I purchased my copy of Pagan Christianity? several months ago. I have to confess that it was so challenging that after I read a few chapters I put the book on my shelf with no intent of ever finishing it.
Well, after recently reading House Church, I decided to give Pagan Christianity? another try. I finished it this time (and I'm black-and-blue for it).
It's not that the writing style is difficult. Rather, it is what the author, Frank Viola, has to say that is so challenging. Basically, Viola takes a look at many of our church practices and shows that they have pagan roots. This is startling to read and difficult to digest.
The most impressive aspect of this book is the research that went into it. Viola backs up his claims with both the biblical record and church history. He shows that much of what we do in modern, Western Christianity came out of Roman pagan practices. After Emperor Constantine made Christianity the preferred religion in the empire, the pagans brought numerous practices into the life of the church. We still use, with some alteration, many of those practices today.
Viola spends each chapter on a particular topic. Reading these struck me blow-by-blow, as if in a boxing match. The author tells how (for example) the church building, the modern worship service, the modern sermon, and the modern preacher all have pagan backgrounds. By contrast, Viola looks at the biblical record to prove that the early church met in homes, gathered in a participatory manner, took turns speaking during meetings, and looked to Christ for leadership.
Since I'm currently serving as pastor in a traditional, Western church, you can see how this book challenged me a great deal. I'm struggling to know what to do with all this. It is a good struggle, but a struggle nonetheless.
For me, the issue comes down to whether or not the church practices we read about in the New Testament are designed to be prescriptive or descriptive. In other words, is the example we read about in Acts, I Corinthians, etc. what we are supposed to follow (a command) or do we have freedom in this areas (a possibility of what we can do).
I've grown up believing that what we read in the N.T. is simply descriptive. However, the more I study the more I'm beginning to think it may be prescriptive.
What do you think?
Back to Pagan Christianity? - I highly recommend it. Read it (if you dare).
To go to the book's homepage, click here. To order the book, click here.