Read ‘n Respond: “Pagan Christianity?” by Frank Viola & George Barna

paganchristianity_frankviola_georgebarnaI’m currently reading a book called “Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices” by Frank Viola & George Barna. And, while it’s a really interesting book, with a lot of good points, I’m a bit disturbed by some of the things they’re saying. My internal warning bells are going off, big time.

For example…

On page 116, the authors write, “The non-New Testament concept of sacerdotalism — the belief that there exists a divinely appointed person to mediate between God and the people — originated with Cyprian [of Carthage].

But, I beg to differ! In the Old Testament, God did appoint mediators… He gave the Israelites the high priests that were the go-betweens between God & His people. They were the ones who entered the Holy of Holies at specific times to make atonement for the peoples’ sins (see Leviticus 16:1-34). Moses was also a mediator between God and His people. He was the only one allowed to go up the mountain to meet with God, and receive instruction (see Exodus 19).

Originally, I also had issue with the fact that the authors were claiming that the church building was something we shouldn’t have. I thought, “But we’re to meet together with other believers (Heb.10:25), so we need a place to gather“. But, then they clarified that the church’s architecture is made to elicit a response… it teaches us “what the church is, and how it functions” (p.37).

And, their talk about how a pastor is a hinderance also got up my ire. They claim that there’s no mention of a pastor in the Bible. And, I thought, “But it does talk about shepherding God’s people, and leadership. (see 1 Timothy 3 and Ezekiel 34:1-10).” But, then I realized that, even though it talks about shepherds leading God’s people, that also could mean anyone in the church who is gifted with leadership. And the authors then clarified that “shepherds” refers to people who have a natural talent for nurturing and caring for God’s people.

So, I don’t know… I’m still reading this book with a spirit of discernment, and I’m taking it with a grain of salt. I’m thinking that I will take what I love from this book, and then just disregard the rest.

There’s a lot of it that I do agree with, mind you. Like how the authors say that our fixed pews and our stage make it seem like we church-goers are passive spectators on Sunday mornings, and the pastor is providing the “entertainment”. They talk about how –in an organic/home-church– the members would all be able to contribute to the sharing of God’s Word. Whoever feels led to share a word they’ve received could do so. And, everyone would be able to look their fellow members in the eyes easily… not having to strain around to see behind them in a pew.

I also agree that the word “church” should refer not to a building, but to all of God’s people. That’s how it’s meant in the Bible, after all. The Greek word is “ekklesia“, meaning “a gathering of believers“.

More thoughts to come as I continue reading… 😉

Advertisements

7 thoughts on “Read ‘n Respond: “Pagan Christianity?” by Frank Viola & George Barna

  1. I appreciate your thoughtful post. I’ve read “Pagan” and thought it was insightful and right on target. It is controversial, but sometimes it’s necessary to shake things up a bit when the Body of Christ has veered off course. (Think Martin Luther). I believe the purpose of “Pagan Christianity” is not to pick apart the traditions and practices of the established church, but rather to show how they harm the Body of Christ and prevent it from functioning as our Lord intended. As you mentioned, the church building/pew setup is not conducive to face-to-face community. Also, designated “pastors” or “shepherds” can squelch the functioning of the other members of the Body….

    In regard to the authors claim that sacerdotalism originated with Cyprian, I think they’re referring to the concept of a mediator within the context of NEW TESTAMENT theology-that Cyprian was the first one to suggest that the New Covenant provided for a mediator/priest. Barna/Viola are assuredly aware of the role the mediator played in the Old Testament. 🙂

    Barna/Viola’s “Pagan Christianity” wasn’t a stand-alone book. The sequel is called “Reimagining Church”, it’s the constructive part of the discussion. He also has a new book that’s the practical follow-up to both books. It’s called “Finding Organic Church.” Viola’s article “Why I Love the Church” explains the motivation behind all three books. http://frankviola.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/why-i-love-the-church-in-praise-of-gods-eternal-purpose/

  2. Thanks for your input! Yes, I’m sure that the authors are aware of the Old Testament practices, but they didn’t say so in the book, and that bothered me. And, yes, I do see their underlying points… as I will state in my review when I finish reading. But, I also felt a lot of that internal warning going on… like God was telling me to read this with discernment. I don’t get that feeling unless it’s true, so I trust it.

    ~MizB

  3. I had a similar thought to Jill regarding the comment about needing a mediator. While this was a common Old Testament practice, I believe the concept of “mediator” (other than Jesus Christ) is removed within the New Testament. Christ is meant to be our only mediator, as He eternally represents our Perfect High Priest. The book of Hebrews really gets into the nitty-gritty of Jesus’ role as our High Priest. God planned this all ahead. The High Priesthood God designed in the Old Testament points to our need for Christ as our perfect High Priest. No other mediator is necessary once Christ enters the picture. He fulfills all the requirements of the High Priesthood, and then some!

    My initial, gut-instinct response to you being upset by the concept of not needing a mediator is to ask your spiritual background. I don’t mean to be offensive in any way, but my gut instinct would be to ask if you are (or were at some point) associated with Roman Catholicism. I grew up in the Catholic church (and no longer attend there), so I know that the priest serves the role of mediator, even to the point that his parishioners are called to confess their sins to him so that he can mediate between them and the Lord. This is one of the main things about the Catholic church that I do not agree with spiritually, and actually led to me leaving that church. I think the tradition of needing the priest as a mediator often hinders people’s relationship with God. It bothered me that I was being taught that the priest needed to speak for me to God instead of me speaking to Him myself. Again, I don’t mean to come across offensive in anyway. It was just an “instinct” that maybe you also come from a Catholic background! 🙂

    I would be interested in hearing more about the concept of a pastor being a “hindrance” to the church. I don’t really understand that concept! I am very grateful for all that my pastor has been able to teach me about the Word. What were their concerns? Also, what is it about the church’s architecture that is problematic?

    My thoughts are that if you just attend church on Sunday and expect that to be the “be-all, end-all” of your Christian experience, then that is wrong. The Sunday experience is just one piece of what it looks like to worship the Lord. I don’t want to give up gathering in a church building with other believers for many reasons. For one, I am blessed enough to live in a country where I CAN do this, and I can do so without fear or worry that I will be arrested or killed. Praise God! I would hate to give up such an amazing privilege, a privilege that people in other countries are willing to die for.

    Also, I think that being able to gather with such a large group of people and simultaneously worship God through song and prayer is a really beautiful thing. I imagine it really tickles God to hear us all uniting together in one chorus with the sole purpose of praising Him. 🙂 If there is problem with that, then I believe it lies in the hearts of the believers and not in that structure or format itself.

    I think the book of Acts teaches us a lot about what the Church was intended to be. While I don’t foresee us all moving to live communally (since people consider that “cult-ish”), we can adopt these principles. We can share with our members who are in need. We can meet together often for prayer and fellowship. As Christians, these shouldn’t have to be “formal” times. Shouldn’t we always be meeting with one another for fellowship? And in doing so, wouldn’t prayer naturally be a part of it?

    As I said before, I think the heart is the real issue. Things that the Lord meant for good can quickly turn sour if our hearts are in the wrong place. I wonder if the authors of the book cover that concept… that the traditions and rituals (while they may have originated with pagan roots) are not the problem, but the state of our hearts is.

    I would encourage you to continue to continue to explore these concepts, and also to continue doing so with discernment. Interesting book!

  4. Beth ~ to respond to your comments…

    You wrote: I think the tradition of needing the priest as a mediator often hinders people’s relationship with God. It bothered me that I was being taught that the priest needed to speak for me to God instead of me speaking to Him myself.

    This is what the authors started talking about in the chapter about pastors… they see Sunday morning services as a sort of “spectator sport”, where the congregation is the audience, and the pastor provides the “entertainment”. They think that we should be able to commune with God for ourselves, not need the pastor to act as “mediator”, delivering a word from God for us each Sunday.

    You wrote: …if you just attend church on Sunday and expect that to be the “be-all, end-all” of your Christian experience, then that is wrong. The Sunday experience is just one piece of what it looks like to worship the Lord.

    And, I agree… I don’t limit my Christian faith just to Sunday mornings. It’s my whole life… Sunday is –as you said– just one piece of the bigger picture.

    You wrote: I think the heart is the real issue. Things that the Lord meant for good can quickly turn sour if our hearts are in the wrong place. I wonder if the authors of the book cover that concept… that the traditions and rituals (while they may have originated with pagan roots) are not the problem, but the state of our hearts is.

    They may have touched on this, but if they did, it was so brief that I don’t remember it. It certainly wasn’t a focus, when maybe it should’ve been. They were more about how the church (as it is known today) is so hindering of the Christian’s faith, and not so much about the underlying issues. It was all more about the external — the pastor, the building, the clothes we wear, the music, etc.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

    ~MizB

  5. PS… No, I wasn’t raised in the Roman Catholic church, but I am aware of that fact (that the priests are mediators, even going so far as to forgive sins). And, I’m totally NOT in agreement with that practice. We can approach God ourselves to receive forgiveness of sins.

    I was raised in a Protestant church, but don’t classify myself by any one denomination (I currently attend –sporadically– a Baptist church).

    ~MizB

  6. Thanks for responding! I hope you didn’t think I was being judgmental in my previous post. I know sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what people mean when it’s just typed words on a screen and not a live person speaking.

    I can see know what you mean about being alarmed that they think of pastors in such a way. I’d be interested in their spiritual backgrounds, since we often draw our conclusions from our own experiences. Do they not see that pastors serve the role as Teacher? Did they think it was a spectator sport when Jesus himself gave the Sermon on the Mount to a captive audience? Or do they think only Jesus can play that role?

    Our pastor does a great job of engaging us in his teachings, as do many pastors, I’m sure. I know not all pastors are gifted teachers or speakers. I also have issue with those who tend to make “their words” the gospel instead of retaining God’s word as the Gospel. I definitely don’t think that only pastors have the ability to teach others about the Word or to reveal it’s truth. I think anyone with the Holy Spirit possesses the ability to receive the Truth of God. But pastors often have many more opportunities to study the word than regular laypersons, so I think we would be remiss to not take advantage of learning from them.

    On the flip side of things, I do often feel that “Christians” and “churches” are often the biggest reason that people get “turned off” from wanting Christ in their lives. Generally speaking, churches do often put more focus on their own traditions or beliefs about how things should be than on just loving God’s people as Christ loves us. Maybe that’s kinda what the authors were getting at… that churches can cause us to focus on the “external” signs of our faith (how we dress at service, how often we go to service, which building we attend church in, etc.) instead of the “internal” heart of our faith.

  7. Beth,

    You wrote: Maybe that’s kinda what the authors were getting at… that churches can cause us to focus on the “external” signs of our faith (how we dress at service, how often we go to service, which building we attend church in, etc.) instead of the “internal” heart of our faith.

    I think that was part of it. I think a lot of their focus, though, was that the regular laypeople (us) are almost wooed into being passive in their faith, instead of being active participants. We go to the church on Sunday to be “fed”, but often neglect feeding ourselves throughout the week. And, yes, I think that the pastors preaching their own agendas might have something to do with these authors’ stance. 😉

    They think that all believers should have the opportunity to use their God-given gifts… not just the pastors/church elders. When we’re sitting in a pew, listening, each Sunday, we aren’t often using our gifts. Whereas, in an “organic church”, there is no human leadership, so everyone in the room gets a chance to speak/share, and all are able to use their gifts to edify the others.

    You seem really curious, so I highly recommend that you find a copy & read this! You would probably get a lot more out of it that way then if I just try to explain what was going on. 😉 LOL. ((not that I mind! I’m glad to have someone to discuss the book with! — but you’ll still benefit more from it in your own reading, I”m sure)). 😉

    And, no worries… I didn’t see your former comments as judgemental or anything… I appreciate your viewpoint. 🙂

    ~MizB

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s