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Taki’s adventures continue. Please check out the story here on my brand new WordPress site!

Lioness Hunting

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Frank Viola, co-author of Pagan Christianity, talks about what he calls “Sunday morning costumes” in chapter six of his book. He starts off dealing with a rite many of us no longer ascribe to, or at least certainly not to the degree we did a decade ago, which is dressing up to go to church. He contends that this presents a false front to the world in that we’re attempting to appear better than we actually are. I think this makes a weak, though arguable point. Long ago, and this is undoubtedly still the case in some churches, congregants did take personal pride in wearing fashionable and costly clothing to church. I think, though, that today most people see it as a gesture of respect to at least wear clothing suitable for presenting oneself at work or at a court proceeding, etc.

Viola argues also that this practice makes poor people feel out of place in the congregation if they’re unable to afford costly clothing. This is a stronger point, though the availability of quality second hand clothing and cheap mass-market duds make it practicable for nearly every American to dress in a manner we would deem respectable to attend church or other semi-formal occasions. That said, I wouldn’t like anyone to feel he or she needed to go shopping before she could show herself in church.

Viola also goes into the matter of clerical and choir robes. These, he points out, are descended from Roman governmental regalia, and serve to separate the clergy from the laymen, thus adding to the caste distinction, giving the illusion that we are not all on equal footing as priests before God. On that point I have no argument, though it’s been many years since I saw a clergyman wearing clerical robes, even to administer communion. As for choir robes, ditto. But that’s my experience–I know they’re still the norm in more formal churches, and some of them are ridiculous, glittery, ostentatious affairs, though many are more somber and circumspect.

Chapter seven is more controversial, dealing with music ministry. I was surprised to learn that, for hundreds of years, music was deemed a clerical function and congregational singing was banned. This was partially the result of a well-intentioned attempt to curb the spreading of heresy through music, and music is certainly a powerful vehicle for the spreading of any idea. Still, it seems a better practice to fix or dump the faulty songs than to ban people from singing at all.

The reformation brought back congregational singing, but failed to bring back full participation for the congregation in spontaneously bringing forth a song for everyone to share, just as it kept the ministries of teaching and preaching for the clergy alone. Viola traces the modern history of church singing through the choir and/or music director to the currently popular rock band style worship team.  He agrees that congregants need to be taught how to write a song, lead it, etc., but that this is no reason to restrict music ministry to the few, the talented, the professional musicians.

I was part of a worship team once. Sometimes I was the worship team. It’s hard to worship when you’re in this situation because you’re always worried about whether you sound okay. You’re not truly worshiping–you’re putting on a show. Well, okay, maybe you’re leading worship. And sometimes you do actually worship yourself (oops! did I say that?), but it’s difficult to concentrate on Jesus when people are listening to you and your lovely voice.

I’d love to see worshipers writing their own songs out of their own experiences of Jesus. How much better to do this than to rely on a Christian music industry which doesn’t, now be honest, look all that different from the secular music industry. I’m not discounting that many Christian artists are dedicated followers of Jesus or that their motives are pure, but is this the best way for us to express our worship? To sing a song that came packaged in plastic, and was written by someone we’ll never meet, and sold to us on an $18 album, and that we have to purchase permission to sing in our church? Um . . . .

The next chapter concerns tithing, and believe me–Viola’s views are way different from what you’ve heard up until now. I’ll try to get to it sometime this weekend.

See you then, and God bless,

Cindy

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I’ve finished reading Pagan Christianity. I’ve also read Frank Viola’s latest book, Reimagining Church, which gave me a lot to think about. Presently I’m re-reading Pagan Christianity with my daughter.

Chapters 4 & 5 are about, respectively, the sermon and the preacher. Viola traces the history of the sermon back to Greek orators. Sermons aren’t mentioned as a regular component of early church assemblies, but as an occasional device used by itinerant church planters such as Paul and the other apostles. These sporadic orations were extemporaneous and open to questions and interruptions, in the tradition of the teaching given in Jewish synagogues. Most of the time, meetings were more on the line of 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 where every member of the body participated and contributed. Our modern day polished orations are in fact a relic of the Greek Sophists presenting flowery and dramatic monologues.

I and my family are indebted to numerous pastors, preachers and teachers and we are grateful to God for them. Could it be, though, that there is a more excellent way? I don’t mean an additional way, but a way that is necessarily crowded out by the weekly monologue. The pastor/teacher’s exercising of his ministry gift should not come at the expense of other members of the body exercising their own gifts for the building up of the body of Christ.

We are told to exercise our gifts outside of the weekly meeting, but where would that be? Do people prophesy in your Sunday school class? Do they introduce a song or share a poem the Lord has given them? In most cases, the answer will be, “No.” Most of us have followed Jesus for many years, yet we have to take a quiz to see what our spiritual gifts might be. How would you know you were a great pitcher if you never threw a ball? And does one star player make a baseball team? Do we stick our top player out there all by himself to do everything, even though he’s really only good at one thing?

Viola impressed me with his evaluation of the sermon, but Clement of Alexandria’s comment during the late second century, lamenting that the sermon did so little to change Christians (page 89 in Pagan Christianity) says it all. Do you remember the sermon you heard last week? The week before? How did it affect your life? Sometimes they do, but you’ve got to admit it’s unusual. After 50 years in church, many of us know as much bible as the pastor (if not more). You have heard all the sermons and seldom hear anything new or challenging. What if members of the congregation were allowed to speak the things God had given them, not in a 45 minute oration, but in a five minute exhortation, followed by another encouragement given by another brother or sister and so on? Might we find our spiritual gifts without taking some goofy quiz?

While appreciative and sympathetic toward people who have given their lives to the ministry, Viola points out that the gift we call “pastor” is mentioned only in Ephesians 4:11-13. It is not defined,  and it is plural, intimating that several or more members of a local body might bear the ministry of “shepherd.” This ministry of caring for the sheep is so demanding that it’s easy to see the need for sharing the burden among several brothers and sisters. The office (not the gift) of the pastor is of pagan origin. Viola takes a lot of time to substantiate this point, and I can’t do it in a sentence or two–you’ll have to read it.

At one time it was considered wrong for the laity to partake of Communion, sing the sacred songs, or even (after Latin was no longer spoken commonly) to hear the sacred service in their own language. Times have changed. Many pastors are okay with an unordained volunteer presiding at a small group communion. Parents are invited to baptize their own children. The priesthood of all believers is coming back a little at a time, but the office of pastor is still a strong tower. I can’t see any pastors I know opening up each and every church meeting (or even one meeting) for the free-flowing ministry of the Spirit through the congregation to take place. Can you blame them? It wouldn’t work. Congregants would be puzzled–wouldn’t know what to do–and they would therefore do nothing but sit. How awkward.

But the job of the pastors (usually referred to as elders, which means “wise old men”) in the early church was to care for and nurture the brothers and sisters. They weren’t required to preach–evangelists did this, for the benefit of interested unbelievers. Visiting apostles or teachers might give an interactive sermon. Pastors to the assemblies in the same ways other believers did, by exercising their own spiritual giftings, whether these were in the area of prophecy, teaching, music, ecstatic utterances/interpretation, exhortation, or any of the gifts of the Spirit. They also provided individual care and nuturing to God’s people as needed. This is Viola’s argument, and he does back it up with scripture rather convincingly.

Today, the pastor is a trained professional, a servant of the body and the figurehead of the individual church. You see signs saying things like, “Pastor Thomas Edwards Preaching.” Why would we advertise the pastor’s name unless we saw him (or her) as the main drawing card of the church? People come to church to hear a sermon preached by a preacher. The identity of the preacher is important because people care whether the sermon is going to be entertaining or enlightening or electrifying, etc. And they know that you can usually count on Pastor So&So for a stirring oration, so we advertise him on the marquee like some kind of performer.

Do we expect our doctor or our attorney to train us to practice medicine or law? No. They went to school for years to learn what they know and that was only the beginning of their education. We’re paying them to use their expertise on our behalf.  So do we expect our pastor to train us up to perform the work of the Lord? We may say so, but what most of us expect is a stirring message from the professional preacher. We might then go out into the world and invite people to come in to the church to hear him preach. Do we make disciples ourselves? We might, if we’re unusual, lead someone in the sinner’s prayer and encourage them to attend church with us, but making disciples generally falls outside of the average layman’s training and ability. That’s the job of the clergy, isn’t it? We don’t know how. We’re not professionals.

Viola argues that the pastor takes the place of Jesus as the head of the church. I’m certain most pastors would shudder at the thought of doing such a thing, but Christ is supposed to be the head of the church, and who is really the head in actual practice? The pastor of a church I once attended in another city used to correct anyone who referred to the church as “your church,” but as my mother observed, “I wonder how he’d feel if someone else came in and took it over?” I wonder if Jesus is okay with being the indirect head of His church? What if He wants to be the head and everyone else gets to be arms and legs and fingertips and stuff?

The pastor, by trying to carry a load that was never intended to be carried by one man, hurts himself and to his family. He is pressured, by the fact that his livlihood depends on his job as pastor, to avoid angering key people in the congregation. He must operate in giftings he hasn’t received simply because it’s “his job.” He can’t have any family struggles or personal battles, and he can’t confide his problems (other than physical illness, and in some denominations even that is a touchy area) to members of the congregation. So he’s battling with doubt . . . dare he share that with anyone? Or Heaven forbid he should admit he’s struggling with homosexual temptation. With which member of the body would he be at liberty to share such things safely? This person is too important to the church to have struggles–that’s why only Jesus can fill the position of head of the church.

So; Viola’s main points? 1. The sermon was not known to the early church in its present form, but only as an occasional, extemporaneous and sporadic event. Regular meetings of the church were characterized by every member contributing through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The meetings were designed for members of the body to minister to one another and build one another up.

And 2. The office of pastor as practiced in the modern day church not only prevents non-professional believers from functioning as priests, as God ordained, but also harms the pastor himself by loading him with a burden never intended to be born by anyone but Christ.

I think Viola makes a good point. I think . . . he may be right. Being old enough to know that things can sound wonderful on paper and yet not work at all in real life, and not having anything similar to the “organic” church Viola advocates near enough to explore for myself, I still hold some reservations, but academically, I am persuaded. This does seem to be the direction the church is inching toward, even here in the back woods of South Dakota. The church we’re attending now has not one, but three preachers, none of whom are ordained. Fathers baptizing their own kids. The head pastor isn’t a ministry graduate, but was chosen from among the brethren.

Jesus will return for a bride who is pure, without spot or wrinkle, but the western church is a long way from fitting that description. Could this be the stirrings of the last great “reformation?” The one that will ready the church for His coming? We see the signs of the times. The world is winding down. Maybe this is the last great move of the Spirit in these last days? What do you think?

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If you haven’t read the first part of my review of Pagan Christianity, you can click here to check it out. This review will focus on chapters 3, which talks about the typical order of church services. As in my first review, I’ll use the following conventions:

  • “church” written without italics and unbolded will refer to the church building.
  • church, written in italic, will refer to the church service or meeting.
  • church, bolded, will refer to the people–the core meaning of the word.

Sometimes the distinction is going to get a little hazy, but I’ll do my best.

Chapter three talks about the typical order of a Protestant church service: where it comes from, the changes it’s gone through over the years, and why the authors feel it causes problems in the church.

The typical Sunday morning order of worship starts out with music and/or a greeting, followed by more music. If you attend a charismatic church, make that a lot of music–fine by me.

After music come the announcements and the offering, though sometimes that is saved until after the sermon. Many pastors will give a prayer.

Now comes the sermon. After this there will usually be another prayer, sometimes an altar call, more singing, communion, a closing song and/or blessing, and you’re out the door.

Different churches mix up the order a bit, but this is more or less the order of most churches I’ve been a part of or visited. I think the authors’ point here is that the order is predictable and fairly consistent from one Protestant church to the next. The style changes, but not the bones–or not much.

Viola and Barna retrace church history as it played out after the early church period, an interesting read for me as I haven’t studied a lot of church history. The gist of it is that church gradually changed from a believers’ meeting, to the tool of evangelism we consider it to be today. (Please invite three friends to next week’s service!)

Also, the authors believe that church is to be lived in community, that worship should be done in community, and that the church must grow together into a true expression of Christ in the midst of our world. They stress that the church of today has become too focused on the individual and has left off the importance of being the body of Christ together.

While I agree with them on this, we are still individuals. We do not die to sin as a group, but as individuals. We are responsible for our own actions, including our decision to accept or refuse the sacrifice of Jesus to save us from Adam’s sin and our own sins. Nevertheless, the authors’ point; that we should, as a body, show a true picture of what the Godhead is like, is well taken. I don’t think they mean to intimate that individuals don’t interact with God on a one-on-one basis, but their main emphasis is on community, since this is the church’s current need.

Viola and Barna’s goal in scrolling through all this history seems to be to prove that the Protestant order of service is not a product of scripture, but rather of human device. For me, this was unnecessary though interesting. It never occurred to me that the Catholic or Protestant order of service was Biblical. I’ve always simply accepted that this was the way we ended up doing things and that it was okay. The authors say, “No . . . it’s not okay.”

They use a couple of passages in the epistles to guide them when attempting to reconstruct the sorts of church meetings the early Christians participated in. One of them is 1 Corinthians 11-14. By coincidence (?) I’m working on this very section of 1 Corinthians in my own Bible study, so I’ve already covered some of it and will be doing the rest of it in the coming weeks. We can infer a great deal about they way in which the Corinthian church conducted their meetings from what Paul says in this part of his letter. (And Paul presumably had taught them how to hold a meeting.) Though he is correcting excesses, Paul doesn’t tell them to stop letting everyone participate, but merely tells them to take turns nicely, etc. When the Corinthians came together, they each had “a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” (1 Cor 14:26) We don’t do that today. Why is this a problem? What’s wrong with the way we do things?

Our order of service prevents individual believers from ministering to one another and learning how to minister to one another, prevents Jesus from actively running the meeting by speaking through whomever He chooses, and not only allows, but forces one or a small handful of players (the pastor and possibly the worship team) to take complete control of the ball. In sports, this is discouraged, but in the church, it has come to be expected. The authors contend that this was not the way the church was intended to function. Paul’s depiction of the church as a body in which each member has a genuine part to play doesn’t speak to us of one large tongue and many small ears (the authors’ illustration).

I think that, though God does and has worked mightily through the institutional church, He has been swimming against the current to do it. I was thinking yesterday . . . musing. I wrote that last post on 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 and was talking about how our physical bodies were designed by God to heal themselves–at least to some degree. What if God designed the church the same way? What if the organic church movement is a part of the body trying to heal itself? Jesus is coming back for a glorious church without spot or wrinkle. In these last days, is He preparing His church to meet Him by restoring what we’ve lost? Is the whole process of church history from the restoration on just one long healing process, bringing us finally to this point? If we miss this, are we missing God or just skipping over a useless fad? What do you think?

Grace and Peace,

Cindy

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I’m currently reading: Pagan Christianity, and I had mixed feelings before I ever started reading it. After the reviews I had read, I expected a light-weight treatment of the subject, sprinkled with unreasonable condemnation and with a touch of bitterness toward the “Institutional Church” or IC, as “insiders” refer to it. Having now read around half the book, I would describe it as accessible to the average reader.  It’s not a college text. Maybe Viola could write a college text, but that’s not his target audience. I don’t see the occasional hints of condemnation as unreasonable and I can usually see the author’s point. And yes, he does sound just a touch bitter at times. Ain’t we all?

I’ll talk about the whole book later, but for now, just the intro and chapters 1 & 2. There’s a lot of intro, and for me, it wasn’t worth the time to read it. Nothing new in my experience, but not everyone has the same life experiences, so your opinion may differ. If you’re rushed for time, you can skip it and maybe come back later.

Chapter one starts with a “typical” family going to church. It didn’t relate with me, but it’s short, and this chapter serves as a “guide” to the book. The author will refer back to it, so skim over it.

Chapter two deals with church buildings and why they’re designed as they are. I found it fascinating, as there was a lot here I didn’t know. The authors stress that the church building is not the church. The church (which I will do in bold from here on out) is the people–followers of Christ–who form His body. I learned this as a young child, so it isn’t revolutionary knowledge. We understand that words can have several different shades of meaning, and some words even have contradictory meanings. Nevertheless, what we say with our mouths affects what we think with our minds. How often have you said things like, “They need to build a bigger church (building)” or “What a beautiful church” ?

When I say “I’m headed to church”, I usually mean that I’m going to some sort of church service or prayer meeting. I’m going to be with the church at the church and we’re going to have church (meaning a church function of some sort).

Now if I were going to meet with a group of believers at the park for a picnic, even though we are, collectively, the body of Christ, I admit I probably wouldn’t say, “I’m going to church” unless we planned to do something overtly spiritual like worship or do a Bible study or have a baptismal service, etc.

Christian churches didn’t own buildings until Constantine became the first “Christian” Caesar. Christian people did own real property and in many cases persecution would not have prevented them from having a dedicated meeting house, but they chose not to. But what about this makes it wrong to own a church building to house the church when we’re having church?”

I grew up in the United Methodist Church. We were always doing stuff together. People spent a lot of time our house. My dad was a builder, so we always had nice houses, and my mom was the consummate hostess. It was a wonderful church and a big part of the reason was that God used my mom’s hospitality to make it so. Everyone belonged. Everyone knew everyone else and felt (and was) welcome in the body. I don’t remember getting anything special out of the church services, and I have no particular fondness or distaste for the church building, but that wasn’t where the church became the body of Christ. We didn’t have “religious” stuff going on at our home most of the time. It was all social–people getting to know and love one another.  That’s what happened all around me, and that’s what made St. John’s the church it was. That’s the church I’ve been searching for and never finding ever since. I came close in a little church in Custer, SD, which met in the pastor’s home. It’s a good church, but it lost a lot of its appeal when we moved to a “real” church building. Why? I begin to understand.

As long as we were meeting in our pastor’s home, we were very informal. Though we had the traditional order of service–music, prayer, sermon, prayer, offering, music–or some variation thereof, we felt free to interrupt the pastor with a question or comment. In the interludes, we might have a prayer request or members of the congregation might offer prayer or (as it was a charasmatic church) a message in tongues with an interpretation or a prophecy, etc. As a member of the worship team, I was also free to give any exhortation I might think appropriate as well as insert an extra song or change a song if we felt we should. So there was a lot of participation. This gradually changed when we bought a building from a dying church in town and merged with them. I think the authors are right. I think the architecture did it.

Sitting in an audience, looking up at the performers on the platform really discourages most people from yelling up to the preacher, “Hey, what did you mean by . . .?” or “Why do you think that verse says that? I’ve always thought it said this?” No. Audiences are expected to be politely quiet or to utter a hushed “Amen” or a lusty “Preach it, Brother!” as appropriate to the particular denomination. They are expected to take it all in–not to participate except to sing along with the worship leader’s choice of songs, repeating as directed.

In the new Roman basilica church, people were not permitted, nor would they have been inclined, to interrupt or carry on as we did in my Custer church. I’ve been wondering why we have so few people participating in volunteer work–ministry–in my current church and now I think I may understand that a little better. We’ve all been inadvertently trained by our own architecture to sit quietly, listen, sing along with the hymns, shake a few hands, and leave when the service is over. This is what “having church” entails. It doesn’t include sharing life together as in my childhood church, or sharing during the meeting as in my Custer church. It means come in, sing, sit down and listen, give an offering, follow the announcements, and go out to dinner (but not typically with other church members.)

So, is this book worth reading? I think it is. I’m still reading it with caution and I still expect to eventually run across things I can’t accept, but I can’t disagree with anything major in Pagan Christianity as of yet. I suspect this book will be, not only okay, but disturbingly on-the-mark. I’ll let you know my thoughts as I go along. By the by, lots of people do have opinions on this book, and I’d love to hear yours. (But only if you’ve read it, or at least read the part you’re commenting on). What do you think of the whole architecture (or form dictates function) idea? How do you propose it should be fixed (if it needs fixing) and if not, why not?

God Bless,

Cindy

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