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Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna


This is an amazing new book that ought to interest every member of the Network. In Chapter 5 the authors slay the traditional idea of a single pastor and set forth the biblical view of an eldership team. They also go after many other traditional concepts that are preventing the Lord from manifesting as fully as He desires.

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Quote - Nathan: ...However, these meetings were where the real business of the church actually took place, I think.

Nathan, can you give some sort of description of what might have been a typical house-church meeting you attended in your youth? I’ve never actually been to one…just kinda curious.

-Donnie
-Goodness, Donnie, it was a long time ago, and I was young, but I remember things being very informal. Informal, but not just for "fun-n-fellowship". There was usually a time of praise and the singing was not planned that I can recall. Prayer was at various times and for various purposes. Often specific prayers for people dealing with various issues or needing healing. The Word was used in coordination with prayer, but I don't remember there always being a set amount of time given to a "preacher". They were house church meetings, but I don't think that there was any given format. I do remember them often going until late in the evening, however. The children present would participate as much as they could, but usually would not sit until the end if there was a separate room in which they could be.

In certain instances, meetings like this could have been a "baby church", one not directly connected to a mother work and that hadn't grown beyond a few families and could meet in a house, but most of my memories are from meetings that were with people from within a larger, building-centered church. I would say that most involved in the meetings had experienced the baptism of the Holy Ghost and were exercising spiritual gifts, although, to my knowledge, they all had only known baptism in the titles (or the titles used along with the name of Jesus.) Nevertheless, these meetings were always seen like something "extra", the real ones being centered around a building-performance-clergy/"ministry" model. That may not give you much of a feeling of what a meeting was like, but if you've read the part of "Pagan Christianity?" that talks about home meetings, I think I can pretty much relate to most of what the authors describe.

(For more background info, my parents had had pretty radical conversions, were baptized and received the baptism of the Spirit, and delivered of numerous things, in a pentecostal Baptist church in south Chicago (I know, most people don't believe that there is such a thing, but there was--at least for a time.) Later, feeling the call of God to pastor a church in Arkansas (a little apostolic church no less, although which variety, I know not) my father moved his family of 7 (I was 2 yrs. old) to that great diamond state. Later, and for several years he was an elder on a team of 4 or 5 men working with one overseeing pastor. One of the elders was a church planter and was often working with three or four different assemblies. I'm not sure, but I suspect that at its inception, the elder team did not have a senior pastor. Later, because of time constraints or preaching responsibilities, or personal preference, they somehow moved to that model, which inevitably caused problems, but may have made other things "easier". (Not a recipe for doing things God's way!) When did God ever just do anything the easy way?...Isn't that how Satan tried to tempt Jesus? OK, I'm rambling...
Nathan, I've found this to be very interesting, and am sure others will as well. I'm wondering now if we have other among us who were in these type of house church meetings when they were young. Unfortunately, I am not one of them. By the way, even though you were young, were there ever times that you recall being involved somehow in the meetings. Is this where God first began "dealing" with you?
Wow, I can't believe how long it's been since I've been on this forum. I've been involved in a project at work that's eaten up a little too much time lately. But now it's finished! So, about your question about being involved in the meetings, I'd have to say that it was probably mostly through praise and singing that I participated actively, given my age. However, I do remember being 'passively' involved in listening and observing. This is one of the reasons why I strongly believe that children should be involved in as much of any gathering as possible. How else is a child to learn praise, prayer, the word, and adult thinking and reasoning? Jesus was only 12 when he was speaking with the doctors of the law. Besides home group meetings (not sure if concurrent), we also had frequent family devotions, not always daily, but sometimes a few times per week, sometimes once. They involved all of us children (4 at home) reading, explaining, memorizing scripture, singing psalms, praise choruses, and of course praying together. Oh, lest I forget, we also discussed problems, character issues, obedience, etc... I guess you could say I grew up understanding that being a follower of Christ meant more than "going to church" even though the building-centered mentality was still very present.

About God "working on me", that's harder to pinpoint exactly, but I remember many instances from about the age of 10 on when I sensed God's calling on my life in a strong way--not necessarily knowing what to do about it at all. Often, it would be a time of repentance and renewal or of more committed Bible study and personal devotion. I believe I was 12 years old when a visiting evangelist came to our church and I felt the call and power of God and spoke in tongues for the first time. This was not seen as a part of salvation, or anything essential, but at least in my family it was normal. (I have at one or two siblings who also have experienced the baptism of the Spirit, although none of them have yet been baptized in the name of Jesus.) Away at university, I realized that my walk with God and my knowledge of the scriptures wasn't strong enough to respond to all the various beliefs and doctrines that I would come into contact with (and this was at a Christian liberal arts school!), and at the same time I had become fully aware of several things that I had always believed, but that I couldn't find explained in the Word of God. I've seen many people throw in the towel at this point, but I had witnessed so strong a presence of God in my childhood that I couldn't dismiss it, even for a fleeting moment. Hence began a journey through the Bible and history for me that hasn't ended yet. It has brought me first to commitment to God's word in its original form and context (Indiana), then to a distinct desire for solid truth (Angers, France), to a commitment to holiness of life (Besançon, France), to the oneness of God and biblical baptism, (back to Indiana) to the concept of plural oversight and divine authority, to the preeminence of Christ... Each step has been like walking through another door, or rather like removing another layer from the eyes. After passing through it, there's no desire to go back. This may sound only personal and individual, but in some ways, I think it mirrors how God is bringing back revival and life to His corporate body. God is still "working on me" ever stronger. I want His power and anointing to be released in the members of His body. I want to see Him glorified and exalted, and more than anything, I don't want any substitute!

Sorry such a long post, I didn't know how to respond in just a few words, though.
Nathan, this is an excellent post. You’ve done a very good job in giving a picture of your journey. I find it very interesting, to say the least.

You did touch on something that I’d like to comment on. Quote: I do remember being 'passively' involved in listening and observing. This is one of the reasons why I strongly believe that children should be involved in as much of any gathering as possible. How else is a child to learn praise, prayer, the word, and adult thinking and reasoning? (Emphasis mine -DG

I believe you are absolutely correct in your assessment here. Sunday School is not without its good and enjoyable experiences, but I’ve often questioned its real value, mainly what you’ve mentioned above. While it does help where children do not have parents in church, it seems (to me) that it subtly relieves “in church” parents of their God-given responsibility. I’ve also seen the “bleeding over” of worldly ways from “out of church” into apostolic children – too much of it! It places emphasis upon age segregation, much like public school, that allows children to be influenced by rebellious children. While “trying to save” some, many are ruined. Children are meant to grow up to be and act like adults – not like other children (another reason why we home schooled ours). Many claim they will not be “socialized” when, in fact, it’s that kind of “socialization” we are attempting to keep them from – and is also found in the Sunday School environment. (I’m sure there are many exceptions, lest I sound too harsh, and many stories about bussed-in children that became pastors etc.)

The point is though, that much church structure does disservice to parents and children alike, though unintentionally for the most part. I’ve seen too much of the dishonoring of the father by exalting the “man of God” over all…by-passing the father in decision making, and not recognizing the father’s authority over his own family. No wonder we ask where the men are sometimes. For my part, I would quickly remove my family from such overly exalted, heavy-handed leadership. I’m looking forward to learning more about home-groups and elder leadership.

So, I’ve found you’re experience to be very uplifting. Thank you for sharing!
I've finally finished the final chapters of the book. Wow. I must say that I'm glad to have read it as it not only provides clear evidence for what I have been wondering about for years, but also provides a glimpse of the next wave of revival that is going to happen, that even now has begun. It goes deep...deep into the heart of man and touches those areas that are still sacred cows--our security blankets, our traditions, even our idolatry.

While there are a few glitches in what the authors write, namely in the trinitarian overtones--in that it seems they fail to fully apply their reasoning on church structure, design and function to the doctrine of the Godhead, by and large, there was very little with which I found myself disagreeing.

I have many questions, which I have not yet completely formulated, but I wanted to find out from others reading this forum how this book has affected them in a practical sense. What is something that God has convinced you is necessary and/or good for His body? Do you see things differently in any way? What desires, if any, has God placed in your heart as a result of reading the book? What are some areas that you plainly disagree with, and for what reasons?
Hi Dave,
What a coincidence, I just heard about this book just today from another source. I will get a copy.

Carl
I sure hope for more than a compromise between "tradition" (status quo) and Biblical Christianity! A little comment on dress though: I personally think the problem is much more with viewing Sunday as a special day and a special time for things that we only do on that day, like "have church". It seems that even if one eliminates the dressing-up part (as some churches have), we still have the "go to church", or "have church" mentality all around us. It's the same mentality that causes some to view a Sunday morning service as more important than a smaller, weekly meeting, or than daily prayer and praise, the things that are really responsible for growth and walking with the Lord, not the Sunday services.

Also, I wonder if the "fine clothes" of that day were just a bit different and finer and more costly than what people usually would wear today. Most of our clothes nowadays are actually very inexpensive comparatively, but I suppose the attitude could be the same.... just a thought, although I'm definitely not a part of the dressing up crowd.

Great book! I need to read it again soon.
Some excellent thoughts in this discussion. I read this book a few months ago after borrowing it from a friend and found it thought provoking. I appreciated the authors' efforts at documentation. They had many helpful insights.

After being part of the Glorious Church network for some time and giving much thought to life in the Church over the years, I didn't find many major thoughts that were new. Details were new, but not major thoughts. I was reminded of a change I made in a building while I was pastoring in Ohio: I took down an altar rail that separated the platform from the congregation. It shocked the folks, but they understood after some explanation. It was no problem because it fit with many other things I was teaching and doing.

Even though Barna and Viola have disclaimers to the contrary, I felt that by the end they had left the strong impression that all tradition is bad. Tradition can be a great comfort and serve as reminders of some important precepts. Yet, it can be problematic when we confuse it with specific teachings of the Word. It can also be a problem when it distracts from essentials. It certainly is a problem when we elevate it to an essential when it is just our way of doing things.

Does eliminating robes, fine dress, platforms, single pastors, pulpits etc. make an assembly more spiritual? Emphatically, No! We can be just as rule-oriented and smug in our non-traditional ways as the most traditional "church" that insists on doing things their way. All we end up doing is creating new traditions. So much is affected by our attitude. If robes are draining money from missions or feeding egos, they are a problem. Does that mean we must have a rule against robes? I think not.

I think that some axe-grinding was taking place in this book...why, I don't know. Since the copy I read was borrowed & I've returned it, I don't have it to give examples. Sorry about that.

As I recall Frank Viola did describe some church meetings in which some things were taking place that did seem to be scriptural, such as there not being a single pastor giving a message each week, but everyone bringing a song, a word, etc.

We did find another book that made some similar points with a better attitude: A Western Jesus by Mike Minter (B & H Publishing Group, 2007). Very good spirit in this writer. He focuses on how our culture puts qualities on the Bible that aren't there.
Brother, I found the book a Western Jesus on Amazon.com for $1.29 brand new ... and ordered it! Your comments and the editorial comments made it hard to pass up. :-)
Please be sure to post your comments on A Western Jesus, Bro. Donnie (why am I picturing Jesus on a horse wearing cowboy boots?)
ROFLOL!!! Bro. Dave, If it's like you've pictured, I'm pretty sure it's gonna be good!

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