By Frank Viola and George Barna

Pagan Christianity is not only a logical sequence to Barna’s recent book, Revolution, it also is an interesting and accurate account of the historic events that have shaped today’s form of Christianity.

Four sections tell most of their story:

  • “Healthy organic churches never produce a clergy system, a single pastor, a hierarchical leadership structure, or an order of worship that renders the majority passive. To our minds, such things… run contrary to New Testament principles.” Page 163
  • ..there is a strong consensus among evangelical scholars that the early church did not have a clergy, did not meet in sacred buildings, did not take the Lord’s Supper outside of a full meal, did not have a fixed liturgy, and did not dress up for church meetings.” Page 165
  • “The ‘church meeting’ was devolving into a ‘service.’ Page 91
  • “Oratory tended to take the place of conversation.’ Page 92

Although the authors leave some wiggle room the only really logical conclusion of their arguments is the end of the institutional church.  My central question or criticism of the book is can that form of Christianity, thrive in an institutionally based and concert driven world like the West?  Whereas I agree the present form of Christianity we see today isn’t biblical, I still question whether what they suggest can survive much less thrive within our context.

So here’s my question: how can we take the unarguable truths in this book and apply them to our present day context? The West is very different from China under Mao. Even the house church there has evolved into more of an institutional form.

Their major criticism of today’s church, other than it being totally non-biblical is the passivity and the elitism of today’s Church. I agree the passivity and elitism of today’s church is deplorable and has to be addressed if Christianity is ever going be what Jesus wanted it to be. Every church leader ought to read this book and respond to its criticism of modern day Christianity with the goal of addressing the passivity and elitism of today’s church. Any positive movement away from these two sins of the church and this book has done its job.

The only place I totally disagree with the authors is in their argument about the non-biblical nature of the sermon.  I agree that as it is practiced in most churches it is non-biblical but it doesn’t need to go. Preaching in the New Testament was never directed to the saints but to those who have not heard. Preaching isn’t an in-house exercise. It is to spread the Good News. If one is to preach in church it should be directed toward the non-believer. When Wesley took to the fields preaching he was following a long line of New Testament preachers.