Frank Viola Exposes Pagan Christianity
By Steve Eastman,
OpenHeaven.com TOP News
Frank Viola is one of the leading authorities in the house church movement. Not only does he have a passion for the truth, but a command of history, supporting his assertions in Pagan Christianity with excellent scholarship.
Can you summarize the reason for the title, Pagan Christianity ?
Sure. The title neatly packs the entire point of the book into two words. Pagan Christianity is actually an oxymoron . . . both terms carry concepts that are mutually exclusive. And that is precisely what we have on the earth today. Modern Christianity, whether Protestant or Catholic, is a blending of pagan and Christian practices and mindsets.
The book demonstrates that virtually all of the practices of the modern church have their roots in pagan culture rather than the Word of God. The book contains over 1100 footnotes documenting (historically) this proposal. A secondary purpose of the title is that it is shockingly thought-provoking. So I've been told anyway.
Could you compare the two types of sermons--the kind Peter gave on the day of Pentecost and the kind we hear in traditional churches today?
I'll take a stab at it. The modern sermon has the following characteristics:
1. It is a regular occurrence delivered faithfully from the pulpit at least once a week.
2. It is delivered by the same person typically the pastor.
3. It is delivered to a passive audience; it is essentially a monologue.
4. It is a cultivated form of speech, possessing a specific structure. It typically contains an introduction, three to five points, and a conclusion. This structure was borrowed from the pagan rhetorical form of speech known as the Greek “homily.” Clement of Alexandria, Chrysostom, and Augustine baptized it and called it “Christian.” And we've never recovered.
By contrast, the apostolic preaching recorded in Acts possessed the following features:
1. It was sporadic rather than a weekly ritual delivered every week ... world without end.
2. It was delivered on special occasions in order to deal with specific problems.
3. It was extemporaneous and without rhetorical structure.
4. It was most often dialogical (meaning it included feedback and interruptions from the audience) rather than monological (a one-way discourse).
5. It was not delivered by the same person. (As in Peter's case with Pentecost, the other apostles preached regularly as well.)
6. It is temporary. Regular preaching is designed to win the lost or equip the church. Once equipped, the members of the church minister one to another.
Add to that, the New Testament letters show that the ministry of God's Word came from the entire church in their regular gatherings. This “every-member” functioning was also conversational and marked by interruptions (see 1 Corinthians 14). That's a brief sketch. I dedicate an entire chapter on the subject in my book which goes into greater detail. More importantly, it makes a strong case as to why this issue is important in the first place, explaining how the modern sermon does damage to the Body of Christ.
Some people think that if we really want to understand how a New Testament church is supposed to operate, we should consult the writings of the church fathers. What is the problem with this?
Liturgical churches, particularly the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic, map their roots to the early church fathers. I think that the early church fathers are good in nailing down Biblically orthodox Christian belief which is shared by all Christians in every century. This is especially true when it comes to holding fast to the truths regarding the Person of Jesus Christ amid various heresies.
As far as their views on church leadership, they really are a mixed bag. And as time went on, their views on church practice were heavily influenced by Greco-Roman concepts of hierarchy and official authority. This all came to a fine point with Emperor Constantine who patterned the church's service and officers after the officers and ceremonies of the Roman government.
Since the word pastor is listed in Ephesians 4:11, we know it is a valid term. How have pagan ideas influenced the way that ministry is generally perceived and how should it operate ideally?
The chapter on the modern pastoral role is the longest in the book. This is because it is the largest sacred cow that must be turned on its ear. It is also because the history of where it came from traces very far back into time. To put it briefly, the modern pastorate is no more than a Reformed Catholic priest. And a Catholic priest is an unscriptural office that added a ton of hierarchical power to an “office” that possessed absolute moral and spiritual authority. The modern pastor is the thief of every-member functioning in the Body of Christ. And a far cry from those elders who were depicted as shepherds simply because they cared for the flock outside the meetings of the church.
The modern pastor system is so ingrained in our thinking as Protestant Christians that I have made available an article which treats the subject online. You can find it at http://www.ptmin.org/thepastor.htm .
Since the traditional churches mostly recognizes pastors and evangelists, where are the apostles, prophets and teachers within these movements?
The Charismatics and the Third-Wavers have a copious supply of apostles, prophets, and teachers in their movement. However, to my mind, a first-century teacher, prophet, and apostle is a far cry from what typically carries that label today. These terms have been invested with hierarchical power and “official” authority.
In the Bible, apostles, prophets, and teachers are terms to describe a spiritual function. They were never used as offices or titles. Apostles were people who were sent to plant churches. Prophets were people who could articulate clearly. Their major function was to reveal the present mind of God to the church. Sometimes they saw the future. Teachers were those who could read and write (which would put them in a class of only 5-10% of the first-century population), and who had the ability to disclose Christ through the Old Testament Scriptures. Aside from the apostle, who was itinerant, prophets and teachers were local people who had regular jobs. None were clergy in any sense of the word.
When did tithing become an accepted teaching in the history of the churchand how should it be regarded today?
Great question. The shocking answer is the 8th century! The early Christians rightly understood that tithing was like an income tax for the nation of Israel. If a Christian wants to give 10% of their income to the Lord's work today, they are perfectly free to. They are also free not to. In Christ, we are free to give what we wish. The New Testament standard is to give cheerfully and according to one's ability (2 Corinthians 8-9). That equates to more than 10% for many people. Further, New Testament giving was never to support clergy. I discuss this in detail in my book.
Who were the Nicolaitans, the people whose deeds Jesus says He hates in Revelation 2:6.
No one really knows who they were. Some scholars have suggested that the doctrine of the Nicolaitans that Jesus condemns in Revelation 2:6 is a reference to the rise of an early clergy. F.W. Grant, Nicolaitanism or the Rise and Growth of Clerisy (Bedford: MWTB), pp. 3-6 was among them. Interestingly, the Greek word nicolaitane means “conquering the people.” Nikos mean “to conquer over” and laos means “the people.” Grant believed that Nicolaitans are those who make “laity” out of God's people by raising up “clergy” to lord it over them. I think this interpretation is quite plausible.
In I Samuel 8:4-7, the Jews rejected God's as their king and demanded an earthly king instead.What relevance does this Old Testament story have for the church?
This story establishes a crucial spiritual principle. Namely, God will often give His people what they desire even if it does not reflect His perfect will. Therefore, the argument that says, “The modern church must be God's will since God has allowed it to remain on the earth all these centuries” is refuted by the story in 1 Samuel.
In large measure, the Body of Christ has opted for an earthly king to rule over her. His name is “pastor.” The New Testament is quite clear that Jesus Christ is the only Head of the church. There are no points of contact with the modern pastor and the “shepherd/elders” of the first century. The latter did not suppress Christ's Headship or the free functioning of His Body as does the former.
How should house church people relate to other types of churches and their leadership?
Each house church will have to walk that out for themselves. Some institutional church leaders are quite hostile toward Christians who meet outside the religious system. Others simply ignore them and have little interest in establishing fellowship with them. A house church should have a posture that is open to all of God's people no matter where they gather or what they believe. If Christ has received them, we must also. The exception to this would be those who would seek to poison or divide the church. Paul was very clear in his letters that such ones should not be received into a church.
Some of those who read Pagan Christianity may want to immediately plant a house church. What words of caution would you give as they seek to follow God more fully.
The New Testament is quite clear that not all are called to plant churches (1 Corinthians 12:28-31). I have watched people try to start their own house churches who were not called or qualified to do it. In every case, I saw nothing good come of it. Most of these groups were simply glorified Bible studies that were facilitated by the person who started the group.
I have written a detailed volume on how churches were started in the first century. It's called So You Want to Start a House Church? I believe that if we would embrace the principles that God has established for the raising up of churches, we would see an enormous restoration of God's spiritual house on the earth today.
There are not many of us who can claim to being raised in house church. What process did God use to take you to your current understanding?
At age 16, I was a very hungry Christian. Desperate is actually a better word to describe my state. My desperation led me to countless denominations, movements, and para-church organizations. Later I realized that I was in quest for my natural habitat as a Christian. It didn't take me long to realize that the modern institutional system was not the proper habitat that I was to live in. No believer is for that matter.
After searching the Scripture in quest for the first-century church, I along with some others left the religious system and began the journey of learning what it means to meet under the Headship of Christ. I was 23 years old at the time. That “experiment” lasted eight very intense years. We made many mistakes and tried some very foolish things. But we learned. And in the midst of it we touched authentic Body life.
The net was that I learned a great deal about Christ and His church. That was the beginning of my trek. From then until the present day, the Lord has taken me through various and sundry experiences with Christians outside the organized church in the US and overseas. The result is that I could never go back to institutionalized Christianity after touching the glories of Body life.
What do we need beyond the correct structure for house church?
I would say that we not only need some things beyond the house church structure, but that these things are far more important than the structure. What is of utmost significance is the necessity for a ground-breaking revelation of the Person for whom the church lives. We need a new seeing of the Lord Jesus Christ and of God's eternal purpose which is in Him.
We also need broken people who have had deep dealings with God, who have been taken into deep waters by the Holy Spirit, who have had years of experience in first-century church life as a non-leader, and who are able to proclaim this glorious Christ with vision, power, and practicality. In other words, we need those who are able to impart life, to cast vision, and to provide practical tools that will put believers into the living reality of that vision. We also need a restoration of the first-century Christian mind, which is radically different from the contemporary Protestant/evangelical mindset. The church and its structure are the natural outflow of these things.
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