Saturday, October 22, 2011

Pagan Christianity

"Revolution" and "Pagan Christi...Image by Andrew B47 via FlickrKnowledge is power.  From the time that I was a child to this day, I have always had a great desire to learn new things.  Aside from doing a lot of reading, one of the ways that I have spurred on my desire to learn was by questioning authority or status quo, not in an obnoxious or arrogant way, but to learn the wherefores and the why's of how things work.  I believe that it helped me in my critical thinking capabilities.

When I found "Pagan Christianity?:  Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices" by Frank Viola and George Barna takes that approach in exploring the practices of the Christian Church today.  The product description reads as follows:
Have you ever wondered why we Christians do what we do for church every Sunday morning? Why do we “dress up” for church? Why does the pastor preach a sermon each week? Why do we have pews, steeples, choirs, and seminaries? This volume reveals the startling truth: most of what Christians do in present-day churches is not rooted in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles. Coauthors Frank Viola and George Barna support their thesis with compelling historical evidence in the first-ever book to document the full story of modern Christian church practices.
Needless to say, I was intrigued.  It is important to note that when Viola and Barna refer to "pagan" they are referring to it in the classical non-Christian sense and not in the modern understanding of being evil or satanic.  It is an important distinction.  The authors do not attack or condemn any of the practices that they explore, but rather explain their historical development.  They caution against taking the information to incite rebellion within the church.

I would like to take an aside here for a minute to relate a story from my past that relates to the chapter on wearing one's Sunday best to church.  A friend of mine, who is a graduate of Washington Bible College and a knowledgeable Christian, visited a church I was attending.  I can't remember if he wore jeans or shorts, but one of the deacons took him aside and offered to give him some money to buy an "appropriate" pair of slacks to wear to church. 

From that moment on, I have always felt that Jesus would be more concerned with somebody being there and not what clothes they wear.  In fact, the book of James admonishes against showing favor to those who wear fine clothes to the assembling of the saints.  "Pagan Christianity" shows us that the concept of wearing one's Sunday best is a relatively new phenomena thanks to the mass production of clothing that allowed the middle class to dress more like the rich.  Hardly a Christian concept.

Viola and Barna raise questions regarding the concept of having a dedicated church building, concluding that it came from Greek and Roman temple buildings, not the Jewish temple.  The idea of the sermon and professional clergy came from the Greek orators.  They argue that these things go against the concept of the priesthood of all believers and make us passive participants in the worship process rather than active.

Viola is very active in the organic church movement where folks meet in homes and all members of the church participate in the worship service, sharing what Jesus has done in their lives and what they have learned during the week.  Sharing can be in the form of spontaneous song or prayer.  The authors provide information and encourage readers to decide which format of worship works for themselves.  They do not imply that current Christian worship is necessarily a bad thing, but rather that it is not rooted in biblical Christianity, but more through tradition.

If you are interested in the historical aspects of the church and church practices, I would encourage you to pick up the book.  It is written in a loving and informative manner.  The authors are more concerned with the growth and development of the true Christian church and are not out to destroy institutions of faith. 

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