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Have you ever wondered why we Christians do what we do for church every Sunday morning? Why do we “dress up” for church? Why does the pastor preach a sermon each week? Why do we have pews, steeples, and choirs? This ground-breaking book, now in affordable softcover, makes an unsettling proposal: most of what Christians do in present-day churches is rooted, not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles. Coauthors Frank Viola and George Barna support their...
Have you ever wondered why we Christians do what we do for church every Sunday morning? Why do we “dress up” for church? Why does the pastor preach a sermon each week? Why do we have pews, steeples, and choirs? This ground-breaking book, now in affordable softcover, makes an unsettling proposal: most of what Christians do in present-day churches is rooted, not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles. Coauthors Frank Viola and George Barna support their thesis with compelling historical evidence and extensive footnotes that document the origins of modern Christian church practices. In the process, the authors uncover the problems that emerge when the church functions more like a business organization than the living organism it was created to be. As you reconsider Christ's revolutionary plan for his church—to be the head of a fully functioning body in which all believers play an active role—you'll be challenged to decide whether you can ever do church the same way again. Tyndale House Publishers
"The unexamined life is not worth living." -SOCRATES
"WE DO EVERYTHING by the Word of God! The New Testament is our guide for faith and practice! We live ... and we die ... by this Book!"
These were the words that thundered forth from the mouth of Pastor Farley as he delivered his Sunday morning sermon. Winchester Spudchecker, a member of Pastor Farley's church, had heard them dozens of times before. But this time it was different. Dressed in his blue suit, frozen in the back pew with his wife, Trudy, Winchester stared at the ceiling as Pastor Farley continued talking about "doing everything by the sacred Book."
One hour before Pastor Farley began his sermon, Winchester had had a fuming fight with Trudy. This was a common occurrence as Winchester, Trudy, and their three daughters, Felicia, Gertrude, and Zanobia, got ready for church on Sunday morning.
His mind began replaying the event....
"Truuudyy! Why aren't the kids ready? We're always late! Why can't you ever get them prepared on time?" Winchester yelled as he anxiously glanced at the clock.
Trudy's response was typical. "If you ever thought to help me this wouldn't happen all the time! Why don't you start giving me a hand in this house?" The argument went back and forth until Winchester turned on the children: "Zanobia Spudchecker! ... Why can't you respect us enough to get ready on time? ... Felicia, how many times do I have to tell you to turn off your PlayStation before 9 a.m.?" Hearing the commotion, Gertrude burst into tears.
Wearing their Sunday best, the Spudchecker family finally drove to church at breakneck speed. (Winchester hated to be late and had received three speeding tickets this past year-all given to him on Sunday mornings!)
As they raced to the church building, the silence in the car was deafening. Winchester was steaming. Trudy was sulking. With heads down, the three Spudchecker daughters were trying to prepare their minds for something they hated ... another long hour of Sunday school!
As they pulled in to the church parking lot, Winchester and Trudy gracefully exited the car, sporting large smiles. They held each other arm in arm and greeted their fellow church members, chuckling and putting on the pretense that all was well. Felicia, Gertrude, and Zanobia followed their parents with chins pointed upward.
These were the fresh yet painful memories that coursed through Winchester's mind that Sunday morning as Pastor Farley continued his sermon. Brooding in self-condemnation, Winchester began to ask himself some searching questions: Why am I dressed up prim and proper looking like a good Christian when I acted like a heathen just an hour ago? ... I wonder how many other families had this same pitiful experience this morning? Yet we're all smelling nice and looking pretty for God.
Winchester was a bit shocked by these thoughts. Such questions had never before entered his consciousness.
As he peeked over to see Pastor Farley's wife and children sitting prim and proper on the front pew, Winchester mused to himself: I wonder if Pastor Farley screamed at his wife and kids this morning? Hmmm ...
Winchester's mind continued to race in this direction as he watched Pastor Farley pound the pulpit for emphasis and raise his Bible with his right hand. "We at First Bible New Testament Community Church do everything by this Book! Everything! This is the Word of God, and we cannot stray from it ... not even one millimeter!"
Suddenly Winchester had another new thought: I don't remember reading anywhere in the Bible that Christians are supposed to dress up to go to church. Is that by the Book?
This single thought unleashed a torrent of other barbed questions. As scores of frozen pew sitters filled his horizon, Winchester continued to ponder similar new questions. Questions that no Christian is supposed to ask. Questions like:
Is sitting in this uncushioned pew, staring at the back of twelve rows of heads for forty-five minutes, doing things by the Book? Why do we spend so much money to maintain this building when we're here only twice a week for a few hours? Why is half the congregation barely awake when Pastor Farley preaches? Why do my kids hate Sunday school? Why do we go through this same predictable, yawn-inspiring ritual every Sunday morning? Why am I going to church when it bores me to tears and does nothing for me spiritually? Why do I wear this uncomfortable necktie every Sunday morning when all it seems to do is cut off blood circulation to my brain?
Winchester felt unclean and sacrilegious to ask such things. Yet something was happening inside of him that compelled him to doubt his entire church experience. These thoughts had been lying dormant in Winchester's subconscious for years. Today, they surfaced.
Interestingly, the questions Winchester had that day are questions that never enter the conscious thinking of most Christians. Yet the sober reality is that Winchester's eyes had been opened.
As startling as it may sound, almost everything that is done in our contemporary churches has no basis in the Bible. As pastors preach from their pulpits about being "biblical" and following the "pure Word of God," their words betray them. The truth is that precious little that is observed today in contemporary Christianity maps to anything found in the first-century church.
QUESTIONS WE NEVER THINK TO ASK
Socrates (470-399 BC) is considered by some historians to be the father of philosophy. Born and raised in Athens, his custom was to go about the town relentlessly raising questions and analyzing the popular views of his day. Socrates believed that truth is found by dialoguing extensively about an issue and relentlessly questioning it. This method is known as dialectic or "the Socratic method." He thought freely on matters that his fellow Athenians felt were closed for discussion.
Socrates' habit of pelting people with searching questions and roping them into critical dialogues about their accepted customs eventually got him killed. His incessant questioning of tightly held traditions provoked the leaders of Athens to charge him with "corrupting the youth." As a result, they put Socrates to death. A clear message was sent to his fellow Athenians: All who question the established customs will meet the same fate!
Socrates was not the only provocateur to reap severe reprisal for his nonconformity: Isaiah was sawn in half, John the Baptist was beheaded, and Jesus was crucified. Not to mention the thousands of Christians who have been tortured and martyred through the centuries by the institutional church because they dared to challenge its teachings.
As Christians, we are taught by our leaders to believe certain ideas and behave in certain ways. We are also encouraged to read our Bibles. But we are conditioned to read the Bible with the lens handed to us by the Christian tradition to which we belong. We are taught to obey our denomination (or movement) and never to challenge what it teaches.
(At this moment, all the rebellious hearts are applauding and are plotting to wield the above paragraphs to wreak havoc in their churches. If that is you, dear rebellious heart, you have missed our point by a considerable distance. We do not stand with you. Our advice: Either leave your church quietly, refusing to cause division, or be at peace with it. There is a vast gulf between rebellion and taking a stand for what is true.)
If the truth be told, we Christians never seem to ask why we do what we do. Instead, we blithely carry out our religious traditions without asking where they came from. Most Christians who claim to uphold the integrity of God's Word have never sought to see if what they do every Sunday has any scriptural backing. How do we know this? Because if they did, it would lead them to some very disturbing conclusions that would compel them by conscience to forever abandon what they are doing.
Strikingly, contemporary church thought and practice have been influenced far more by postbiblical historical events than by New Testament imperatives and examples. Yet most Christians are not conscious of this influence. Nor are they aware that it has created a slew of cherished, calcified, humanly devised traditions-all of which are routinely passed off to us as "Christian."
A TERRIFYING INVITATION
We now invite you to walk with us on an untrodden path. It is a terrifying journey where you will be forced to ask questions that probably have never entered your conscious thoughts. Tough questions. Nagging questions. Even frightening questions. And you will be faced squarely with the disturbing answers. Yet those answers will lead you face-to-face with some of the richest truths a Christian can discover.
As you read through the following pages, you may be surprised to discover that a great deal of what we Christians do for Sunday morning church did not come from Jesus Christ, the apostles, or the Scriptures. Nor did it come from Judaism. After the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, Judaic Christianity waned in numbers and power. Gentile Christianity dominated, and the new faith began to absorb Greco-Roman philosophy and ritual. Judaic Christianity survived for five centuries in the little group of Syriac Christians called Ebionim, but their influence was not very widespread. According to Shirley J. Case, "Not only was the social environment of the Christian movement largely Gentile well before the end of the first century, but it had severed almost any earlier bonds of social contact with the Jewish Christians of Palestine.... By the year 100, Christianity is mainly a Gentile religious movement ... living together in a common Gentile social environment."
Strikingly, much of what we do for "church" was lifted directly out of pagan culture in the postapostolic period. (Legend tells us the last surviving apostle, John, died around AD 100.) According to Paul F. Bradshaw, fourth-century Christianity "absorbed and Christianized pagan religious ideas and practices, seeing itself as the fulfillment to which earlier religions had dimly pointed." While today we often use the word pagan to describe those who claim no religion whatsoever, to the early Christians, pagans were those polytheists who followed the gods of the Roman Empire. Paganism dominated the Roman Empire until the fourth century, and many of its elements were absorbed by Christians in the first half of the first millennium, particularly during the Constantinian and early post-Constantinian eras (324 to 600). Two other significant periods from which many of our current church practices originate were the Reformation era (sixteenth century) and the Revivalist era (eighteenth and nineteenth centuries).
Chapters 2 through 10 each trace an accepted traditional church practice. Each chapter tells the story of where this practice came from. But more importantly, it explains how this practice stifles the practical headship of Jesus Christ and hampers the functioning of His body.
Warning: If you are unwilling to have your Christianity seriously examined, do not read beyond this page. Give this book to Goodwill immediately! Spare yourself the trouble of having your Christian life turned upside down.
However, if you choose to "take the red pill" and be shown "how deep the rabbit hole goes" ... if you want to learn the true story of where your Christian practices came from ... if you are willing to have the curtain pulled back on the contemporary church and its traditional presuppositions fiercely challenged ... then you will find this work to be disturbing, enlightening, and possibly life changing.
Put another way, if you are a Christian in the institutional church who takes the New Testament seriously, what you are about to read may lead to a crisis of conscience. For you will be confronted by unmovable historical fact.
On the other hand, if you happen to be one of those people who gathers with other Christians outside the pale of institutional Christianity, you will discover afresh that not only is Scripture on your side-but history stands with you as well.
* delving DEEPER
1. I don't see how the Spudcheckers' family squabbles before church had anything to do with church itself-other than frustrating Winchester and making him cynical about everything that went on at his church. Why did you lead off the book with this story?
You're right-Winchester's Sunday morning troubles were what put him in the frame of mind to question church practices he normally sat through without giving any thought to at all. The story was simply a humorous way to illustrate how scores of Christians go through the motions on Sunday morning without considering why they do what they do.
2. While you say that contemporary church practice has been influenced far more by postbiblical historical events than New Testament principles, isn't it true that there aren't many specifics in the Gospels, Acts, or Paul's letters about church practice? What Scriptures would you point to as outlining what Christians should do when gathering for worship?
The New Testament actually includes many details about how the early Christians gathered. For example, we know that the early church met in homes for their regular church meetings (Acts 20:20; Romans 16:3, 5; 1 Corinthians 16:19). They took the Lord's Supper as a full meal (1 Corinthians 11:21-34). Their church gatherings were open and participatory (1 Corinthians 14:26; Hebrews 10:24-25). Spiritual gifts were employed by each member (1 Corinthians 12-14). They genuinely saw themselves as family and acted accordingly (Galatians 6:10; 1 Timothy 5:1-2; Romans 12:5; Ephesians 4:15; Romans 12:13; 1 Corinthians 12:25-26; 2 Corinthians 8:12-15). They had a plurality of elders to oversee the community (Acts 20:17, 28-29; 1 Timothy 1:5-7). They were established and aided by itinerant apostolic workers (Acts 13-21; all the apostolic letters). They were fully united and did not denominate themselves into separate organizations in the same city (Acts 8:1, 13:1, 18:22; Romans 16:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:1). They did not use honorific titles (Matthew 23:8-12). They did not organize themselves hierarchically (Matthew 20:25-28; Luke 22:25-26).
Offering a complete biblical basis for these practices and explaining why they should be emulated today is beyond the scope of this book. One book that does so is Paul's Idea of Community by Robert Banks (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1994). I (Frank) also treat this subject comprehensively in the book Reimagining Church (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook), which will be released in summer 2008.
Excerpted from PAGAN CHRISTIANITY? by FRANK VIOLA GEORGE BARNA Copyright © 2008 by Frank Viola and George Barna. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted February 9, 2008
¿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 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 conversati
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Posted July 14, 2008
Reviewed by: Nicholas Andrew Depew, author of: 'Character in Transition ¿ A Guide to Not Burning the Bridge.' 'Pagan Christianity?' is a must read for anyone who is sincere about seeking truth and who is willing to ask difficult questions regarding matters of the practice of faith. Having personally authored a book that examines both the right and wrong ways to handle personal and professional transitions, I can attest that within 'Pagan Christianity?,' the authors are not trying to advocate the onset of a mass civil war as some reviewers would lead you believe. Instead, they are simply presenting the substantiated facts to validate those who have chosen a route that leads beyond the typical confines of tradition. They are attempting to open up a dialogue for greater freedom, purpose, and participation. As the authors assert on page five in reference to people reading their Bibles through conditioned lenses and never challenging denominations or what they teach, ¿At this moment, all the rebellious hearts are applauding and are plotting to wield the above paragraphs to wreak havoc in their churches. If that is you, dear rebellious heart, you have missed our point by a considerable distance. We do not stand with you. Our advice: Either leave your church quietly, refusing to cause division, or be at peace with it. There is a vast gulf between rebellion and taking a stand for what is true.¿ It is also worthy to note what author George Barna writes in his introduction on page xxx, ¿If you are skeptical ¿ and we encourage healthy skepticism that leads to fact-finding and truth ¿ then commit yourself to identifying exactly what did happen over the course of time. This matters!¿ Is this book for everyone? The answer is, 'No.' To continue 'The Matrix' analogy 'only slightly modified for proper context', ¿Most people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.¿ Nevertheless, if you are someone who has questioned why churches are the way they are, why nothing ever seems to change, or why the hype of their varying prospects and programs is often short lived with things rarely coming to fruition, this book can definitely point you in the right direction for finding some of those long-time, elusive answers. For those who may be just a little curious about 'Pagan Christianity?,' but who are not certain about taking the plunge, I would kindly and benignly offer the following as food for thought: Insanity has often been defined as doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results.
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Posted November 22, 2010
Posted January 30, 2010
This book doesn't provide information that isn't available from many other sources, but what it does do is pull it together in one location. The book may have had a different title if the goal was to get the most Christians to read as possible. What many suspect is proven by history and Frank does an excellent job in putting the information together in a readable manner. I recommend this book for anyone that wants the facts instead of the "doctrines of men that make the word of no effect".
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Posted November 4, 2011
The history part of the book is very well put together and I give it four stars for that part of the book. The author does have an agenda in the book to promote house churches. If you can get passed that and learn the history of the evolution of church worship then you will enjoy the book and be more learned at the end.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 5, 2010
I FOUND THIS BOOK TO BE INTERESTING IN GIVING QUICK DETAILS INTO THE BEGINNINGS OF CHURCH FUNCTION. THE BOOK DEALS WITH THE ISSUES OF THE CONTEMPORARY CHURCH AS WE KNOW IT TODAY.
THE SECTION ON TITHES AND OFFERINGS WAS NOT ACCURATE. THE TITHE WAS NOT ONLY FOR THE LEVITES BUT WERE ALSO FOR THE POOR (DEUT. 14:29)-DESCRIBES THE DOUBLE TITHE. IN OTHER WORDS, TITHING IS STILL AN ESSENTIAL PART OF CHRISTIANITY.
OVERALL...THE BOOK WAS VERY INTERESTING AS WELL AS TRUSTWORTHY EXCEPT FOR THE TITHING ISSUE.
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Posted July 23, 2008
This has been the most informative book on the history of church I've ever seen. We have been 'going to church' all these years and yet we have had NO clue of its Biblical basis. After going to an institutional church for nearly 40 years, I will never see myself going back. Thank you for all of your research and hard work that has given people like myself a reason to question doing things like we always have.
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Posted January 6, 2009
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