My Problem With Pagan Christianity: Book Review

Rodlie Ortiz —  February 5, 2009 — 56 Comments

Pagan Christianity is a book that seeks to examine the “source of our churches traditions and then ask how these practices square with Scripture and the practices of the first-century church” (ix). It’s been one of the most hotly debated books that I’ve heard of recently, creating quite a stir. Most people either love it or hate it.

Here are some problems that I have with the book, though:

1. His mixed use of phrases: In the introduction to the book (p. xxxi) he gives some definitions of terms that he uses frequently. The problem comes in his definition of the use “unbiblical.” The Random House Dictionary defines unbiblical as “not in accord with, or sanctioned by biblical teaching.” In other words, something that is unbiblical is something that is against biblical principles. But Viola uses the term to refer to something that is not found in the Bible. Here he confuses the term extra-biblical with unbiblical. Something that is extra-biblical is something that is not found in the Bible. It is an emotionally neutral word.

The Bible doesn’t mention chimneys or a million other things. Those things are extra-biblical. It doesn’t mean they are evil, they just are not mentioned in the Bible. Yet, Viola uses the term unbiblical to refer to things that are not mentioned in the Bible. Unbiblical, of course, is an emotionally charged and loaded word. So when he uses the word unbiblical, it gives the impression that what he’s referring to is violating biblical principles. This is irresponsible. Crusades were taken because people violated biblical principles. Yet he uses this word with full force nonetheless.

2. His dismissal of Old Testament principles: With one quote Viola dismisses himself of any attachment whatsoever to anything that’s written in the Old Testament. He says, “Ancient Judaism was centered on three elements: the Temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifice. When Jesus came, He ended all three, fulfilling them in Himself…Consequently, the Temple, the professional priesthood, and the sacrifice of Judaism all passed away with the coming of Jesus Christ” (11).

 He uses this argument to attempt to erase any semblance of order in a worship service, leadership, or place of worship. So with the one quote, he completely divorces himself from the Old Testament and any principles that may be applied, and moves on to his ideal worship service. He uses this same argument to disavow any use of pastors in the NT.

3. His questionable application of historical facts: Though the book is filled with lengthy footnotes, it does not do them academic justice. You see, it’s one thing to have an observable fact. The other thing is how you apply it. It’s one thing to have data, but another thing how you extrapolate the data. He takes what happened in the New Testament as a prescriptive ideal of what has to happen in order for a church to be biblical. By doing this I think he misses the point that what happened in the New Testament worked as it should because they were being led by the Holy Spirit in the midst of persecution.

4. His dogmatism related to paganism itself: Viola wants to draw the line with anything that could possibly have had any pagan influence. I think one of the more important questions involved is, “can a pagan symbol be redeemed for Christian use?” I think the answer to that is yes. For example, in Numbers 21:6 God sent serpents amongst the people as a punishment for their rebellion. To quell the serpents that were biting people, the people were commanded to look upon a bronze serpent that Moses had shaped on a pole. Ever since Eden, serpents had been considered a symbol of sin, a symbol of rebellion against God. Through this action, God redeemed this “pagan” symbol and used it as a symbol for salvation. In Acts 17, Paul used the symbol of a pagan altar addressed “to the unknown god” (Acts 17:23), and used it as a bridge to take them from what they know, to where God is. He used a vehicle that was very familiar to them, and “reframed” it for the sake of Christ.

Regarding preaching he attempts to find its pagan roots through traveling-preaching pagan philosophers (89).  But did not Jesus preach and teach? Did not the disciples gather to preach? Did not Paul preach and teach constantly? He says, “research conducted by the Barna Group has shown that sermons are generally ineffective at facilitating worship, at drawing people closer to God, and at conveying life-changing information to those in the audience” (104).

This quote, however, is in direct conflict with research done by Thom Rainer, author of Surprising Insights From the Unchurched, which shows  that quality biblical preaching is one of the biggest factors in attracting the unchurched. Rainer says, “…we noted the high correlation between expository preaching and evangelistic effectiveness. Now we are hearing from the formerly unchurched that preaching that truly teaches the Bible in its original context is a major factor in reaching the unchurched…the formerly unchurched told us that they were attracted to strong biblical teaching and to understanding Christian doctrine” (58).

In referencing the use of the word “pastor” in Ephesians 4:11, Viola says, “This is the only verse in the entire New Testament where the word pastor is used. One solitary verse is a mighty scanty piece of evidence on which to hang the Protestant faith” (106). What Viola misunderstands, though, is that the modern role of pastor is akin to what is called an elder in the Bible. The apostle Paul would plant churches and set in place elders to lead the church. This was in line with the role that God had called him to as an apostle (church planter). But instead of noticing this, Viola tries to make the awkward connection that since Paul would start a church and leave, that churches that have pastors are functioning in an unbiblical form.

Although I agree with many of the findings Viola makes regarding pagan origins, I don’t agree with his conclusions that the only acceptable and God honoring form of meeting is in a home with out any kind of leader. As Christians, our job is to be missionaries to whatever culture has yet to be impacted, and to seek whatever methods we can to reach them that does not violate biblical principles.

The reason that Christianity is a little different in every country and culture is because people have taken this missionary principle seriously. What we bring to culture is not a form of worship, or a building, or a model of leadership, we bring them Christ. And our job is to speak to them in the language that they understand, all for the purpose of them understanding and accepting Christ.

Do you agree? Disagree? Why?

Rodlie Ortiz

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On the pastoral team at Pioneer Memorial Church on the campus of Andrews University. Tech geek.

56 responses to My Problem With Pagan Christianity: Book Review

  1. This review doesn't do justice to the book. For people who have never read the book, the objections are all answered here: http://frankviola.wordpress.com/ There are also sample chapters. And you can go here to read reviews that come to a very different conclusion: http://frankviola.wordpress.com/ . Also, the sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at http://frankviola.wordpress.com/ . It’s also available on Amazon.com. Frank is also blogging now at http://frankviola.wordpress.com/ .

    • The fact that this book is endorsed by Leonard Sweet is enough for me not to read it.

    • No, this article does a very good job. Well done Rodlie.

      I thank God for Viola’s teaching gift. And I thank God for much of his writing that is very good. I recommend the book, actually. I really like Reimagining Church. But Jill, if someone reads this book without an axe to grind, it seems pretty clear that Viola has a dogmatic edge and takes multiple points a step or two beyond truth. He really does confuse extra-biblical and UN-biblical. I give these books to the house church leaders in our church, and let them go at it. Read it all, I say, but be ready to weed out the 5-10% where he presents as a clear matter what is not a clear matter.

      Having listened to Viola in person, it’s pretty clear why he’s so against preaching. He’s not a good preacher. At all. Love his blog and books, but preaching is not his grace. I don’t need statistics to tell me; the mystery of preaching is life-transforming. My life, and many of my fiends lives have been radically altered under the ministry of God-centered preaching.

      If Viola ever reaches the point where he can bring his contribution without having to push off of others’ contribution, he’ll be amazing. To be fair, some of his recent blogging might be going in that direction. But it’s hard to tell if it’s sincere brotherly kindness, or his need for alliances to better market his work. He is quite a good marketer.

      And perhaps that is my biggest question mark. Viola calls into question people who make money from verbally teaching in church gatherings. Yet I assume he is making money from the teaching he does through books and the internet. Said differently, he has much to personally profit in marketing to this anti-establishment tribe. I agree that church leaders should acknowledge their vested interest in “doing church” as usual and the danger of peddling the word. But we need to be a bit more honest about the fact that Viola has lot of vested interest in pushing off of church as usual, and is in just as much danger to peddle the word.

  2. My intention through this post was not to be as objective as I could be, but to give the other side of the story that many of the other articles do not give. I was simply trying to call him to task for not being consistent in his uses of different phrases, Scriptures, and historical application. I have not read the other books, so I can only judge this work according to its contents.

  3. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often. Elaina http://www.craigslistpostingtools.info

  4. I agree with your review of the textbook exactly. My biggest issue is that he wants to throw the baby out with with the bath water. I had lots of problems with the book as well. Yes, there are certain practices within churches that have some reason to change.. but grounding and framework that he is building….. I just did not agree with his conclusions. The NT Christians were persecuted and had to deal with a hostile world, government etc. Where ever a church is planted … culture also is a factor…. hmmmm maybe I'll read Reimagining Church , just to see where he takes us…

  5. I came away with the exact opposite conclusion-rather than throw the baby out, he's trying to save the baby-she's in the wrong tub! :) You might find this article helpful: "Why I Love the Church" explains the motivation behind all three books. http://frankviola.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/why-i-… .

  6. I was disappointed with the angle the book took as well. Rod, your point about unbiblical vs. extra-biblical is right on. I'm actually in favor of trying any and all methods for reaching people, including house churches, but I was shocked at the lack of scholarship in a book with Barna's name on it. To me the book is very loaded and "in your face" and lacks the sound reasoning and Biblical clarity of Barna's other works. It also contradicts much of the valid research that show how bigger churches with buildings and strong pastoral leadership do produce some of the most Biblical and morally strong faith communities.

  7. Rodlie – your first point would have been good except you ignored one word in the definition: sanctioned: 1. authoritative permission or approval, as for an action. 2. something that serves to support an action, condition, etc. 3. something that gives binding force, as to an oath, rule of conduct, etc. First, the Bible does NOT teach these practices, so the practices are not out of a desire to FOLLOW Scripture. Second, the practices are not PRESCRIBED by the Scripture, they are simply nonexistant. The practices are unbiblical precisely because they are not prescribed and in accord with Scripture. Viola's point, if you missed it, is that the process that the modern "service" at a building takes you through does not allow for the full functioning of the body (the true church) of Christ. It suppresses the body, conditions, and trains it to remain docile, inactive, and to not use the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to EACH believer. God has called all believers to ministry. On another point, yes – there is preaching and teaching, but there was not the "office" of pastor or bishop in the sense that it became in the latter 3rd century; there was leadership that naturally rose in the body to lead as SERVANTS, not in a more executive dictatorial sense in many local bodies today. Viola's point is that we LIMIT the functioning of the body of Christ to … say one eye and one arm instead of each part functioning fully at once. The body is mostly dead, e.g. inactive, and only several physical members are functioning at all. This does not glorify God!

  8. Seems like it's harmless to question the paradigms of church as usual, but dangerous to become morally superior to Christians who still embrace organized church, and it doesn't help with regards to true unity in the body of Christ. Is this book motivated by love?

  9. Reread point 1 again. There is a big difference between something being extra-biblical and unbiblical. I explain the mixed use of terms there.

  10. My main issue is that I feared he was trying to be so dogmatic so as to be sensational for the purpose of selling books. Rarely is anything so extremely black and white. So when he didn't move to acknowledge or consider any other possibility I lost some respect for him as an honest author.

    • Robert Campbell January 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      I have read all the blogs & replies. I have no confidence at all in Viola. It appears to me he is interested in building his own kingdom, in the way he wants it built. He has little understanding of the word “Pastor” or “Elder” or “Bishop”. That is why he expresses himself as he does. I am more than ever concerned with the people he is leading astray & helping them have a misunderstanding of God’s Word.

      • Thanks for sharing, Robert….

      • Robert. Your points here are laughable to me. If you read any of his stuff you will see he has a better grasp on the word pastor, elder etc than the institutional church does. He even in his writings explains that one of his main convictions is that he wants Christ building the church like scripture says, not man building it like the current church organization does. Did you know the word pastors is used one time in the new testament? yet look at what the pastor does in the church? Really? That seems balanced. A complete institution built around one verse? Please. you should try reading his blogs… http://frankviola.org/
        It’s really really good bud…

  11. Very true, Gabrielle. I'm sure the motivation came from a good place (i'm hoping), but obviously much was lost in the translation, as they say.

  12. Thanks so much, Elaina! Welcome and hope you keep coming back and jumping in the waters!

  13. this is a very poor review of the book and bring little if nothing to the table as far as real arguements that the book itself do not bring forth.

    • EXACTLY! thank you Otto… The book was not read, nor was the sequel Reimagining Church. This book series threatens people, so they call it something it is not.

  14. Jesus was not a political figure, yet the NT church today is all the more political. People also put the pastors, elders, leadership, you name it up on a pedestal and it's a "feel good" place to be for some of these people in which it reminds me of the stories (realities) of the pharasees. We have little pharasees wherever we are, but too much emphasis on all levels is put towards pastors/priests/bishops/elders and on and on. If only we showed as much reverence for our Lord Jesus Christ who is the Rock of the church. I think this book (Pagan Christianity) is on the mark. I'm only half way through it. Is it perfect? Nothing is except God, but it also is a wake up call. Why do you think so many people are falling away from the church (not counting those falling away from the LORD?

  15. Randy Hartinger February 4, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Let's not forget that the word 'dogmatic' comes from the word 'dogman' (dox) which means belief. If you believe something, you are dogmatic. Somehow, in this Laodicean church age, we think it's noble to not be dogmatic. Now, arrogant assertion is another field altogether, but to BELIEVE SOMETHING is to walk in charity that rejoiceth in the truth and 'believeth all things.' So, lay off the ad hominem attacks of being 'dogmatic' when all you are doing is complimenting the author. Of course he BELIEVES what he wrote and that's why he wrote it.

  16. Randy Hartinger February 4, 2010 at 7:23 pm

    I meant "dogma" above and not "dogman." Dogman sounds like super hero or something. Forgive a breech there. Can't type on these here laptops.

  17. Personally I liked the book, though I did not agree with all his conclusions. There really are a lot of things the church holds dear that are actually distractions from what Jesus is about. The thing I liked about your comments, Rodlie, is that you did not blast and belittle Viola as I have seen some 'brothers' do. Thanks for a review without damning denunciation.

  18. Hello folks. From examining a dozen video reviews and the same in print journals, I truly believe the bulk of what comes across as "over-the-top" in the book, could have been eliminated had the publishing company issued Re imagining Church FIRST. Then, after that percolates for many months, drop the bomb – Pagan Christianity. Now I know, Re-Church was not written until almost 7 years after the original soft-cover version of Pagan came out. The anesthetic that prepares the scalpel is always the Truth. We as believers though, often evangelize by negation. Meaning – since all the other religions have__________wrong with them, give Jesus a try. Many scholar-type folks I have spoken to about the book, wish they wouldn't have reviewed it until AFTER reading Reimagining Church. For their unrest and anxiety over the "demolition project" (Pagan) would have been quelled, they said. If I hear the tone and thrust of VB correctly, they really aim at those who, either overtly or by subtle guilt, make believers feel like rebels and "unsubmissive" if they say, "Something smells fishy about how we do things in here". And by "here" is meant what is done in a specially designed structure CALLED a "church". Viola does conferences and lectures where he stands on a raised platform, behind a wooden pulpit, to a passive audience, in a large auditorium. Now hilariously, his enemies use this to say, "You twit! How can you use what you say is 'pagan' ? " The answer:cutlery, asphalt, and the electric light, were all inventions by – quote – "pagans" and not "mentioned in the Bible". Now what if, from infancy, kids grew up believing in their consciences that to walk on dirt, eat with their hands ever, and use candle light, was a "sin" and "not being good before God?" We might chuckle. Yet, millions upon millions of souls who ARE NOT disobedient, carry slight pangs of inherited guilt for not "conforming" to a particular Sunday program, officiated by a particular class of religious specialists, in a particularly consecrated building. "Hey", you may shout, "Why is Viola against all these things?" Guess what? He actually endorses all of them? "What?", you holler. "He says they are all evil and pagan." No, it's the content of the word "particular" before each that he rightly says we should chuck and revamp according to a Trinitarian deduced, Father's Heart generating, Communion-of-the-Son-Sharing in, foundation, lense, and starting point. It is not the fact of all these practices. Like Karl Barth, when pressured by all sides to join in the Infant Baptism debate said, "Look. I won't devote any time to banning a practice. Expound and proclaim the truth. The forms will follow." I speak as one whom is called weekly a "Reverend" with Seminary credentials. Because the book generates either glowing praise or sulfuric vomit-from-the-abyss rage, with most folks you need to start at first-base >> " Please do not call inanimate matter i.e. glass, concrete and steel, The Body of Christ or "church". Now as condescending as that may have come across, this step is often met with contortions and crack-like withdrawal symptoms by most decent folks. Rodlie, you're a swell dude. Take a peek at Reimagining Church. You may find it draws out of you a sigh of relief that the authors are not quite as wacky as the "scandalous" comments against "church" appear at first glance. Oh…as a side note, I do agree, their use of history leaves out the fact that the great movers and shakers i.e Constantine, are not so easily pigeon-holed in terms of their "possible" motives for doing what they did.

  19. Hello again. For the readers interest, I hope I am not misconstrued as offering a carte blanche approval of every statement and footnote in Pagan Christianity. The essential thrust of the book, with the following POSITIVE possible strategy for a different paradigm (Reimagining Church), would truly cause a major shift in how Christian fellowship is both received and perceived. One key point the readers should pay close attention to is how frequent their enemies insult Barna and Viola and call them nasty names (all of course, in the cause of Christ's Kingdom!?). Words such as , "spoiled Americans, twits, idiots, qwacks, charlatans, woefully ignorant and bigoted, terribly illiterate, con artists, Biblical morons,deceivers, liars, unable to discern even the remotest truth from the Bible" are commonplace and the list could go on. Yes, as radical as these names are, folks in the name of Christ, somehow believe that a lost and dying world is wooed to the Glorious Gospel of Grace, by witnessing how Christians butcher each other on Youtube and the Net. Even the "Tekton" ministries lengthly review fails to even exegete a single text of Scripture, yet throws words such as "obviously" around to make the reader see such "crystal clear" points of theology that the dough-heads Viola and Barna evidentially missed. The very first sentence of that review reads thus, "This book's appeal, sadly, is that it panders incessantly to the need many people feel to blame someone else for their own deficits." Now let me ask you, after calmly finishing the book, are you copping out before God on your own sins and instead have this new urge to dump your shortcoming on the clergy? Did the book pull you in that direction? Probably not. See how such divergent conclusions are reached in reviews of the book? If a reviewer speaks of a books audience as, "I have to ask: Is anyone in Viola's world ever responsible for their own actions, or are they all hapless victims of even the smallest mote of dust smashing into their foreheads?", can you see why they may miss a sign as to why hundreds of thousands of folks are reading it? Naturally, throngs of people can be misguided in their motives for purchasing a book, yet when we as believers make statements like the above, which aim at the masses of church-goers who bought the book, it actually reveals some anger and/or nerve that was touched. Our LORD sanctified one of the most mundane and casual rituals of the entire middle eastern culture – table fellowship. What exists 2,000 years later however, is drowning in a sea of endless qualifications for why we need to "bridge the hermeneutical gap" on the interpretation of a "sacrament". Tombs of theological works articulating the meaning of a meal ends up explaining away even the original form, just like the word "friend" on Facebook tricks us into thinking we have what Proverbs calls "friends"! If nothing else, I pray that souls will be liberated into the offer of participating in the Sons communion with The Father, and joining Him in being a "waterer" or "planter in the lives of people for the Gospel, not being intimidated by clerical offices which attempt to silence the reality that you are all priests of the Most High.

  20. Reading Pagan Christianity and Re-Imaging Church were definitely challenging for me. I truly believe the principles of Pagan Christianity are true, but the way it was presented could have been much better! These books, along with others, have inspired me to do my own research. After much prayer and visiting of house churches, my wife and I decided to start (with a team of 2 others) an SDA house church about a year ago…thanks to Rodlie Ortiz's support and the SimpleChurchAtHome.com network. Here is a short list of my conclusions from personal experience in house church and traditional church leadership: 1) Ultimately, PEOPLE make churches missional or non-missional (not necessarily buildings vs. houses) 2) In house churches, higher percentage of offering $ can be used to support local needs (people's rent, food, etc) 3) In my experience, higher percentage of unchurched people I've invited have responded to my invite to house church. 4) Generally, I've seen more people open up their hearts and share openly in house churches than I have seen in traditional churches. Greater sense of community. 5) Generally, I'm noticing a better response to people willing to receive doctrinal Bible studies during the week with those attending house churches. I realize each person's experience is different. But just wanted to share my experience with you:)

  21. That's awesome, Rick. So glad you guys are getting really good responses. Keep it up!

  22. Sweet Sounds of Sanctified Soul! This is good news indeed. I was floored when first embarking on a House Churchish-style gathering, when, after mentioning someones financial bomb they'd just received (getting laid off) a group of 20 folks started pooling together some loot on the spot to pay for this person's night-school upgrade at the local college. After landing a new full-time position with the new College course, they donated a few grand to the home fellowship for bus passes/steel toe boots/work gear/ and misc supplies for unemployed folks who may come into the House Church. As a side note, I had to call the thing a "Bible Study" because the church which employed me as a Reverend would think a cult was forming in my living room because "everybody knows" that the "church" is down the road with the "steeple". The acoustics in the cathedral are mint for rip-roaring concerts, yet the intimacy of every-member-sharing reciprocal love in the House Church is the source and centre of our unity in Christ. Keep pressing on and be prepared for the funny eyes when people think "Jim Jones" cause you have "church" in your house.

  23. Ernest Liebich March 10, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Well structured review. I can see why you focussed on the points you did, and brought an antithesis. If I may just add some missing details from your fourth point. The Bronze Serpent: Mankind has the tendency to religiously worship that which God has used in the past. Although pagan symbols can be redeemed, it is not to be redeemed for pagan practices. It is also good to remember that the enemy attempts to pervert that which God meant for good. The bronze serpent may have been a redeemed symbol in the wilderness, but in the land of Israel, in the time of the kings it became an idol. We need to be wary of doing this ourselves. Pastors & Elders: I agree with you, that pastors of today are MEANT to form the same leadership as Paul set up with elders. However, it is not accomplished in the same context. Unfortunately, today the formal requirement to become a "preacher" is to study 3 years in the seminary, and then you get appointed to the best paying church, who hope that you have integrity and character (I know that I seem facetious and in my generalization, but this is a common reality). Since when did Paul use titles like we do today, and what is the true role of a pastor, if today they are the only elders in the church, governing as many people as possible, or teaching sermons to crowds. It is my experience that "Pastors" are normally busy and unapproachable as far as discipleship goes, only specialized counselling – maybe. Are pastors not meant to be more like shepherds – spending time with the sheep the field, leading them along, knowing them all by name? Pastors in a church may by chance embody all the gifts of the five-fold ministry, but they are all entitled "pastors." I just want to say that I find it strange, and believe that many Christians have become confused with the practices of the church. I don't intend to defend a book that I have not read, lol, but I hope to add more perspective to your argument. I acknowledge that God has used many types of "churches" for His glory, and some have been very effective. I also recognize the usefulness of organizations in the church, like Stephen's NPO in Acts, but as long as the organization doesn't replace the organism.

  24. I think you're right, Kathy….sometimes people get way too excited about leadership positions and politics, and forget the whole deal about the "priesthood of all believers," which is sad.

  25. Yeah, I want to read "Reimagining Church" as well to see where he goes. Maybe different conclusions. We'll see.

  26. Some insightful perspective there, Ernest. Thanks!

  27. Some of what you say is pretty good analysis, but to a visible extent it is also a weak defense of the status quo in the church. Jesus told Peter, "…I will build my church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it." If the church had been built by Jesus Christ it would be victorious beyond its present sorry and defensive state. We have built our own versions of the church and Diabolos the divider has us so caught up in fighting each other and defending out turf we cannot even see the gates of Hell at work among us let alone beat them back. One thing I object to in your review is the often taught (incorrectly) parenthetical item you wrote. "This was in line with the role that God had called him to as an apostle (church planter)." While a church planter is certainly one of the tasks to which God sends apostles, it is not the only thing. Apostle comes from the Greek erapostelos, meaning 'one sent.' A suitable synonym in the political arena is ambassador or representative of some Kingdom. As Jesus sent us to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God we must realize at last that it is much more than the "space-limited box of religiosity we have come to call "church." Frank may not have it all just perfect, but one thing he seems to get better than most missions or missionaries (even me) is that obedience to God generates a power that transcends culture. We have so deeply bowed the knee to culture we have wound up with a Christianity that is powerless to change the world because the world has infused and infected it. It is not different enough to make a telling difference. The Salt has lost its savor!

  28. One issue that I saw addressed in the above posts was the seesaw debate of House Church vs Corporate Church. I think Acts 2:46-47 sums it up the best…

    46)And day by day, ATTENDING THE TEMPLE ~AND~ BREAKING BREAD IN THIER HOMES, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47)praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

    What i see from these verses is that yes “House Churchs” are necessary and can indeed foster a greater sense of intimacy, but the “Corporate” worship experience is also needed to give proper perspective to all of Gods followers. While Corporate worship alone can lead to stagnancy, its far too easy for the intimacy of a stand alone house church in isolation to swing towards fanatacism. Either extreme is off the path.

    Beware the Deviders
    There are little companies continually arising who believe that God is only with the very few, the very scattered, and their influence is to tear down and scatter that which God’s servants build up. . . . The people who are putting forth every effort in accordance with God’s word to be one, who are established in the message of the third angel, they look upon with suspicion, for the reason that they are extending their labor, and are gathering souls into the truth. They look upon them as being worldly, because they have influence in the world…

    Maranatha – Page 158

    As far as pagan symbols what about the pews we sit in every Sabbath, there where no pews in Gods Temple only in pagan temples.

    • Some good stuff there, Tom. I think you’re right. Like you say, I think it’s important to maintain balance and humility. I have another friend whose involved in a great house church and is doing a good job. Does it mean it’s wrong to also worship in a bigger environment? I don’t think so. Concerning pews, you’re right. But that’s part of the point I try to make in my post, is that just because something might have had a pagan connotation in the past, it doesn’t mean it can’t be redeemed for Christian use. It’s like it says in the book….supposedly egyptian priests would greet the people by the door as they left the temples..pastors often do the same, therefor what they’re doing is pagan. What? I just like to saw bye to the people as they leave. Thanks for jumping in, though, Tom!

  29. Roddie,
    Your evaluation of the “Pagan Church” was outstanding. I appreciate what you had to share. I came to many of the same conclusions that you did. I really believe there is more freedom and the ability to use one’s gifts in a home church setting but I still see great value in the normal church setting. I am thankful that you mentioned the lack of real scholarship quoted in the book and the “in your face” style in which the books was written. I’ve been a minister of the Gospel for 30 years and I’ve seen many people come and grow in their faith through a normal church atmosphere. However, I still feel the home groups are the most intimate approach. Thank you.

  30. Great information! I’ve been looking for something like this for a while now. Thanks!

  31. Great review. I’d like to post it on my blog. Let me know.
    dh
    danny recently posted..BOOK REVIEW- JESUS MANIFESTO BY FRANK VIOLA AND LEONARD SWEET

    • Hey Danny: You’re certainly free to link to it or quote from it or have an excerpt from the blog. But normally from there you’d have to have a link that points people to the original source.
      Thanks for asking!

  32. Your review seems solid. I like your explanations. They make sense. Now,with the book review aside, as far as home curches themselves go, I think we need to be patient with them. You mention them not being successful in the western world. I heard a pastor tell me once that small groups or home churches don’t work here because we are too worried about being right than we are about being relational. Relational evangelism takes time, and in a church organization where we love to document, measure, and define success, quite frankly it can’t be measured or defined, or documented.
    William Earnhardt recently posted..Sabbath Observance Myth Busters 1 Sabbath Afternoon Naps

    • Yeah, I’m not trying to knock house churches. I believe different churches can be used to reach different people. And I think some are using them to good effect. In this review I’m only knocking the shoddy analysis of the authors.

  33. It has been interesting to read this review and the many responses. The question of “What is church?” needs to be very open to discussion and contemplation.

    I have seen people discussing this book for a while now. Without having kept official stats, I have made one major observation. A great majority of the time that I see someone that is not favorable of this book, they are a pastor or in a position similar.

    Why is that? I have only an opinion. It threatens their world. It threatens what they built. It threatens what they maintain. This may sound strong, but this happened in the time of Jesus. The Pharisees were threatened by the idea that God was doing something outside their watch and supervision.

    I love and respect pastors. But as the book points out, even if it is not scholarly, that we have made things holy that are not holy.

    Rodlie, thank you for the review and the lively discussion.
    Trevor Taylor recently posted..Due Credit

    • Hey Trevor. Yeah, I agree with your observation. I think many pastors are threatened by it. I actually think the book tends to make some good contributions. I think that there are all kinds of churches for all kinds of people. House churches reach people and more conventional churches reach people. Both are necessary. I was just trying to call them on out their dogmatism in saying that only a “house church” is a biblical form of being church, which I think is theologically incorrect.

  34. Hi there,

    We have a saying with the people where I live, “eat the fish and spit out the bones” – the authors tackled a difficult topic, no matter how candy coated it was. There were some very good points he laid down for us to chew on. I have believed these principles and seen many of them successfully praticed for many years.
    For example, our group doesn’t tithe at all but each year we host fantatsic conferences, we get thousands of bibles for evangelism and God provides for all our needs – we never ask for money as a rule of thumb, yet Christian believers always under God’s leading bless us.

    HOWEVER a caution – this book is just a template and should not be followed as cannon. If the authors had to touch on each and every possible setting then the volume would be thousands of pages long. Each setting in each community differs. People are unique and Jesus Christ understands that. Otherwise there would never have been all those differing epistles in the new testament or Christ would have never addressed seven idividual churches in Revelation. Their unique setting called for each Church to be addressed with all their postive and negative aspects.
    For example our home churches love to start off singing simply because they love it, we are south african, and music is in our blood as it were. Sometimes they do it for an hour or longer. They also love praying long it is seen as a sign of respect – it is there way to show God our respect. The Holy Spirit’s presence is real irrespective – as long as Jesus is the great conductor, meetings can be very exciting.
    Just because I agree with what the author’s have written doesn’t mean I will discard that which identifies our groups as unique. As long as we can confirm our practices from the Word, from the Holy Spirit and through the witness of believers – then is it wrong?

  35. I recently stumbled across this discussion by accident. I’ve read many of Viola’s books and have mixed feelings. I agree with some of the ideas he puts forth with regards to the pagan influences (just look at the origins of Christmas/Easter for instance). The one thing that troubles me is that many push for a leaderless assembly and keep citing the Corinthian church as its example. The problem with that is the church at Corinth was a “new” church and no leaders had emerged to due its immaturity. Now read Paul’s later writings especially to Titus & Timothy. You can see more maturity and leadership had emerged. Yes, there were elders leading by example in the early church but this idea of leaderless churches or the leaders were somehow hidden or not at the forefront teaching these assemblies is not true. I believe whole-heartedly that this is a knee-jerk reaction to abusive leadership in the institutional church especially among charismatics. I have seen first hand a very rebellious spirit with regards to leadership predominantly with charismatics so this tendency to have “leaderless” churches appeals to a many fed up with the abuses of clergy. The only problem is that it is not biblical.

    I personally believe that a great deal of money is wasted in the care and maintenance of a building. I do advocate a simple assembly principle as found in the early church but with teaching to exhort and encourage.

    • It’s ok to stumble upon here on purpose as well ;)

      Rich, I think those are some good points and I agree with you. I don’t think this leaderless concept is found in the Bible. And, yes, far too much money is spent on building upkeep. Thanks for the comment!

  36. In defense of home meetings, many in institutional churches believe that the house church movement is a cult, invalid, and not a genuine assembly of believers because they have no building and no tax-exempt status (recognition by the gov’t as legitimate). The only way they see house churches as valid is that the assembly is going to buy land and/or a building at some time in the future & apply for tax-exempt status. The amazing thing I see in the house church movement is that many different expressions of faith (charismatic, Baptist, Calvinist, etc.) are actually practicing & advocating the biblical practice of house churches. I think that in itself is a miracle!

  37. My concern with any book is the spirit behind them. if it brings division, hatred toward church, separation from the body, or in any way takes attention away from the central theme of Christ and His work on our behalf. Christ died for the church, He loves his church, and He is the one building it. Are we saying that because the church has certain forms and set ups that Christ is losing His control of His church? My main concern with this book is the ani-church fever which is rising in the world> it is ever more present in our world, a hatred to the church, do we really want to join in with that spirit? Finally the Holy Spirit has seen fit to be poured out a number of times in the past centuries bringing world wide salvation, miracles and healings. The Welsh revival being just one where whole towns turned to Christ and police even became redundant because the crime rate reduced so much – here is my point, these great out pourings were upon this so called pagan church. If the Holy Spirit is able to work through us then maybe we need to check what we are really upset about.

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