Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices, by Frank Viola & George Barna, Tyndale House Publishers, 2002

Mike really liked this book when he read it some time ago, and he even bought copies to give to friends, so I thought I should read it and review it. Chapter by chapter it cuts through common practices of the present-day organized church and exposes the roots of those activities. The authors really confront what we have come to view as the norm of corporate Body life. Their stated purpose of the book is found on page 250: “First, we hope that you will begin asking questions about church as you presently know it. How much of it is truly biblical? How much of it allows the members of His body the freedom to function? Second, we hope you will share this book with every Christian you know so that they too can be challenged by its message. And third, we hope you will pray seriously about what your response should be to that message.”  One recurring theme in the book is that the organic church is Biblical, with every member functioning as Christ as Head lives and expresses His life through the Body. Example: quote from page 241 “Some of the signs of a healthy organic church are: –the building together of sisters and brothers into a close-knit, Christ-centered community –the transformation of character in the lives of the members –meetings that express and reveal Jesus Christ and in which every member functions and shares –community life that is vibrant, thriving, authentic, and where the members grow to love one another more and more –a community of believers who are magnificently obsessed with their Lord, and who are neither legalistic nor libertine in their lifestyle “The signs of an unhealthy organic church are similar to the problems the apostle Paul pointed out to the church in Corinth: –a perversion of the grace of God to be a license to sin –a sectarian and elitist attitude –self-centeredness among members” Pros: There are many ways in which and levels on which I think this book confronts our way of thinking about church and the whole ball of wax we have come to believe is Christianity today. Sometimes we get too daunted by the massive organization/religion that is in the world, when a simple look at how certain trappings of the religion came to be can reduce or dispel such feelings. When we find GOD ministering through us to others, it is not an anomaly about which we should feel sheepish but the proper ministry of the Holy Spirit. We do not wait on pastors or priests to perform functions when we can all function as pastors to one another. The book helped me understand why pastors or speakers will sometimes be treated so differently, even though they are just exercising (hopefully) their spiritual gifts. Rather than the Body of Christ, Christians are often operating in the “us and them” hierarchy of the established way of organizing church into pastorate and laymen. These are the types of the many realities that are addressed in this book. Cons: First, I believe the book underemphasized the importance of our devotional life with Christ one-on-one; the zealous cry for corporate Body life was at the expense of allowing for the need of our “prayer closet” time. I think this was a negative about the book, even though I liked the recurring emphasis on how our life in Christ is never to be an individual endeavor but was always meant to be expressed in community. The fruit of the Spirit will not appear when we are in our prayer closets no matter how much we beg, because fruit is for the edification of the Body and appears when the Body is around! Second, I did not like how the authors shake our faith in our ability to read the Bible and get meaning from it without first knowing the cultural context, history, and situations of the people to whom it was written. To me, that smacks of the scholastic elitism of the Middle Ages. The same Holy Spirit who led the writers of the Epistles into all truth is doing the same for all of us poor, slob believers who do not have the time or inclination to try to piece together history! (And as Mike points out, how much bias is recorded in the historical writings that these scholars are studying? Do they presume to have the true picture of a time and place so long ago?) Even as I write this, though, I know what the book’s authors are talking about, and I’ve addressed the problem myself of pedantic, self-righteous, controlling, abusive people who take a Scripture verse, stand it on its own, and interpret its meaning to do horrific things that are inconsistent with the love of Christ. We are never to trench in on the truth found in only parts of Scripture and build whole doctrines around them, but that does not negate the fact that certain isolated verses can have very real meaning to us as the Holy Spirit has enlightened us and made us alive to a TRUTH. [rating:3/5]

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