Frank Viola and George Barna have written a very eye opening book. Its main purpose is to give the background of so many of the practices the organized church, or as they refer to it as the institutionalized church, does that are not rooted in the Bible, but are traditions that have arisen and passed down after the first century church.
I definitely recommend the book, especially for those coming out of an abusive church with abusive pastoral leadership, but I also warn you that you must take what the authors report with a grain of salt. They point out many very good things but at the same time they are human and not a hundred percent correct on everything. Much of their research may be correct, but many of their conclusions they lead you to may be lacking. One must be extremely careful not to throw out the baby with the dirty water.
You may ask, “So why then do you recommend the book?” First, because it gives the history behind so many of our traditions in the mainline churches. Simply, what are the roots of what we do.
Second, because the authors are not trying to pull the wool over our eyes or create rebellion. They were simply on a fact finding mission and simply share the results with us. The authors make this clear in the first chapter of the book:
“As Christians, we are taught by our leaders to believe certain ideas and behave in certain ways. We are also encouraged to read our Bibles. But we are conditioned to read the Bible with the lens handed to us by the Christian tradition to which we belong. We are taught to obey our denomination (or movement) and never to challenge what it teaches.
At this moment, all the rebellious hearts are applauding and are plotting to wield the above paragraphs to wreak havoc in their churches. If that is you, dear rebellious heart, you have missed our point by a considerable distance. We do not stand with you. Our advice: Either leave your church quietly, refusing to cause division, or be at peace with it. There is a vast gulf between rebellion and taking a stand for what is true.”
Third, we live in a society where everyone wants to be coddled. Even Christians are sedated so they can be numb to the motions of everyday life. This book definitely does not coddle. If handled right, it challenges us to take a deep look at our Christian culture, and even greater our own Christian rituals, to see how we can became more affective. A hammer is subject to its user. It can be used with skill to carefully build or it can be used with recklessness to destroy. It’s a choice.
Before you read the book, however, I would like to point a few things out to you so you can look at the book and then look at the institutionalized church with a 360 degree view :
1. Without even getting into church history, it was very evident to me that there was something wrong in the abusive church I came out of especially when it came to leadership and money. I wrote many posts on my website on how church leadership should be and how money should be handled strictly using the New Testament as a guide.
2. Jesus points out the traditions of the religious leaders in Matthew 23, but notice that His real emphasis is not as much on their traditions as it is on how they treat their fellow man:
“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” (Matthew 23:23 NLT)
3. Also, at the beginning of Matthew 23, Jesus reminds us that even though religious establishment can be quite flawed, we must be careful of our own conduct:
“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees are the official interpreters of the law of Moses. So practice and obey whatever they tell you, but don’t follow their example. For they don’t practice what they teach.” (Matthew 23:1-3 NLT)
4. There is a diversity within the Bride of Christ, which is the living breathing Church. No one way of thinking is the absolute correct way because we all see dimly on this earth:
“When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.” (1 Corinthians 13:11-12 NLT)
If you carefully look through the New Testament, there is no set example of how a gathering of believers should be conducted step by step. There are only fringe examples at best. But it does state that all that come should bring something. All are vital as part of the corporate body.
5. That is why we are given certain liberties in our worship. Not all have to worship the same. This brings about diversity in worship, and does not necessarily forbid traditions as long as the weighty matters are not neglected. Romans chapter 14 addresses this.
6. Not only do we differ as we practice our liberty, we are also at different spiritual levels. Not everyone is up to par:
“You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.” (Hebrews 5:12 NLT)
7. I have read previous works of Frank Viola and must say he is a dedicated researcher. But when it comes to his writings on New Testament doctrines, he falls way short in many instances. That is why we must each carefully weigh everything that is said in his books. Then the most important thing is to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit on what to do with the information. Please see my previous post from 10/30/14 entitled ‘Ichabod’. In it you will find a sermon entitled ‘Revival Is Coming and What it Will Look Like’. Please listen to this vital MP3. It was recorded at the Times Square Church in New York City. This church was founded by David Wilkerson as an independent church even though David Wilkerson was formally out of the Assemblies of God. He did not want the tainted baggage of any mainline church to inhibit the progress of this body of believers.
8. Times Square Church New York City incorporates many of the traditional trimmings as per the book ‘Pagan Christianity’, but one visit will prove that it is a very dynamic body of believers that the Lord is using in these end times.
9. Yes the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ is first and foremost a spiritual organism as the authors point out. But we live in a highly complex world at the same time. It is not outrageous to say that a truly alive body of believers can thrive through institutionalized means. Without defending the flaws of the institutionalized church, it is still safe to say that Jesus Christ loves it as His Bride and He will protect it as He sees fit.
10. So be careful my friends and seek the Lord’s face on where He wants you to be and what He wants you to be doing. Don’t use this book as an excuse to stop meeting with other Christians. Be all that you can be. No man is an islsnd! One thing we cannot deny, because the Word of God commands it:
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25 NKJV)
My husband and I read this book about 10 years after I left the church – after being there for 20 years and involved in the worship ministry. It brought alot of healing to us. You are right that they are not 100%, but the Lord used it to help our eyes be opened and to look to and follow Jesus the author and finisher of our faith
Thank you so much for your addition!