Pagan Christianity?

I was given the task of reading and reviewing this book as part of a project at my church. Frank Viola is aggressive in defending his perspective; if you want his view you can easily find one or more of his blogs. With that short introduction, here’s my lengthy review.

Pagan Christianty?

By Frank Viola and George Barna

Reviewed by Stuart L. Brogden

The thesis statement of this book is found in the Preface, written by Viola, on page xix: “we intend to show how that organism (the first century church) was devoid of so many things we embrace today” and on page xx: “We are seeking to remove a great deal of debris in order to make room for the Lord Jesus Christ to be the fully functioning head of His church.”

In the Preface, he repeatedly refers to “the contemporary church” as their foil – no doubt most reformed Christians would also take issue with many things done in that name. Reinforcing what I infer as a mystical view of God and Truth revealed in the thesis, Viola tells us, “the New Testament vision of church best represents the dream of God.” and “The normative practices of the first-century church were the natural and spontaneous expression of the divine life that indwelt the early Christians.” (page xix) Their mystical view of the body of Christ is fully spelled out later in the book. Also on page xix, the author’s beloved “organic church” is described thusly: “An organic church is simply a church that is born out of spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs. Organic churches are characterized by Spirit-led, open-participatory meetings and nonhierarchical leadership.” We will see that “Spirit-led” means “everyone doing what seems right in their own eyes”. In the delving Deeper section on page xxxi we are told that their “goal is not to develop a full description of the organic church but only touch on it when necessary.” See – we get explicit wrong-doings by the contemporary and institutional church but only vague and partial descriptions of the proposed answer to those evils.

Viola shows his misunderstanding of the work of the Holy Spirit of God, ascribing (page xix) His actions as “the natural and spontaneous expression of the divine life that indwelt the early Christians”. The Bible is clear that God is a God of order, not chaos; He is not a natural expression of what is in man (Psalms 50:21). He is not “spontaneous” – acting on whimsy; He has planned and has ordered all things to the fulfillment of His plans (Psalms 135:6 and Ephesians 1:11).

In Barna’s Introduction, we discover the authors see themselves – and the Lord Jesus – as Revolutionaries, working to correct the centuries-long trial of errors foisted upon us by religious men. He rightly identifies legitimate problems in many churches (mega-churches, satellite campuses, affinity and age segregated groups, etc.) on page xxvii – and then reveals that this book is our trustworthy guide to find out God’s will for the church. He concludes by telling us that he wants the reader “to think carefully and biblically about how you practice your faith with other Christians.” Barna concludes with, “We pray that this book will help you to do your part in straightening out the crooked path of the contemporary church.” We shall see.

The “Jesus” of the OC is manifested by “open sharing” in all church meetings – this is the normative method that “is completely scriptural”, especially if the only scripture one reads is 1 Corinthians 14:26 – 29. They have an unbiblical view of Jesus Christ and an unbiblical view of the church – which they consider (page xxviii) to be “Himself in a different form. This is the meaning of the phrase “the body of Christ”.” Deep in the appendix, on page 268, we read, “When each member of His body shares his or her portion of Christ, then Christ is assembled.”

Wayne Grudem sheds a better light on this concept on page 858 of his Systematic Theology: “In 1 Corinthians 12 the whole body is taken as a metaphor for the church, because Paul speaks of the “ear” and the “eye” and the “sense of smell” (1 Cor 12:16 – 17). In this metaphor, Christ is not viewed as the head joined to the body, because the individual members are themselves the individual parts of the head. Christ is in the metaphor the Lord who is “outside” of that body that represents the church and is the one whom the church serves and worships.” There are, as Grudem goes to point out, different uses of the word “body” as a metaphor for the church – the context in which each metaphor is used reveals its meaning. Barna and Viola appear to hold to the Roman Catholic view of the church as the “continuing incarnation” of Christ rather than properly viewing Christ as reigning in heaven in addition to dwelling among us. As for the biblical view of the church, one cannot comprehend that unless one studies the Pastoral Epistles – and there’s no indication the authors have even read them.

Consistently in this book, the method of “proving” their case builds on setting up a straw man they call the “institutional church” (IC) – a seemingly equivalent term for the “contemporary church” – and presenting an ill-defined “organic church” (OC) as the only Christ-honoring alternative. This IC straw man is constructed from mostly undocumented sources of history, which reflect the main line record of the Roman Catholic Church. There is no evidence that the remnant of God which did not follow Rome (as in Andrew Miller’s Church History) was ever considered by the authors – for therein one would find local churches without many of the errors that have crept into most churches since ~ 400AD. Too many reformed churches have forgotten “Semper Reformda!”, stagnating in partial reform that still has a lot in common with Rome. These present day vestiges of Rome ought to be critiqued and Protestants should repent and reform to the Biblical model. Some of this book’s critique rightly applies to some churches, but does not warrant the radical, semi-biblical approach advocated.

Chapter 1 – Have We Really Been Doing It by the Book? In their scenario about Winchester Spudchecker, they pose several questions that one might have in any given church, such as “Where in the Bible are we told to dress up for church?” There is a paragraph of similar questions on page 3, followed by the statement, “Interestingly, the question Winchester had that day are questions that never enter the conscious thinking of most Christians.” No reference to the research that must have taken place in order for this statement to be credibly made; no indication that this is anything more than an anecdotal observation. This is quickly followed up with another similarly broad statement on page 4: “almost everything that is done in our contemporary churches has no basis in the Bible.” The balance of the book tried to prove this point. On page 6, the sloppy use of history is displayed – as they try to demonstrate that it must be only the pagan culture we learned our religion from, they forgot that many Jewish Christians were dispersed all through the then known world – providing much biblical commentary about the problems their Jewish customs caused in the early churches. These Jewish Christians had a significant impact on life in the early church. Nobody reading any version of ancient church history would come away thinking all was well and there was no worldly influence therein. Such wasn’t the case while the New Testament was being written.

Chapter 2 – The Church Building. Here we see one characteristic of this book that makes it impossible to merely it write it off as worthless. Again, using the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) as their foil, the authors point out legitimate concerns about idolatry as it relates to the design, construction, and use of buildings. Constantine is hailed as the father of the church building with this summary: “Truly, a pagan magical mind was at work in Emperor Constantine – the father of the church building.” (page 21). Throughout this chapter, the influence of the RCC and its syncretistic mixture of spiritual and temporal is documented in many features common to modern church buildings. Christians ought to examine why we want architectural features in our churches – with an eye towards truly honoring the Lord.

Yet in their zeal to condemn everything in the IC, Viola and Barna are prone to over-reach and make unsupported assertions, such as their contention that sermons were not preached until the IC had its “bishop’s chair” and formal altars. Guess all those sermons recorded in the New Testament were “spontaneous expressions of the divine life”.

When they get down to the placement of furniture, we find interesting assumptions: it’s pagan unless the chairs can be moved around on the spur of the moment (page 38). The authors apparently believe the modern living room is the spiritual and physical equivalent to the ancient home and, therefore, the best – dare we say sacred – place to help “us understand the tremendous power of our social environment.” On page 40 we are told that one’s home is “the organic meeting place” while a church building “creates a sit-and-soak form of worship … emphasizes fellowship between God and His people via the pastor!” While Roman Catholics may be deceived into thinking their priests stand between them God, I know none among evangelical protestants who think their pastors do so. We do tend to comprehend what the Bible says about order and worship and teaching – something that seems to be missing from the authors’ organic church.

We then see a false comparison between the bad IC and good OC on the cost of buildings. It’s clear that ICs spend money on church buildings – and early Christians didn’t. So it’s bad to pay money for a building – as if the home providing comfort and shelter for the 30 or organic Christians costs nothing. In the IC, the many contribute for the common use building. In the OC, apparently only the homeowner pays. When it’s all said and done, “The building is an architectural denial of the priesthood of all believers.” And “If every Christian on the planet would never call a building a church again, this alone would create a revolution in our faith.” Wow. In all their haranguing people over the use of church buildings, they give no thought to the fact that every home has some of the same issues – a fixed location with operating expenses.

Chapter 3 – The Order of Worship. Early on in this chapter, page 50, we read, “The meetings of the early church were marked by every-member functioning, spontaneity, freedom, vibrancy, and open participation. … it was often unpredictable.” They offer up as examples 1 Cor 14 1 – 33 and Hebrews 10:25. Their use of intense adjectives is a tip-off that they are trying too hard. Pointing the reader to Hebrews 10:25 leads one to conclude that there are no Scriptures beyond 1 Cor 14 that can be interpreted to support their OC. I also wonder how they incorporate verse 33 (For God is not a God of confusion but of peace) and why they leave off verses 34 – 40, which includes restrictions on women speaking in church and ends with “But all things should be done decently and in order.” Are they following Thomas Jefferson’s example of ignoring those parts of the Bible they find offensive to their theology?

They trod through this chapter picking at the RCC, Martin Luther and other Magisterial Reformers – all of whom held onto to some of what Rome had taught them. They summarize, on page 59, “the most damaging feature of Calvin’s liturgy is that he led most of the service himself from the pulpit. … in stark contrast to the church meeting envisioned in Scripture. … In 1 Cor 12, Paul tells us that Christ speaks through His entire body … under His direct leadership … vital for the spiritual health of God’s people and the full expression of His Son on earth.” Missing in this diatribe is any cognitive recognition that not all the body parts in 1 Cor 12 speak: ears, hands, feet, etc. serve according to the gifting of the Holy Spirit and the offices of the church. The message of this chapter of Scripture is not a celebration of the individual’s participation in a worship service; it’s exhortation to live in unity for the glory of God and the good of His people even though we have differences. And what of the Pastoral Epistles – are they not in Viola’s Bible?

Not quite finished, the authors demonstrate their intent to smear as many people as possible through false association and vagary. Page 65 reports “The popular notion that “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life” became prominent after Whitefield.” I found no record of that phrase prior to the 1950s, some 180 years after Whitefield died. Why associate this phrase with Whitefield, other than to paint him as a fellow traveler of Charles Finney? To whom the authors give much grace, saying on page 67 “Perhaps the most lasting element that Finney unwittingly contributed to contemporary Christianity was pragmatism.” Unwittingly? What biographies do these two read? Viola and Barna then provide some observations on various religious movements that many would benefit from – but they again betray their false view of the Lord Jesus and His church on page 74: “… in placing the book at the center and head of their gatherings. Unfortunately, neither the Catholics nor the Protestants were successful in allowing Jesus Christ to be the center and head of their gatherings. Nor were they successful at liberating and unleashing the body of Christ to minister to one another.” In the minds of these mystics, Jesus is subject to humans and He is not fully revealed in the Scriptures, but in His people. Having the Word taught restricts rather than liberates and unleashes, which happens when people share expressions of Jesus. Strange world these authors inhabit.

The authors continue proclaiming their OC to be the best way to return to authentic Christianity, claiming (page 76) “open sharing in a church meeting is completely scriptural” and “the Protestant order of worship strangles the headship of Jesus Christ.” And again – “Jesus Christ has no freedom to express Himself through His body at His discretion. He too is rendered a passive spectator.” “The Lord is stifled from manifesting Himself through the other members of the body.” How pathetic is the god of the OC, He is stifled by Christians who do not speak at meetings.

On page 77, liturgy is declared unbiblical, supported by making grossly exaggerated comments as to how it “hinders spiritual transformation” (there’s another evidence of the power of man) by encouraging passivity and limiting “functioning”. In Viola’s mind, one cannot listen actively; being asked to read from the Bible is not adequately expressing his Jesus, who is properly expressed by spontaneity. Bryan Chapell’s book, Christ Centered Worship, defines liturgy as “the public way a church honors God in its times of gathered praise, prayer, instruction, and commitment” (page 18)”, leaving one to realize that even the OC has liturgy.

In the delving Deeper section of this chapter, the authors reveal more of their mystic view of Christ in the answer to question #6 (page 82), where men dictate the role of the Lord Jesus and each man determines if “the Lord Jesus Christ puts something on our hearts to share with the rest of His body.” This has more in common with Quakers than biblical Christianity.

Chapter 4 – The Sermon: Protestantism’s Most Sacred Cow. The authors’ view of this “sacred cow” is: “Every Sunday morning, the pastor steps up to his pulpit and delivers an inspirational oration to a passive, pew-warming audience.” (pages 85 – 86). In the middle of page 86, this assessment: “The sermon actually detracts from the very purpose for which God designed the church gathering. And it has very little to do with genuine spiritual growth.” Again – they build up a weak, unbiblical model as their foil, and then tear it down. A biblical sermon, as opposed to “an inspirational oration”, is front and center in the biblical gathering of God’s people and foundational to their spiritual growth.

On pages 87 – 88, Viola and Barna assert that modern sermons are regular, cultivated, monologues while Old Testament preaching was extemporaneous, characterized by interruptions from the audience, sporadic, and fluid. Nehemiah 9 shows structure, order, officers presiding, and solemn reading/confessing while the people stood and listened. The authors then point to Jesus – He “did not preach a regular sermon to the same audience”; His messages “were consistently spontaneous”. Jesus was not the pastor a church, and did not have a local assembly that we see later in the New Testament. And I do not even know what is meant by the phrase “consistently spontaneous”. But we do see some of His sermons as monologues preached to “pew-sitting, passive people” (Matthew 5 – 7 for example). They go on (page 89) to assert that the preaching of the disciples and Apostles was sporadic, for special occasions, extemporaneous and without rhetorical structure, “most often dialogical”, and impromptu. The theme continues to emerge – lack of structure in all aspects is the goal. Not until the second century, they declare (page 89), did any record emerge documenting “regular sermonizing”. (This subtle reliance on first century church fathers is evident throughout the book.) We do see, in Acts 8 for example, God’s people being scattered and preaching the Word as they went. This does not provide, however, any reasonable warrant to take this as the prescribed model for the New Testament church. We read in Acts 14 how Paul had regularly taught in the Jewish synagogues and city markets, both Jew and Gentile were saved, God was building His church – and Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in every church. And we see in Acts 20:7 and 1 Cor 16:2 that the early church regularly met on the Lord’s Day – not very sporadic.

Paid elders are thrown out (Pages 91 & 176), without paying attention to 1 Cor 11 or 1 Tim 5:17 – 18; and our authors continue to use the Roman Catholic Church as the example they respond to, pointing out the egregious errors of Rome in the deployment of church officers and worship practice and holding them up as normative.

The section entitled, “How Sermonizing Harms the Church” (beginning on page 97), describes 5 major points in support of this assertion. They begin with a stereotype of a “conventional sermon”, which focuses on the alleged hampering, freezing, imprisonment, suffocation, stalemating, smothering aspects therein. Our authors appear to think church members have no function when they are apart from the gathering and they also come across as having no confidence in the Word of God but much confidence in people. Pastors de-skill, repress, and deprive their people; whereas “New Testament-styled preaching and teaching equips the church so that it can function without the presence of a clergyman.” Their understanding this “New Testament-styled preaching and teaching” (described on top of page 99) once again reveals an open canon view of Scripture – God continues to reveal Himself beyond what He has preserved in His Word. Lastly, we see how modern sermons lack practicality – “preachers speak as experts on that which they have never experienced.” A pastor can study the Bible, become somewhat of an expert on the life of Jacob – know about the sin in his life, how he raised his children – without having experienced the polygamy, idol worship, and underhanded ways of Jacob. Being taught and having this lesson rightly applied to the Christian is not practical? Viola and Barna lust after experiential faith – anything else fails to satisfy.

Chapter 5 – The Pastor: Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning. The chapter titles are meant to be provocative, as is the entire book; in this they succeed. Right off, page 106, they declare, “There is not a single verse in the entire New Testament that supports the existence of the modern-day pastor!” They are hung up on the word “pastor” and they have in mind the undefined boogeyman of “the modern-day pastor”. This chapter shows a lack of understanding about the singularity of office described by the various words we see in Scripture – pastor, elder, bishop, overseer are one in the same. And while, on page 108, they declare “First century shepherds were the local elders (presbyters) and overseers of the church.” they then tell us on the next page, “Up until the second century, the church had no official leadership.” They quibble about “leaders” versus “official leadership”, as they launch into a review of the evolution of the Roman Catholic Church and its serious errors.

When they look at the practice of ordination of elders, their reaction against the practice of Rome prompts them to conclude that no ordination as valid, rather the “recognition of certain gifted members is something that is instinctive and organic.” (page 124) How “instinctive and organic” is Acts 20:7 or Titus 1:5? Men who were leaders appointed men who were qualified. The work of God to equip and nurture a man to serve in the church is not the work of man – if that’s what they are trying to describe, why not use biblical terms that reflect God’s sovereignty and care for His people instead of terms that reflect something natural and base? And as they do work their way up to The Reformation (beginning on page 127), they focus only on the Magisterial Reformation and completely ignore the Radical Reformation. In this section, on page 134, they seek to debunk what was “known as the “cure of souls”” and see nothing of merit in the Bible on this, as if Hebrews 13 is missing, especially verse 17. Did they choose this phrase “cure of souls” specifically to dismiss the entire notion of pastoral care of souls? A godly man knows it is God alone who can cure a soul, but this does not eliminate the biblical responsibility pastors have to care for souls – and for Christians to work to make this pastoral job less burdensome.

And we continue to see how the god of the OC is subject to man (page 136), as “the pastoral office has transformed us (people of God) into stones that do not breathe.” They do not understand the difference between the priesthood of the believer and the elder, nor do they understand the nature of God or the person of the Lord Jesus. On page 137: “By his office, the pastor displaces and supplants Christ’s headship by setting himself up as the church’s human head.” Remember Wayne Grudem’s discussion about this metaphor? Viola and Barna apparently cannot be bothered to read anything that does not agree with their presuppositions. Their use of extremes as the means to point out error is clearly manifested on page 138 – 141 as they embrace an unbiblical model for the pastor as a lone-ranger who carries too much and burns himself out; and then use that to “debunk” the office in toto! No comprehension of plurality of elders nor of biblical shepherding of God’s people. Displaying more of the self confidence revealed in the Introduction, on page 140, Viola and Barna recommend articles they have written as the prescription for this pastor problem. The problem is the lone-ranger pastor, the solution is to eliminate the role of pastor. God forbid we should see in His Word the biblical model of two or more elders in each church. They do favorably cite Watchman Nee in the delving Deeper section of this chapter – something that does not surprise at this point.

Chapters 6 – 8 discuss three aspects of church practice that I think most Christians – including elders – need to think more deeply about: clothes, music, and giving. The authors condemn clerical robes and the like – who would disagree? Too many pastors (using that term as loosely as possible) implicitly endorse a uniform – either suit & tie or very casual. To the degree that a pastor is trying to influence the people by his wardrobe, he is in the wrong. If a pastor enjoys fine clothes – fine, to a point; for the Bible does warn us about being to flashy in what we wear (1 Tim 2:9 and 1 Peter 3:3 & 4) and the tendency we have to be misled by such (James 2). In the discussion about music, there is much to lament revealed in the high church history and in modern contemporary music. About which they rightly observe (page 165), “Typically, the focus of the songs if on individual spiritual experience. First person singular pronouns – I, me, my – dominate a good number of the songs.” Amen! Their prescription, again, reveals the same false view of Christ – waiting on humans to be allowed to do His part (page 166) – and a selective look into Scripture to support their “trained spontaneity” (They use this concept on page 167 and it aligns with their view of Christ’s preaching as “consistently spontaneous”. The tension is more than I bear!)

Lastly, in these chapters, they examine tithing and clergy salaries. I like how they address tithing, page 172: “yes, tithing is biblical. But it is not Christian. The tithe belongs to ancient Israel. It was essentially their income tax.” Many pastors teach tithing because they do not trust God to lead the people to give generously – and because they care not what the Bible says about tithing. The discussion of “clergy salaries” is not so clear or biblical. As noted above, they do not take into account 1 Cor 11 or 1 Tim 5:17 – 18; how can they present a biblical case of compensating elders otherwise? They maintain that the clergy salary was born during Constantine’s rule, when he amalgamated the church and state. Perhaps Viola and Barna are drawing a line between compensation and a full-time salary, it’s hard to say. But if they argue there’s no case for a pastor to be paid, what of 1 Cor 9:14, which seems to say a gospel preacher should be on salary? Their argument, again, lies on the response they imagine in the church (page 180) – “Since the pastor and his staff are compensated for ministry, they are paid professionals. The rest of the church lapses into a state of passive dependence.” His assertion is loaded – “pastor and his staff”; this reflects the all-too-common corporate view of church, rather than the biblical view. It’s easier to refute the extreme errors, much more difficult to refute the purer practices found in some churches.

Chapter 9 – Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: Diluting the Sacraments. While much of their critique of modern church practice in this chapter is pretty much on target, they continue to rely on mere assertion to build their case. On page 188, they write, “it is typical in most contemporary churches for baptism to be separated from conversion by great lengths of time.” Considering most churches have long held to infant baptism, how could baptism follow conversion by any amount of time? On page 189, we read, “unbelievers in the first century were led to Jesus Christ by being taken to the waters of baptism.” What we read in the Bible is people hearing the Word, believing on Christ, then being baptized. In discussing baptism and its implications, Viola and Barna provide some good insight into the importance of the church – in contrast to the individualistic perspective most westerners have. Yet they say (page 191), without a footnote, “According to New Testament teaching, what the Father was to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is to you and me.” This is at odds with their statements surrounding this comment, wherein they rightly understand our son-ship under God the Father because of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Further, God the Father’s relationship is the same eternally, so their use of a past tense verb is troubling.

The discussion about the Lord’s Supper starts off (page 192) with the familiar home church perspective that this ceremony is supposed to be a full meal – “essentially a Christian banquet.” Yet all the biblical accounts show the bread and cup being taken after the meal – not being part of it. They denigrate the warnings in 1 Cor 11 (page 193), rendering the unworthy taking of the Lord’s table to the act of “not waiting for their poor brethren to eat with them, as well as those who were getting drunk on the wine.” Further down this page, they allege pagan influence separated the bread and cup from the meal – “it is more likely that the growing influence of pagan religious ritual removed the Supper from the joyful, down-to-earth, nonreligious atmosphere of a meal in someone’s living room.” How can the Lord’s Supper be nonreligious? And which perspective is more biblical – a “down-to-earth, nonreligious” banquet or a joyful yet sober remembrance of why Christ died and what that means? Is 1 Cor 11:27-33 focused on the temporal or does it use the temporal to draw our focus to the eternal?

Chapter 10 – Christian Education: Swelling the Cranium. This chapter is an argument against Christian education institution, in which they also denigrate the intellectual aspect of learning. The authors view of first-century apprenticeship (page 200): “It was a matter of apprenticeship, rather than of intellectual learning. It was aimed primarily at the spirit, rather than at the frontal lobe.” Although we do not learn how one aims teaching at the spirit, our authors do clarify what they mean, in the next paragraph: “They learned the essential lessons of Christian ministry” – by which they mean having had “life experiences”. The Bible tells us to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 1:5 – 7 and 3:18). This growth is certainly to take place in the local church (which they advocate on page 200), but it is not devoid of intellectual growth. Their overview of institutional Christian education is interesting, revealing (page 206) the common yet mystical view that one learns different things with one’s heart than with one’s mind: Aquinas “preferred the intellect to the heart as the organ for arriving at truth.” Our authors disagree with this view, citing a quote from Blaise Pascal with approval: “It is the heart which perceives God, and not the reason.” If the point intended is to recognize that man cannot by human reason apprehend spiritual truth, we agree. But one’s heart cannot believe nor perceive truth – it can only rightly be used as a metaphor for the total man: mind, emotion, and soul. But they do not let us know what view of the human heart they hold – methinks it’s a mystical perspective – as this quote from page 216 puts it: “In the process, out theology rarely gets below the neck.”

Their assessment of Sunday School is well reasoned and agreeable Page 213): “As a whole, we don’t view the contemporary Sunday School as an effective institution.” They then cite a quote from David Norrington’s book To Preach or Not to Preach, emphasizing parental responsibility in training their children. But the motive for this is not as healthy as these quotes – their goal is to deconstruct elder ship, preaching, intellectual advancement, and order. This is clearly revealed in the last paragraph of this chapter, page 218: People who listen to sermons, “were the very same people who were struggling with self-esteem, beating their spouses, struggling as workaholics, succumbing to their addictions. There lives weren’t changing. … We were taught that if you just give people information, that’s enough!” No Christian rightly believes that people just need information – this is a false standard Viola and Barna all too easily attack. All people need the transforming work of God in their lives – and He has ordained the proclamation of Gospel and the teaching and preaching of His entire Word as the means we are to deploy to that end. Information is what too many “sermons” consist of – no wonder people are left in their sin!

Chapter 11 – Reapproaching the New Testament: The Bible is Not a Jigsaw Puzzle. This chapter is an expose of their faulty arguments throughout this book! They teach that a basic understanding of the biblical context is essential for proper understanding the New Testament (page 231). They have failed to do this very thing in the way they handle 1 Cor 14:26 – 29 and several other passages. But to demonstrate their acumen in New Testament comprehension (page 234), they warn would-be home church leaders, “Birthing a church that maps to New Testament principles takes a whole lot more work that opening up your house and having people sit on comfy couches to drink java, eat cookies, and talk about the Bible.” If it ain’t that, what is it? Next paragraph leads off asking that very question: “What do we mean by a New Testament-styled church? It is a group of people who know how to experience Jesus Christ and express Him in a meeting without any human officiation.” They see “church planters” as viable human officials, but only temporarily and sporadically. With their mystical Jesus-as-head, no regular human leadership is needed, nor can their Jesus perform in the presence of such. They tell us, on page 237, that “Unlike Christians today, the early Christians did not share Christ out of guilt, command, or duty. They shared Him because He was pouring out of them, and they could not help it! It was a spontaneous, organic thing – born out of life, not guilt.” We, once again, see a false contrast, one that denies human responsibility and leaves one thinking Paul, Peter, Stephen, James, John and the others simply “let go and let God” – while they were just carried along for the ride.

While they refute the biblical model of the church throughout the book, on page 238 they rebuke many home church folk. Their point is that no man build a church. Their conclusion is, “The church of Jesus Christ is a biological, living entity! It is organic; therefore, it must be born.” And this organic birthing takes place when “a traveling church-planter … preached only Christ. There are no exceptions. The church was raised up as a result of the apostolic presentation of Jesus Christ.” Seems to me, they are describing the work of God through His apostles and their elders: as they went preaching the Gospel (not as exciting as “presenting Jesus Christ” – nor as mystical), God saved people and called them together into local churches. And the apostles and elders appointed elders in each church. These authors take the body metaphor and warp it a new way, to present the church as if it were a person. True – the church is not a corporation, but not the same as a person, either. Their conclusion, that individual verses must be taken in context, is sound – even if their application of that maxim is faulty.

Chapter 12 – A Second Glance at The Savior: The Revolutionary. This term, revolutionary, is an unhelpful term; apparently designed to stir emotion. The current cultural context in which live brings to mind iconic men such as Caesar Chavez, Che Guevara, and Fidel Castro – not admirable men. On page 246, the authors list several biblical actions and attributes of Christ that were and are certainly not culturally normal – then or now. The last of these: “He also came as Revolutionary, tearing apart the old wineskin with a view to bringing in the new. Behold your Lord, the Revolutionary!” The Bible does not say that Jesus tore apart the old wineskin – He cautioned against putting new wine into one. New wine must be put into a new wineskin – this is a parable about salvation: a person not regenerated cannot receive the Holy Spirit. One must be made new before he can receive the Spirit of the Living God and faith to believe in Christ. Yet Viola and Barna tell us this, about that parable: “It is simply an expression of our Lord’s revolutionary nature. The dominating aim of that nature is to put you and me at the center of the beating heart of God.” How hard they must work to come with unbiblical phrases that will vibrantly capture the attention of people not satisfied with the Bible.

On page 247, they emphasize – without references – the fact that the early church met daily, describing what sounds like a commune. And they contend that for the first 300 years, as the church met in homes, they were “void of ritual, clergy, and sacred buildings.” The church has never been without pastors and some ritual – the Bible reveals this. Biblical churches do not, today, have sacred buildings – cults tend to do this. In the delving Deeper section, page 252, the authors express much confidence in church planters – whose “job is to equip members to function in a coordinated way.” This seems to run contrary to their professed love and belief in the spontaneous and sporadic nature of their esteemed organic church.

In the “Final Thoughts” appendix, page 268, Viola describes a meeting of an organic church in which everyone “shared his or her experience with the Lord that week (what – a weekly meeting? How pagan!). … As the meeting was winding down, the unbeliever fell to his knees in the middle of the living room and cried out, “I want to be saved! I have seen God here!”” Nothing in his description reveal whether the gospel was proclaimed. The man may have had a spiritual experience, the question is the nature of that experience. He goes on to say, “This is one of the things that occurs organically when Jesus is made visible through His body.” citing 1 Cor 14:24 & 25. This Bible passage does not “make Jesus visible”; it mandates clear teaching of biblical truth. So once again, at the end of this book, these guys prove themselves to be mystics rather than satisfied with the Bible. Folks who seek experience are of the same mindset as those who seek after signs in Scripture, not well spoken of therein.

While this book does contain some thought provoking content, the main focus is off track. We must test all things in light of Scripture – so we can learn from all of this book, but most of the conclusions do not align with the Word of God and must be rejected. May God have mercy on anyone misled by the teaching in this book.

32 thoughts on “Pagan Christianity?

  1. “In the beginning God………”

    No religion! No Ritual! No Priests! Just communication!

    We talked to God & walked with God in perfect harmony!

    Then we were infected by a virus, a deadly virus, that wrecked our online communication with our Heavenly Father. And because of this infection, religion was introduced. The first sacrifice (Genesis 3:21). The evil one who infected us, is the “father” of religion. He is the god of this world & has thousands of religions worshiping him. God allowed ONE religion & even that was a disaster (see Exodus 32:7-14; Jeremiah 7 & 8). Only a remnant remained faithful through the centuries! They were the CHOSEN ONES who brought the truth, in spite of terrible odds & RELIGION was one of the biggest handicaps they had to contend with! Only for the prophets of God, who were hated & despised, all would have been lost.

    On the cross of Calvary, He cried, “It is Finished”!

    He had/has restored His elect! He has got rid of the virus & He has connected us to our Heavenly Father (Hebrews 12:18-29; John chapters 14, 15, 16, 17). We don’t need religion anymore! We, who are Christ’s are His temple, His priests & we offer Him spiritual sacrifices (John 4:21-26; 1 Corinthians 3:9-17; 2 Corinthians 6:1-18; 1 Peter 2:1-120).

    Praise God!

    Jesus is my “anti-virus package”, when the evil one reinfects me, I call on Jesus and I claim the Blood & I am cleansed once more.

    Computer terminology is helpful to see how we were infected with sin & how we longed for the Anti-Virus that would cleanse us & help us to be online to our Heavenly Father, without any middle men. Jesus is the ONLY One that can make that connection. All the others who claim to be able to connect you to God, ARE LIARS & DECEIVERS!

    Remember John 14:1-31 and NEVER forget it! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN! IT IS WRITTEN!

    Jesus Christ is the ONLY One to connect you to God!

    ALL the rest are BULL-DUNG!


  2. A really pathetic book. I am quite sure however that the book will fit quite nicely in the best seller list, since the evil Church versus the “organic?” church resonates very well nowadays. Honestly, I don’t think Viola and Barna serve the same God as I do. Theirs is weak, ineffective, and sits around waiting. I didn’t see any mention of the OC addressing the sin of all men, or sin at all. Apparently since God is good we are too?
    A very fine review indeed, thank you.


  3. I have never read their stuff nor do intend to. Like most non-bible church textbooks, there is just enough truth to allow one to swallow the poison. Or, if you prefer, just enough levin to levin the whole lump. They could have made a much better case by simply pointing out the 501(c)(3) marriage between churcianity and state. We had freedom of religion guaranteed by the Constitution, and never needed a corporation. Beyond that, scripture itself certainly points out wolves, hirelings, the deeds of the Nicolaitans, that woman Jezubel, tares, wicked servants, goats, foolish virgins, forsaking the assembling, eating of 2 love feasts, putting ones hand to the plow and turning back, a form of godlyness that denies the power of God, the broad road to destruction, and many more instancess/proofs of doing works in His name that are in fact evil. Add in angels/ministers of light who are dreamers, wandering whats?, clouds without water…
    His body has to meet somewhere regardless. This last part says it all for me. But before I go there, nice work, and still the best avatar on the net Manfred! Keep it up!
    Now consider these words, please?:
    from Chip Brogden
    “For I determined not to know anything
    among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
    Religion seeks to reform a man; the Cross seeks to crucify him.
    Religion may fail to bring about the desired result, but the Cross
    never fails to achieve its end.
    Mankind will pursue morality, virtue, spirituality, even perform
    religious works and good deeds, in order to avoid death on a Cross.
    But there are no wounds, no scars, no evidence of having ever died
    and been made alive unto God. Either a man has never died, or he
    has died and been raised again. You cannot fake a resurrection.

    The Work was complete from the foundation of the earth. Jesus restored to we who believe a perpetual Sabbath Rest! But most are prevented by the Father from entering this Rest due to their unbelief…Let it never be so of us! Stay in the Spirit and die to the flesh. He must increase, and I must decrease…Amen?!?!


  4. I’m saddened by the amount of good reviews this book has on Amazon. As pointed out here, the book does make some legitimate observations, but carries many of its conclusions way too far and can only be upheld if you ignore what the Bible clearly teaches =/.


  5. Manfred, you wrote: On page 247, they emphasize – without references – the fact that the early church met daily, describing what sounds like a commune.

    From Acts 2:
    42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. 43 And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. 44 And all that believed were together, and had all things common; 45 And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. 46 And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, 47 Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.


  6. J. Hall – what is described in Acts is voluntary giving with the recognition that God owned all that anyone had. The giving for the glory of God and the good of His people – where people owned their property and had the freedom to give or not. This was not a circumstance where the one lives for the good of the many, which is what a commune is.


  7. By far, the weakest arguments in this book, and the organic church movement as a whole, is the absence of leadership. In fact, they seem to want to thrive off of unregulated, do-whatever-you-like, inspirational leanings. I see this nowhere in the NT at all. Especially in Paul’s pastoral letters to men like Titus and Timothy.

    So to me, that’s the most dangerous.

    That said, a lot of the other arguments are very, very legitimate. Perhaps more so than you give credit to.

    I found the section on Christian Education very good, as with the review of Tithing. The Sermon section, and that of the Pastor, we way off-base and misrepresentative.


  8. A “pathetic book”? it made me think at least so I cannot describe it as pathetic. I also have my questions on some point therein, but actually much in the book does confirm the Words of Jesus :
    Matt 20:25-26
    Matt 23: 6-11
    John 10:16
    There are however, pagan elements within the church, which we may not have been aware of, whether we like it or not, so we might as well admit it
    and think how do we deal with this?
    Apart from anything we must admit what we read in Acts. (When there were thousands of converts right at the beginning .) When I was a RC I was constantly bombarded with the pagan origins of the RCC, by well meaning believers, much true, but it never seemed to apply in the least even their Prot/Evangelical churches.? Now, I would never denounce historical churches because of their development and obviously neither does God. As long as Jesus and The Kingdom is preached , as the most important.
    I also do not denounce house fellowships, and have heard of many successful ones . I would love to at least experience a “NT Church” myself, but never had the opportunity.


  9. There was no such thing as a churchless Christian in the NT.

    1Co 14:35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. ==> the difference between “at home” and “at church”
    James White on Shepherding: :

    Speaking of (1 Peter 5:1-3).: “Further, Peter speaks of exercising oversight. While we may discuss the exact nature of what this means (and allow for differences given culture and geography and the like) one thing is for certain: [Shepherding as in 1Peter 5:1-3]it cannot be done without a relationship of some kind that involves real life. Obviously, this involved teaching and exhortation and discipline on the part of the elder. He is to be an example. You cannot be an example from a distance. You cannot be an example through a television screen or through the pages of a book. Modeling Christian maturity takes contact, exposure, and a reciprocal relationship that involves at least some kind of personal, communal, corporate context. All of this proves that despite the lack of the specific term membership rolls(something that would have been pretty dangerous at that point in time anyway), the activities of the elders and the form of the church itself requires one to see the necessity of commitment to a particular fellowship identifiable by a particular group of elders. And if these texts were not enough, surely this command to all obedient Christians should be:
    Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17).

    Here the Christian duty of obedience and submission, coupled with a need to make this work on the part of the elders of the congregation one of joy rather than grief, is enjoined upon all. This is not a command to servility, nor does it grant to Christian leaders despotic powers. But it does require believers to know who their leaders are. It is empty to say, “Jesus is my leader!” for the writer to the Hebrews did not say your “Leader” but your “leaders,” plural, and he would distinguish between them and the Great Shepherd only a few lines later (13:20). Nor does it do to claim to be in obedience and submission to men who do not see your face but once or twice a year. How can they give an account when they have no meaningful knowledge of your life, your Christian experience, your growth in godliness? How can they do so when you never attend upon their teaching or encounter them in the congregation?”

    End quote.

    Heb 10:25 Do not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

    Assemblying together of the elect = eclessia. Also see 1Cor. 6 about being called out and separate from the world.

    Heb. 13: 7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

    Heb. 13: 17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.

    A church is defined in Scripture as being in a place (assembly), under the leadership of elders/pastors (exact qualifications are given in Titus 1 and 1 Tim. 3, deacons, and where the doctrine of Scripture is being taught, corporate worship in singing songs, church discipline is carried out, true fellowship based on Truth and Agape is happening, ministry of one’s spiritual gifts, the Lord’s Table, and baptisms of new believers, are going on. Restrictions are also given per 1Cor. 14 for example and 1Cor. 5. and even James 3:1 “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. ” Its not every man for himself as he pleases. Not many are qualified to be teachers of the word, much less elders. Post-Modern thinking is carnal thinking.


  10. Denise said:

    “Heb 10:25 Do not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. ”

    The apostles would either laugh or cry if they saw a bunch of people dressed up, sitting in pews, listening to a “senior pastor” (though Christ forbids the title) preach week after week from a roman catholic pulpit, in a special building called a “church” (though the early translators only used the words twice – to describe pagan temples) with a denominational name on it (though 1 Corinthians forbids this carnality) and the people actually called that “gathering together”… while they stare at the back of each others heads.

    Barna is in error and goes overboard on some points, and really should be avoided because of his relationship with Brian Mclaren, but some of what he says is so true and is a total rebuke to most of the reformed and calvinistic churches in the west. I am glad that many are starting to abandon these anti-biblical and attempt to continue the reformation away from rome and her practices.



  11. Since 90% of churches are state sponsored 501 (c)(3) corporations, and run by state licensed preachers, who collect a “tithe” and give out a tax form, even though the Constitution already gives the freedom, they must all be biblical right Denise, even as they take state NGO funds? We should run right out and “join the church membership” so as not to be unbiblical. Membership has it’s privileges! Yet it was Jesus Christ who called me out of the world and placed me in to His Ekklesia and no man! He alone builds His “church” and He alone calls His undershepherds, and He alone grows His elders. Not state sponsored institutions…And I will never bow to the “beast” Jesus calls us out from! I GET and support the biblical model, Denise, and so do thousands of others who have been called by Him, and we know His voice, and in no way will follow another. True fellowships are few and far between, except when two or three are gathered together in His Name…but that to you would be a forsaking the assembling, even as millions assemble, but not for the better, as the ” “one anothering” is non-existant. Go back to your husband where you belong, and quit preaching to men of God…rather follow your own sermon. You seem to think God gave you the bible as a hammer, you come across quite often as a religious legalistic angry self rightious old church lady…and they will know we are christian by our love Denise, were you annointed of God to hand out the internet equivalent of church discipline? Did you not understand “forsaking” when you said your wedding vows, or were you one who wrote you own? If the blood of rightious Able cried out from the ground, and God heard it, what do you think the sound of 50 million aborted babies (on your church system’s) watch sounds like to Him? Perhaps priorities are a bit askew? Who do you think He is going to hold accountable…
    Revelation 18:4-8
    4And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues. 5For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. 6Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double. 7How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. 8Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.

    Thanks Jim for your stand for truth!


  12. Pagan Christianity is by design a provocative book. What is interesting is to observe the response it provokes from so many people that are utterly unwilling to even consider that many of our most beloved cultural traditions that we call “church” are not only not found in Scripture but are actually antithetical to how the church is shown to function in the New Testament.

    Jim’s comments above are on the money. Sure there are some places where Barna and Viola engage in some hyperbole but that should not dissuade someone from honestly reading and considering their overall point. This book and others like it are a threat to the big business we call church and those who benefit most from that institutionalization are the same people who are most vitriolic in their response. Read Pagan Christianity with your mind and your Bible open and you will find that it is right far more often than it is wrong.


  13. Arthur Sido: Viola has a long track record of error-filled writing. It’s most difficult for anyone who reads to do so with “an open mind” – and I don’t find a biblical warrant for doing that. I do see a biblical warrant to test everything in light of Scripture – so having one’s Bible open when reading any book is a good idea. Having done that with this book, I cannot see how anyone could claim it “is right far more often than it is wrong.”

    The authors’ declared focus is on themselves and their perspective of the church. Wrong focus. They ignore most of what the Bible teaches about the church and how it should be. Wrong focus.

    It has some legitimate observations on some practices in many churches that need to be examined and abandoned. But the book’s recommended course of action and its foundation on the core issues are wrong, wrong, wrong. Where it’s most important, the book is wrong. It is wrong far more than it is right, particularly on the core issues.


  14. Since I am one who left the building 5 years ago, perhaps you can appreciate where I am coming from Arthur Sido. I do agree with Manfred here, and want you and others to consider that since millions have stopped doing church, it creates a whole new market for making merchandise of folks and this perhaps is what the book really aims to do…


  15. Manfred said: ” They ignore most of what the Bible teaches about the church and how it should be. Wrong focus. ”

    Brother, The same could be same about reformed brethren sitting in pews week after week, listening to a “senior” pastor preach from a pulpit.

    In Christ -Jim


  16. flee – of course. There is more than one way to “do church” wrong. The Bible knows nothing of a “senior pastor”. And those who merely sit and listen, without seeking to hear and test are failing as well.


  17. Also, when I said Barna had a friendship with McLaren – I meant to say Viola does (though it wouldnt surprise me if Barna did too). -Jim


  18. Excellent critique. There are so many points Voila makes that are not biblical.

    1Cr 2:14 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.


  19. Thanks for stopping by and for your kind comments. Viola is a very sensitive fella who refuses to allow many comments on his blog if the person disagrees with him.


  20. Thank you for your awesome blog filled with TRUTH that helps me to grow and free me from the false arguments out there-. You really lift up Jesus as Lord here and bring Him all the glory and honor all to the praises of God the Father!. I’m excited to come here -more often Lord willing

    Thanks for your kindness Manfred,

    Ps. about Viola being “sensitive” that’s just suppression because well, maybe he’s been very hurt in the past(dunno). But we have the resurrection power brother to overlook his insults and not fight on his unspiritual level but fight with Prayer for him with spiritual weapons. Just keep looking to Jesus Christ to set people free.


  21. “Excellent critique. There are so many points Voila makes that are not biblical.”

    To balance this out, there are many points he makes that are very biblical and are a great rebuke to the roman catholic spirit that still operates in many reformed churches.



  22. First off .. I wanted to state the I find great value from this site and love the even handed “truthful” tone. This is why I am compelled to submit a response to your review. Like you I was skeptical going in. I had read a scathing critique by your best friend Mark Driscoll and thought to myself I need to dig a little deeper (of course a mega pastor wouldn’t like this book). I then came across a Ben Witherington review and response from Jon Zens that covered pretty much all the points that Mark brought up.. (Highly recommended)

    After reading that response.. I thought it only fair to give the book a shot. I had been wrestling with many of the concerns I had with the Pagan aspects of how we do church. But most importantly I had this desire to find out why our “church” world looks and acts so much different than what we see in the NT. Now I don’t mean the contextual issues that we obviously face today but I mean the deep yearning for our King and dependence on one another in that aspect. To sum it up.. I want to live exegetically in terms of the model that we see in the NT. Orthodoxy without Orthopraxy is what I was wrestling with for the past couple of years.

    I found much more to take out of Pagan Christianity positively than I did negatively. I like you was luke warm about the last chapter as Jesus as our revolutionary. I was expecting a much different tone to wrap up the book than that.

    Let me preface that I was influenced before hand by Steve Atkerson’s ministry that allowed me to kind of see through some of the issues you mentioned and focus on scripture so I can work out my salvation with fear and trembling.

    I think Paul is very clear in 2 Thess 2:13-15 “But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruitsd to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”

    p.s. — I was surprised to see such a scathing critique in light of your move away from celebrating Pagan Holiday’s I would think that a book like this would challenge your thoughts on how we do church as well. (btw that post and preceding comments were a blessing to my wife and I this year as it was our first year not celebrating and had to deal with the fallout from our family as well as our church family.)

    Your Brother in Christ


  23. Many thanks to ya’ll for your comments. I do pray we each stay with the Truth of our Lord’s revealed Word and do not get carried away by our imagination. For the glory of our Lord and the good of His people.


  24. Sad… how divisive and accusatory we have become within ourself.

    My wife, children and I have been involved with the traditional (western) model of church gathering, the home church (cell) structures, and relational assemblies as the Lord coordinated throughout the week, and simply as a family discovering around the kitchen table. To each his own. We’re doing our best (as I’m sure you are) to enter into a deeper relationship with God and those around us. My assessment has been that there are pros and cons within each assembly opportunity.

    Our journey has included reading Pagan Christianity? as well as other provocative books (The Tangible Kingdom, So You Don’t Want To Go To Church Anymore, The Shack, Reimagining Church, A Tale of Three Kings, Decision Making & the Will of God, Love Wins, etc, etc, etc…). Within each exploration, God has revealed more and more of who He is within our world, relationships & life. Sure, I might not agree with every perspective that is presented, but we are all in process discovering who God is (including the authors and the participants within this forum). None of us have a corner on the the market of enlightenment when it comes to understanding our Creator, but each of us is desires to experience His love and beauty…

    Where’s the grace and love within our spiritual family. We’re not going to agree on everything. Heck, my wife, children and I don’t agree on everything. And, it’s fine to disagree, but to claim individuals are unbiblical (or possibly not Christ-followers) is shameful.

    Scripture (yes, it is inspired) is a wonderful tool for drawing closer to the Lord (and helping us attempt to understand who He is and how He relates with us), but the bible (the word of God) isn’t our Lord… Christ Jesus (the Word of God) is our Lord and his Spirit draws us into communion with Himself and one another.

    Relax! With God’s Spirit dwelling inside of us, surely He can help us discern truth from error. And, if He chooses not too, then maybe the subject matter isn’t as important as we are making it out to be.


  25. dewayne – If one reads the Bible, it’s difficult to miss the nearly continual conflict between Christians and the false teachers who call themselves Christians and leaders within the church. They are to be marked off so immature Christians are warned about them, so the wolves do not mislead any more sheep. Also, while it’s good for Christians to assemble in myriad ways, there is no church without called men serving as pastor/elder. That is the structure given us in the Scriptures.


  26. “Also, while it’s good for Christians to assemble in myriad ways, there is no church without called men serving as pastor/elder. That is the structure given us in the Scriptures.”

    Manfred – There are young churches that do not have elders established yet like in Crete. Of course, they need to get elders established as scripture instructs, but to say there is no church without them is 100% wrong. Interesting though, there is no church in scripture with a man called a senior pastor or a clergy laity divide. Viola, though I dont endorse him, is so much closer on this one than most reformed christians in the west. Better to have a little but require more (like established elders), than have an institution that is built on the doctrines of men. One requires growth and maturity the other needs to be leveled and built on the solid foundation that scripture clearly gives us as opposed to roman catholic tradition.

    In Christ -Jim


  27. Jim – Yes, young churches that grew up during the apostolic era did not have elders at first. This was identified as a shortcoming, hence the urgency to appoint them. Churches today in this country have little to no excuse for not having biblical elders.

    Agreed – no rank among elders. The Bible knows nothing of so-called senior pastors, nor clergy/laity. Viola gets some things right, even though, he then turns off the narrow path again, chasing his own agenda.


  28. “Churches today in this country have little to no excuse for not having biblical elders.”

    I agree with everything you say but would put a couplr of **’s at this point with a lengthy foot note. There are many brethren fleeing the religous institutions and meeting in homes, feeding the poor, preaching the Gospel without elders appointed yet. They may lack something needed for a seaon but they are further along in the kingdom than most they left behind.

    In Christ -Jim


  29. I thought the book was right on the mark on most of its points. I would highly recommend it to most Christians who feel deep within their spirit that something is wrong with what some have come to call “Churchianity.” That is the belief in a carnal organized system rather than a Living God who is more than able to lead his true followers without the need for systems and organizations. As someone who was heavily involved in my church I always felt like something was deeply wrong. This book did in fact help confirm that I wasn’t just “feeling” these things but that many of our practices are in fact not quite right Biblically. Sorry think “church” as it is is great but, meeting once a week to hear the same person talk about God and calling it spirituality, is akin to me going to the gym once a week to watch someone else workout and calling it exercise. Great book. But as always use discernment. There’s good information and Biblical truth to be found within.



  30. This book has destroyed a flourishing house church, marriage and family.
    After two leaders read PC, they urged/demanded almost 50 others to do the same. Several weeks later they were saying that anyone who goes to a church in a building is in sin. They again urged others to tell their friends and family the same.
    And should have no fellowship with them.

    Needless to say, we dwindled down to a handful of people. The house church became a revolving door for disgruntled christians, who shared there horror stories about the IC Sunday after Sunday. 5 to 6 different groups have gone through this house church gathering. Initially they felt it was a place they could grow and see authentic christianity. However, it became a place of no leadership, no grace and no love. They could hardly wait to leave. Most of which are back at IC and serving God in a deeper and sweeter way.

    The stress of all this caused a long term separation. And grown children to want nothing to do with Christ.

    I love Jesus and desire to serve Him in Spirit and truth. GOD HELP US!


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