Pagan Christianity?

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ReformedWretch

Puritan Board Doctor
A number of people are reacting to this statement in the book -- "the church, in its contemporary, institutional form, has neither a biblical nor a historical right to exist." What did you mean by that exactly?

Answer. This statement appears in the Advanced Reader Copy of the book which went out to reviewers and magazines. The published edition (hardback) which was printed a few weeks afterwards and sent to bookstores phrases it this way:

We are also making an outrageous proposal: that the church in its contemporary, institutional form has neither a biblical nor a historical right to function as it does. This proposal, of course, is our conviction based on the historical evidence that we shall present in the book. You must decided if that proposal is valid or not. (page xx)

Note the words we use are "biblical or historical right." That simply means that what we are calling "the institutional church" (the book defines this) has no "biblical" merit or justification. And historically, it can be demonstrated that the church in its present form didn't originate with God, but from human inventions and traditions. (This is what we give historical evidence for in the book.)

This doesn't mean the church in its present form is evil, bad, sinful, or useless. Nor does it mean that God hasn't and isn't using it, despite its shortcomings. It simply means that the institutional form we're speaking of has no "Scriptural basis." And as we argue in the book, many of its features actually contradict the teachings of Scripture.

Let me offer an example. Suppose that someone in our time began to say, "We need to change the way we have the Lord's Supper. From now on, we're going to replace the fruit of the vine with Dr. Pepper and the bread with french fries. (All those between the ages of six and ten break out into applause.) And instead of remembering Jesus Christ and His death/resurrection, we're going to remember David's victory over Goliath.

Now suppose this idea catches on. And after three hundred years, it's essentially the universal way that Christians take the Lord's Supper (Eucharist). It goes unchallenged and unquestioned. In fact, most Christians can't conceived of taking the Lord's Supper any other way.

Is there anything morally wrong with drinking Dr. Pepper or eating french fries (not counting the opinion of some nutritionists!). I'd say no. Is there anything wrong with remembering and celebrating David's victory over Goliath? I'd say no. But, I would argue that the original meaning and intention that Jesus Christ and the apostles gave to us ("handed down") regarding the Lord's Supper has been utterly changed and emptied of it's original meaning. And whatever the Lord's Supper was originally supposed to embody in the mind of God has been lost. Thus, to my thinking, taking the Lord's Supper in this new fashion has no Biblical merit. Or to put it differently, in this particular form "it doesn't have a Scriptural or historical right to function as it does."

In like manner, we are saying that the modern, inherited, institutional form of church has strayed far, far afield from the New Testament concept of "church" in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. And we are asking the question: should we keep supporting this inherited form or should we begin to do things differently?

No doubt, there's a better way of phrasing that sentence; but it seemed to make sense to us at the time.

I hope that helps.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
No doubt, there is an awful lot of contemporary Christianity that deserves to be criticized, and abandoned.

I wonder if they include a chapter on how often this has been tried before... hmmmmm?

Almost certainly a project begun as a thesis in search of support. Which is fine, as long as you are prepared to critically reexamine the thesis as the evidence comes in. I doubt whether there is even a couple pages discussing the work and exegesis of the question as virtually the same issues were tackled in the age of Reformation. There, you had an entire movement of theologians and humanists going back to the fontes and coming out with a variety of answers, but with the notable exception of the Radical Reformation, finding much on which to agree together, as well as to disagree with Rome together.

Do the authors care to explain how none of these groups even came close? Or perhaps they are akin to the Radicals? Why not simply admit it? But that would mean this is just rehashed Radicalism, and not "fresh".

All this kind of work is done within the framework of a theological system. Better to know your presuppositions, better to admit them up front to yourself and others, because the starting point will have more than a bit to do with the finish line.
 

ReformedWretch

Puritan Board Doctor
One more-

Here are some questions I want you to address. Do you believe that the only kind of meeting a church should have is an open meeting where everyone shares equally? Does the Bible really teach that? Do you believe it's wrong for Christians to meet in a building? Do you deny that the early church met in the Temple as well as in homes? Do you believe there are never times when a Christian can preach and teach from the Bible?

Answer. These questions are all answered in the book. And the answer to all of them is "no." To be specific, we show that there were two kinds of meetings in the NT: 1) apostolic meetings -- where someone ministers to an audience temporarily for equipping, and 2) church meetings -- where every-member functions and participates to display Jesus Christ.

In many (if not most) modern churches today, what we call "church" is in a way similar to an apostolic meeting, though it never ends and there's no equipping for God's people to gather under Christ's headship. And the "church meeting" has been utterly abandoned.

What most Christians call "church" today is really a religious service/performance that's dominated by the preaching of typically one person. We're challenging that in the book. In fact, we're challenging the entire Protestant liturgy. (Footnote: In my personal judgment, the church of Jesus Christ is dying for a lack of creativity. We Protestants keep repeating a 500-year old ritual with little change. Thank God some of us have broken through to something different, and we've found an entirely new universe on the other side.)

We never say it's wrong to meet in a building. (A "building" and a typical "church building" are two different things, and we're questioning the purpose/function/usefulness of the latter.) I don't believe there's anything wrong with meeting in a building in and of itself. We point out in one chapter how Paul of Tarsus rented the hall of Tyrannus for apostolic meetings in Ephesus. I myself have held apostolic meetings in a rented building for a short space of time to raise up a church or to hold a lengthy conference for a network of churches. I've also seen some church buildings renovated to be more conducive for every-membering functioning. Interesting stories on that score.

The church in Jerusalem did use the Temple at times, but it wasn't in the way that many people assume. The Jerusalem saints didn't meet in the Temple per se. They gathered in the Temple courts (Solomon's porch) which was a large outside area with a roof over it. They did so for a certain period of time to hold apostolic meetings. This was during the birth of the Jerusalem church. They also used it to accommodate the large city-wide council they held regarding a schism in Antioch.

The apostles also visited the synagogues for evangelistic purposes. But the church held their church meetings in homes throughout the city. We make this point in the book, and it's something often misunderstood today. There are apostolic meetings, evangelistic meetings, and church meetings. And there's a big difference between "the work" and "the church," something that the next volume will explore.

Finally, I'm all for preaching and teaching in church meetings, in apostolic meetings, and in conferences. I do it, in fact. It's the shape of the order of worship and the modern sermon that we challenge. The modern sermon being an oration that a pastor is paid to deliver to the same congregation every week ad infinitum. We challenge these things on historical, biblical, and pragmatic grounds.

I hope that clarifies.
 

DMcFadden

Puritanboard Commissioner
Two reactions . . .

1. As someone new to confessionalism in general and trying to find my way along the RPW line inch by inch, there is probably much truth in the Barna book. We do an amazingly large amount of things without any real biblical warrant.

2. What has happened to George Barna? I got the impression when reading his book, Revolution, that it was simply an extended apology for why he quit going to church any more. His study of the emerging trends seemed to dovetail a little too conviently with his idea that house churches should be the norm. Evidently, now he has taken it one step further. Hmmmmmm. Sounds like a guilty conscience to me.
 

danmpem

Puritan Board Junior
Two reactions . . .

1. As someone new to confessionalism in general and trying to find my way along the RPW line inch by inch, there is probably much truth in the Barna book. We do an amazingly large amount of things without any real biblical warrant.

2. What has happened to George Barna? I got the impression when reading his book, Revolution, that it was simply an extended apology for why he quit going to church any more. His study of the emerging trends seemed to dovetail a little too conviently with his idea that house churches should be the norm. Evidently, now he has taken it one step further. Hmmmmmm. Sounds like a guilty conscience to me.
:ditto: on both.
 

tdowns

Puritan Board Junior
Great timing....

this is such a big topic in "American Christian" circles right now. It seems, the Calvinism debate, has turned to how we, "Do Church". With Rob Bell leading the way. So I appreciate this thread, and the resources that are coming from it.

Interesting, that he uses the Lord's Supper, as an analogy, is he one who says it was just a meal with brethren?:think:
 
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