Excerpts from "Pagan Christianity?" by Frank Viola and George Barna
free subscription Archives Blog Videos

Prophetic Ministry


Excerpts from "Pagan Christianity?" by Frank Viola and George Barna

Posted: 2008-03-15 08:03:20

Please note: Prophetic Ministry (Iowa) would like you to think seriously about the following quotes but we are not endorsing all ideas written in the above book. Overall, it is an excellent book that we recommend for you to read.
(Thoughts in parenthesis are our own.)

On the back (dust cover) of the book are the questions:

  • Why does the pastor preach a sermon at every service?
  • Why do church services seem so similar week after week?
  • Why does the congregation sit passively in pews?

Not sure?  This book makes an unsettling proposal: Most of what present-day Christians do in church each Sunday is rooted, not in the New Testament, but in Pagan cultures and rituals developed long after the death of the Apostles. The authors also uncover problems that emerge when the church functions more like a business organization than the living organism it was called to be. As you reconsider Christ’s revolutionary plan for His Church—that He would 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.

Inside flap (dust cover)---One of the most troubling outcomes of the practices in our church services today (we take for granted that they are Scriptural) has been the effect on average believers: turning them from living expressions of Christ’s glory and power to passive observers. This book examines and challenges every aspect of our present-day church experience.

Book Dedication:  To our forgotten brothers and sisters throughout the ages who courageously stepped outside the safe bounds of institutional Christianity at the risk of life and limb. They faithfully (raised a standard), carried the torch, endured persecutions, forfeited reputations, lost family, suffered torture, and spilled their blood to preserve the primitive testimony that Christ is the Head of His Church. And that every believer is a priest, a minister, and a functioning member of God’s house. This book is dedicated to you.

Matthew 15:3—“Why do you yourselves transgress the commandments of God for the sake of your tradition?” 

Quote by J.C. Ryle (19th Century): “When traditions are once called into being they are at first useful, then they become necessary. And at last they are too often made idols, and all must bow down to them or be punished.”

Preface: XVII—The Pharisees added to the Scriptures with their “tradition of the elders.” The Sadducees removed important truths from the Scriptures much in the same way that churches today have removed important first Century practices from our church services and added traditions.  XVIII---Thankfully, such practices are presently being restored on a small scale by some today, daring souls who have taken the terrifying step of leaving the safe camp of institutional Christianity. 

XIX---To define an organic church: It is Spirit led, with open-participatory meetings, and nonhierarchical leadership. When a group of Christians begin to follow the Life of the Lord who indwells them together, the same outstanding features that marked the 1st Century church begin to emerge naturally.

XX---Our goal? The reason for this book is simple, we are seeking to remove a great deal of debris in order to make room for the Lord Jesus Christ to be the fully functioning Head of His Church. We also make the outrageous proposal that the church in its contemporary, institutional form does not have a biblical (or historical) right to function as it does. You must decide from the evidence presented if that proposal is valid or not.

XXIII---Hans Christian Anderson quote (from “The Emperor’s New Clothes”): “But the Emperor has nothing at all on!” said a little child. “Listen to the voice of innocence!” exclaimed the father; and what the child said was whispered from one to another. “But he has nothing on!” at last said all the people. The Emperor was vexed, for he knew that the people were right; but he thought, “The procession must go on now!” and the lords of the bedchamber took greater pains than ever to appear holding up a train, although, in reality, there was no train to hold.” (Is this not a similar attitude that churches can have to carry on with the same things in a church service when the Lord is not in it?) 

XXV---Introduction by George Barna---We are living 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 (Biblical) approaches. It is not so much that they are seeking to reclaim their roots or to be more accurate historically but it is borne out of a desire to return to our Lord for something (real), authentic, and for more of His fullness. The heart of the Revolutionaries is not in question, they are seeking more of God. They want more of what they read about in the Word and to be more in tune with His leading. They want their relationship with the Lord to be the top priority in their life (no matter what persecution comes or what sacrifices they must make). 

XXVI---They are tired of all the works, programs, and practices that do not draw them more into God’s presence. These people have experienced the initial reality of a genuine connection with God (and they do not want to go back to the old ways any more). God is waiting for them. They want Him. No more excuses.

But the new things we are trying are they just the same stuff as before presented in a different setting?

XXVII---So what we have are present-day attempts at honoring God and being the church (is there any manual to help us as we pioneer this new (yet old) way?) There is precious little (help), it turns out. (The Lord must show us the way.)

Page 8---According to Frank Viola in his 1st chapter this is how the early church gathered (Scriptures available upon request): The early church met in homes. They took the Lord’s supper as a full (regular) meal. The church gatherings were open and participatory. Spiritual gifts were employed by each member. They genuinely saw themselves as family and acted accordingly. They had a plurality of elders to oversee the community. They were established and aided by itinerant apostolic workers. They were fully united and did not denominate themselves into separate organizations in the same city. They did not use honorific titles. They did not organize themselves hierarchically. 

Page 48---Most church services today have these 3 aspects, and usually proceed in this order: The song service, the sermon, and the closing prayer time/altar call/closing music. Other things that may be in a service are: announcements, offering, and the Lord’s supper. It has been this way for 500 years. 

Page 72---At times you may hear a person say, “We had a special service last night where the Holy Spirit led our meeting, Pastor Cheswald did not even get to preach.” Isn’t the Holy spirit supposed to lead all (every) church meetings?

Page 75---This order of worship (or progression of the church service) puts a choke hold on the functioning of the body of Christ by silencing its members. There is very little room if any for anyone to give a word of exhortation, to share an insight, to start or introduce a song or spontaneously lead a prayer. Members are forced to be muted, pew sitters. They are discouraged or prevented from being enriched by the other members of the body as well as being able to enrich others with their gifts.

Page 76---Also, this order of worship stifles (strangles) the head ship of Jesus Christ. The service is directed by one person (or by a few). Jesus Christ has no freedom to express Himself through His body at His direction. He too is rendered a passive spectator. (If a person were to stand up in a normal service occasionally it might be tolerated yet frowned upon. But if a person started standing up too often or too many people now wanted to share, this would be deemed as “out of order,” the authority of the pastor might be threatened, let’s calm down, let’s get back to “normal” or the troublemakers will have to leave. We can’t have everyone sharing, the leaders would cry “anarchy,” “wild fire,” errors and heresies may come in!)

Also, the Sunday morning services are shamefully boring and highly predictable. Where is the variety, spontaneity, and creativity of the Lord?

Pages 78 & 79---Open meetings are marked by incredible variety, not bound to one man or a pulpit dominated worship. The overarching hallmark of these meetings is the visible headship of Christ and the free yet orderly functioning of the body of Christ. Let me describe one such meeting: About 30 of us gathered together in a home and greeted one another. Some of us stepped into the center of the living room and began singing a capella. Quickly, the entire church was singing in unison, arms around one another. Some one else began another song, and we all joined in. Between each song, prayers were uttered by different people. Some of the songs had been written by the members themselves. We sang several of the songs several times. Some people turned the words of the songs into prayers. On several occasions, a few of the members exhorted the church in relation to what we had just sung.

After, we sang, rejoiced, spontaneously prayed, exhorted one another, we sat down. Then, very quickly, a woman stood up and began explaining what the Lord had showed her during the week. She spoke for about 3 minutes. After she sat down, a man stood up and shared a portion of Scripture and exalted the Lord Jesus through it. Next another gentleman stood up to add a few very edifying words to what he said. A woman then broke into a new song that went right along with what the two men had just shared. The whole church sang with her. Another woman stood and read a poem that the Lord had given her during the week…and it meshed perfectly with what the others had shared up to that point.

One by one, brothers and sisters in Christ stood up to tell us what they had experienced in their relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ that week. Exhortations, teaching, encouragements, poems, songs, and testimonies all followed one right after the other. And a common theme, one that revealed the glories of Jesus Christ, emerged. Some of those gathered wept.

None of this was rehearsed, prescribed, or planned. Yet the meeting was electric. It was so rich, so glorious, and so edifying that it became evident to everyone that someone was indeed leading the meeting. But He was not visible. It was the Lord Jesus Christ! His headship was being manifest among His people. We were reminded again that He is in fact alive…alive enough to direct His church. (And the next night may be completely different. One night may be all songs, another night may be no songs, one night may be all prayer (And even intense intercessory leadings of the Holy Spirit), another night might be extensive Biblical teachings or perhaps prophetic revelations, and another night deep sharings from individuals opening their hearts to each other, or all of the above or none of the above. God is amazing enough to surprise us with his creativity and endless variety so that no two nights would ever have to be the same.) 

Page 82---The central issue we are addressing here is not whether Jesus is talked about and given honor in the service, but is Jesus the functional head of the gathering? There is a significant difference between making Jesus the invisible guest of honor and allowing Him to be the practical leader of the gathering.

Let’s suppose the authors of this book attend your church service. And let’s suppose that the Lord Jesus Christ puts something on our hearts to share with the rest of His body. Would we have the freedom to do so spontaneously? Would everyone else have the freedom to do it? If not, then we would question whether your church service is under Christ’s headship.

You see, a meeting that is under the headship of Christ means that He may speak through every member of the body in the gathering (as He chooses).

In this connection, if you were to attend an (any) organic church gathering that met 1st Century style, you would have both the right and the privilege to share whatever the Lord laid on your heart in the manner in which the Spirit led you.  

Page 241---What are some of the signs of a healthy organic church?

  • The building together of sisters and brothers into a close-knit, Christ centered community
  • The transformation of character in the lives of the members
  • Meetings that express and reveal Jesus Christ and in which every member functions and shares
  • Community life that is vibrant, thriving, authentic, and where the members grow to love one another more and more
  • A community of believers who are magnificently obsessed with their Lord, and who are neither legalistic nor libertine in their lifestyles

Page 243---Quote by A.W. Tozer—“If Christianity is to receive a rejuvenation it must be by other means than any now being used. If the church in the 2nd half of (the twentieth) century is to recover from the injuries she suffered in the first half, there must appear a new type of preacher. The proper, ruler-of-the-synagogue type will never do. Neither will the priestly type of man who carries out his duties, takes his pay and asks no questions, nor the smooth-talking pastoral type who knows how to make the Christian religion acceptable to everyone. All these have been tried and found wanting. Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be one of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray there will not be one but many) he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom.” 

Page 247---What did the early church body life look like?  The early Christians gathered in open-participatory  meetings where all believers shared their experience of Christ (and exercised their gifts.) The meetings belonged to Jesus Christ and to the church; they did not serve as a platform for any particular ministry or gifted person.

The New Testament church lived as a face-to-face community. The New Testament believers lived a shared life. They cared for one another outside of scheduled meetings. They were, in the very real sense of the word, family.

The church had traveling apostolic workers (also prophets, elders, teachers, evangelists, and pastors, some who traveled and some who did not) who planted and nurtured churches. But these workers were not viewed as being part of a special clergy caste. They were part of the body of Christ, and they served the churches (not the other way around). Elders and shepherds were ordinary Christians with certain gifts. They were not special offices.

Summary of “The Four Dimensions Of The Church”  (given in its entirety at Frank Viola’s website (www.ptmin.org)

The communion dimension of the church has to do with the church’s inward life and its relationship to the Christ who indwells it. As the Bride of Christ, the church is called to commune with, love, enthrone, and intimately know the heavenly Bridegroom who indwells her. (Of course, this must be done individually in our day to day walk with the Lord, but it also can and will happen in a corporate setting when the church gathers.) We should have fellowship with the Lord when we gather. We worship the Lord, pray, seek Him, love Him, commune with Him, and encounter Him. (It is important that these things happen when we gather.) The communion of the church with their Lord should be the engine that drives all of the church’s activities. 

The corporate display is seen when the church gathers together to display the unsearchable riches of Jesus Christ. How? Not by “church services” where a few people perform before a passive audience but in “church meetings” where every member of the Body functions and ministers. (We must see the many faceted glories of what Christ wants to show forth through the great variety of gifts in the Body.) Also we must not suppress the Headship of Christ by not allowing Him to lead meetings. Human headship (has for too long) directed what happens, who participates, and when. 

The community life of the church, when properly conceived, is a colony from heaven that has descended on earth to display the life of God’s kingdom. By its way of life, its values, and its interpersonal relationships, the church lives as a counter-cultural outpost of the future Kingdom—a Kingdom that will eventually fill the whole earth…. In the church the Jewish-Gentile barrier has been demolished as well as all barriers of race, culture, sex, etc. The church lives and acts as the new humanity on earth that reflects the Community of the Godhead. Thus when those in the world see a group of Christians from different cultures and races loving one another, caring for one another, meeting one another’s needs, living against the current trends of this world that give allegiance to other gods instead of to the world’s true Lord, Jesus Christ, it is watching the life of the future Kingdom lived out on the earth in the present. The pagan neighbors will say, “Behold how they love one another!”  We live in a day when (our society) and the Western Church has enshrined rugged individualism and independence. As such, many modern churches are not authentic communities that are embodying the family of God. The church must become the visible image of the triune God. By sharing in the communion of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, the church puts God’s love on public display. (We need to go much further in our love for one another than is found in the state of the Church today. Could we love each other with the depth and richness of Jesus’ love for us? He said, “Love one another as I (Jesus) have loved you.” Could we as brothers and sisters be united in a love comparable to the love between the Father and the Son? (See John 17:21-26) “That they (the disciples) may be one, even as we (Jesus and the Father) are one.” In both instances Jesus said, “So that all men will know who I am.”)

Finally, our commission is not just to care for our own but to care for the whole world that surrounds us. (We are to care for the poor and the sick around us. We are to preach the message of salvation (the good news that made us new creatures in Christ), we are to open prison doors and set the captives free, we are to teach all that Jesus taught us, make disciples of all men, go to the ends of the earth, etc.)


Comments have been temporarily disabled.