Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity

Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity

by Frank Viola


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Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity by Frank Viola

Author Frank Viola gives readers language for all they knew was missing in their modern church experience. He believes that many of today's congregations have shifted from God's original intent for the church. As a prominent leader of the house church movement, Frank is at the forefront of a revolution sweeping through the body of Christ. A change that is challenging the spiritual status quo and redefining the very nature of church. A movement inspired by the divine design for authenticity community. A fresh concept rooted in ancient history and in God Himself.

Join Frank as he shares God's original intent for the church, where the body of Christ is an organic, living, breathing organism. A church that is free of convention, formed by spiritual intimacy, and unbound by four walls.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781434768759
Publisher: David C Cook
Publication date: 08/01/2008
Series: Blank Series
Edition description: New
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 375,633
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Frank Viola is an internationally renowned speaker and author. He is a leading voice of the house church movement, a group of believers that seeks to reconnect with the original model of Christian fellowship. Frank lives with his family in Gainesville, Florida.

Read an Excerpt



By Frank Viola

David C. Cook

Copyright © 2008 Frank Viola
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4347-6653-3



A truth's initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed. It wasn't the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn't flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.

—Dresden James

The ministry of the Holy Spirit has ever been to reveal Jesus Christ, and revealing Him, to conform everything to Him. No human genius can do this. We cannot obtain anything in our New Testament as the result of human study, research, or reason. It is all the Holy Spirit's revelation of Jesus Christ. Ours is to seek continually to see Him by the Spirit, and we shall know that He—not a paper-pattern—is the Pattern, the Order, the Form. It is all a Person who is the sum of all purpose and ways. Everything [in the early church] then was the free and spontaneous movement of the Holy Spirit, and He did it in full view of the Pattern—God's Son.

—T. Austin-Sparks

The New Testament uses many images to depict the church. Significantly, all of these images are living entities: a body, a bride, a family, one new man, a living temple made up of living stones, a vineyard, a field, an army, a city, etc.

Each image teaches us that the church is a living organism rather than an institutional organization. Few Christians today would disagree with that statement. But what does it mean in practice? And do we really believe it?

The church we read about in the New Testament was "organic." By that I mean it was born from and sustained by spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions, controlled by human hierarchy, shaped by lifeless rituals, and held together by religious programs.

To use an illustration, if I try to create an orange in a laboratory, the lab- created orange would not be organic. But if I planted an orange seed into the ground and it produced an orange tree, the tree would be organic.

In the same way, whenever we sin-scarred mortals try to create a church the same way we would start a business corporation, we are defying the organic principle of church life. An organic church is one that is naturally produced when a group of people have encountered Jesus Christ in reality (external ecclesiastical props being unnecessary), and the DNA of the church is free to work without hindrance.

To put it in a sentence, organic church life is not a theater with a script; it's a gathered community that lives by divine life. By contrast, the modern institutional church operates on the same organizational principles that run corporate America.

The DNA of the Church

All life forms have a DNA—a genetic code. DNA gives each life form a specific expression. For example, the instructions to build your physical body are encoded in your DNA. Your DNA largely determines your physical and psychological traits.

If the church is truly organic, that means that it, too, has a DNA—a spiritual DNA. Where do we discover the DNA of the church? I submit that we can learn a great deal about it by looking into God Himself.

We Christians uniquely proclaim a triune God. In the words of the Athanasian Creed, "The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, yet there are not three gods, but one God." Classic Christianity teaches that God is a fellowship of three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. The Godhead is a Community of three, or a "Trinity" as theologians call it. Theologian Stanley Grenz writes,

God's triune nature means that God is social or relational—God is the "social Trinity." And for this reason, we can say that God is "community." God is the community of the Father, Son, and Spirit, who enjoy perfect and eternal fellowship.

For many years, I heard precise teachings on the doctrine of the Trinity. But they never had any practical application in my life. I found them highly abstract and impractical.

Later, I discovered that understanding the activity within the triune God was the key to grasping everything in the Christian life—including the church. As Eugene Peterson has said, "Trinity is the most comprehensive and integrative framework that we have for understanding and participating in the Christian life."

Other theologians agree. Catherine LaCunga says, "The doctrine of the Trinity is ultimately a practical doctrine with radical consequences for the Christian life."

In the same vein, Miroslav Volf writes, "The triune God stands at the beginning and at the end of the Christian pilgrimage and, therefore, at the center of Christian faith."

The biblical teaching of the Trinity is not an exposition about the abstract design of God. Instead, it teaches us about God's nature and how it operates in Christian community. As such, it shouldn't be relegated to an endnote to the gospel. Rather, it should shape the Christian life and inform the practice of the church.

Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus makes many statements that give us insight into His relationship with His Father. He says, "Father ... you loved me before the creation of the world" (John 17:24). He also said, "The world must learn that I love the Father" (John 14:31) From these two texts alone, we learn that there was a mutual love flowing within the Godhead before the foundation of the world.

In the opening chapters of Genesis, we discover that there is also fellowship within the Godhead: "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness" (Gen. 1:26). Here we see the triune God taking counsel and planning.

The gospel of John teaches us further about the nature of the Godhead. Namely, that the Son lives by the life of the Father (5:26; 6:57). The Son shares and expresses the glory of the Father (13:31–32; 17:4–5). The Son lives within the Father and the Father lives within the Son (1:18; 14:10). The Son lives in complete dependence upon the Father (5:19). The Son reflects the Father in His words and deeds (12:49; 14:9). The Father glorifies the Son (1:14; 8:50, 54; 12:23; 16:14; 17:1, 5, 22, 24), and the Son exalts the Father (7:18; 14:13; 17:1, 4; 20:17)

Within the triune God we discover mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual honor, mutual submission, mutual dwelling, and authentic community. In the Godhead there exists an eternal, complementary, and reciprocal interchange of divine life, divine love, and divine fellowship.

Amazingly, this same relationship has been transposed from the divine key into the human key. The passage has moved from the Father to the Son, from the Son to the church (John 6:57; 15:9; 20:21). It has moved from the eternal God in the heavenlies to the church on earth, the body of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The church is an organic extension of the triune God. It was conceived in Christ before time (Eph. 1:4–5) and born on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1ff.).

Properly conceived, the church is the gathered community that shares God's life and expresses it in the earth. Put another way, the church is the earthly image of the triune God (Eph. 1:22–23).

Because the church is organic, it has a natural expression. Accordingly, when a group of Christians follows their spiritual DNA, they will gather in a way that matches the DNA of the triune God—for they possess the same life that God Himself possesses. (While we Christians are by no means divine, we have been privileged to be "partakers of the divine nature"—2 Peter 1:4 NASB.)

Consequently, the DNA of the church is marked by the very traits that we find in the triune God. Particularly, mutual love, mutual fellowship, mutual dependence, mutual honor, mutual submission, mutual dwelling, and authentic community. Put another way, the headwaters of the church are found in the Godhead. It is for this reason that Stanley Grenz could say, "The ultimate basis for our understanding of the church lies in its relationship to the nature of the triune God Himself."

Theologian Kevin Giles echoes this thought when he says that the Trinity is the "model on which ecclesiology should be formulated. On this premise, the inner life of the divine Trinity provides a pattern, a model, an echo, or an icon of the Christian communal existence in the world."

Simply put, the Trinity is the paradigm for the church's native expression. Beloved theologian Shirley Guthrie unfolds this concept by describing the relational nature of the Godhead:

The oneness of God is not the oneness of a distinct, self-contained individual; it is the unity of a community of persons who love each other and live together in harmony.... They are what they are only in relationship with one another.... There is no solitary person separated from the others; no above and below; no first, second, third in importance; no ruling and controlling and being ruled and controlled; no position of privilege to be maintained over against others; no question of conflict concerning who is in charge; no need to assert independence and authority of one at the expense of the others. Now there is only fellowship and communion of equals who share all that they are and have in their communion with each other, each living with and for the others in mutual openness, self-giving love, and support; each free not from but for the others. That is how Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are related in the inner circle of the Godhead.

Look again at the triune God. And notice what's absent. There's an absence of command-style leadership. There's an absence of hierarchical structures. There's an absence of passive spectatorship. There's an absence of one-upmanship. And there's an absence of religious rituals and programs.

(Some have suggested that there is a graded hierarchy within the Trinity. But this view is scripturally and historically untenable. See pages 295–96 for details.)

Command-style relationships, hierarchy, passive spectatorship, one-upmanship, religious programs, etc. were created by fallen humans. And they run contrary to the DNA of the triune God as well as the DNA of the church. Sadly, however, after the death of the apostles, these practices were adopted, baptized, and brought into the Christian family. Today, they have become the central features of the institutional church.

Four Paradigms for Church Restoration

There are four chief paradigms for reimagining the church today. They are as follows:

Biblical Blueprintism. Those who advocate this paradigm champion the idea that the New Testament contains a meticulous blueprint for church practice. To their minds, we simply need to tease out of the Bible the proper blueprint and mimic it. But as I shall argue in this book, the New Testament contains no such blueprint for church practice. Neither does it contain a list of rules and regulations for Christians to follow. As New Testament scholar F. F. Bruce puts it, "In applying the New Testament text to our own situation, we need not treat it as the scribes of our Lord's day treated the Old Testament. We should not turn what were meant to be guiding lines for worshippers in one situation into laws binding for all time."

Cultural Adaptability. Those who advocate this paradigm are quick to point out that human culture changes over time. The church of the first century adapted to its culture. Today, the culture is very different. So the church must adapt to its present culture. Champions of this view say that in every age the church reinvents itself to adapt to the current culture.

This paradigm is based on the idea of "contextualization." Contextualization is the theological method that tries to translate the biblical message into different cultural settings.

Contextualization is certainly needed when we apply Scripture. It's because of contextualization that we don't wear sandals, togas, speak Greek, and use horses for transportation.

However, some people wave the contextualization flag to the point of overcontextualizing the Scriptures until they have no present relevance at all. Overcontextualization eats up the biblical text to where it disappears entirely. And we are left to create the church after our own image.

F. F. Bruce warns against the dangers of extreme contextualization, saying,

The restatement of the gospel in a new idiom is necessary in every generation—as necessary as its translation into new languages. [But] in too much that passes for restatement of the gospel, the gospel itself disappears, and the resultant product is what Paul would have called 'another gospel which in fact is no gospel at all' (Gal. 1:6f.). When the Christian message is so thoroughly accommodated to the prevalent climate of opinion that it becomes one more expression of that climate of opinion, it is no longer the Christian message.

I've met many advocates of the cultural adaptability paradigm. And I've been fascinated to discover that every one of them believes that there are normative church practices that transcend time and culture. For instance, most Christians who hold to the cultural adaptability paradigm would find the suggestion that we should abandon water baptism and change the Lord's Supper from bread and wine to french fries and mugs of root beer to be offensive. (Those under ten years old may be the exception!)

The critical question then becomes which practices of the New Testament church are solely descriptive and which are normative? Or to put it another way, which are tied to the culture of the first century and which are reflections of the unchanging nature and identity of the church?

The dangers of overcontextualization are real, and not a few Christian leaders have been unwittingly guilty of it. We must be careful not to hold to biblical principles unconsciously when they suit our purposes, but abandon them in the name of "contextualization" when they do not.

The fact of the matter is, virtually all Christians derive their ideas of the Christian life and church life from the Bible. (Ironically, those who claim that they do not nearly always end up turning to the teachings of Jesus or Paul to support or condemn a particular idea or practice.) The early church was not perfect. If you doubt that, just read 1 Corinthians. So romanticizing the early Christians as if they were flawless is a mistake.

On the other hand, the first-century church was the church that Jesus and the apostles founded. And insofar as the first-century communities were fleshing out the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, they can teach us a great deal. To ignore them as irrelevant for our time is a gross mistake. In the words of J. B. Phillips,

The great difference between present-day Christianity and that of which we read in these [the New Testament] letters is that to us it is primarily a performance; to them it was a real experience. We are apt to reduce the Christian religion to a code, or at best a rule of heart and life. To these men it is quite plainly the invasion of their lives by a new quality of life altogether.

Postchurch Christianity. This paradigm is rooted in the attempt to practice Christianity without belonging to an identifiable community that regularly meets for worship, prayer, fellowship, and mutual edification. Advocates claim that spontaneous social interaction (like having coffee at Starbucks whenever they wish) and personal friendships embody the New Testament meaning of "church." Those who hold to this paradigm believe in an amorphous, nebulous, phantom church.

Such a concept is disconnected with what we find in the New Testament. The first-century churches were locatable, identifiable, visitable communities that met regularly in a particular locale. For this reason, Paul could write a letter to these identifiable communities (local churches) with some definite idea of who would be present to hear it (Rom. 16). He would also have a good idea of when they gathered (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 14) and the struggles they experienced in their life together (Rom. 12—14; 1 Cor. 1–8). While unbiblical in its viewpoint, the postchurch paradigm appears to be an expression of the contemporary desire for intimacy without commitment.


Excerpted from REIMAGINING CHURCH by Frank Viola. Copyright © 2008 Frank Viola. Excerpted by permission of David C. Cook.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface     11
Introduction: Toward a New Kind of Church     15
Community and Gatherings
Reimagining the Church as an Organism     31
Reimagining the Church Meeting     49
Reimagining the Lord's Supper     73
Reimagining the Gathering Place     83
Reimagining the Family of God     97
Reimagining Church Unity     117
Church Practice and God's Eternal Purpose     135
Leadership and Accountability
Reimagining Leadership     153
Reimagining Oversight     167
Reimagining Decision-Making     189
Reimagining Spiritual Covering     201
Reimagining Authority and Submission     207
Reimagining Denominational Covering     229
Reimagining the Apostolic Tradition     241
Where Do We Go from Here?     255
Objections and Responses about Leadership     281
Bibliography     307
Notes     311

What People are Saying About This

John White

"If Pagan Christianity? exposes the reality that much of our current church practice has little basis in the Bible, Reimagining Church takes the next step to establish what truly biblical church life looks like. With the inner life of the Trinity as the starting point, Viola paints an amazing picture of organic church life."--(John White, community facilitator, LK10: A Community of Practice for Church Planters)

Alan Hirsch

"True to form, this book contains a thoroughly consistent critique of prevailing forms of church. However, in Reimagining Church, Frank Viola also presents a positive vision of what the church can become if we truly reembraced more organic, and less institutional, forms of church. This is a no holds barred prophetic vision for the church in the twenty-first Century."--(Alan Hirsch, author of The Forgotten Ways and The Shaping of Things To Come)

Jon Zens

The body of Christ has been stifled by human traditions for far too long. Reimagining Church charts a fresh course for the church that recovers the simplicity of Christ and listens seriously to what the voice of the Great Shepherd is saying to His people."--(Jon Zens, editor, Searching Together and author of A Church Building Every ½ Mile: What Makes American Christianity Tick?

Shane Claiborne

"Dissent is a gift to the Church. It is the imagination of the prophets that continually call us back to our identity as the peculiar people of God. May Viola's words challenge us to become the change that we want to see in the Church ... and not to settle for anything less than God's dream for Her."--(Shane Claiborne, author of The Irresistible Revolution, activist, and recovering sinner)

Leonard Sweet

In Reimagining Church, Frank Viola is at the top of his game, showing a serene, soaring mastery of the theology of church as organism rather than organization."--(Leonard Sweet, author of Soul Tsunami, Soul Salsa, and 11)

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Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In ¿Reimagining Church,¿ Frank Viola has crafted a powerful and engaging book that combines theological precision, spiritual depth, and practical demonstrations which together offer a new vision of church for the twenty-first century. No one can read this book without discovering something fresh about the many texts in the New Testament that describe church and leadership as well as being provoked to look at both in an entirely new way. I found the book's consistent emphasis on the orthodox teaching of the trinitarian nature of God and how it relates to church practices to be refreshing and insightful. The experiential stories the author presents after each chapter make this a functionally practical book as well as a theological savvy one. Viola deals with such topics as the role of culture on church practice, the so called doctrine of 'covering' and its abuses, the different models of church leadership, apostolic tradition, God's eternal mission and purpose, recent movements that have sought to reform the church, and the organic nature of church ¿ all in a brilliantly provocative and winsome manner. The first section of the book deals with Community and Gatherings. Here the church is beautifully portrayed as a living organism. An explanation of how this bears upon each dimension of its community life and meetings follows. The second section deals with Leadership and Accountability. A fresh model of leadership and discipleship is worked out, one that I¿ve not seen before in other books. In the end, there is an appendix that answers every conceivable objection to the book's arguments. The appendix alone is worth the price of the book in my opinion. ¿Reimagining Church¿ is very comprehensive in what it deals with, yet it is easy to read. Those two elements are rare to find in a non-fiction book today. I've read many books on mission, church renewal, discipleship, and ecclesiology, and this one is among the very best. Like a skilled instructor, Viola gently walks the reader through his line of thinking point by point. The book is friendly, thought-provoking, persuasive and inspiring. It forces the reader think in new ways on almost every page. Each chapter builds on the other as an attractive picture of church life based in the nature of God, New Testament teachings, and life experience is sketched out. Whether or not you've read the deconstructive prequel, 'Pagan Christianity?', this is a must-read book. ¿Reimagining Church¿ constructively develops the many themes discussed in the first book, but it goes much further, making it a book that stands on its own. Since I have been a Christian I have always heard that the church is an organism, but this is the first book I have read that develops the implications of that statement and shows why it is relevant to every follower of Jesus. Some books are timeless in the issues they address. Others are timely. 'Reimagining Church' is one of those rare books that are both.
Guest More than 1 year ago
¿Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity¿ by Frank Viola, is sure to send every ¿clergy-laity¿ member scratching around for a biblical defense to the claims made against the 1700 year old institutional form of church. And according to Viola, they will not find a ¿shred of biblical warrant¿ to support its existence. At last, the sequel to the highly controversial book, ¿Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices,¿ has arrived! And it is for certain that not all will applaud its arrival to the bookstore. No doubt, many readers are still trying to grapple with the favorable recognition and popularity of the first book to this series of 4 books on organic Christianity. The first time, Viola had the help of George Barna and Tyndale in gaining a few listening ears. Now that he has the attention of no small number of readers¿ he has set off to propose serious answers to an audience that is filled with sincere questions. And ¿Reimgaining Church¿ will not leave readers dissatisfied in their quest for the normal Christian church life. In fact, it will leave them hungering for authenticity in the New Testament fashion. As the saying goes, ¿You can¿t judge a book by its cover.¿ Many readers have learned that from PC. So let the reader first understand the title. Viola states, ¿it¿s the present practices of the church that I¿m seeking to reimagine, not the church itself¿ (p.13). He clearly outlines his purpose so that there is no misunderstanding. He writes that the purpose of the book is: ¿to articulate a biblical, spiritual, theological, and practical answer to the question, Is there a viable way of doing church outside the institutional church experience, and if so, what does it look like¿ (p.12)? Let there be no mistake, any serious reader cannot accuse Viola of impure motives or building the house of God on sand. Indeed, the foundation of the ideas communicated in this book are constructed upon the triune God (i.e. Trinity as archetype for the church). Therefore, RC should be understood as a proposal that the church of Jesus Christ mirror the very image of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Viola writes, ¿the church is the earthly image of the triune God¿ (p.35). In the spirit of Stanley Grenz, Leonardo Boff, and Miroslav Volf¿ Viola has wonderfully woven together the fabric of God¿s eternal purpose in a clear, concise, and intelligent way. Its inspiration can be questioned, as with any author, but its scholarship is insurmountable in its presentation. This is a work for the carpenter and the scholar. ¿The Reformation recovered the truth of the priesthood of all believers. But it failed to restore the organic practices that embody this teaching. It was restricted to soteriology (salvation) and didn¿t involve ecclesiology (the church)¿ (p.59). In the pursuit of an organic Christianity that is rooted in the triune God, the greatest hurdle will be with what lies at the heart of the institutional model of the church: hierarchal leadership. And Viola goes to great lengths in addressing the error we have made in our teaching and practice of authority and ¿spiritual covering.¿ He even extends his address in the appendix ¿Objections and Responses about Leadership.¿ In every chapter, Viola seems to anticipate the objections and rebukes¿ and very skillfully, with ease, answers those objections and the many misconceptions that are born out of a first-reading of the ideas presented in PC and RC. I have read all of Viola¿s similar writings in his original series¿ and RC in this new series is definitely his finest presentation thus far. He leaves little in his language to trip over¿ just a great deal of truth to bear. Readers will appreciate Viola¿s honesty and sensitivity to the issues. Each chapter builds one upon the other and guides you to the end. I found that when a question would arise, it would quickly be addressed to satisfy a deep-seeded longing to kno
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
...complete with quotes from boring theologians. Connections with Third Wave, Toronto Airport Revival and Dominionism. Also, at least one "home church" has gone ecumenical to include inviting an eco-feminist witch named Starhawk to participate. Dave Wilkerson calls the home church movement' s message a "gospel of accommodation" with good reason. Cherry-picked verses to justify having no protective shepards over them. Skip this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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thoughtfulReader More than 1 year ago
Great followup for Pagan Christianity