“Pagan Christianity” by Frank Viola and George Barna is an interesting read. I read it a few months ago, and quite honestly, I’ve been wrestling with it ever since. I haven’t blogged or posted anything, ’cause I simply don’t know what to think.
The book is written to describe the origins of many of our church traditions. By the title, you’d accurately presume that most of our traditions are heavily influenced or even completely based upon Pagan practices. This is true. The authors make a strong case and truly have their “ducks in a row” in regards to documenting these things. Here’s the problem though – just because something has it’s origin outside of the church, doesn’t make it wrong or even unbiblical. For me, these ideas expressed in Pagan Christianity, have helped me to consider and think about what practices are truly “necessary” according to the Scriptures. Acts 2:42-47 describes the things the early church concerned themselves with:
Teaching/Learning, Fellowship, Breaking of the Bread, Prayer, Filled with awe by signs and wonders (by God), Shared with one another and took care of each other, were intentional about being together, Praised God
Now, somewhere along the road, the church became much more and people began to focus on other things. Some of those things have benefited the church over the years, but that doesn’t mean they are necessary. The message of the Gospel will never change, however, the methods must change with culture.
Below is a list of the origins of many of our quote/unquote “Christian” traditions as described in the book. The authors give much more detail and do a very thorough job, but this is just a basic list. There’s a lot here so you might just want to “skim” it.
1. The church building – was first constructed under Constantine in AD 327. They were patterned after Roman basilicas/Greek temples. Before that, Christians met in homes, community centers, and Jewish temples.
2. Sacred space – was a borrowed idea from pagans in the 2nd-3rd centuries. Burial places of martyrs was considered “sacred” and when churches were built above these cemeteries – they became “sacred” too. Sacred space for the Christian is everywhere since the Holy Spirit resides in us.
3. The Pastor’s chair – came from the cathedra, which was the Bishop’s chair or throne. It replaced the seat of the judge in the Roman basilica.
4. Tax-Exempt status – came in AD313 for clergy and 323 for churches with Constantine. Pagan priests had enjoyed this privilege prior to that.
5. Stained-Glass windows – were first introduced to the church between 1081-1151 AD.
6. Gothic Cathedrals – were built according to the philosophy of Plato in the 12th century.
7. Steeples – are rooted in ancient Babylonian and Egyptian architecture and were popularized in London around 1666.
8. Pulpits – came from the Greek “ambo” which was used to deliver monologues. They arrived in churches as early as AD 250.
9. Pews – evolved between 13-18th centuries in England. (Participants became spectators.)
10. Order of Worship – Evolved from Gregory’s Mass in the 6th century and revisions were made by Luther, Calvin, Methodists, etc. Early church meetings were marked by spontaneity, freedom, every-member functioning, and open participation.
11. Centrality of the Sermon – Martin Luther in 1523.
12. Candles – were used in Roman ceremonial courts in the 4th century and made their way into the church at the same time.
13. Lord’s supper taken quarterly – was practiced first in the 16th century under Zwingly. He also introduced the communion table.
14. Congregation standing and sitting when clergy enters/exits – borrowed practice from Roman emperors in the 4th century – brought to church by John Calvin.
15. Somber attitudes – were practiced by John Calvin and Martin Bucer based upon the medieval view of piety.
16. Guilt/Condemnation for missing a Sunday – came with the 17th century New England Puritans.
17. Long Pastoral Prayer before the Sermon – 17th Century Puritans
18. Altar Calls – were instituted by 17th century Methodists and popularized by Charles Finney.
19. Church Bulletins (and written liturgy) – came to the church with Albert Blake Dick’s stencil duplicating machine in 1884.
20. Solo hymns, Door-to-door witnessing, and Evangelism Campaigns – were started with D.L. Moody (1837-1899)
21. Decision cards – were introduced by Absalom Earle and popularized by D.L. Moody.
22. Bowed heads, eyes closed, raise your hand to respond to the Gospel – was first done by Billy Graham in the 20th century.
23. Solo/Choral music during the Offering – 20th century Pentecostals.
24. Sermons – were borrowed from the Greek sophists. John Chrysostom and Augustine popularized the Greco-Roman homily and made it a central part of Christian churches.
25. Long sermons, notes, sermon outlines – 17th century Puritans
26. Pastors (as an office) – did not exist until Ignatius of Antioch in the early 2nd century. They didn’t prevail in most churches until the 3rd century.
27. The Clergy/Laity split – didn’t occur until 100AD with the writing of Clement of Rome. By the 3rd century, Christian leaders were universally called clergy. Prior to this, clergy and laity were equal in standing/reputation/etc.
28. Ordination – evolved between the 2nd and 4th centuries and was based upon the Roman custom of appointing men to civil office.
29. The title “Pastor” – wasn’t popular until the 18th century under the influence of Lutheran Pietists.
30. Wearing your “Sunday Best” – began in the late 18th century with the industrial revolution. The emerging middle class sought to be like their wealthy contemporaries.
31. Clergy attire – began in AD 330 and was based upon Roman officials garb.
32. The Clerical collar – was invented by Rev. Dr. Donald McLeod of Glasgow in 1865.
33. Choirs – were first introduced in the church in the 4th century as Christians copied the idea from Greek dramas and temples.
34. Boys choirs – were also borrowed from pagans in the 4th century.
35. Funeral processions and Orations – were borrowed from Greco-Roman paganism in the 3rd century.
36. Worship Team – was first used in Calvary Chapel in 1965 and was patterned after secular rock concerts.
37. Tithing – was not a widespread practice until the late 18th century. The tithe was taken from the 10 percent rent charge used in the Roman empire and then justified using the Old Testament.
38. Clergy salaries – were instituted by Constantine in the 4th century.
39. Collection plates – can be traced to the alms dishes of the 14th century. “Passing” the plate began in 1662.
40. Ushers – can be traced back to the 3rd century as a “church porter,” but truly began with Queen Elizabeth I (1533-1603)
41. Infant Baptism – was brought into the Christian faith in the late 2nd century due to the superstitious beliefs of teh Greco-Roman culture. By the 5th century, it replaced adult baptism.
42. Sprinkling replaced Immersion – began in the late Middle Ages in Western churches.
43. The “Sinner’s Prayer” – was first used by D.L. Moody and popularized by Billy Graham’s Peace with God tract and Campus Crusade’s Four Spiritual Laws.
44. The term “Personal Savior” – spawned in the mid-1800s by the Frontier-Revivalist influence and was popularized by Charles Fuller (1887-1968).
45. Lord’s Supper – was condensed from a full meal to just bread and a cup in the late 2nd century as a result of pagan ritual influences.
46. Sunday School – was created by Robert Raikes from Britain in 1780 in order to educate poor street children. They were not given religious instruction, but a basic education.
47. Youth Pastors – developed in urban churches in 1930s-40s as a result of seeking to meet the needs of a new sociological class called “teenagers.”
Now, that’s a lot to take in. Viola and Barna (the authors) are very intentional about saying that just because these traditions are not rooted in Scripture, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t practice them. For me at least, they do however, raise the question, “What are the practices which are necessary in our culture?” And what would a church look like if it focused only on those things deemed necessary? If a church wants to focus on “teaching/learning” as the Bible describes, what is the best way to do so? In years past, Sunday School was the answer, but what about today? What avenue is best in our culture?
What about a building? Could a church function and be healthy without a building? The answer is absolutely “Yes!” It did quite well without a building for it’s first 300 years. But in our culture, a building is just assumed. Could a church actually be more healthy without a building? What provisions would need to be made? What else would need to happen to function without a building?
Anyway, as you can see, these ideas and their implications are huge. I haven’t gotten it all processed out, and probably won’t for a while. I just wanted to share some of it here and see if you guys have other ideas or thoughts. Please respond. I’d love to know what everybody else thinks.
This is how it feels to be a leader in the church sometimes. The only difference is that it looks like this little girl has more influence than most church leaders do. Of course this may have more to do with the leader than it does the church. I’d bet that relationship has something to do with it. What do you think? When things aren’t going so well around the church, which one is the bigger donkey – the leader or the congregation? Who is the one who can pull the church along? Is there anyone with that kind of influence? Would Jesus have that kind of influence? Do children have that much pull or is your church only pulled along by seasoned elders?
Tears soothe the eyes. They moisturize the dryness. They soothe. It’s a mystery to me how this works, ’cause it goes way beyond soothing just our eyes. Tears soothe our hearts. They remind us we’re alive. Tears affect our hearts, but they also express them. The greatest moments of our lives, both good and bad, are usually accompanied by tears.
This past week (Skiing in New Mexico) was the first time I left Kasen and Miranda for any real length of time. I didn’t really imagine how difficult it would be, but as the day approached, I could feel these emotions welling up inside
me. I had worked all day getting ready for the trip. I loaded the church vans with the youth that night and then went back home to finish my personal packing. I had hoped to finish early so I could just cuddle with Miranda bit and play with Kasen, but they were both in bed before I was anywhere close to being ready. Then I realized, I couldn’t find my wallet. I searched everywhere. . . . Nothing. . . .what could I have done with it? Where could it be? Oh wait. . .maybe I left it in the church van when I went to gas it up. I left the house to look ’cause I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep without knowing. I found it in the van. My mind raced back and forth over all the things I had to do to get ready as I drove home. “I think I’m finally ready.” I thought as a unlocked the door to the house. I wasn’t all the way in the door and I could hear Kasen crying in his crib. “Yes!” I thought – maybe I’m demented for being happy he was upset, but that meant that I could go and comfort him. I picked him up gently and held him close as I snuggled into the rocking chair. I whispered to him and prayed over him as I rocked. It was such a tender amazing moment. I didn’t really expect it, but I cried. I did the same a few moments later as I laid down to bed next to Miranda and prayed over her as she slept.
It’s amazing to think about now. My son was actually comforted by my voice and touch. What an honor and privilege it is to be given that kind of influence and trust. I wonder now – was he more comforted by me? or was I more comforted by his total dependence and trust?
On Maundy Thursday, we did a small service and remembered the events of the last supper. As I told the story to our students, I cried again. Jesus loves us wholeheartedly. That night He had an intimate moment with His closest friends, and He gave Himself completely to them. Just as I had done with Kasen, I remembered how He had whispered to them and prayed over them. I was comforted by him. Was He comforted by my dependence and trust?
Tears reveal our hearts and soothe our hearts. If tears accompany the greatest moments of our lives, then our tears also reveal our values. What we cry about, is what’s important to us. I think I can live with that – ’cause that means that Jesus is important to me and that Miranda and Kasen are important to me.
I love it when someone can convey a message with nothing but questions. Here’s a blog from seth godin that does just that:
How do I persuade you?
Do I show you a powerpoint filled with bullets?
Or give you a spirited sales pitch while looking you in the eye…
Perhaps I should send a very attractive salesperson.
Do I amplify my word of mouth and be sure you hear about my idea from three people you trust?
Do I minimize fear or maximize gain?
Are you best persuaded in a group, surrounded by your boss or your
employees or your family or people you trust? Will it matter if those
around you give me a standing ovation?
Can I persuade you over time, drip, drip, drip, or do you respond better if you feel an avalanche is coming?
Will you change your mind if I’m funny? Or if I scare you to pieces?
Perhaps there’s no way you’ll be persuaded. Perhaps nothing I can
say will make a difference. However, you’ve told yourself that before
and been wrong…
Will you buy if you get a discount? What if the price is high and going up tomorrow?
Do you want to be the first person to embrace an idea (or the last)?
Here’s the thing: unlike every other species, human beings make
decisions differently from one another. And the thing that persuades
you is unlikely to be the thing that persuades the next guy. Our
personal outlook is a lousy indicator of what works for anyone else.
It’s interesting to me that in the end, it all comes down to relationships. The best way to influence/persuade anyone, is to first understand that person and his/her needs, thoughts, & desires. Since each of us makes decisions differently, wouldn’t it make sense to figure that out before trying to influence them? Well, that is, if you have time to get to know them and the message/influence is important enough. Is the eternal message of Jesus as Lord important enough? Important enough to invest in getting to know others in such a way that we can persuade them?
Who will you get to know? How will you get to know them? Since no one cares what you know until they know you care, how will you love them? Care for them? Will that love and care be real or will it stop once the “project” is over and they have come to know Jesus?
This was just a random thought I had today. Leadership has been described as “influence” in some of my classes, so now when I hear the phrase “under the influence” I don’t think of an alcoholic – my mind takes me to another place – I start thinking about people who are under the influence of a leader – basically followers. This is just one of the many ways that these classes are redefining how I look at the world. Or maybe I should say this is just one way these classes are messin’ with my mind.
Sunday, I started a new leadership course. I’m not sure how I’ll be graded or even what is required, but I do know that this class will continue for the rest of my life. It’s not one that I can spend a few hours on each week either – it’ll require total commitment. The class I’m referring to of course is fatherhood. Kasen was born Sunday night and so I’ve begun this new journey. It’s much more than a leadership class, but that will be at least part of it.
As I look back, I recognize the leadership that my dad gave me as I grew up. I’m sure I could never recognize all that he did, but let me talk about a few things:
He taught me how to play baseball. (I’m actually left-handed, but play the way he taught me – right-handed.) He coached my little league teams in football, t-ball, and baseball. He read stories to my brother and I at bedtime. (That’s me on the left with the dark hair.) He showed me how to “play” and that adults could “play” too. He laughed alot and showed me how. He taught me how to do woodworking stuff. He taught me that families need to do long road trips together.
He taught me so much more, but you know. . . . .as I think about it, I realize that it’s not so much the outward things he taught me or did for me that I’m most grateful for. I’m most grateful for the example that he gave me – for his character. My dad taught me about God – not by talking about Him, but by loving me unconditionally. As he shouted and cheered for me on the football field, I understood how much God loved me and cheered for me. He showed me forgiveness and I learned about being childlike (as Christ calls us) by watching him play with my friends and laugh with us. I’ll probably never understand the depths of my dad’s influence on me and on my perception/understanding of God. My dad truly led me, but most people who knew him probably wouldn’t have called him a leader. He led out of his character and through his relationship with us. His leadership is evidenced in all three of his children. My brother, sister, and I, all work with kids and love serving God by guiding and leading/influencing others. I pray that I can be like him. I want to lead others to know God not just with my words, but by the way I live.
This new class I’ve started is one that millions of men have registered for throughout the centuries. It’s probably the biggest opportunity to influence a life that any of us will ever have. I wish the world recognized it’s importance – too many men have failed. I want to be a man who does not fail – one who truly places this leadership role as a priority.
Prayer: Lord, show me how to “be” – Who to “be” – and give me strength/courage/and whatever I’ll need to “be” what you’ve called me to “be” in this role as “leader” of my family and child. PS – thank you for the incredible blessing of Kasen! Cover him with Yourself. Protect him from evil. Guide Him to a knowledge of Your son Jesus Christ. Allow me to be a consistent presence in his life that represents You to him. Bring other people into his life who will lead him to a deeper/saving relationship with You. AMEN!
PS – I had an incredible experience this weekend as Kasen was born. I cried tears of joy over and over. The one thing I cried sad tears about was that this experience made me remember my dad again. (He died of leukemia.) I thought about things I haven’t thought about for years and wished he could have been there with us. I wish he could look into Kasen’s eyes, and I wish he could play football with him and read stories to him and roll around in the front yard being silly with him. I guess this is God’s way of saying to me that I should be intentional about doing those things. I can’t imagine that anyone ever gets to the end of their life and regrets the time they spent playing with their children – I certainly won’t – I will play just like my dad. (Doesn’t that make you smile? I know it makes dad smile, and I’d be willing to bet that it makes God smile too.)