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Good points, but the wheels come off in Chapters 4 and 5
on 7 August 2013
The three stars are not because it's a dull book! It is required reading for anyone who needs to ask `how should we do church?' Reading the book for me was like being on a rollercoaster. One minute I am shouting a firm AMEN! The next I am shaking my head in disgust because there is some serious bad teaching. Then I am saying, 'Yes... and... so what?'
There are some extremely important facts in this church which need to be disseminated widely. And yet I frequently felt that the authors* spoiled their message by going too far with their conclusions, creating an unfair straw man representing many churches or interpreting the Bible incorrectly. To me, this book is written by a man* with an agenda rather than someone who I can trust to come up with the whole truth.
Do not give this book to an immature Christian. Most of the book is what I would regard as Romans 15 territory. I need to say:
- You are not guilty because you dress smartly to church
- You are free to go to an East-facing church with an altar if that is where you need to be
- Your haven't sinned because you tithe to a church that owns a building and employs a pastor
- Don't look down on your brother because he goes to Bible College and likes listening to sermons.
In the wrong hands, this book can make one person self-righteous, falsely guilty, or it can even cause someone to withdraw from church completely - one family I know did just this because of Frank Viola's teaching. They later regretted this and joined an elder-led church.
Let's start with what I like about it.
I `get it'! A revolution in our church life needs to take place. The old wineskins are strangling what remains of the Christian church. To the extent that (as the authors* put it) this is a `conversation starter', it is a graet book. And it's a conversation we urgently need to have. I totally, totally agree that:
1. We are wasting far too much money on buildings
2. One-man leadership is unscriptural
3. Too many people are in paid ministry
4. Discipleship begins in the home
5. Church leaders need to spend time in the real world and have vocational skills
6. Many of the most revered men in history - `church fathers' - were false teachers, guilty of paganising, Romanising and Philosophising and intellectualising our faith into something very different form the simple faith our earliest brethren had.
7. We have for years been making believers into dumb, passive spectators, consumers of entertainment even, and we have failed to make them into true disciples.
The chapter on education was one chapter in which I profoundly agreed with the authors*. To quote one sentence, 'Plato and Aristotle are the fathers of modern Christian education'. It would be an eye-opener to many within the church to see how deeply immersed our faith is in Greek Philosophy and I believe a strong case is made. There's also a useful section questioning the role of the Sunday School and the Youth Pastor.
Now comes the health warning. There are some issues on which I profoundly disagree with the authors.
I was bracing myself for their attack on the sermon. And yet what they said did not really impress me.
Quote from Page 88:
'...apostolic preaching recorded in Acts possessed the following features:
- It was sporadic
- it was delivered on special occasions in order to deal with specific problems
- it was extemporaneous and without rhetorical structure.'
Wrong, wrong, wrong!
Firstly, we need to distinguish preaching (announcing the gospel to unbelievers) from teaching (primarily directed at Christians). This is a common error - the Greek words translated thus are consistent here. The chapter indicates that the authors* are actually referring to teaching.
In what way is teaching daily in the temple courts and 'filling Jerusalem with their teaching' and concentrating on the ministry of the word (see Acts 2:42,46, 4:2,18, 5:28, 6:2) sporadic and on special occasions? Is this characteristic of Paul, who taught the Ephesians 'the whole counsel of God' (Acts 20:27)?
Are you seriously accusing Paul, who wrote the incredibly tightly argued Romans, Galatians, Ephesians etc. of not having rhetorical structure??? Bear in mind here that these letters were dictated and not written. And look at how he deals with the crowds and the Roman officials in Acts 21-26. Paul was surely one of the most brilliant speakers of his day. And how could Appollos refute the Jews in public debate without the use of rhetorical structure? (See Acts 18:28).
Whilst I agree that teaching in the early church was more interactive than in the modern church (and I would welcome a return to this), it is simply wrong to suppose that teaching was an 'every member' function. It was reserved for 'faithful men' (1Timothy 2:2) who were suitable qualified. To open up teaching to anyone was to give a platform for false teachers, who were to be silenced (2Timothy 2:16-18, Titus 1:9-10, 2:15, 3:10).
Teaching is not a free-for-all.
My other big gripe with the book is the weak teaching on eldership.
Quote from page 123-124:
'Elders... were recognised by virtue of their seniority and spiritual service to the church. According to the New Testament, recognition of certain gifted members is something that is instinctive and organic. Every believer has the discernment to recognize those within his or her church to carry out various ministries.'
No! No! No!!
If that's the case, then why does Paul warn the elders in Ephesus for three years night and day with tears to be on their guard against false teachers (Acts 20:31)? Why does he bother sending Titus to Crete to examine the character of men before they can be appointed as elders?
The reason is this. It is often the pushiest characters, the cleverest schemers, the most plausible talkers who end up getting positions of prominence in the church. And they can easily fool the majority and end up ruining churches. Elders are appointed and recognised publicly. They need to be above reproach and be tested. Non-elders are commanded to respect and honour them. The process of appointing them is neither 'instinctive' nor 'organic' (whatever the latter term means).
Two other points. Paid ministry is perfectly acceptable scripturally (1Cor 9, Gal 6, 1Tim 5, Luke 8 and 10). And short quotes, 'proof texts' are used frequently by Jesus and the apostles throughout the New Testament. Again, the authors* make some good points here, but carry their arguments far too far.
Most of my Christian life has been spent in less formal churches, led by unpaid elders, or leaders of some description. And it hasn't always been pretty. One of the main problems has been the lack of church discipline, poor knowledge of scripture and sloppiness when it comes to who is allowed to teach and lead. On occasion, plausible leaders have ended up falling into serious sin because nobody bothered testing their character as the Bible says we should. The authors seem to advocate the very type of church I would now run a mile from rather than take my family to.
By all means get the book and see what you think. I believe there are far better books that cover similar ground however. I for one would recommend Steve Malz's book How the Church Lost the Way: And How it Can Find it Again as well as David Pawson's Word and Spirit Together: Uniting Charismatics and Evangelicals and The Normal Christian Birth. Also look out for his excellent talk on 'De-Greecing the Church' by doing a google search or purchasing the CDs from his website. All of these materials cover the better parts of 'Pagan Christianity' in a more complete and balanced way.
*There are the names of two authors on the front cover. But whenever the author refers to himself, he says `I (Frank)'. I'm left wondering how much of it George Barna actually wrote. A mischievous part of me asks, 'Does Frank take over his `organic church' meetings in the same way?'