You didn't think I was done with "Pagan Christianity?" Christianity, did you?
(Before we dive back in, it's interesting to see others sharing some of my same concerns about not only the long leaps of logic involved in Pagan Christianity, but the general tone. See, I'm not crazy.)
The next two chapters deal with Dressing Up For Church (an issue consuming the minds and thoughts of millions and tearing congregations around the country apart at the seams) and "Ministers of Music: Second Class Clergy" a chapter title perfectly designed to ding the already fragile egos of music pastors nationwide :)
But seriously, folks...
Chapter 5 is a fine run down of the whole idea of dressing up for church in general, and clerical garb in particular. It's an interesting study and mostly helpful, but...
Again, the whole "early church as perfect church" bias shines through.
"...[D]ressing up for church smacks against the primitive simplicity that was the sustaining hallmark of the early church. The first-century Christians did not 'dress up' to attend church meetings. They met in the simplicity of living rooms. They did not dress to exhibit social class. In fact, the early Christians made concrete efforts to show their absolute disdain for social class distinctions."
(This last claim is footnoted. Apparently, this absolute disdain was displayed through "drop[ing] their general family name, which indicated their social status. They also called one another 'brother' and 'sister.'" Man- freakin' class warriors, those first-century Christians...)
Why quote this section? Do I think we should "dress up" for church? Well, if you call jeans, a button up shirt (I learned the hard way -the lapel mic looks very goofy clipped on t-shirts), sneakers and about half the time a ball-cap dressing up, then I guess I dress up.
No- I don't think there's much to dressing up for church and I really don't think much of clerical robes and such.
But the whole picture that's being pushed here is just silly.
"The first-century Christians did not 'dress up' to attend church meetings." Really? Is that why James had to warn them so harshly? "Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" But I'm sure this was just a hypothetical dressed-up Christian in James' mind. You know- Just in case this guy ever walks in, make sure not treat him specially.
Stuff like this wasn't really happening in churches, was it?
And I'm sure that when Paul counseled Timothy in leading his church community to encourage the women "I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God" he was just throwing out a long-shot scenario- not answering a question that had actually been asked of him.
No- the early church was completely immune from the very human impulse of looking their best. I'm sure I read that in the NT somewhere...
Viola actually acknowledges this was a problem in the early church, citing James' rebuke specifically. And yet... the Authors can't help but make sweeping declarations like "The first-century Christians did not 'dress up' to attend church meetings...They did not dress to exhibit social class. In fact, the early Christians made concrete efforts to show their absolute disdain for social class distinctions." Well, which is it???
This whole idea that the early church was more virtuous because of
the "primitive simplicity" of their meetings in "living rooms" is
proving to be a very convenient projection for the authors. Don't like
a modern practice? Declare it absent from the early church and simply
gloss over examples of it in the biblical text.
Moral authority gained and bombastic statements of what/how churches have a "right" to do/function justified (we'll come back to this theme when we hit "elders).
The fact is, those early Christians needed a lot of coaching in letting go of some of the anti-Gospel values of their culture- and truth be told, they probably would have done better had they moved out of the "living rooms" earlier!
Because, in a society as class conscious as Roman dominated Hellenistic/Hebraic culture, inevitably, divisions were still present, and were even exacerbated by the living room set-up of the early churches. Yes, Frank, they did
dress up for church (see earlier warnings from the book of James) and
what was most likely behind all of Paul's pastoral whoop-ass in 1 Cor
11, for instance, was this:
Since there were no "CHURCH BUILDINGS", the believers met in homes. Whose? Generally the homes of those who were richer, those who could accommodate larger groups as the church grew. Of course, as the church grew and moved out past that original 120, into the mix were thrown believers ranging from wealthy merchants (like Lydia) to slaves (like Onesimus)—and everyone in between.
And apparently, the Church in Corinth hadn't quite figured out that "the early Christians made concrete efforts to show their absolute disdain for social class distinctions" (pg 149)
Paul says to them: "First, I hear that there are divisions among you when you meet as a church, and to some extent I believe it. But, of course, there must be divisions among you so that you who have God’s approval will be recognized!"
Along what lines did these divisions run?
"When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor?"
In a culture that was very class-conscious, where a meal was an occasion for gaining—as well as showcasing special status, these Early, Primitive Christians appear to have used communion for the same purpose... to reinforce class distinctions.
When they gathered in a home for the sacred meal, they quickly separated into haves and have nots- with the haves arriving first, sitting in the dining area and the have nots out on the porch, literally so "that the ‘approved’ among you become seen.”
Rather than use the meal as a context to break down any barriers between male/female; Jew/Greek; rich/poor, and celebrate their oneness in Christ the Early, Primitive Christians of Corinth used the meal to continue their old pagan practices and Communion became an occasion to draw afresh that ugly line between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, educated and uneducated.
It would have been better they
had not met in a home, but rather a larger facility where everyone,
rich or poor, would have had opportunity to be included. But they would need to wait until the innovations of the 3rd century for that to happen.
Speculative? Absolutely! But no more so than this entire book. (and thanks to Dr. John Johnson for the historical context/info (see how easy footnoting is?!?)).
The next chapter is a dig at "Music Ministers" and choir directors and the like. And it follows the usual trajectory. Some helpful and interesting historical data followed by some shaky projections of how it must have been in the early church, followed by statements that to do it differently is to somehow rob the people and deny Jesus His place in the Church.
Having established that the early church strictly limited itself to open, unstructured meetings where EVERYONE taught, EVERYONE led the singing, with "no human leader present" (wait- did we actually establish that? Oh yeah, they quoted 1 Cor 14:26... that must have been when it happened) we are told that meetings in which people are allowed "to select and lead their own singing" are meetings which are "under Christ's headship." Allow someone to pick a couple of songs to sing? That "robs God's people of a vital function." (pg 166)
Having sat through a number of years of College Ministry where we did exactly this (allow people to pick and start songs) and a number of Baptist churches who did this regularly, I can say- it's fine (until someone requests "Pharoah, Pharoah" for the 15th time, wants the whole congregation to sing EVERY verse of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" or some precocious young boy (ahem...) makes it his mission to request "I Wish We'd All Been Ready" every chance he gets). It's fine. Sometimes it was absolutely painful, occasionally it was beautiful, most of the time it was fine.
But here's the thing: I absolutely reject the author's conclusion that to do worship this way is MORE under the "headship" of Jesus than a time of worship where a leader skilled at leading people in worship before God has prayerfully considered songs which fit and flow and leads the people in singing them.
It's the all-or-nothing here that gets me. What Viola describes is happening in Pagan Churches all across the land- in home groups, Bible Studies, youth meetings. But simply because most of us don't choose to do it this way on Sunday in our all-church gatherings?
"However, to relegate the song selections in every church gathering to a select few (i.e. a choir or worship team) disallows the rest of the body from participating in this ministry. This contradicts Scripture. As Paul says 'every one of you has a psalm' in the gathering (1 Cor 14:26)." (emphasis mine)
I really want to be done with this book. You faithful readers really want me to be done with this book. Hopefully, this week. We're getting to the most dangerous part, and that's how Viola deals with leadership in the church, how he handles both descriptive and prescriptive texts concerning leadership vis a vis how he handles texts like 1 Cor 14.
Hang in there...