The above title is the name of a relatively new book co-written by Frank Viola (no, not the former MLB pitcher) and George Barna (yes, the church trend expert). It is a fascinating read.
It is all about a twenty-first century call to go back and just be like the first century church. Sound familiar? According the authors- in some circles- there is already what we in the Churches of Christ/Christian Church heritage might refer to as a second Restoration Movement underway.
Only the one they propose in this book would rock our world.
Indicted as Pagan Christianity are church buildings, professional clergy, modern worship style and order, the sermon-as-central to worship, the sinner’s prayer, and a host of other commonly accepted traditions and practices in all kinds of churches.
Their premise is that none of these things have any historical or biblical connections to the very first church we read about it the New Testament. Viola and Barna document how these customs evolved out of pagan religion and were adapted by the Catholic church to then subsequently shift over with some changes into all brands of Protestant churches.
Here is just a little teaser about what they have to say concerning the modern worship assembly:
Every Sunday you attend the service to be bandaged and recharged, like all other wounded soldiers. Far too often, however the bandaging and the recharging never takes place. The reason is quite simple. The New Testament never links sitting through an ossified ritual that we mislabel “church” as having anything to do with spiritual transformation. We grow by functioning, not by passively watching and listening.
In one area their conclusions may excite some of us within the fellowship of the Churches of Christ/Christian Church. They take a very strong stance on the essentiality and immediacy of baptism. Again, here are their words:
In the first century, water baptism was the outward confession of a person’s faith. But more than that, it was the way someone came to the Lord. For this reason, the confession of baptism is vitally linked to the exercise of saving faith. So much so that the New Testament writers often use “baptism” in the place of the word “faith” and link it to being “saved.” This is because baptism was the early Christian’s initial confession of faith in Christ.
What they are calling for in restoring the New Testament church is basically a dismantling of the institutionalized church with all its accrued bells and whistles. They claim that the church as it stands today simply cannot be the transforming agent God established it to be. Their idea is to go back to the New Testament- meet in homes as they did then- enjoy spontaneous and participatory worship not led by professional clergy (something they see in the text of 1st Corinthians 14)- rediscover the Lord’s Supper as a part of the joyous “love feasts” of the early church and not as a subdued ritual- and the real development of a sense of “priesthood” by every believer.
In our history (Churches of Christ/Christian Churches) the plea of restoring the New Testament church has been a central theme, but these men are taking it two or three steps further than we ever have. Now- according to them- we are a part of the institutionalized church they are calling people away from.
Are they right? Is their call valid? Do those of us in the Restoration heritage even take our traditional call seriously any more?
Read Pagan Christianity. It will challenge you. Already in many circles it is highly controversial. While I am not endorsing it and do not agree with everything Viola and Barna are saying, some of their ideas of a second restoration are intriguing.