Tag Archives: Church

Christ the Center

Christ the Center– The Journey from Religion to Relationship

“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught us by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.” Paul, First Letter to the Corinthians

It was a few years ago that I first began realizing that American Christianity does a fine job of polishing its rhetoric to reflect a Christ-centered creed, but its practices are far from resembling Jesus of Nazareth in the Gospels. It speaks of spiritual things and words that have not been taught by the Spirit.

Human wisdom has produced a religion founded on doctrines and teachings about Christ, and we are continually being diverted from knowing Christ by way of relationship.

Having spent seven years in vocational ministry within the institutional church, I can personally attest to the constant struggles that come by attempting to implement a New Testament church life in the present model of institutional Christianity. I learned all the right words, memorized all of the correct doctrines, and made the Bible the passion of my life.

I (like so many others) believed that the more Bible I could master the sooner we would see “revival” and a restoration of the church. If this passion for the Bible became contagious throughout the entire church (I thought), then the church will be what she was created to be. Everything will come together, right? Quite the opposite for me.

This is when everything fell apart.

Leaving Religion

I left vocational ministry in September of 2006 to follow Jesus in search of a religionless Christianity. In a relentless pursuit of the Person of Jesus in the Gospels, I found that I could no longer be faithful to Christ within a system that makes a nice living off of talking a great deal about Jesus, but seemingly unwilling to follow him beyond the boundaries of tradition and empty clichés.

I had my fill of religion and felt like I was only spinning my wheels. I was exhausted in my efforts to see any kind of resemblance to the simple yet powerful church life described in the book of Acts. I was tired of feeling that all my efforts were self-defeating. I was burnout and more than willing to rethink everything I knew about Christ and his church.

I have only Jesus to thank when it comes to the strength it took to leave this burdensome life behind. It was a little scary, but my knowledge of the Scripture told me there must come an exodus and an exile before there can be a restoration.

As religion becomes smaller and smaller in the rearview mirror of this vehicle called “my faith.” I am finding the call of Jesus a satisfying cross to embrace.

I am finding that my past burdens were largely brought on by self. I had a work-centered faith that I passed off as “Christ-centered” while living amongst many folks that were largely self-centered and disinterested in knowing Jesus beyond the Sunday school quarterly.

All of this produced in me an experience of extreme highs and lows. Everything about the way we taught and practiced our faith kept God at a distance it seemed. This was my greatest frustration.

I am happy to say that the Prozac popping Santa Claus god is now dying a slow death. I am learning of a Lord that loves me beyond anything I have ever known. And this love attracts me to his Person. It calls to me and tells me there is more. It tells me that I will never be able to experience the full depths of his being, but that I should continue trying evermore.

The Word Became… Ink?

“Bible instruction can easily be diverted from its God-intended purpose: love of God and fellow human beings. In its place is a new, lesser purpose: the Bible as an object of curiosity and fruitless spiritual debate.”
Tom Hovestol, Extreme Righteousness: Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees

As I look back on my journey with the Lord, I see his wonderful patience with me. My spiritual birth began with an intimate knowledge of him in my spirit. How else would any of us receive eternal life without this engagement with Christ? Yet, this relationship, this intimate knowledge of the Person of Christ, quickly became secondary to the things I could learn about him with my mind.

I didn’t understand Paul’s words, “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him…” (Col. 2:6).

I do not mean to present some false dichotomy between me learning about Christ with my mind and knowing him in my spirit, but let’s be honest, you can easily do one without the other. And I would venture to say that most people confuse the first with the later.

The Pharisees did this and Jesus called them out for it. They studied the Scripture, but did not know the Lord. They did not recognize God in the flesh. They were zealous for the written word but rejected the Word made flesh.

Despite their expectations about Messiah, they were given ample opportunity to embrace the living Word, but instead chose a religion filled with human rules and regulations. What was intended for life only brought death. It enslaved the people and kept them from knowing the Lord (Matt. 23:13-39).

“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” Jesus, The Gospel of John

I have found that we can still read the Scriptures like these infamous Pharisees. I obtained a degree and spent years studying the Bible. Like the Pharisees, I believed that a strict orthodoxy was the key to revolution.

Like so many popular reformed theologians today, it is believed that correct doctrine and defending the “truth” in the culture is the secret to God’s Kingdom coming to earth. These men boldly rebuke “heretics” and don’t mind offending you for the sake of their personality. And of course, all of this is done in the name of Christ. This is what so many believe to be “Christ-centered.”

When Sola Scriptura (i.e. Scripture alone) is your war cry, you have no choice to make for yourselves a Bible-centered life that is disconnected from Christ the living Word. A faith built on a passion for doctrine demands the same attitude that put Jesus on the cross.

In this kind of life, the Bible becomes an end unto itself. And whatever a person needs to do to further “correct” doctrine and defend the Bible is permissible in certain circles of evangelicals today. They are quick to denounce the sincere pursuit of others who seek a Christ that is more than a few theological bullet points and sin-centered sermons littered with meaningless clichés.

The least we can do is question the approach of these modern-day Pharisees who are Christ-centered in their language, but only promote teachings that disregard the way of Jesus. These men use the Scriptures to defend Christ, but do so in a manner that offends the heart of God.

“The holy writings are valuable for those who use them right,” testified one Anabaptist at the Regensburg trials in Bavaria. “But their misuse is the source of all heresy and unbelief. To the scribes and the Pharisees the holy writings were not a guide to Christ, but a hindrance and eventually a punishment.” Peter Hoover, The Secret of the Strength: What Would the Anabaptists Tell This Generation

Wait! Isn’t doctrine important? Yes, but right doctrine comes from a close examination of the Person and work of Christ in the Gospels. It comes from an intimate knowledge of the indwelling Christ. From my own personal experience, I believe it is because of our failure to give attention to Jesus in the Gospels that we have interpreted the letters of Paul as merely instructions on doctrine instead of an exposition of Jesus and his Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

“My purpose is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Paul, Letter to the Colossians

I don’t know what I did with verses like the one above before the Lord gave me eyes to see and ears to hear. It wasn’t until I became intrigued with Christ as Person that I began to see a spiritual revolution in my own life. When I made Christ my only doctrine and concerned myself with the fact that his very Person lives within me, I was then able to begin a journey from religion to relationship; from rhetoric to revelation; from intellect to indwelling; from academia to apprehension.

I was trained in the historical-grammatical approach to studying the Scriptures. Mostly due to immaturity, I had not learned to bridge my intellect with my spirit. Bible study was simply an intellectual exercise.

Sure, there were many times I had some sort of spiritual encounter and sensed the Lord working in my life through it all, but I now see that the written word of God had become a substitute for actually knowing Jesus in spirit and in truth. The Scripture was not ushering me in to knowing Christ in personal experience. Therefore, my transformation was slow and my strength was limited to what I could do on my own. The Lord allowed this for a time.

This Bible-centered life was evident in my passion for doctrinal purity. I was not yet aware of the full measure of the indwelling Christ and how to study the Scripture out of that life. It was like living with someone in your house but rarely speaking to them.

I was learning a great deal “about” Jesus, but had a difficult time making it to the couch to sit and chat with the lover of my soul. I allowed my analytical mind to be entertained by theology, but my spirit was desperately longing to kiss the face of God.

“The word of God states that the truth shall make us free, but how many times truth is merely a doctrine to us. Our eyes have not been opened to see Christ.” Watchman Nee, Christ: The Sum of All Spiritual Things

I did not feel free in my spirit. My soul was restless. I believed that all I could aspire to was to be filled with more Bible and great theological ideas. I constantly struggled with a distorted view of God. I knew what the Scriptures said about the closeness of God in Christ, but I didn’t have the experience to go along with it.

I just kept yearning after the Lord and seeking to find him in one teaching after another. And when the Lord is a teaching instead of a Person, you die for teachings (believing them to be Christ) and you attempt to rid the church of all who disagree with you. I don’t believe I ever gave myself over to that completely, but I did see plenty of older folks that had.

When the Lord is found in a teaching and you have no working knowledge of Christ, you are not content to let the Person of Jesus deal with the shortcomings of others and the errors of the church. When your God is restrained to paper and ink, you can’t know him in the flesh. And you must know, the Word “became flesh” (Jn. 1:14).

The incarnation of God is mankind’s only hope. This is becoming less and less something to simply “Amen!” and move on about your business. It is for me, becoming everything.

Bible-Centered or Christ-Centered?

“The cumulative effect of all parts of the Word of God is to bring you to Christ.”
T. Austin-Sparks, The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ

Is there a need for proper interpretation of the Scriptures? Most definitely! However, we must understand that this interpretation does not end in a study of the context of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians. It ends in a dazzling display of Jesus! It culminates into a spiritual apprehension of Christ. And this is something only he can give you when the “Divine quest” for the Person of Jesus is at the center of your being.

Until Christ is all that you desire, you will continue to know frustration and heartache.

We can’t gain knowledge of Jesus and an inward apprehension of him and receive shady theology in return. It is in knowing Christ that we understand what birthed the writings of the apostles. It is only then that we may receive proper instruction on worship and how the believer is to relate to a world marked by estrangement.

Christ is not a teaching or a “Bible-study”, he is a person to be cultivated in human experience. This may begin out of a sincere longing to know Christ in our mind and much study of him with our intellects. But in the end it ought to lead us to a knowing him in the depths of our spirit. It is only then that we partake of the bread of life. It is only then that everything finds its proper place.

This is where evangelical Christianity has fallen to its greatest depths. Since the Protestant Reformation, it is the written word of God that has become the highest attainable goal. The Anabaptists believed this to be the mightiest error of Luther and company.

The “Reformers” of the Catholic Church clung to Scripture, not to Christ. They rested in doctrines alone and thought it strange to speak of Christ as your closest friend. Folks that talk this way, these “mystics”, were burnt alive and met their end in martyrdom. And they are still to this day read with caution and some with disdain.

According to the testimony of those they persecuted, the Protestants rested in grace and did not live in the power of the resurrection. Their strict interpretations of the Scripture and their zeal for orthodoxy actually led them down a path of anti-Christ. Their failure to let go entirely of the church that Constantine built produced in them a deception that can only be matched by the men that cried out for the death of Jesus.

Knowledge that comes to us apart from the indwelling Christ will puff up the most sincere of men (1 Cor. 8:1). Knowledge obtained without first having passed through the cross of Jesus will always lead to sin. It is here where many believers find themselves. They have learned the appropriate rhetoric of Christ-centeredness, but their words are not born out of a revelation from the Lord himself. They easily find themselves continuing on with right speech, but their actions actually begin to prove that something else is at work.

It is not long and this person finds that their faith is filled with all kinds of contradictions and empty clichés that have no practical meaning for their lives. They sound holy, their words reflect a sort of biblical Christology, but their spirits are not governed by the life of Christ. They have not experienced the faith that is continually being born from above. What they have has not been given to them by Jesus in their spirit.

There is no inward reality of the indwelling Christ shaping them and molding them. The Person of Christ is not guiding their every step and speaking to their hearts. They have a few momentary spiritual glimpses into the Lord but the rest is just adrenaline and good intentions.

What is the Bible? Simply stated, it is the Spirit-inspired written testimony of men about the living God coming to earth and revealing himself in Jesus Christ of Nazareth. How has this collection of writings we call “The Bible” become the object of so much division among believers? “Is Christ divided?” What have we done with Paul’s warnings of division in the Body of Christ? We have celebrated them in what we call “denominations” and we treat this as a good thing.

Our passion for doctrine has blinded us to the many contradictions we have embraced. And we continue to find reasons not to abandon 1700 years of institutional Christianity founded on the ideas of men that can’t be justified by the Scriptures.

This is another piece of twisted evidence that the Bible is not being read as a testimony of the Christ presented in the Gospels. It is not being studied and read for the purpose of apprehending Christ in community, but for the mere propagating of a doctrine, a mission, a program, a ministry or a movement. We are guilty of worshipping the biblical text instead of the One it reveals.

We can know we have done this by the many ways we have violated the Person of Jesus and contradicted his example left in the Gospels. Having lived this way, we may only say that we are “Bible-centered” or “Paul-centered” or better yet, “Mission-centered.” But we dare not say we are Christ-centered when Jesus is not our only concern. If the Lord has not yet revealed to us that out of Christ comes the church, then we must wander a little while longer.

“I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him…” Paul, Letter to the Philippians

Conclusion—Christ the Center

We may say Christ is central and supreme in our lives, the church, the world, and the cosmos, only after we have put our hand to the plow of his Person and work; after we have forsaken all others for his namesake. Once we are willing to lay all else aside to experience the depths of who he is, we may call him “Lord” with complete assurance that he is indeed the Lord.

Brothers and sisters, it is in these things that the Lord says, “Yes!” The Son has been exalted that we might know him “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col. 2:3). He has become flesh that we might know that “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives” (2:9). It is not a method we seek, we seek Christ. Any “good” thing outside of Christ is dead! It is not a thing we desire, it is a Person. Will we continue running after dead things in Jesus’ name?

On this journey from dead religion to a living relationship, I have occasionally asked myself, “Am I making too much of Jesus? Is it all really this simple?” And I hear the Lord speak, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28; 30).

Well, I must say I am finding that “yoke” much easier than before. But, could I be oversimplifying things and reducing the Gospel message? (I smile with a faint chuckle) What else is there but Jesus? Very confidently I reply, “Nothing of any worth.”

Let us press on in the journey of experiencing the depths and riches of Christ Jesus our Lord. No other purpose will satisfy the heart of God or our own groaning for a savior. May we give up our Christ-less “Bible studies” and our foolish church practices that not only hinder, but replace our Center.

Through the power of his resurrection we may break free from religion’s chains and discover a truly Christ-centered faith.

Suggested Reading:

“The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ” by T. Austin-Sparks
“Christ: The Sum of All Spiritual Things” by Watchman Nee
“The Secret of the Strength” by Peter Hoover
“The School of Christ” by T. Austin-Sparks
“Extreme Righteousness: Seeing Ourselves in the Pharisees” by Tom Hovestol
“Christ the Center” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“The Normal Christian Life” by Watchman Nee
“Bethany: The Lord’s Heart for His Church” by Frank Viola

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Church Drama or Christ Dogma?

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.


Jim Caviezel to the Church

james-caviezelI had the wonderful privilege of hearing Jim Caviezel speak last night. No, he was not greeted with chants of “Hosanna!” and the waving of palm branches while riding in on a donkey. Yet, I must say that that would have been funny.

He walked on stage in a black leather jacket and black jeans sporting a new hairdo. He was given a warm welcome and no one pressed the stage to be healed. Jim began by sharing how he came to play Jesus in the 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ.

He spoke on the making of the movie and the many trials he went through while playing the part of the Suffering Messiah. His words were honest and inspiring as scenes from the film played on the big screens behind him. The entire audience was moved as Jim shifted everyone’s focus off of himself and onto Jesus of Nazareth.

Jim is a very serious and sincere man. If you have watched any of his films, especially behind the scenes, you will know this to be true. He is very serious about his work as an actor—not for acting sake—but in order to portray good versus evil and judgment versus redemption. I was thrilled to be able to hear his heart as he spoke of his own faith in Christ and how that faith is to be lived out in all the dark places in our world.

I believe what stuck out to me the most about what he shared was what I would call a prophetic message to the church. Jim mentioned the increasingly hostile world that we live in and how persecution and suffering was coming to the church. He referred to this as God’s way. If I remember correctly, he said, in reference to suffering, “This too is from God.”

He reminded the audience that all of the saints who have gone on before us were all acquainted with this one thing: suffering. He went on to encourage the audience to be the Lord wherever they are at and to not be concerned about what others think. He said:

“We may never win an Oscar or be known by men, but we are known by God and that’s all that matters.”

I met Jim after the talk to have him sign something. Relax, it was the only way to speak to him. 🙂  Since I’m aware that he is serious and that he seemed to be tense from all the attention, I thought I would break the mood with some humor.

I shook his hand and said, “Jim, I just want to know one thing… how hard was it not to laugh in your interview with Ron Burgundy?”  (If you don’t know what I am talking about, you can watch the interview on You Tube.)  He laughed and replied, “You know… you didn’t see all of the outtakes. It wasn’t easy.”

I laughed with him and shook his hand one last time.  As I shook his hand to leave, I said, “Keep being a light in a dark world.” His serious look returned with an expression that conveyed appreciation and at the same time a hopeful brother in an evil place; a brother who understands what it means to be in the world, but not of it.

Finally, I just want to say that I was moved by the Spirit of Christ in the hearing of Jim’s words. I was moved enough to stay up until three in the AM to tell you about it. I truly believe the Lord spoke through Jim Caviezel in a powerful way. I just hope that the Christians in the room and those reading this blog are receiving the “heads up” on what God is getting his people ready to endure.

Soon we will have a new context in which to live out our Christianity. Soon and very soon, Christians living in the empire will experience the purification of God’s people on earth; to bear the marks of Jesus on our bodies and identify with him through suffering. May those of us who have long enjoyed the security of the world be ready for what is to come.


Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices (Book Review)

Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices

Spiritual Revolution Instead of Religious Reformation

A Book Review of: “Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices” by Frank Viola and George Barna

 

“Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices,” may very well be the most important book written on the Christian church in the last two millennia.  Frank Viola and George Barna team up to give their readers a critical examination of the last 1700 years of church history.

 

Does the institutional church have any biblical and historical right to exist?  “Are the practices of the institutional church (the clergy/laity system, salaried pastors, sacred buildings, the order of worship, etc.) God-approved developments to the church that the New Testament envisions? Or are they an unhealthy departure from it?”

The first edition of this book entitled, “Pagan Christianity: The Origins of Our Modern Church Practices” by Frank Viola… is the third book written in a set of five books on church restoration and organic church life.  Viola and George Barna, Christian pollster and author of the book “Revolution,” have co-authored the newly revised and updated “Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices.”

Barna brings to the book a fresh look and a polished language that improves on the delivery of Viola’s original work.  Barna, who has caused no small stink upon his recent confessions regarding the church, makes his decision to leave the institutional church complete with the publication of this book.  If it wasn’t clear in his book “Revolution”… it is certainly clear now.

I enjoyed the new format of this book.  At the end of each chapter, the authors give the reader a “Delving Deeper” section which lists common questions with answers in return.  I felt that this helped to clarify what the authors were truly saying in order that fact might be separated from fiction.  I also enjoyed the updated references and the plethora of footnotes listed at the bottom of each page.  These references may be in a smaller font, but they are the entire foundation of historicity which resulted in the penning of this book.

Therefore, the serious reader will not want to overlook the footnotes.  The reader will also find the “Summary of Origins” and “Key Figures in Church History” in the back of the book a great help as well.  The book may look like a long read… yet, you will find that your interest is peaked beyond that of any other historical book you have ever read.  You will read until you are done… or until you have thrown it out the window.

The serious questions raised in this book will give the Christian reader more than enough to wrestle over.  Viola traces the pagan origins of almost every church practice that institutional Christianity holds dear and holds it to the light of the New Testament.  I remember first reading the original “Pagan Christianity” over a year ago.  I had spent 6 years of my life in “vocational ministry” within the institutional (Southern Baptist) church and I had a degree in Religion/Biblical Studies from a Baptist University.  I had just resigned from my position as Minister to Students/Education because the church’s leaders were opposed to fundamental teachings of Jesus.  My wife and I saw that we could no longer serve among them.

It was during this time that I began to read and study like never before.  I was seeking to be a senior pastor in a church somewhere in the United States.  I studied church history, ecclesiology, Christology, etc. I was seeking the Lord’s will for his church. I compiled a list of what the New Testament described the church looked like in fellowship and among the world. With the help of Viola’s book, I quickly realized that my list did not reflect the church I knew and that that church could not be seen in the model of the traditional church. I had to rethink my understanding of it all.

I know how hard this read will be for many people, especially clergy members. “Pagan Christianity?” will, no doubt, be a most uncomfortable read for all those who believe the Body of Christ is an institution.  For the clergy member, the read will almost be impossible.  At every turn of the page… the flesh will flare up in a horrible display of arrogance and pride.  Many will scoff at its claims and discourage others from reading it before an honest examination can be made.  If the reader is not prepared to reexamine his faith and practice for a paradigm shift… he or she might as well leave this book well alone.

If the reader is not yet at the end of their rope in frustration against the church practices and shallow conception of Christ that is believed and taught within the institutional church… this book will only breed anger and confusion.  But, if you were like me a year ago… you are tired and want answers… and, most importantly, you want more of Christ… then please read this book and allow yourself to be moved by it.  I encourage you to have an honest conversation with the Lord as you read.  And listen to his still small voice.

To the rabid opponents of this book, I strongly recommend you speak to no one before you have done truthful research concerning these matters AND have had an honest conversation with Jesus first.  Many will argue that this book only proposes another “form” or method of church.  This book is not about forms, but about principles.  To argue forms… is to miss the point of this book.

Many will make preposterous claims that this book seeks to tear down the church of Jesus Christ, when in all reality… this book exalts Jesus Christ of Nazareth and submits that we return to simple community gathered around his headship free from the human inventions of man and religion that hinders the Body from every-member functioning.

This book does not propose we mimic the model of first-century Christianity, but that we mimic our Lord.  Out of our Lord’s commands and the principles of his person and work (i.e. life and teachings) will come normal Christian church life!

Why has this book been written?  The authors write, “we have written this book for one reason: to make room for the absolute centrality, supremacy, and headship of Christ in His church.” (p.250)  This statement alone should be enough for any true follower of Christ to pick up and read.  But unfortunately, many people, for whatever reason, will choose to accept slander about the authors (even from trusted pastors) as enough reason to discredit and discount them as credible voices of truth in mainline Christianity.

This is an incredible action considering that many institutional churches in the last decade have built their entire plan of attack off the statistical findings of pollster George Barna.  On top of that… both of these men boldly proclaim Christ in a way that is undeniably and unmistakably from a spirit of love and edification.  The premature responses of the majority prove how mankind is driven by mere human emotions and tradition… instead of biblical truth discovered through a consistent and verifiable method of biblical interpretation that seeks to exalt Christ above all things.

This reviewer and ex-clergy member challenges you to consider the message of these men.  Compare the claims of this book with the Christ and the church of the New Testament before you decide who and what are truly following and being a reflection of pagan Christianity.

All of us must choose between spiritual revolution (i.e. return to Christ) or religious reformation (i.e. tweaking the old pagan systems).  One of these will release the church from her chains and free her from the bondage of man’s religion to experience the natural faith of Christ.  The other will only prolong God’s people from beholding Christ in majesty and splendor to the world.  There is only one life to live.  Choose wisely.


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