Are we really following the Word of God?
The other day a book, Pagan Christianity?, caught my attention. Authors Frank Viola and George Barna collaborated on this work, published in 2002 and revised in 2008. As you probably know by now, titles like this stimulate my interest and curiosity. All it took was to read the first paragraphs on the inside of the dust cover and bam! - they had me hooked:
Many Christians take for granted that their church's practices are rooted in Scripture. Yet those practices look very different from those of the first-century church. The New Testament is not silent on how the early church freely expresssed the reality of Christ's indwelling in ways that rocked the first-century world.
Times have changed.
- excerpt from the dust cover of Pagan Christianity?
by Frank Viola and George Barna
"Here he goes again..."
You have seen this kind of thinking on this site, and this is more of the same. Rather than go through the rationale of the authors, just a listing of the chapter titles will give you the idea of the scope of their task:
1. Have We Really Been Doing It By The Book?
2. The Church Building
3. The Order of Worship
4. The Sermon
5. The Pastor
6. Sunday Morning Costumes
7. Ministers of Music
8. Tithing and Clergy Salaries
9. Baptism and The Lord's Supper
10. Christian Education
11. Reapproaching the New Testament
12. A Second Glance at the Savior
Surprised? We shouldn't be
You will find many surprises when you get into the origin of things that you were sure were right from the apostles and the word of God. Nope, most are not even close to the practices of the first-century church. In fact, they are closer to the Catholic Church, starting in the second century and formalizing in the fourth century and later. And, literally, a large part of what you see in church, even most of it, came from paganism. Don't think so? Ok, go ahead and doubt, but when you get over yourself, check it out. You will be shocked.
"Who thinks of this stuff?"
Here is an example of the way the authors view the subject. A character in the beginning of the book starts asking himself questions while sitting in church one Sunday morning:
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.
"Our church is different..." No, it's not!
I don't know about you, but these are the same sorts of questions I started asking about church practices. Once you start looking, you just can't stop finding practices that violate Deuteronomy 12:3-4,30-31
3 Break down their altars, smash their sacred stones and burn their Asherah poles in the fire; cut down the idols of their gods and wipe out their names from those places. 4 You must not worship the LORD your God in their way. (Deut 12:3-4)
30 and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, "How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same." 31 You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods. (Deut 12:30-31)
, Deuteronomy 18:9
9 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there.
, and Jeremiah 10:2
2 This is what the LORD says: "Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are terrified by them.
. The more you look, the scarier it gets.
"What does it hurt?"
My son told me the other day, "I don't see anything wrong with doing this, as long as we are worshiping the Lord and not pagan gods." The gist of what he is saying is that it is OK to disobey God, if we do it for the right reason. Because so many are doing the same, the truth is buried in complacency. Merriam-Webster defines complacency as:
Definition of complacency
1 :self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual dangers or deficiencies
- "When it comes to safety, complacency can be dangerous."
2 :an instance of usually unaware or uninformed self-satisfaction
Is there a "right reason" to ever disobey God?
The trouble is, if you don't look closely and see the problem, then the consequences of ignoring the truth are scarier yet. That is because when you stand before the Lord, seeking the salvation we all so desperately need, it will be too late to change anything. Unless, of course, you believe that we can disobey God, follow the path your pastor set and trust that he has already checked it out. Based on one-on-one discussions with many pastors, I'm not that trusting.
Claims with foundation
All this information in the book is followed by an appendix containing the facts and history of the claims the authors make.
Ever wonder how we got so lost?
Notice on the menu in the middle column at the top of this page there is a poem that was included right before the first chapter of the book. It's called The Calf Path, written over a hundred years ago by a man who opened his eyes and saw something that can benefit all of us to know.
You can ignore this whole concept, but then again, you will be like the followers of the calf in the poem listed in the menu at the center of the page. Have you reached the wrong destination and don't even realize how you got there? The first part of the solution is to realize that you are not where you intended to go.
To do that, you have to open your eyes.
Disagree? Find an error? Contact us at email@example.com and give us your view.