Pagan Christianity

General discussions about Christianity including salvation, heaven and hell, Christian history and so on.
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Pagan Christianity

#1

Post by Canuckster1127 » Sat Dec 19, 2009 7:17 am

I'm starting this thread by mutual agreement with my friend Jac, to discuss the book, Pagan Christianity by George Barna and Frank Viola. Any are welcome to participate, but I will for my part let you know up front, that this may be a very difficult discussion for some to watch, and especially so for those who have not read the book. The primary theme is ecclesiology (the study of the Church).

As a kick-off to the discussion, I'll post here my review of the book which I put up on Amazon.

______________________________________________________

Frank Viola and George Barna have put together a book that every thinking Christian should read. Much of the information is not new. However, it has been put together with careful attention to detail and very thorough footnotes and sources.

This is not a book written to attack the Church although many may feel that way. It is a book written to address what at its root is a true proposition. Institutional Churches, whether Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Seeker Sensitive, and the list could go on, are at the core of their practise following many elements that do not in fact arise from the Bible or early church tradition. This is more than just a history lesson however.

When I first began reading this book, after having spent a great deal of time and effort in studying Organizational Leadership at a Master's level, I was first tempted to look at the arguments presented and just say, "So What?". Every culture's influence is exerted upon it's institutions. That is neither good nor bad in most instances, so unless the premise is that we should just return to the culture of the early church as if it were "the" culture of God then the argument is really not that strong.

As I read however, what I found is that this is far more than just culture being called into question. We're talking about hierarchies, philosophies and practices that find their root not just in cultural elements but in full scale adoption of systems, practices and their underlying belief system that include pagan temples, Greco-Roman pagan philosophy etc.

Then my next response was "Well, that's what the Reformation was all about wasn't it?" Well yes and no. Much of what took place at the Reformation was a rearranging of some things but in effect most of the elements of the existing Church system were left in place.

Today however, we have so much change taking place apparently in Churches with so many different "brands" available, surely these issues are being addressed? Well, not so much.

So is this a diatribe to destroy the Church? No. That's not what I read and further the litany of recommendations for this book from Bible Scholars and leaders within the Church should set that concern aside. Viola and Barna do have some suggestions to make and they are leaning in the direction of organic, non-institutional Churches. However even if that is not the decision of those reading this book, the information will equip even those remaining in the Institutional Church to be more discerning about what is really the faith preserved for all the ages and what is in effect just a stowaway that sadly in many cases has arisen to captain the ship.

5 Stars. A very important book.

Bart Breen
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Re: Pagan Christianity

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Post by ageofknowledge » Sat Dec 19, 2009 9:57 am

Is this a thread to discuss Christianity's evolution in a pagan environment or whether George Barna and Frank Viola proved their hypothesis in their popular book 'Paganized Christianity'?

George and Frank's hypothesis:

1. The origin of many of our church practices (examples: church buildings, orders of worship, sermons, pastors, tithing, clergy salaries) is non-biblical and inconsistent with the practice of the early church.

2. Just because something does not appear in the Bible does not mean it is wrong. However, our non-biblical church practices often hinder the development of our faith and keep us from encountering the living God.

3. "The church in its contemporary, institutional form has neither a biblical nor a historical right to function as it does."

4. The church must return to its biblical roots. At a personal level, we must ask questions of church as we know it and pray seriously about what our response should be.

Also I would like to warn that there are a some false church leaders out there playing on the fears of organization in Christianity like Harold Camping who is leading away a great many people out of perfectly good churches into isolation and heresy.

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Re: Pagan Christianity

#3

Post by Jac3510 » Sat Dec 19, 2009 10:35 am

I can't speak for Bart, Age, but my interest in the thread--and the book specifically--lies in the extent to which the organizational church has become overly organized, and to what extent the organism that actually is the church has been stifled. I don't think you can read Pagan Christianity and write off everything they say. I doubt anyone would even consider that. Of course, that doesn't mean you have to buy into all of their conclusions. But in any case, we have definitely been given very fertile grounds for discussion, which is what I think this is about.

Most specifically, accepting as I do most of Barna and Viola argument (I would moderate a view conclusions, but that's another issue), I would like to hear insights from others, like Bart, who agree about how they have put these ideas into practice. If nothing else, I think that question honors the book's intention, for they long for, if nothing else, an intensely practical church!

@Bart,

As expected, excellent review. How are you applying this in your experience with church and ministry now? As for me, I still attend a "normal" church, but in many ways, I believe the Bible study I teach (with several others--we teach as a group) is more "church" than what I do on Sunday mornings. What is truly amazing about it is the denominational diversity at those meetings. We have Catholics, a Lutheran, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Bible Church folk. Our "format" (to call it that) is to get together and someone's house and eat together. Then we spend time praying for one another's needs, followed by a time of study. We typically pick a book to work through over a few months. We have a lead teacher (different each week) who addresses a passage, but the teaching is totally dialogue based. Sometimes they are as short as thirty minutes. Some have gone on for well over an hour! Afterwards, we spend another bit of time together just in general fellowship, discussing our lives or the text of other issues before we break up and go home. It is not at all uncommon for any of us to call the others during the week just to hang out.

We don't really think of ourselves as a "church." We don't collect money. We don't have official titles. We are flexible in our meeting times. We are growing and we do invite people along, but the purpose isn't numerical growth (we neither encourage nor discourage that, as we don't see ourselves as any kind of organization that needs growing at all!). And yet, despite that, when my wife and I had our baby last month, we received more support from them (financial, childcare, and otherwise) than any other group (or church) of which we are a part!

Part of my concern, though, if this "method" is adopted is that it itself will become the institution. It would be rather like the kids in high school who all wore black--the counterculturals. What ends up happening is the counterculture BECOMES the culture, against which later there will become another counterculture. So I see lots of positive development in this model . . . I just wonder how far it should go, what are its limits, etc.

What are your thoughts/experiences (and anyone else's for that matter)?

edit: Wouldn't George and Frank be proud of this discussions?!? ;)
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Re: Pagan Christianity

#4

Post by Canuckster1127 » Sat Dec 19, 2009 10:49 am

Anyone is welcome to discuss whatever elements or themes they wish.

There have always been false teachers and leaders and always will be. That doesn't validate institutional church, unless you make a one to one correlation between institutional church and the church universal which simply doesn't exist. To have a productive discussion in this realm you have to be very careful to define what "church" is. I would argue that the use of the word "church" in the NT (most commonly translated from ekklesia) refers to the called out followers of Christ collectively in the universal sense and to the believers in a particular region in a local sense, without any understanding of the common usage of the word in our culture and time referring to buildings, polity, clergy/laity hierarchy etc.

For the record, while I have left institutional churches, it is not my position that genuine, sincere and growing Christians do not attend and function within institutional churches or that there are not institutional churches where healthy body life takes place. It is my belief however, that we are on the edge of another revolution or reformation of sorts where the first reformation reclaimed the Bible, there is a critical mass growing which is being enabled in part by the improvement of real time communication technology that is seeking to reclaim now, the "church".

Another book that ties into this by George Barna is "Revolution."
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Re: Pagan Christianity

#5

Post by jlay » Sat Dec 19, 2009 10:53 am

I plan on putting this on my reading list.
One of the keys of 'the church' is to meet together. 'Do not give up meeting together.......'

I too am torn as to how all this info applies and just how I am supposed to respond to it all. Like Jac, I have a weekly group of study and prayer, and this is far more 'church' to me than anything I have ever experienced. Once I got out of 'youth' group, I never had that connection like before. Even as a Sunday school teacher, I never had that sense of community. I have a dear friend, also in my group, who is a pastor, and he is being torn by this same thing. Although I don't think he has come to reject the notion of church as we know it, I have a feeling it might eventually lead this way. As a pastor he has become very frustrated with the routine. The majority of the congregation wants the routine. They are comfortable, and don't really have anything vested other than a couple of hours a week.

You could really break this down into a number of areas. Take salvation for example. Look at how the church has distorted coming to Christ through traditions and such. There are preachers that think there job is to get a certain number to walk the isle every Sunday. Instead of equipping the congregation to go out and win the lost. Church has become, 'come and hear' instead of 'go and tell.'

I also fear that the job of a parent discipling a child is handed off to a Sunday school teacher for one hour on Sunday morning. I see kids coming out of class rooms with crafts. I'm wondering how much did this child really learn about the Christian faith? And we wonder why our teens and young adults are abandoning the faith. They are not learning how to give an answer for the hope they have. That is if they even have any hope in the first place.
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Re: Pagan Christianity

#6

Post by Canuckster1127 » Sat Dec 19, 2009 11:17 am

Hi Jac,

Thanks for the kind words.

As to where I am personally, I'm happy to share that with you. After about 20 years of different forms of ministry, I left church employment in 2005. I remained with the last church I worked with until earlier this year when I chose to withdraw my membership because I could no longer participate in a system that I now believe is more a hinderance than a facilitation to a relationship with God and a functioning church body as I see it described and modeled in the NT.

There are certainly personal elements to it as well, as there couldn't be otherwise. I've served in organized churches in the past 20 years at various times as an assistant pastor, pastor, deacon, elder, board chairman, denominational worker, church administrator, nursery worker, Sunday School teacher, building committee member and chair and the list could go on. The corruption, pride, personal ambition, deception, internal politics, hypocrisy etc (and I include myself in many of those assessments) brought me to a point where I could hardly sit in a pew, watching the performers on the stage knowing the hypocrisy and pain many of them had perpetrated in other's lives. Don't get me wrong. I expect the same in any organization that I'm a part of including my choice now to move toward organic church.

However, it is my desire and my conviction that relationships where the mask is dropped and honesty inculcated between followers of christ is or should be the norm. Institutional Christianity, stands in the way of the this, and actively replaces it to where such honesty and depth of relationship is the exception rather than the norm and in that the love of Christ is rarely seen.

I could say more, but I'll step back and wait for the storm these words will probably stir. ;)

Sorry you asked?

blessings,

bart
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Re: Pagan Christianity

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Post by DannyM » Sat Dec 19, 2009 12:13 pm

Hi Canuckster1127, Hope you don't mind me editing part of your post…
Canuckster1127 wrote:

The corruption, pride, personal ambition, deception, internal politics, hypocrisy etc (and I include myself in many of those assessments) brought me to a point where I could hardly sit in a pew, watching the performers on the stage knowing the hypocrisy and pain many of them had perpetrated in other's lives. Don't get me wrong. I expect the same in any organization that I'm a part of including my choice now to move toward organic church.
Forgive me if I'm reading you wrong, but when you talk of hypocrisy are you talking about people who have perpetrated in the past and are now living a life according to Jesus? I don't want to comment until I clear this up…

Canuckster1127 wrote: However, it is my desire and my conviction that relationships where the mask is dropped and honesty inculcated between followers of christ is or should be the norm. Institutional Christianity, stands in the way of the this, and actively replaces it to where such honesty and depth of relationship is the exception rather than the norm and in that the love of Christ is rarely seen.
I empathise with your disillusionment with church politics; I have had the self same issues myself. But what do you advocate? Do you, as I do, advocate a non-hierarchical church, as taught by Paul? Is this what you talk of when referencing the original intentions of the New Testament?

Thanks in anticipation.

Dan
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Re: Pagan Christianity

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Post by Canuckster1127 » Sat Dec 19, 2009 12:23 pm

Hi Canuckster1127, Hope you don't mind me editing part of your post…
Hi Dan,

I don't mind at all. The short answers to your question is, that I'm speaking of hypocrisy perpetrated by active leaders within institutional churches, post profession of faith.

And I am indeed advocating a non-hierarchical form of church, as modelled and advocated within the NT and that is the journey I have recently embarked upon. I'm current meeting with a small group of fellow believers in the beginning stages of an organic style fellowship.

bart
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Re: Pagan Christianity

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Post by DannyM » Sat Dec 19, 2009 12:37 pm

Canuckster1127 wrote:
Hi Canuckster1127, Hope you don't mind me editing part of your post…
Hi Dan,

I don't mind at all. The short answers to your question is, that I'm speaking of hypocrisy perpetrated by active leaders within institutional churches, post profession of faith.

And I am indeed advocating a non-hierarchical form of church, as modelled and advocated within the NT and that is the journey I have recently embarked upon. I'm current meeting with a small group of fellow believers in the beginning stages of an organic style fellowship.

bart
Hi Bart,

Right. I'm glad I asked because I had misunderstood. I'm sure our separate experiences of the hypocrisy of some church leaders differs but ultimately I am totally on board with you; this has been an issue of mine for some time now.

I can only commend you for your non-hierarchical approach as it is the purest form of Christianity. I only wish I had the resources to make a similar stand to you. But I'm working on it and, even if it takes a very, very long time, I'll get there somehow. There are many who feel like you and I do. There's definitely something “in the air”…

I wish you all the best in your endeavours.

Dan
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Re: Pagan Christianity

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Post by Canuckster1127 » Sat Dec 19, 2009 1:18 pm

Dan,

It is a very difficult thing to leave ministry and I am fortunate that I had a non-traditional entry into ministry and so I had the education and experience to translate into a secular career, better than most pastors can.

I'm very aware that there are very many pastors who wish they could leave and would leave if they could find a way. It's very difficult. A pastor leaving a church is not like other professions. In addition to the job, many also lose their housing and then they and their entire family are no longer received within the church where they too were members. It's a triple whammy.

Most pastors enter ministry for noble and sincere reasons. About 50% never make it beyond the first church and don't continue in ministry. Those who do either have to compromise their principles to work within the system or hold them and accept the system the way it is and in so doing accept the consequences that they will likely be fired or not "successful" in the measures that most churches judge succes by, namely, money, attendance, buildings, staff and program size. Depression is higher in pastors and ministers than many other professions. It's a system that tears apart the people and their families in many cases.

Currently in the US, according to Barna, about 1,500 people leave formal ministry every month; some voluntarily and some not. In addition about 1,000,000 people a year are leaving institutional churches in the US. These are not small matters. The average age of institutional pastors is increasing, because younger pastors are not arising to replace them in sufficient numbers. Mega-Churches are growing, mostly on the wave of transfer growth from smaller churches that are closing and can't compete with their resources. We're getting bigger and fewer sheep pens and many in them, are so enamoured with the giddyness of their percieved growth, that they don't see than overall their presence and influence in the culture and community around them is diminishing.

Yes, that's overly negative and there are no doubt many exceptions to these bleak observations. They are just that though .... exceptions. The trend is firmly established. By the year 2025, overall institutional churches will be about 50% or less in members, number of buildings, and many other measures.

Many leaving these churches are not leaving them as a result of losing their faith. They are leaving because they see it as necessary to preserving it. Non-traditional church fellowships are springing up and organizing and many are finding a significant measure of fellowship and community through non-traditional means, including the internet and social networks.

Other than that though, not much is happening ..... ;)

blessings,

bart
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Re: Pagan Christianity

#11

Post by August » Sat Dec 19, 2009 3:29 pm

So what would be the core reasons for this happening? Dilution of the real purpose of church? Non-preaching or weak preaching of the Word? Overt influence by post-modernism?

I think it would be unfair to apply this to all churches, although I can easily agree that it applies to a majority of them.
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Re: Pagan Christianity

#12

Post by DannyM » Sat Dec 19, 2009 3:33 pm

Warning! Rant below.

Bart,

I understand how difficult things must be. I have a friend in Kansas and she has spoken of the same issues with “mega-churches”; I'm sure she said that one church has something like 12,000 members. She has spoken of the church in many cases losing touch with the public; sort of resting on its laurals, content with its attendences and not reaching out to "non-attendees," if you like.

I don't know if you have this in the States but we have a growing band of street pastors over here in London. A Street Pastor is a Church leader/minister or a member with a concern for society - in particular young people who feel themselves to be excluded and marginalised - and who is willing to engage people *where they are*, in terms of their thinking (i.e. their perspective of life) and location (i.e. where they hang out - be it on the streets, in the pubs and clubs or at parties etc). This is a clear attempt to engage with the spiritually deprived. And its working! Crime rates and fatalities are down in many areas where the street pastors work.

http://www.clarkyboy.com/streetpastors.htm

One friend of mine is a street pastor in Brixton, South London and he tells me that, while his church and others are readily enthusiastic about this “re-connection” with the community, there are others who just stand by, grow fat and just take a back seat. In my area of West London, where I work with disadvantaged youths, I know of many similar cases. It's time to get out of the church and onto the streets and into the lives of the excluded and spiritually deprived to bring the spirit of Christianity *back* into their lives.

I hope I haven't gone too far off on a satsuma, Bart, but it breaks my heart when I see that the church *itself* could be doing so much more. We have about 42m professed Christians in the UK, and yet roughly 10% of this 42m attend church on a weekly basis — 15-20% once a month. Why is this? It's plainly and simply because the church has lost touch with its core duty. The church is for all of us. There is to be no hierarchy, no internal political struggles. The hierarchical structures, regrettably, came as a result of a misconception, which had “disaster” written all over it.

Keep up the good work.

Dan
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Re: Pagan Christianity

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Post by Canuckster1127 » Sat Dec 19, 2009 5:18 pm

August wrote:So what would be the core reasons for this happening? Dilution of the real purpose of church? Non-preaching or weak preaching of the Word? Overt influence by post-modernism?

I think it would be unfair to apply this to all churches, although I can easily agree that it applies to a majority of them.
August,

I wish I had the answers. I don't.

I suppose the question has to be narrowed down in some regard. If the question is, is there some methodology, program or "gimick" that can be brought to bear that will solve this bleak situation in terms of redeeming, reforming and reviving as it were, the institutional church as a whole? Perhaps. God moving through His Holy Spirit has brought about seasons of revival and radical change in the past. I don't discount that.

I'm very much coming in many regards however from the position of Barna, whom, I suspect you know, has left the institutional church himself and radically restructured his approach to the parachurch ministry that he established. Barna came to conclusion years ago that the work he did in researching trends in society and how the institutional church should react to them to bring about growth in numbers, dollars, programs, building and staff were not based on spiritally grounded methods. Much of what he saw was that the same methods that work to grow secular organizations were being employed and the result in the survey numbers he generated over a long period of time showed that despite growth in the client churches and organizations who subscribed to his research and advice, society as a whole, including those who claimed to be christians and attended these churches, were not being impacted in any measurable way in terms of biblical worldview and values.

I think the issues involved here are more qualitative than quantitative. I believe sincerely that while I agree with your observation that it is unfair to tag all churches through this lens, it is still true that it applies to more churches than it does not. I think to a significant measure the institutional system, the hierarchical clergy/laity dichotomy, the building bloated and program approach to ministry that absorbs 80 percent of every dollar to fixed salary and building and places the majority of those attending into a passive consumer role.

It would be one thing if this methodology itself were Biblical. As it is not, I don't feel the need to redeem it or assume that it must be maintained moving forward for its own sake. I don't imagine that it is going to go away inspite of the fact that it is now in the midst of a trend that is escalating exponentially away from it.

I imagine some church groups and individual churches will see some changes and perhaps adjust and adapt. Overall however, I think the institutional system is a net negative upon true Christ centered organic Church in the true sense of the word and so, I've decided to leave it, and pursue Christ in another context.

Some of this is fact based and some of it is opinion and personal inclination, so I don't assume that this path is for everyone. It is however a growing movement, and while it would be as easy to mistake growth or popularity for God's favor in the context of organic churches as it was in institutional churches, that is the direction I am moving, because I believe it is both Biblical and more conducive to genuine spiritual growth and vitality.

blessings,

bart
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Re: Pagan Christianity

#14

Post by Canuckster1127 » Sat Dec 19, 2009 5:25 pm

Danny, I appreciate where you're coming from too and what you're saying resonate with me as well. Thanks for the interaction and encouragement.
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Re: Pagan Christianity

#15

Post by DannyM » Sat Dec 19, 2009 5:28 pm

Canuckster1127 wrote:Danny, I appreciate where you're coming from too and what you're saying resonate with me as well. Thanks for the interaction and encouragement.
Thanks Bart. I hope all goes well with you.

God bless
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