There seems to be a great deal of drama surrounding the church today. It would appear that many Christians believe that more talk about church practice will lead to a fruitful end. Apparently, arguing over church forms and methods are going to lead us to unity in the Body of Christ, and that through pragmatism we will be able to obtain a church utopia on earth.
Many believers have been fooled into thinking that more emerging conversations will give birth to a glorious epiphany in our ecclesiology. I don’t have to defend my statements with statistics. Anyone paying attention to the church climate in this generation can see the ridiculous mess we have created for ourselves.
Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by Frank Viola and George Barna is causing the much expected firestorm of debate. We are even seeing Christians persecuting Christians. It is proof that history does indeed repeat itself. In the middle of the conversations I am hearing the way in which the bruised up and world-intoxicated church should conduct herself when she gathers together.
Primarily, I hear conversations centered around “forms” and “models.” When bloggers and the occasional “anonymous” writers are not trying to make judgments against a book they have not read, they pull out old arguments to ease their conscience and defend their uncontested and undigested presuppositions concerning the church. I would laugh at some of the things I am hearing if I wasn’t so deeply disturbed in my spirit.
The church is torn and caught in a whirlwind of drama, and the one thing we should be talking about is being replaced with narcissistic ecclesiastical conversations perpetuating the feeling of utter despair.
In my review of PC and in all of my comments elsewhere, I have stated over and over that this book is not about “doing” church or about “forms.” This book is about returning to the person and work of Christ–it is about spiritual revolution, not religious reformation.
When we examine the New Testament without bringing the last 1700 years of church practice with it, we will see a church that gathered around Christ in simplicity. We see a church consumed with all things Christ, not self-absorbed in a crazy array of emerging church practices.
When it comes to the historical research and work presented in PC, we must be willing to accept that the pagan origins documented in this book sound an alarm that should result in great concern from us. We must be open to a paradigm shift and be willing to lay aside many things before we will hear the clear exaltation of Christ in his Body the church. And this is the purpose of the book: “to make room” for Christ!
A person should not hear the authors as trading one church form for another. All readers should take a mature view of the message undoubtedly being presented in this book. There is a clear cry of spiritual revolution back to the centrality, supremacy, and headship of Christ in the church.
The way by which we are able to remove our preconceived notions concerning the church, is by a complete emersion and commitment into rediscovering the Christ of the Gospels.
Out of Christ is born the church. Out of Christ is born this house church “form” many readers see Viola describing. It is natural to first see this as strictly being forms, I know. I was distracted by the “doing” in the beginning. Nevertheless, if a person will continue to seek the Lord in spirit and in truth, in time, you should see things differently. In time, the Lord will bring more light that illuminates himself, not the church.
Many readers may not agree with the premise of the book because they ultimately have not taken the time to rethink Jesus’ words. Church history and its 1700 years of accumulating paganism speaks for itself. The reason for documenting these facts of history is to clear the stage for a narrative ecclesiology built upon Christ. In order to have a correct ecclesiology, we first need a renewed christology.
Readers must not confuse the thesis of this book with “doing” a different “model.” The book’s claim is that the “organic” church is born out of the natural faith of Christ (i.e. life and teachings) and the institutional church is born out of man’s wisdom in applying pagan models of leadership and acquiring all sorts of religious practices.
I would rather people become even more upset by this, then they hear something else and be upset for the wrong reasons. Again, the purpose of PC is to spur us on to removing all church models and forms in order that our reactions to Christ would produce a church life that reflects his person and work.
This is the church that gathers in the “New Testament fashion”–the church gathered around the centality, supremacy, and headship of Christ.
I am now very cautious when recommending this book to people who have not already come to a place of total dissatisfaction with the Christ and the Christianity that is taught and practiced in America. The book could build up walls that prevent any real search for the authentic Christ from ever happening. And then again, it may be the shot in the pants that many professing believers need. Time will tell.
It was because of my own experience with church drama and the discontentment I felt with the Christ presented in the traditional church… that I was even open to a renewed Christology. It is by the mercy and grace of God that I found Christ instead of latching on to forms, methods, and movements, and being distracted by them.
It is quite a thing, I know, to claim that the reason people react harshly to the message presented in this book is because they are not “hungry for more of Jesus.” However, I have given this a great deal of thought. I am certain that this is the case.
If a person can quickly pass off the Christ-centered message presented in PC, or any Christ-centered book for that matter, then it is apparent that there are things coming before Christ. These things, whatever they may be, are keeping people from their heart’s desire. These people may find that Christ is not the sum of all spiritual things wherever they are at in life.
The truth of the matter will only be found in discerning with the Spirit of Christ that indwells the spirit of man. When all is still and quite within a man’s soul, a person can know if Christ is truly first in the matter. The Holy Spirit longs to exalt the Lord above all other pursuits and things that stand in the way of his absolute centrality and supremacy.
The purpose of this article is not to defend PC or the authors who are but mere men. The purpose is to sound a call for all believers to be consumed with Christ dogma instead of church drama. It is a plea for the church to see the need for spiritual revolution (i.e. return to Christ), instead of religious reformation.
Before anything else is said or written, we must be aware of the fact that we are so easily misled into hype and drama with talks of methods and movements. It is time to trade in our methods and movements dialogue for a renewed understanding of Jesus.
I’m afraid that much of the talk today about the church has little to nothing to do with Christ’s headship. It would appear that many believers are taking the devil’s bait. The evil one has the church talking about everything but Christ. He can’t keep us from noticing the problems, but he can keep us busy trying to solve those problems with some “new” way of “doing” church.
There is a revolution rising. The men and women who make up this revolution want to give the church back to Christ. However, if we do not concern ourselves with the centrality and supremacy of Christ, we will no doubt continue the drama that has lasted for over 1700 years.
The drama is evidence that there are many who have not concerned themselves with the centrality, supremacy, and headship of Christ in the church. If Christ was central and supreme, we would be patiently discussing his person and works with each other instead of debating forms and methods.
Where will the church go from here? What voices will she listen to in this generation? Will she settle for reform and be persuaded by man and his movements or will she press on to her Lord and aid in the tearing down of the kingdom of hell?
There is only one road that leads to Christ, that is the way of the cross. If the church is willing to press on to Christ, she must ready herself for a major shift in the culture. For when the church is founded on the rock of Christ, the mighty winds of persecution will blow. And in the storm we will find peace.
May the Lord give us a continual hunger for his centrality and supremacy in all things. May Christ be our primary pursuit, the centerpiece of our conversations, and the subject of our personal meditation and reflection. Let us set our hearts to learning Christ, and we will be led to a normal “organic” church life that is born out of knowing the person and work of Christ Jesus our Lord.
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”
Paul, Letter to the Colossians 1:15-18
D.D. Flowers, 2008.
August 10th, 2008 at 11:36 pm
if this book is saying that the church needs to not have institutional structures or organized leadership, it is not only wrong, but impossible. the impulse to throw out the old can be good. i am the first to admit that owning real estate really changed the church in bad ways. But if a group of people are successful in forming a transformational community, that community will become large enough to need physical space, trained leadership, some form of dealing with controversy. I am no fan of traditional church per se. i dig on the Quaker model a lot, especcially the semi programmed ones. as for certain things being “pagan”? whatever. how cute to call everything not pauline or hebrew pagan when the better term would be greek or roman. when we hopefully start a faith community in NC, we will not be doing it the “right” way and churches unlike being wrong. we will be doing it in a way that works for us. If a mainline, traditional church has real community and love, a prophetic voice in the community, and serves the least of these…while being liturgical and traditional..rock on. I won’t be a member of it, unless it is to pay the bills. But I refuse to slam so many who are trying and claim I hear god better
August 11th, 2008 at 3:24 am
I don’t see that Viola or Barna have “slammed” anyone. The issue is the adoption of a “Gentile” structure forced upon the “organic” living Body of Christ. Whether or not the system works from time to time is irrelevant and should be understood as a worldly pragmatic perspective.
Overall, there are major problems with popular Christianity that should cause us to rethink the New Testament. The answers will not come by us looking to outward forms of practice and attempting to give the church a facelift… but by going further to the heart of the matter. Does our faith and church practice reflect the Person and work (i.e. teachings) of Christ? Quickly dismissing this question may mean our demise. I don’t infer that the church can be crushed by her enemy… I do mean to say that our influence in this generation (i.e. reflecting Christ to the world), right here and right now, can indeed be suppressed.
I encourage you to read “Pagan Christianity?” and “Reimagining Church” before you make assumptions and make up your mind about anything. Read the books and then we can discuss them. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond.
December 14th, 2008 at 3:18 am
Jars of Clay have a thought provoking lyric in regards to this topic, “Can a king still be a king weighed down?” I have found that most who claim Christianity spend the lion’s share of their energy defending their religious habits and church structures and the topic of Christ seldom comes up. I know I did this for years when I was lock, stock, and barrel for the IC. The Lord is now taking me on a very focused journey of stripping away all that was weighing down my walk with him and leading me to a place where it is all about Him. I am not very close but I am very thirsty. Thank you for this site and pieces like this.
December 14th, 2008 at 5:58 am
Thanks for sharing Joel! I am encouraged by all those the Lord is leading out religion and into a natural vibrant faith of Christ that is burden free. Blessings in Christ!