Yesterday I began discussing my thoughts about Pagan Christianity? as someone who has not yet read the book. I shared some of my perspective about what I perceive the authors’ thesis to be. I said that I tend to agree with at least some of what Viola is saying, in terms of agreeing with the historical differences in how we “do” church today compared with how the first century church did it. Where I may begin to diverge is in interpreting and applying that information.
There is no question that the first century church did things differently than we do today. There is no question that there were no church buildings and “pastors” who were seminary trained and “ordained.” But suddenly dumping the forms and institutions of current Churchianity is not the solution. Somehow trying to revive the forms of the first century is not the magic bullet either. So we ask more questions.
What about the issue of culture? How should the Church in each age interact with culture? What about the historical circumstances that helped bring about the forms, structure, theology, and worship that were developed in each century? All of these must be evaluated in this discussion. What if the call of the Church is to continually, and in a living, Spirit-filled way, interact with the current culture and time and continually express the gospel of the kingdom to an ever-changing world? I’m not saying that the Church has never made mistakes or terribly missed the heart and mission of Jesus; in fact, the church has made some big blunders and committed some horrific sins along the way. What I am saying is that through it’s history, the Church has been filled with real people who really loved Jesus, and who were trying the best ways they knew how to love God, love each other, love the world, and build the Church the way they thought God was leading them to.
Does interacting with culture mean that some of the elements that became part of our heritage and worship and church structure were originally “pagan?” Yes, it probably does. Like a Christmas tree. Even the very words that people (I’m assuming) like Frank Viola would cite as calls to purity (like ekklesia and agape) all came from the Greco-Roman culture of the first century, replete with their own meanings, connotations, and perhaps “pagan” baggage. The writers of the New Testament, under the inspiration of the Spirit, claimed those words for us and imbued them with new meaning. I am very hesitant to throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, and divorce the interaction of God with the history and culture and philosophy of multiple generations of believers from the way that I practice worship.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I should simply accept the current structures and ways of doing church without a second thought. We must always seek the guiding, refining, and renewing presence of the Spirit of God in each generation to fully embody and express the Christ and His gospel. If we are faithful to do that with humble hearts, God will always respond in love, truth, and power. Whether or not Viola and Barna have hit the mark in the book, I believe their desire is that the Church would become all that God has intended for it to be.
Perhaps what is at issue for Frank Viola and others is not so much an issue with form and practice, but an issue with values and heart. Regardless of what structures and forms the Church takes on, and whatever their cultural origins, if we are missing the spiritual heartbeat of what God has always been about in His church, then we’ve missed the point. More on this tomorrow….
Read the excellent conversation in the comments from the first Out of Ur post here.
Another interesting review of the book from Precipice Magazine here.