consider necessary to the church today were not developed from Scripture but from pagan culture. He tackles things such as church buildings, paid professional pastors, sermons, order of service, etc. Again, his point is that we do not find the modern expression of these things in Scripture, but instead they were developed from pagan culture – primarily, Roman culture.
I think that Viola is correct in much of his history. But, what should we do with this information? If church buildings were developed from culture instead of from Scripture, does that make church buildings wrong? If paid professional pastors developed from pagan practices instead of from Scripture, does that make it wrong to have paid professional pastors? These are the questions that we must deal with, and in fact I think that each group of Christians – each church, if you will – should deal with them separately.
Why? Well, notice that Viola is starting with current practices and working backwards. He begins with various aspects of modern churches, and then he attempts to determine where those practices originated.
My desire is to work in the opposite direction. In my research, and on this blog, I am trying to begin with Scripture to determine what is necessary for the church to operate and grow as God prescribed and described in Scripture. If we know what is necessary, then we know what can be altered, added, or removed without affecting the working of the church.
For example, I believe that Scripture teaches us that the purpose of the church meeting is to build up all believers toward maturity in Christ. Notice that this says nothing about buildings, or pastors, or music styles, or carpet colors, or steeples with crosses, or choir robes, etc. However, if the purpose of the meeting of the church is edification, then this does say alot about how we relate to one another in order to know how best to encourage one another toward maturity (Heb 10:24-25).
I do believe that this has major implication to how we meet together. However, different groups of believers may decide that different context would be more beneficial for edification. The context – building, house, store front, school, etc – is not as important as the purpose of the meeting. Edification is necessary – buildings, houses, schools, etc. are not necessary.
Instead of determining whether or not we should have buildings, paid professional pastors, etc, I prefer to focus on determining what is necessary for us to live as the church. If we live in the necessary, the other aspects will fall into place based on our context. If we begin with the necessary, and we find something that distracts or hinders the necessary, then we know what needs to be changed or removed. If we attempt to live in the necessary but something is missing, then we will know what to add.
Let’s start with searching Scripture to determine what is necessary. Then, let’s live in the necessary.