Radical Church Restoration
Finding Organic Church: A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Sustaining Authentic Christian Communities by Frank Viola
A Book Review by David D. Flowers
Frank Viola says, "The church is a living organism." Many Christians would concur with Viola that the true nature of Christ's church is born out of the soil of His finished work and moves forward in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, as Viola has pointed out in his radical church restoration series, many believers have no problem speaking of the church as organism, but they are quite content to go on practicing the church as an organization.
The series begins with The Untold Story of the New Testament Church: An Extraordinary Guide to Understanding the New Testament Church. Viola relies on some of the best New Testament scholarship to vividly retell the story of the first-century church in Acts. The New Testament comes alive in one sweeping narrative to give us a clear picture of the life and nature of those first Christian communities.
Pagan Christianity? Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices is the second book in the series, but the first to really capture the attention of Christians across the country. Frank Viola and George Barna team up to give their readers a critical examination of the last 1700 years of church history.
Does the institutional church have any biblical and historical right to exist? Viola asks, "Are the practices of the institutional church God-approved developments to the church that the New Testament envisions? Or are they an unhealthy departure from it?"
As I have stated in my review of PC in January 08, this book "may very well be the most important book written on the Christian church in the last two millennia." I still stand by this statement as it speaks a great challenge to the organized church. I believe we have yet to see the full impact of this book. In the coming days, I think you can expect to see it nailed to the door of an organized church near you.
Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity is the follow-up to the controversial PC. It is in this book that Viola offers a new vision, which is truthfully an old vision, of the church as organism.
RC is a proposal that the church of Jesus Christ mirror the very image of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If you agreed with PC and it left you clueless as to the alternative of the organized church, RC paints a new picture of a church that looks like the community of the Triune God and can truly be characterized as every-member functioning, familial, and organic.
It is in From Eternity to Here: Rediscovering the Ageless Purpose of God, the fourth book in the series, that Viola takes a step back to show us the bigger picture. It is in this book that he communicates the driving passion behind the work of planting organic churches.
Viola simplifies church life as an act of gathering around Jesus Christ. Yet, much of the Body of Christ has been forced into an institution and she has forgotten God's eternal purpose. She has lost sight of the grand narrative and the great landscape of God's love story. She has been preoccupied and polluted by an ecclesiology that leaves out the ageless purpose of God.
If you're more right-brained and you just can't seem to sit down to read a book on the church, then read From Eternity to Here and have your eyes opened to God's eternal purpose. This book is bound to be a favorite among many readers.
Finding Organic Church: A Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Sustaining Authentic Christian Communities is the final book, and probably the most anticipated, in the radical church restoration series. It is in this book that Viola offers up a practical guide to understanding and implementing organic church life.
Viola writes this book for three different audiences. First, for those who desire to meet organically and would like some practical help. Second, it is written for all those already involved in alternatives to the traditional church (missional, emerging, house church movements, etc.). Third, it has been written for everyone interested in planting churches.
What is an organic church? Viola says,
"By organic church, I mean a church that is born out of spiritual life instead of being constructed by human institutions and held together by religious programs. Organic church life is a grassroots experience that is marked by face-to-face community, every-member functioning, open-participatory meetings (as opposed to pastor-to-pew services), nonhierarchical leadership, and the centrality and supremacy of Jesus Christ as the functional Leader and Head of the gathering" (p. 20).
There are four models of church planting in the New Testament. Viola begins by discussing these models and also addresses the spontaneous expressions of church life that spring up without the work of a church-planter. Viola thoroughly covers the New Testament pattern of church planting and church growth in the first half of the book.
There are four parts to this book. Throughout the first two parts of the book, Viola helps us to rediscover the purpose and function of the itinerant worker. He deals with questions concerning this largely discarded and often controversial role of the itinerant worker. He has even devoted a chapter to the book entitled "Wasn't Paul the Last Apostle?"
He skillfully presents his case for the restoration of traveling church planters (i.e. apostles) and their task in empowering and equipping the church to function organically by the indwelling Christ. Can the New Testament model work today? Viola believes so. And he testifies to experiencing it personally over the last 20 years.
In the third part of the book, Viola discusses how to gather and gives practical steps for beginning to meet organically. Maybe you are presently meeting in an organized church but would like to begin meeting organically. It could be that you have left the institutional church and would like to begin meeting with others who are interested. And there are those who are already meeting in homes but are in need of some guidance. You will find this book a great help in moving forward.
How do you sing without a "leader" to direct you? What about teaching? What about giving? What about evangelism? What does it all look like in this new paradigm? And the most often asked question of all, "What about the children?" Viola addresses these concerns and so much more. He gives practical exercises and suggestions in getting started.
In the final part of the book, Viola discusses the seasons and stages of growth within organic church life. He also mentions the diseases and pitfalls of gathering around Christ. His descriptions of these periods no doubt come from his own personal experiences.
Finally, Viola gives a call out to his readers.
"I believe the need of the hour is for Christian who are called by God to raise up the church as a living, breathing experience. Christians who are broken and tested. Christians who refuse to take shortcuts but who have first lived in an organic expression of body life as brothers and sisters before they ever dare plant a church."
"The need of the hour is for such a people to wait on God until they are properly prepared and then sent. And once sent, to plant the church in the same way that all first-century workers did: by equipping it and then abandoning it to the Holy Spirit" (p. 306).
And to those pastors who wish to make the transition, Viola writes...
"As I have said elsewhere, transitioning from an institutional church to an organic church is not cosmetic surgery. It's a complete overhaul" (p. 311).
For pastors, he closes with three steps to take in moving your church to functioning organically. But you're gonna have to get the book to see what those steps call for.
Are you satisfied with shoulder-to-shoulder religion or are you looking for face-to-face community? It's not for those that aren't willing to endure the cross. Are you ready to dive in to an exciting journey of experiencing the indwelling Christ in familial community?
Then take a bold step outside the walls of institutionalized religion and recline at the table with others who hunger for more of Jesus.