Pagan Christianity

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. (1 Cor 12:4-6)

I have been reading the book Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna, which, controversially, argues that most of the activities and structures we associate with “church” really have their origins in worldly and pagan ideas. To many of us, this is probably neither surprising nor particularly upsetting: something’s origins don’t necessarily determine the goodness or badness or something, and everything has to come from somewhere, and why would we believe that people outside the church would be completely bereft of good? This would be a very strong view of total depravity indeed. Even the Calvinists, who have thought long and hard on this problem, understand that God gives common grace to all, and that the completeness of our fall refers to its reach (no part of us is good enough) not to its absolute extent (every part of us is completely bad).

Still, there are good things to read here, and I look forward to reading to reading the positive side of Viola’s Reimagining Church and his vision of an “organic church.” (I find the use of “organic,” dripping with connotations of California hippidippiness, amusing, but I digress).

In particular, the idea of a professional clergy and music ministry, which strongly separates the professional Christians from the non-professional ones, particularly worth investigating. The ideal is to free up people with talent to give them the time and resources to help the church love God and others. And so it often happens. But the reality, too, is that this opens up an all-too-common divide between us and them, where the clergy and the musicians are expected to do the work of God instead of us; just as we hire people to clean our drains and pave our streets, we hire people to love God and others for us.

Paul’s vision is of everyone being gifted to do God’s work–both empowered and expected to do God’s work, like a well-functioning human body (and this, of course, is where Viola’s use of organic comes from). It is not enough to pay someone to feed us and to entertain us with music; we must exercise the gifts, services and activities God has given us, each one, to do the work God has for us to do, and enjoy the kingdom God is calling us into.

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About Will Fitzgerald

I work on recommendation systems and lexical resources for Wordnik.

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