What makes a church

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.”


About Joshua

Writer, husband, father, friend. View all posts by Joshua

14 responses to “What makes a church

  • Jrockman13

    I’m still up in the air on Pagan Christianity. I do think it offers a challenge to the body of Christ to think of the church as mor that the institutions and rituals which mark western Christianity. I have read some critical reviews that offer substantial historical and biblical evidence which counter many of the arguments advanced in Pagan Christianity. But bearing in mind that Frank states emphatically that the book is a popular book, not a scholarly one.

    My Dad and I just finished leading a study in Romans 12. The past two weeks were spent examine and discussing the relationships modeled by Christ and by the church in Acts. We concluded the biggest inhibitor to experiencing that life was TIME. It takes time to relate. Sacrifice. But that is why Jesus said “no man can serve two masters. I don’t think it’s the wineskins at issue right now…it’s that the branches haven’t spent any time together to ripen any grapes.

  • brotherjohnny

    Nice! In Short, it is Jesus Christ who makes a church!

    • lawdawg23

      Makes me think of something Sparks said:

      “The church has no existence in the thought of God apart from the revelation of Jesus Christ, and it is judged according to the measure in which Christ the Son of God’s love is in evidence by its existence.”

  • Bridget

    good stuff. Sparks also said, “The church is measured by Christ. More Christ, more church; less Christ, less church.”

  • Andrew Wehrheim

    I love the Churchlife. I love discovering Jesus Christ in and with my brothers and sisters! Let us spend time together, tapping into the same vine- the Real and Genuine Vine- so that we might produce some tasty grapes together!

  • brotherjohnny

    Branches, ripening….
    Ever wonder if the Lord is simply after fruit, or could He also be interested in wine.
    The former is wonderful…
    The latter requires a little more work.

  • Kevin C

    I have to agree Pagan Christianity provided some insight into many practices that were not directly birthed from the Scripture. While this is true does it demand all we do must be patterned after the early church? I truly enjoyed Frank’s book and had the opportunity to hear him in Toledo, Ohio in November of 08. For me the book did not show me we needed another way to do church. It revealed practices that were instituted did not produce the result some would think. It also shows us how even good practices can become dead and dry because we left out the Spirit of the Lord. I have had an opportunity to witness many expressions of the church and I find the key is the willingness to allow Jesus Christ to be the head of the church. I do not think the answer to finding a greater revelation of Christ is looking back. Just as the Old testament model is used for New Testament churches the 1st century church model will not fit into the 21st century. We are all seeking the same thing. The fullness of the love of God. For me I am not looking for a model to follow so we can come together. I am listening for the voice of the Lord and trusting His Spirit in us to lead us every day. I have found it never looks like we think but it always accomplishes His purpose. We are all together in Him.


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