Frank Viola has written a book entitled Pagan Christianity. In it he traces the unbiblical roots of many of our present-day church practices. Some people love this book, some people hate it, and yes, oddly enough, some people couldn’t care less one way or the other(!). I stand with those who are in favor of its message, so I would encourage you to check it out. However, what good would it do any of us to merely see what the church is not without also seeing what the church is?
(Props to Frank for addressing this concern and addressing it well. Reimagining Church is his constructive sequel to Pagan Christianity, which in turn is followed by From Eternity to Here, which spells out in simple language the vision of God’s eternal purpose concerning Christ and the church.)
Anyway, before this begins to sound like a book review… 🙂
Truth be told, the New Testament doesn’t have a whole lot to say about the way the churches met together in the first century. Personally I think this is a good thing, as it saves us from the delusion of thinking there is a precise method of church life prescribed by God in the scripture. This has been referred to as “New Testament blueprint-ism”-the belief that all you have to do is fit together all the right pieces of the puzzle, and voila! you have a church-and is usually just as spiritually dead as anything else. No, the writers of scripture were more preoccupied with the person and work of Jesus Christ, and our life in Him, than they were anything else. In other words, the New Testament is more concerned with why we do what we do than it is with how we do it.
So then, what is my point? Only to say that it’s far easier to tear down than it is to build up. Tearing down is necessary from time to time, but only in view of the rebuilding. And in the words of John Kennedy, “A Christianity which becomes engrossed in the negative is destructive to its own nature.” What makes a church is not stained glass windows and bricks and mortar; nor is it a discontented bunch of people who see that the church is not those things. What makes the church is a local group of people whose spirits have been ignited to life by a revelation of Jesus Christ… whose wellspring for living is an ever-growing vision of God’s eternal purpose concerning Him… and whose hearts and lives are being knit together as a result of sharing in that vision together. Nothing less than this will suffice, not for the long haul anyway.
Again, in the words of John Kennedy-
“The extent to which God can use us to the establishing of the church is the extent of our subjection to Him, and our freedom from the bonds of tradition and other human entanglements which would hinder His working. Then the church will not need to be cajoled into existence. The Spirit Himself will bring to birth the urge that brings an assembly into being… Erecting a building, or establishing the observance of the Lord’s table or a certain mode of gathering has never yet made a church. Without a burning vision of the Lord’s way, and the urge of the Spirit to obey, any pattern will remain but an empty sham.”