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.