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Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of…
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Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices

by Frank Viola

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This book was worth reading as it challenged me to think "outside the box." Not enough books do this as people tend now to mirror each others thoughts in an attempt to appeal to the masses. This book goes against the grain of traditional church thinking and practice. Books like this are helpful as they encourage sincere Christians to reflect on their own position on these issues by a more thorough examination of Scripture. This is always a good thing.

That said, I think the author leans to extremes in some chapters and that in some cases the extremes would be dangerous in practice. Although he often mentions that his ideal church scenarios work, he doesn't give enough detail about this for it to be proven. He also glosses over/omits some Bible verses that conflict with his view and uses others out of context to support his position. He goes back to the roots of all of the practices I am about to list in an attempt to prove that they have originated from pagan sources. His argument is that we are not following the Biblical pattern for "church" as per the New Testament. My first thoughts would be that it doesn't matter whether or not our practices have pagan roots BUT it does matter whether or not they are Biblical AND that we seek as far as possible to follow the NT principles for church. The author is an advocate of the "house church....."

He covers

1. The Church building- Author states we don't need church buildings and we spend too much money on them. The "church" is the people of God and not the building. I agree with the author.

2. The Order of Worship- Author states that the order is pagan and encourages dull routines and a lack of audience participation. Author advocates a "Spirit-led" approach with no set plan/order. I agree that our church routines/order are inflexible and should be more participatory, but I can see problems arising from opening up the floor so to speak due to the numbers of non-believers/nominal Christians in our churches. This wasn't the case in NT times due to the persecution; the vast majority of the participants were believers. Maybe this would work in a small group setting if the meeting is properly led by at least one more mature believer.

3. The Sermon- Author states we shouldn't have a sermon/message as it encourages laziness and again a lack of participation. He implies that no set person should be leading a meeting/preaching a sermon. He tries to make a case for preaching/teaching being unBiblical and only relevant to non-believers as an evangelistic appeal. I don't agree with this as preaching/teaching is clearly practiced in the NT both to believers and non-believers.

4. The Pastor- Author states we shouldn't have paid Pastors/Church Officers/Clergy as again it causes laziness/lack of participation, that the Pastor is the only person who can speak in the church or who has anything spiritual to say. I think there is an over-reliance on the Pastor in many churches and too high an expectation/burden placed on them. But I do think that church leaders are important and biblical.

5. Sunday Morning Costumes- Author states we shouldn't dress up for church as we are presenting a false impression of who we are. I think this is a non-issue as it's a personal preference and can be different in different cultures/different churches.

6. Minister of Music- Author has issues with the choir and using pagan funeral practices. Also thinks the leaders shouldn't choose the songs as the church is not then being led by the Spirit. Again I think there is balance needed here; some order needs to be maintained but maybe our current practice is too inflexible.

7. Tithing and Clergy Salaries- Author doesn't believe in tithing or paying clergy. He states this encourages people to only give 10% and that tithing is not biblical. I agree that we shouldn't limit Christians giving to 10% but I think that for new believers a base-line is important as a guide.

8. Baptism and the Lord's Supper- Author states that we should baptise people straight after conversion. I agree that there is no need for a delay, except perhaps with children who may need more time to mature/give public testimony. Author believes the Lord's Supper should be celebrated as a full meal and that our symbolism/ritual is pagan. I don't think the method is especially important but that we remember Jesus' death and resurrection.

9. Christian Education- Author states that those aspiring to be Christian leaders should learn in a Paul/Timothy type environment and not go to Bible school. I agree that the personal study of God's Word is more important than whether or not someone has got a formal education and that sometimes these institutions can be more confusing than helpful.

So overall a mixed picture....I did read a worrying article about the author himself which suggests that he may have an agenda and is supported/encouraged/linked with some controversial figures and members of the Emergent Church.

I would recommend this book for readers who like to be challenged/know what they believe but not for new believers or those less spiritually mature as it could cause confusion/extremes of thinking. ( )
  sparkleandchico | Aug 31, 2016 |
Some good points about how much of what we do in 'church' today bears little resemblance to the early church. Some interesting historical information; quite thought-provoking, too. Much of the church has become legalistic about things that either originated well after New Testament times, or began in Pagan practises.

However the author contradicts himself in places, makes illogical leaps, and his suggested alternatives are just as legalistic as what he is criticising. ( )
  SueinCyprus | Jan 26, 2016 |
The author's touched on pagan influences to modern Christian church practices but did not take them to their logical conclusions. This book was hard to read and intellectually disappointing. ( )
  jimocracy | Apr 18, 2015 |
Pagan Christianity: The Origins of Our Modern Church Practices, 304pp., written by Frank Viola (high school Psychology and Philosophy teacher).
Published by Present Testimony Ministry, © 2002

Foreword by Gene Edwards of Jacksonville, Florida

This “…book should have been written 300 years ago. If it had, the course of Christian history would be totally different.”
“Most of our practices of the Christian faith have absolutely nothing to do with the New Testament…Virtually all our major practices come to us within 50 years of the Emperor Constantine (A.D. 324) or within 50 years of the beginning of the Reformation (A.D. 1517).”

Edwards claims that Viola traces the origins of all (note the universal term) “we Protestants practice.”
Note: Cannot be so, as Viola would have to observe all the practices of all Protestants, which he cannot, and does not do.

Edwards expresses his regret that this book will be one of only 100 thousand printed in the year of publication.

He goes on to assert, “We [Protestants] do nothing that is in the New Testament…we have absolutely no idea how our faith should be practiced.”

To answer a supposed need, Edwards suggest that we
1. Lay aside all we currently practice and start completely from scratch, and
2. Learn “the first-century story” (presumably only the New Testament can be our guide) and then practice that story.

Both Edwards and the author, Viola, claim that the New Testament is the only place we get our information from. This Idealism isn't held to by either, however, as Viola throughout the book cites as the bulk of his evidence extra-biblical sources.

High-school student’s such as Viola teaches on his day job may be fooled by his arguments, but discerning Christians should not be! ( )
  Ron_Gilbert | Feb 13, 2014 |
This book has been one of the biggest eye-openers I have ever read in my entire 20+ year Christian life. For quite some time I have sensed there are many things that we do and practice within the church today that just don't seem right. Things that can't be found in the Bible and/or things that the early church never practiced. For example, a church building, the elevation of clergy, and the non-participatory nature of the church body. Much of what Viola/Barna expose in this book sheds light on these things and so much more. This book affirms that today's church has indeed become very institutionalized and dogmatic, having strayed far from the church modeled in scripture. It has adopted many of the ways and systems of the world, beginning in the 2nd century AD all the way up until the present time. Would the early church fathers, or even Jesus, recognize today's church? I think not.

However, there are two things worth considering when reading this book: 1) Viola is very much a staunch supporter of the house church movement. This becomes very evident in Viola's writing as it seems to be the cure all for all of today's church problems. 2) We must ask ourselves is the church of Acts a prescription for the way we must do church? Or, is it just the way believers during the Apostolic period did church? While taking these two things into consideration, several questions arise: 1) Do we completely throw away millenia of church history, traditions, and doctrine and revert to the first century church? 2) Do we surrender to church history and keep going with the way things are? 3) Or, do we slowly begin to reform the current state of the church, perhaps compromising on some issues, and skipping over others to make it look more palatable to the churches that Paul planted?

When the church begins to look too much like the world, perhaps it's high time for introspection and prayerfully consider reform. But, is the answer found in the house church model, or are there other options? My guess is the former, since that is what is modeled in the Bible, and how the early church did it. It's been highly recommended by several of my friends that "Reimagining Church" by Frank Viola must be read as a sequel to this book. But, I also recommend "The Myth of a Christian Religion" by Gregory Boyd who hits on other issues relating to the church. I dare any Christian, especially pastors and church leaders to read "Pagan Christianity". I also recommend this book to those who are involved in church-planting ministry. I, as a missionary have greatly benefitted from this book and look forward to implementing some of the things mentioned in this book with the start of our new church plant. ( )
  gdill | May 16, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 141431485X, Hardcover)

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, choirs, and seminaries? This volume reveals the startling truth: most of what Christians do in present-day churches is not rooted 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 in the first-ever book to document the full story of modern Christian church practices.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:39 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

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, choirs, and seminaries? This volume reveals the startling truth: most of what Christians do in present-day churches is not rooted 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 in the first-ever book to document the full story of moder… (more)

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