- Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices © 2002, 2008
- Tyndale House Publishers
- 295 pages
I have mixed feelings about this book. The history Viola brings to light is very important for any Christian to understand and process. On the other hand, his interpretation of the information is frustratingly one-sided. This book can be read as an evangelistic tract for the house church movement.
Here are some of the things Viola unearths:
- Church buildings were patterned after pagan structures.
- Dressing up for church is a modern idea.
- The original churches never had a single pastor or priest.
- The Lord’s Supper was intended to be a meal, not a rite.
- Baptism is coterminous with our “sinner’s prayer”.
Basically, every church practice can be traced back to an idea borrowed from pagan culture. So far, so good.
Viola then continues (in very pejorative language) to argue that we need to return to New Testament church structure, jettisoning the artifices we’ve built up over the centuries. I have two problems with his approach:
- Viola ignores the fact that New Testament church structure was as much a product of it’s time as today’s church is.
- Viola seems to assume that pagan origins make a practice inherently evil. (The small-text disclaimers do little to soften the disdainful tone of the main chapters.)
I agree wholeheartedly that any tradition that conflicts with God’s heart needs to be dropped quicker than a New Year’s resolution. However, just because something has a “pagan” origin does not make it inherently bad. You can argue that the book of Deuteronomy was patterned after pagan Suzeranity treaties. The monarchy from which Jesus descended was lifted from the example of the surrounding pagan nations, yet consecrated by God. The prophetic titles in Isaiah: Prince of Peace, Mighty God, Everlasting Father were taken from pagan Egyptian ceremonies.
God has always used humans and human culture to reveal his plan to us—what else could he use?
Read this book. It will challenge your presuppositions and force you take a serious look at how we do church. Just keep your mind engaged and aware of the rhetoric. (Did Viola use rhetorical techniques borrowed from Greek culture in his arguments?)
Thanks to Bruce Tyner for lending me this book.