I'm trying to think about how best to blog on Viola and Barna's new book "Pagan Christianity."
I say that because I had a feeling this book would "disturb" me, and so far, it has accomplished exactly that.
And what really gets me is that is exactly the author's (at least, Viola's) intention. That's what I take from the following breathless prose: "We now invite you to walk with us on an untrodden path. It is a terrifying journey where you will be forced to ask questionsthat probably have never entered your conscious thoughts. Tough questions. Nagging questions. Even frightening questions. And you will be faced squarely with disturbing answers. Yet those answers will lead you face-to-face with some of the richest truths a Christian can discover...
However, if you choose to "take the red pill" and be shown "how deep the rabbit hole goes"... if you want to learn the true story of where your Christian practices come from... if you are willing to have the curtain pulled back on teh contemporary church and its traditional presuppositions fiercely challenged... then you will find this work to be disturbing, enlightening and possibly life changing."
In the words of Neo...
Of course, I don't think I'm disturbed like Frank wanted me disturbed, but we'll talk more about that later.
We're in the middle of a good number of pendulum swings here in the West as regards Church. In the last decade we've seen a good amount of dissatisfaction with the large, production-oriented, program-driven megachurch. Some (including me) have wanted to deconstruct that model a bit, while retaining the heart of what makes Church the Body of Christ- the Gospel, worship, the Word, the sacraments (uh, "ordinances" for you Baptist readers) and church discipline (it's a separate discussion as to why that's on the list, but I'll just say here that the Reformers believed that church discipline was one of the necessary components of true church, and I think biblically, they were right).
But as the pendulum has swung away from that big church as best church idea towards more organic less programmatic models (yeah!) the danger, as always, is that we'll take it too far.
Enter Mssrs. Viola and Barna and their new (old- it's a reworking of a work Viola published in 2002) book.
Here's the gist- everything (okay- not everything... just most things) you do for church are wrong, unbiblical and drawn more from pagan custom than from the New Testamnt.
You know- things like the sermon. Or paying a pastor.
Wrong? They deny they say that because something is pagan in nature it is therefore necessarily wrong. But, to tell you the truth, they kind of speak out of both sides of their mouth on this one (more on that later, too).
Viola is currently answering objections to his book here. It's there you can see him writing off one objection to the book as "job-security for modern clergy that's built on fear and helplessness."
Erg. That's it exactly. I hope that when you all read my thoughts on this in the coming days, you disregard whatever biblical objections I raise and remember that I'm just a fear-mongerer who wants to protect my fat-ass Pastoral Paycheck :)
So- let me just state what I'm FOR, right at the outset of this little exercise.
I'm for Church. That is, the Body of Christ, in all its forms. Big, small, micro. Whatever. I feel like the small model has distinct advantages over the big and the micro, but still- they are all legitimate. Size is indeterminate. The presence of Jesus in a community is not.
I think the more organic forms are better, but again, that's my opinion. I'm for every member of the body knowing and using their gifts to the glory of God, the benefit of others and the fulfillment of what God has called them to do both inside and outside the church. This includes pastors, by the way. :)
I, like the Apostle Paul (1 Cor 9), am all for paying those members of the body who desire to devote significant, often full-time hours to the Church. I generally think of these folks as elders, but I think a case can be made for paying some deacons and others. I don't think the larger staffs of mega churches are WRONG, but I do think there are better models that make better use of the church's resources and the gifts of the body.
I'm for a plurality of leadership. When we had only about 30
"members" of Evergreen, we still had five elders, three of whom were
filling "pastoral" roles. Now, were working through the elder process
Bob's word is not final in our elder meetings. I may be "lead" pastor, but that's more a function that helps define accountability with other paid staff, not an assumption that my opinion prevails in every discussion.
I do think the whole building thing has gotten out of hand in the church. When churches (like Joel Osteen's) are spending upwards of $100 million dollars on a facility, something is out of whack. I pastor a church that meets in a pub. Lord willing, we'll expand to a second pub this year. And maybe a third shortly after that. And maybe, someday... we'll rent or be given some 24-7 space. But the idea that moving from meeting exclusively in pubs to a mixture of pubs and possibly even (gasp) a donated "church" building is somehow "pagan" (apparently, church buildings are pagan. Who'da thunk it?) just makes me chuckle.
Okay, okay... I know I'm sounding (and feeling) particularly snarky. I've just got to tell you, there's something so ... arrogant-sounding in the way this book is written. Statement after statement with very little room for opposing views.
I really wanted to give this an honest shake (still going to try), but the VERY FIRST LINE of the intro already set me off. Here it is (this is Viola writing):
"Not long after I left the institutional church to begin gathering with Christians in the New Testament fashion..."
Go ahead and read that again. I'll wait.
Okay. Deep breath. I need to remember that I'm not the target here. This book critiques church buildings and pews, dressing up for church and professionally driven programmatic ministry- all of which our church community has walked away from. But still...
But my main concern is the whole baby with the bathwater thing. While I think top-heavy leadership structures in churches are unhealthy, I always laugh when people suggest a "leaderless" Christianity. Not only is it unbiblical, it's impossible. (Old saying: Ask a group of people why they have no leader. Whoever answers? There's your leader.)
I'm going to do my best to give the book a fair shake. No doubt they raise some good points and objections to modern church practice- I have a feeling I'm going to be fuming at a number of things, though.
- "If the church is following the life of God who indwells it, it will never produce those nonscriptural practices this book addresses."
- "Almost everything that is done in our contemporary churches has no basis in the Bible."
- "The stunning reality is that today's sermon has no root in Scripture. Rather, it was borrowed from pagan culture, nursed and adopted into the Christian faith."
- "There is not a single verse in the entire New Testament that supports the existence of the modern-day pastor!"
- "Nothing so hinders the fulfillment of God's eternal purpose as does the present-day pastoral role."
- "Therefore, to our minds, these passages show that every Christian has the right to participate in 'leading worship' under Christ's headship."
- "Giving a salary to pastors elevates them above the rest of God's people. It creates a clerical caste that turns the living body of Christ into a business."
- "The one who plants a first-century-styled church leaves that church without a pastor, elders, a music leader, a Bible facilitator, or a Bible teacher... They will bring their own songs, they will write their own songs, they will minister out of what Christ has shown them--with no human leader present!"
Yeah. Good times, good times.
Until later, check out iMonk's take on the whole thing