Back to the Future?

One of my earlier posts mentioned a book entitled Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices, by Frank Viola and George Barna.  The theme of the book is that most of what present-day Christians do in church each Sunday is rooted, not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the deaths of the apostles.   The book goes into detail on the origins of the church building, the order of worship, the sermon, the pastor, Sunday morning “costumes”, ministers of music, tithing and clergy salaries, etc.

While I think that the book is a bit heavy handed in its approach, it is true that none of those things existed in the early church.  The position of the authors is that Christians today need to go back to a first century church model.  They espouse a decentralized Christianity where the believers meet only in small groups in homes and share their burdens, insights, and praises spontaneously with one another.  There need be no pastor, no church building, no sermon, and no denominational hierarchy.  They cite examples of bodies of believers that are thriving on this very basis today.

Barna and Viola have done some excellent research, and it serves to enlighten us on the origins of many of today’s church practices.  I will admit that there is something appealing in their back-to-basics approach because today’s corporate church environment just seems to miss the whole point of Christianity in so many ways.  However, the ways we do church are not necessarily “wrong” just because of their origins.  I still need to finish the book, but at this point I am not convinced that a return to the first century church model is advisable or even possible.   I would be interested in your thoughts on this subject.

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4 comments on “Back to the Future?

  1. rdbiondi1 says:

    I must read this book. I’m curious as to how many of the modern “churchy” traditions started. Who determined is was a necessity to wear our “Sunday best”? When did people start referring to the physical building as “The Church”, or refer to the building as “The House of God”.

    I dont know that it is necessary to totally go back to the early church model, however, we are beginning to understand the necessity of incorporating some of it. Many congregations in America today are so large that nobody knows anybody or knows of peoples needs. Many large congregations realize the importance of establishing small groups. Meeting regularly in homes as a small group becomes that “early church” setting where people can build a closeness which leads to trust and accountability. People can be real and stop playing church.

  2. That’s a good point about the small groups that have become an important feature of many large churches. I know quite a few people who think of their small group as their “real church”.

  3. KRIS HUSA says:

    I’ve had this discussion many times with a family member who lives overseas and lives out his Christian life this way; without a building, staff etc. They meet in homes. My question is this: How do you attract and disciple unchurched neighborhood children without an organized program for larger groups? (Think of our own childhood memories and the impact Sunday School and VBS played in our understanding of the gospel). Where and how do you find a facility that accomodates if you don’t have property? If a backyard program were offered in a neighborhood, would parents allow their child to attend without first understanding what was being offered? Somehow the property and denominational identification make it “safe.” The physical church, though flawed in many ways, offers outreach in this area like a small group cannot, although, if we were forced to vacate this long held tradition, some great, new, fresh ideas for reaching children might emerge. This would certainly include getting to know our neighbors!

  4. Thanks for your comments Kris. Yes, there are benefits to the facilities and the programs that larger church organizations can provide. Some of that could be done with rented/borrowed facilities, but it’s not quite the same.

    Another concern that I have about a highly decentralized church is the danger of all kinds of fragmentary doctrines and practices creeping in. In the absence of a doctrinal authority, any strong personality in a small group could steer it into serious cult-like error.

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