Friday, February 27, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 3


Hitchhiking on chapter 3 - it's apparent that the form of the building has indeed influenced the function within over the last several centuries. Structure gives birth to structure. There are those who strongly believe that the antithesis to structure is chaos and disorder. I've met them - they proffer their conviction with vigor. The reading of this chapter made me realize how much that notion is based on a mind-set from a very long history of cultural influence with fear and the obsession to control. There is a governing template by which to operate and you dare not mess with it. It can be and has been reformed (Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Hobbs, Finney), but never revolutionized or better stated revitalized.

You can scour your Bible from beginning to end, and you will never find
anything that remotely resembles our order of worship. This is because the first
century Christians knew no such thing. In fact the Protestant order of worship
has about as much biblical support as does the Roman Catholic Mass. Both have
few points of contact with the New Testament.

The meetings of the early church were marked by every-member functioning,
spontaneity, freedom, vibrancy, and open participation (see, for example 1
Corinthians 14:1-33 and Hebrews 10:25). The first-century church meeting was a
fluid gathering, nor a static ritual. And it was often unpredictable, unlike the
contemporary church service.

Contemporary Christianity still reflects this ideology. Pragmatism is unspiritual, not just because it encourages ethical considerations to be secondary, but because it depends on techniques rather than on God to produce the desired effects...
...Unfortunately, pragmatism ('if it works let's do it"), not biblicism or spirituality,
governs the activities of many present-day churches. (Many "seeker sensitive"
churches have excelled at following in Finney's footsteps.) Pragmatism is harmful because it teaches "the end justifies the means." If the end is considered "holy," just
about any "means" are acceptable.

The philosophy of pragmatism opens the door for human manipulation and a
complete reliance upon oneself rather than upon God. Note that there is a
monumental difference between well-motivated humans working for God in their own strength, wisdom, and power versus God working through humans.

...the Protestant order of worship strangles the headship of Jesus Christ.
The entire service is directed by one person. You are limited to the knowledge,
gifting, and experience 0f one member of the body - the pastor. Where is the
freedom for our Lord Jesus to speak through His body at will?

Granted, Christ may be able to express Himself through one or two members
of the church - usually the pastor and the music leader. But this is a very
limited expression. The Lord is stifled from manifesting Himself through the
other members of the body. Consequently, the Protestant liturgy cripples the
body of Christ.

It makes me sad and somewhat frustrated to know that many will read these words (either here or by obtaining the whole book) and will hardly be moved to take any risks to allow the Church (ekklasia) to function as God really intended. As I have witnessed, many will consider the challenges and attempt to adapt a vague principle or two that will slighty tweak what they have done, are doing and will do - - until they drop. It is appropriate to quote the final words of this chapter.

Perhaps the only sure way to thaw out God's frozen people is to make a
dramatic break with the Sunday morning ritual. May we not be found guilty of our
Lord's bone-rattling words: "Full well do you reject the commandment of God,
that you may keep your tradition."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 2


The following may be extremely challenging or distressful to some who read - especially if are involved or have recently been involved in a grueling "building campaign." Please be advised.

Consequently, the story of the church building is the sad saga of Christianity borrowing from heathen culture and radically transforming the face of our faith. To put it bluntly, the church buildings of the Constantinian and post-Constantinian era essentially became holy shrines. The Christians embraced the concept of the physical temple. They imbibed the pagan idea that there exists a special place where God dwells in a special way. And that place is made "with hands."

As with other pagan customs that were absorbed into the Christian faith (such as the
liturgy, the sermon, clerical vestments, and hierarchical leadership structure), third and fourth-century Christians incorrectly attributed the origin of the church building to the Old Testament. But this was misguided thinking.

The church building was borrowed from pagan culture. "Dignified and sacramental ritual had entered the church services by way of the mysteries [the pagan cults], and was justified like so many other things, by reference to the Old Testament."

To use the Old Testament as a justification for the church building is not only inaccurate, but it is self-defeating. The old Mosaic economy of sacred priests, sacred buildings, sacred rituals, and sacred objects has been forever destroyed by the cross of Jesus Christ. In addition, it has been replaced by a nonhierarchical, nonritualistic, nonliturgical organism called the ekklesia(church.

Form determines function with the church building, not the other way around (as Jesus promoted).

At this point, you may be thinking to yourself, "So what's the big deal? Who cares if the first-century Christians did not have buildings? Or if church buildings were patterned after pagan beliefs and practices? Or if medieval Catholics based their architecture on pagan philosophy? What has that got to do with us today?"

Consider the next sentence; The social location of the church meeting expresses and influences the character of the church. If you assume that where the church gathers is simply a matter of convenience, you are tragically mistaken. You are overlooking a basic reality of humanity. Every building we encounter elicits a response from us. By its interior and exterior, it explicitly shows us what the church is and how itfunctions.
To put it in the words of Henri Lefebvre, "Space is never empty; it always embodies a meaning." This principle is also expressed in the architectural motto "form follows function." The form of the building reflects is particular function.

The social setting of a church's meeting place is a good index of that church's understanding of God's purpose for His body. A church's location teaches us how to meet. It teaches us what is important and what is not. And it teaches us what is acceptable to say to each other and what is not.

We learn these lessons from the setting in which we gather- whether it be a church edifice or a private home. These lessons are by no means neutral. Go into any given church building and exegete the architecture. Ask yourself what objects are higher and which are lower. Ask yourself what is at the front and what is at the back. Ask yourself in what ways it might be possible to "adjust" the direction of the meeting on the spur of the moment. Ask yourself how easy or hard it would be for a church member to speak where he is seated so that all may see and hear him.
I wish I could copy the entire chapter - yea the whole book. But my earnest
desire is that you purchase it and read it yourself.
In short, I've seen first-hand how the obsession of erecting a building has distracted followers from engaging in daily obedience to the teaching and purpose of Christ. There is this "we will do much more for God when we have a place" as we (I'm recovering from the mindset myself) look and walk beyond numerous Kingdom-building opportunities. I've seen how the anxiety of meeting the mortgage for the structure that has a less than 9% usage during an average week - has become an emotional cancer for many a well-intentioned Christ-follower.
I sincerely believe that God's new wine is expanding with relentless pressure and that the conventional wineskins are about to erupt into thousands of tiny shards. Be ready to DUCK!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Pagan Christianity - Chapter 1


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. I 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. Question like:

"Is sitting in the 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' 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.

I'm going out on a limb and assuming the Winchester is the altar ego of Frank Viola. The"unclean and sacrilegious to ask such things -yet something was happening inside of him that compelled him to doubt his entire church experience" has for a very long time been my personal experience. That pit-of-the-stomach churning I used to have on Sunday mornings as "a pastor" heading to that 1+ hour, 1-day a week at 1 particular place was a GIANT INTERROGATIVE in my soul. I believe I know now what the answer to the question was: "This is just not right." It is OK to "throw the baby out with the bathwater!" What ever made us think it was wrong to do so?

The light of truth is so liberating!

Pagan Christianity "The Calf Path"

By Sam Walter Foss

One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;
But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day
By a lone dog that passed that way;
And then a wise bell-wether sheep
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep,
And drew the flock behind him, too,
As good bell-wethers always do.
And from that day, o'er hill and glade,
Through those old woods a path was made.

And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about
And uttered words of righteous wrath
Because 'twas such a crooked path.
But still they followed - do not laugh -
The first migrations of that calf,
And through this winding wood-way stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,
That bent, and turned, and turned again;
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;
And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare;
And soon the central street was this
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout
Followed the zigzag calf about;
And o'er his crooked journey went
The traffic of the continent.
A hundred thousand men were led
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent
To well-established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind
Along the calf-paths of the mind,

And work away from sun to sun
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,

And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.
They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah! Many things this tale might teach -
But I am not ordained to preach.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Pagan Christianity Introduction

Teena and I had the pleasure of listening to George Barna about 5 years ago. I remember being challenged and even shaken (as I was still in the "conventional church" mind-set). He made it clear that he just presents what he finds "out there." I believe his work over the last several years has lead him to the point of co-authoring this provocative book.

Here are some snips from the Introduction he writes.

We are in the midst of a silent revolution of faith. Millions of Christians throughout the world are leaving the old, accepted ways of "doing church"
for even older approaches. Those older approaches are rooted in the Holy Scriptures and the eternal principles of the living God. (p. xxv)

They are tired of the institutions, denominations and routines getting in the way of a resonant connection with Him. They are worn out on the endless programs that fail to facilitate transformation. They are weary of being sent off to complete assignments, memorize facts and passages, and engage in simplistic practices that do not draw them into God's presence. (p. xxvi)

Does it really matter how we practice our faith, as long as the activities enable people to love God and obey Him? The preponderance of evidence shows that these perspectives, rules, traditions, expectations, assumptions, and practices often hinder the development of our faith. In other instances, they serve as barriers that keep us from encountering the living God. The way in which we practice our faith can, indeed, affect the faith itself. (p. xxviii)

The contemporary church is like a jet airplane that has no capacity of in-flight corrections. A little change here, a minor deviation there, a slight alteration of this, a barely perceptible tweaking of that -- and before you know it, the who enterprise has been redefined. (p. xxx)

This is what precisely has happened over the course of 1700-1900 years. Count Jeff and Teena Stewart as being among the "millions...leaving the old, accepted ways of 'doing church.' " I think that's what drove us bonkers in our last situation. We felt like we were way outside looking in as we constantly observed an ecclesiastical chase of Christian gimmickry. Be it parking lot banners, haze machines, orange information desks, series theme t-shirts - - it all smacked hard against: "If anyone would come after me..."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Pagan Christianity Preface

Curious to use the initials "PC" for this book as its theme takes a very critical look at what we could refer to as "EC" - "Ecclesiastical Correctness."

Tyndale Publishing provides a necessary heads-up to prepare the casual Christian reader for some very tough questions and some mind-set shifting conclusions:

Dear Reader,

Perhaps you wonder why a publisher of Christian books would release a book that questions so many common church practices. Please be aware, however, that the authors are not question the validity or importance of the church. Instead, they are asking us to thoughtfully consider the source of our churches' traditions and then ask how these practices square with Scripture and the practices of the first century church. Many in the church hold to tradition, even if it is not grounded in Scripture, and these same people wonder why the church seems to be losing its relevance and impact in the contemporary world.

Years ago I picked up a fresh sermon illustration that has since put on hundreds of thousands of miles. I'm sure you've heard it. If you have, it's always worth repeating. If you haven't it's insightful and worthy of perpetual consideration. It correlates with the ongoing analysis of this courageous book. It goes something like this.

A newlywed couple gets back from their honeymoon and begin their lives together. One Sunday afternoon she begins to prepare a meal for her husband and herself. The menu calls for a baked ham. As she is preparing the meal, she takes a butcher knife out of the drawer and cuts both ends of the ham off. Her observant husband asks:
"Why are you cutting the ends off?"
She replies: "My mother baked a ham this way."
"Why did she do that?"
"I don't know. She just did."
The next time the couple visits her mother, the man asks:
"Why do you cut the ends of the ham off when you bake it?"
His mother-in-law responded: "That's how my mother baked a ham."
"Why did she do that?"
"I don't know. She just did."
The first time the man meets his grandmother in law, he asks:
"Why did you cut the ends of the ham off when you baked it?"
She simply answers: "The pan was too short."

PC covers a lot of territory in areas of how and why the conventional church does what it does. Like the husband in the illustration, the writers ask the pointed questions that require rewinding back to the beginning of the reel to see how we got to the point we are presently. There is often (we discover) a "distortion of the concept" (p. 108) on the part of our Western culturized perspective. Many common areas are analyzed like church buildings, order of worship, the sermon, the pastor, Sunday morning customes, Ministers of music, tithing and clergy salaries, baptism and the Lord's Supper.... many more.

Stand by! It's a sobering ride!


Hopefully excerpts forthcoming. I'm devouring this book now!