31 August 2007

Book Review: Pagan Christianity

The Origins of Our Modern Church Practices
An explosive treatment of the history of church traditions

syn • cre • tism [sing-kri-tiz-uh m]
  1. the attempted reconciliation or union of different or opposing principles, practices, or parties, as in philosophy or religion.
If you've ever wondered why we Christians do what we do for church every Sunday morning, then this is the book for you. I'm not talking about the theological reason(s) that we do what we do. I'm talking about the traditions, the methods, the practices.

Why do we "dress up" for church? Why is there a sermon every week? Why are their pews, pulpits, church buildings, choirs, and seminaries? Where did all these things originate?

The unofficial title of this book could have been,
The Book No Pastor or Priest Wants You to Read, partly because it challenges just about every facet of what we've come to know church to be, but not to be overlooked is the chapter entitled, "The Pastor: Thief of Every-Member Functioning." Frank Viola makes a bold proposal: That most of what we Christians do in our churches has no root in the New Testament, but rather has been borrowed or adapted from pagan culture long after the 1st century church was established.

If you really consider Viola's claims, it makes sense. The persecuted followers of Jesus, establishing a movement that met in house-churches and catacombs, surely didn't just think up the idea of a pulpit or a steeple... or even a building to meet in for that matter. It wasn't until Constantine mainstreamed Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire did the practices we're familiar with begin to take shape.

One of the reasons I would recommend this book is that it's scholarly without the magniloquence of a text book, and it offers a fair assessment of church history - corroborated by some of the most extensive footnoting I've ever seen. Viola clearly did his homework on this, and has done the body of Christ a huge service by providing a truthful glimpse at things we've come to consider "sacred" or "holy," that are only considered as such because man dared call his own concepts "ordained by God," when there is no such biblical evidence.

Personally, I don't think Viola is condemning all of our practices in and of themselves, but more presenting a challenge to those Christians who are content with status quo "churchianity," as he puts it. And ultimately I think he's calling us to look at what the church has become as a result of some of our practices. In essences, his claim is that the model that we've embraced and accepted as the
biblical church model has actually yielded some pretty unbiblical looking results. A refreshing aspect to Pagan Christianity is that Viola doesn't stop with exposing the truth about the church and it's potential flaws, but offers biblical alternatives to how we can participate in a powerful movement as the body of believers.

Pagan Christianity will help equip you with the knowledge necessary to recognize potential religious manipulation and deception. But more than anything, it will remind you that nothing other than Christ should be at the center of your individual and body life - not religious institutions, traditions, programs, clergy, or formulas. Christ alone must be preeminent.

Pagan Christianity is the third book in a five book series on radical church reform that examines the modern church, church-planting, apostolic ministry, and spiritual training for Christian service.

1 comment:

J. R. Miller said...

Hi, an excellent alternative to Viola's book is "The Ancient Church As Family" by Dr. Joe Hellerman. His work is well researched and addresses many of the "pagan" influences on our faith. Dr. Hellerman's contribution is a blend of good history AND respectful discourse.