In 2002 authors Frank Viola, and George Barna, undertook to deliver a work called "Pagan Christianity, Exploring The Roots Of Our Church Practices" in which the claim was made that after reading the book one would have "Tough questions. Nagging questions. Even frightening questions." and that what we would be left with would be "disturbing answers" that would lead us to "the richest truths that Christians can discover" (1)
While I can say that they were certainly correct, because after reading just a portion of the book, I am left with some tough questions, nagging questions and even some frightening questions, but not necessarily for reasons that either of them thought or intended that anyone would be left with such questions.
Needless to say I am frightened at the completely overstated assumptions, special pleading, genetic fallacy and straw men arguments that Frank and George have delivered in order to critique and , in Frank's own words, "deconstruct" the modern church. While he does deliver a great deal of information, his assumptions are flawed and rooted heavily in genetic fallacy. All of this has led us to not only ask the tough questions of ...what the heck were they thinking???.... and the nagging question of, "why would someone who does not honor or acknowledge the system of the church seek to profit from it, all at the same time trying to destroy it?"...But we ask other frightening questions such as why would authors interlace and mix so much error with truth if the whole point was to help reform the church? Similar to many groups that seek to undermine Christianity, Frank and George are ultimately making the case that post 1st century, Christianity has merely borrowed it's practices from Paganism and is not centered in truth. What is further puzzling is that they make these assertions as opposed to looking further to see the Jewish roots of many modern Christian beliefs and practices.
A Brief Example:To show how chalk full of error this work is one only need look at their explanation as to why there are raised pulpits in church. In explaining the pulpit and why it is elevated above the congregation in many cases, Frank and George, after giving some scant history, deliver the following accusation against clergy:
"The pulpit elevates the clergy to a position of prominence. True to its meaning, it puts the preacher at center "stage" - separating and placing him high above God's people" (2)
Now, at first glance one would think this may have some credibility as he explains earlier that the concept came from the Jewish "Ambo" or elevated platform. However his timing is all wrong. What they fail to mention is that at least 2 thousand years earlier the Word of God was read from an elevated platform as to focus on it as a vital, necessary, and fundamental part of the spiritual community, calling the people to renewal. When Ezra read the word from the first pulpit he was above the people, not because of himself, but in honor to the word:
Nehemiah 8:1-8 ~1-And all the people gathered themselves together as one man into the street that was before the water gate; and they spake unto Ezra the scribe to bring the book of the law of Moses, which the LORD had commanded to Israel. 2-And Ezra the priest brought the law before the congregation both of men and women, and all that could hear with understanding, upon the first day of the seventh month. 3-And he read therein before the street that was before the water gate from the morning until midday, before the men and the women, and those that could understand; and the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law. 4-And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose; and beside him stood Mattithiah, and Shema, and Anaiah, and Urijah, and Hilkiah, and Maaseiah, on his right hand; and on his left hand, Pedaiah, and Mishael, and Malchiah, and Hashum, and Hashbadana, Zechariah, and Meshullam. 5-And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people; (for he was above all the people;) and when he opened it, all the people stood up: 6-And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7Also Jeshua, and Bani, and Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, -the people to understand the law: and the people stood in their place. 8-So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.
V. 4 indicates that a pulpit or Heb. "Migdal" (ie: tower or elevated platform) was used to declare the word of God to the people therefore demanding attention to God's word and bringing reform to the nation. In turn, this is why we use elevated platforms and preach from pulpits today in most cases.
However the authors, change the whole concept of pulpit from a place where God is worshiped and his word venerated, to the place of man's self-exaltation and self worship transposing a later ethic and practice upon the practice of God's people today who adopted the concept from early Judaism in order to honor God. However, neither the book of Ezra nor Nehemiah were mentioned in this book regarding this issue at all. What the truly discerning would like to know is why? The authors mis-attribute custom and practice of the modern church as having come from the wrong time period. This is an anachronism.
The Heart Of The Matter
In one or two posts ( as I am undecided as to how much time and attention to spend on this work) I will take a more indepth look at "Pagan Christianity" and some of the claims that the authors make especially as it pertains to 3 central themes:
1- That pastoral ministry is an unbiblical concept
2- That the church as an institution is a wholly unbiblical concept
3- That the church that exists today has borrowed from later pagan customs and practices incorporating them into what we know as worship.
Interesting to note that these claims are also the crux of the modern internet movement hailing that the modern church is an invalid institution, and not ordained by God. So this book may be a reflection of certain ungodly sentiments, but it may also be a promoter of them as well. I would say that if the central themes of the book are undermined or at a minimum proven to be seriously flawed, which they are, then the rest of the case, which may contain some elements of truth, are undermined for credibility's sake. The result is that neither Frank nor George can ultimately be trusted to give the whole truth without also presenting it within their set of control beliefs trying to persuade people for their own purposes.
The Corporate Gathering & Its Decline
First, I would have to agree with Frank and George's "root issue". The root issue is that the real church is the people of God and that the modern corporate church does not look like or act like the church that Christ instituted when he died. This church has suffered abuse at the hands of some of its so called leaders. From Popes to Bishops usurping rights that were not theirs, to Priests, pastors and ministers sexually molesting and abusing children, this thing known as "church" has some serious flaws, failures and some judgement to face.
While the abuse has not been done exclusively by clergy, clergy have by far and large been the most visible element in both the rise and decline of the modern church. One need not look far into this site (The Dunamis Word) to see some of the atrocities that I have pointed out emanating from the failure and sins of modern pastoral and clergy ministry.
What do these things mean? It means that clergy and the corporate gathering of believers are under attack. It means that there is a method by which satan has concluded that he can divide, conquer and destroy the church ( the organized body of believers) and he is working his plan every day and in every way possible to make that vision for destruction a reality.
With that said, should we simply conclude that the atrocities we see today are because the church orthopraxy (practice) is wrong, or rather that the atrocities we see are because men's hearts are failing or falling into sin? The problem being that not even the "organic church" that the authors claim as the only valid form of gathering of believers, lasted, and neither was it venerated by God. Has anyone read God's message to the 7 churches of Asia Minor? The "organic church" obviously faded away from history after it was "supposedly" (and I say supposedly because this is frank and George's contention) introduced within scripture.
Could it be that these authors are looking for some type of mantra? Or looking to recapture some mythical, historical Utopian vision, which they feel will "wart off" the attack of satan and make the body of believers successful? One can't fault their wishes for the body of Christ, however to condemn such a large segment of believers, (the modern church) claiming that they (Frank & George and who they know) have some sort of special insight and are more faithful to scripture in absence of truly biblical practices of everyone else, seems not only suspect, but down right cultic and heretical. Although I can't deal with their motivations, I can deal with what they leave in black and white and embrace in open air interviews.
Pastoral Ministry...Are Pastor's Biblical?
Ephes. 4:11-12 ~ 11-And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12-For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Frank and George spend quite some time (about 43 pages in my paperback edition) to discuss Pastoral Ministry and present 4 arguments to debunk the need for it. In fact they claim that the desire for one to be a pastor is more equivalent with the fallen or sinful nature of man rather than the call of God.
"Alongside humanity's fallen quest for a human spiritual mediator is the obsession with the hierarchical form of leadership. All ancient cultures were hierarchical in their social structures to one degree or another. Regrettably, the post apostolic Christians adopted and adapted these structures into their church life as we shall see."(3)Because the response from some who believe what Frank & George teach hook, line and sinker is so unusually vitriolic, if not down right hateful, I thought that I would deal with this argument first.
Frank & George's argument by course, is as follows:
1- The word "pastor" is only used once in one verse of the NT providing insufficient references.2- The word "pastor" is rendered in a plural form, thus providing evidence that churches are not supposed to have a singular individual called "pastor" that directs or leads church spiritual affairs.3- Since the word translated as "pastor" actually means "shepherd" it is then only a metaphor to describe function rather than the institution of an office within the church.4- Ephes. 4:11 is "opaque" and therefore does not provide a definition or description of who these "pastors" are. The attempt to ascribe pastors as individual church leaders is simply an imposition upon the original context of scripture.
1- First, Frank and George base their whole argument against pastors on the lack of appearance of the word "pastor" within the biblical text. regarding Ephes 4:11 Frank and George state the following:
"This is the only verse in the entire New Testament where the word pastor is used. One solitary verse is a might scanty piece of evidence on which to hang the Protestant faith!"(4)
OK...first this is a Non Sequitur. How many scriptures does it take before God's word regarding anything is valid or validated? 2 scriptures, 5 scriptures or 25 or more scriptures? To suggest that one scripture cannot validate the truth of God's word is simply a silly proposition and a failed argument out of the gate.
The FACT is that the word which was translated "pastor" (Gk: piomenas) was used over 16 times in the New Testament. As Frank and George correctly point out later, the word was translated as "Shepherd". The context is clear as to why it was translated as "pastors" in this instance, but more on that later as this objection is only a cover up for the real argument that he wishes to make and does not in any way invalidate the verse or the concept of "pastor" or "pastors" as an office.
2- The word "pastor" or (Gk: piomenas) is rendered in plural form and therefore indicates that there was to be more than one pastor in any given church.
"The word is used in the plural. It is pastors. It is significant. For whoever these "pastors" are they are plural in the church not singular. Consequently there is no biblical support for the concept of sola pastora (single pastor)" (5)
This is where discernment kicks in. He just said in argument 1 that there is not enough biblical evidence to validate the "pastor", now he says that according to scripture there should be more than one in a church or community of believers??? What is this??? Which is it? Should there be one at all, or should there be more than one?
Either there should be pastors or there should not be pastors. Frank and George go at breakneck speed from invalidating all pastors to having one everywhere. Neither George nor Frank, nor anyone else, can make any sense of this argumentation. It is logically inconsistent and borderline incoherent. Not to mention that once again it is a Non Sequitur.
What of the Plurality of the word?
Since Paul was speaking in regards to the church in general and at large and NOT ultimately to a single body of believers it stands that he was discussing more than one singular church and therefore more than one singular pastor. This was clearly an instruction that included the Ephesian church but was also inclusive of the church in a much greater sense.
In addition, for him to interpret that this dealt with multiple pastors in one location, is not problematic as it validates that there is an office called pastor. However, to be consistent, if he is correct, based on his line of reasoning, we would also have to assume that everyone was an apostle or that there were multiple apostles at that location as well, because the word was delivered in plural form. Further, how about plurality of prophets, teachers and evangelists. All of these words were delivered in plurality. Is it Frank and George's contention that ALL believers are apostles, pastors, teachers evangelists and prophets? Or that Ephesus was simply graced with a multitude of apostles, pastors, evangelists, prophets, and teachers? Which argument will it be? I can imagine that it may change with the wind.
No matter the answer, once again, this argument falls woefully short of delivering any evidence that invalidates the pastoral office, call to pastoral-ship or that pastors (even if only one) were not in and associated with a local fellowship, assembly or body of believers.
3- The word "pastor" actually means shepherd and was translated "shepherd" otherwise, therefore what is being described is NOT an office but a function within the church.
"A first century shepherd had nothing to do with the specialized and professional sense it has come to have in contemporary Christianity. Therefore, Ephes. 4:11 does not envision a pastoral office, but merely one of many functions in the church." (6)
Once again we have gone from having "scant evidence" to "pastors" aka "shepherds" being one of MANY functions in the church to possibly being many people in the church as well. Aside from the blatant logical inconsistency of their arguments we can make note of the following:
Apostles, evangelists, prophets and teachers are all "functions" within the church as well. "Function" DOES NOT invalidate an office. But that's only part of why Frank and George are wrong regarding this issue.
From the Old Testament onward we can observe that the scriptures identify those who were prophets by office and vocation and not merely by function. Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel etc, were all prophets by office. Both Paul and Peter consistently refer to "the prophets" in their writing referring to completed and fulfilled OT prophecy spoken by God ordained prophets. Further, Paul notes in 1 Cor. 14:22 that there were people who functioned in the church as prophets who did prophesy and worked in somewhat of a unique relationship with one another spiritually.
"And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets."
This doesn't say that the spirit of "them who prophesy" are subject to others of "those who prophesy". The arrangement of this verse indicates an office, not merely one who happens to function in this capacity at a given time.
The Evangelist was an office as well. We see Paul on his journey residing at the house of "Philip the Evangelist" (Acts 2:8) who had daughters that were prophetesses as well.
In addition, we can point to the fact that the Apostles were not just a function but an office in the NT church and everyone could not be called one:
Acts 1:21-26 ~ 21-Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22-Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. 23-And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24-And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, 25-That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. 26-And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Why is it such a bitter pill to swallow to recognize that God has called certain people to certain offices and functions while not calling others to those same offices and functions based on his will for the people and his body??? Does that make one better than another?...ONLY if one is carnal minded does one struggle with the issue that God sets up who and whom he wishes for his own purposes and appointed time.
Ps. 75:6-7 ~ 6-For promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south. 7-But God is the judge: he putteth down one, and setteth up another.
This scripture deals with God's authority in judgement, however the concept remains that God can do what he wants to do, raising up whom he will for his purpose. This is called the sovereignty of God. It has nothing to do with pimps and whores. It has nothing to do with carnality. It has everything to do with spirituality and serving Christ.
In addition, there also were "overseers" (GK: episkopos) who were appointed or given charge over certain groups and bodies of believers (aka: churches) Contrary to Frank and George's assertion, pastors aka: shepherds and overseers, were a well established reality , function and office in the early and biblical NT church.
Finally, to argue that the word "pastors" is somehow only a description of function in the middle of texts that describe concrete offices within the NT church is called special pleading and is another glaring logical inconsistency that falls on its own sword. This does nothing to clarify or interpret the scripture and only does further damage to the text.
Out of 16 recitations why was the word "pastor" used as opposed to "shepherd" in Ephes. 4:11?
First the context dictates the translation. Secondly, drawing on the OT concept of shepherding a flock, and the faithfulness that the shepherd or pastor would have according to Jeremiah 3:15, God was painting a picture letting his people know that they would not be alone, without guidance, council from a physical and material standpoint. This was a picture of God's love outlining the fact that he had called certain people to care for the needs of the people. It was truly an inverse triangle (if we might use that image) where those that he called to lead were also there to serve the flock, and bless them. These "pastors" would move among the people. Under the former system people had to go to the priest, but God's relationship now had come to the people. The critic makes the mistake of assuming that this means that the pastor has an exclusive relationship or is some type of mediator between God and the people, but nothing is further from the truth. The pastor simply has a charge that is unique like the other offices and functions of ministry, and like the call of every servant that has come from death to life in Christ Jesus.
Although Frank and George go on to proclaim:
"Up until second century, the church had no official leadership" (7)
This is simply an assertion without founding fact. In fact it flies in the face of all that we see within scripture. Not only was the Holy Spirit present as a comforter, and a lead and guide, men of God as God had chosen them moved among the Saints and were charged and commissioned with being teachers and leaders of the church. They were to maintain doctrine, message and serve the needs of the people as I have already discussed.
Additional proof....In the first council in Acts 15, only those who were leaders interjected into the affairs and operation of the church and doctrine. Was this a meeting open to all? Possibly. Did everyone have input? No. That was not the case and there was a deferral to those who were Apostles. This is called ORDER, not hierarchy or usury as the modern believer has been seduced into believing.
4- Ephes. 4:11 is "oblique", This suggests that we really don't know what was being said or talked about.
"We have read our idea of the contemporary pastor back into the New Testament text. Never would any first century Christian have conceived of the contemporary pastoral office!"(8)
Frank and George contend that we are viewing the concept of pastor in the biblical text in an anachronistic manner. Now, this has gone from ridiculous to more ridiculous. According to them, we can clearly know that the part of Ephes 4:11 in question doesn't mean what we have traditionally thought that it means, but we do not clearly know anything else about what it could possibly mean??? But even then, we can KNOW that no first century Christian would have thought it to mean what we have been led to believe that it means by the modern church hierarchy???
OK...if you believe that, I have some swamp land in Arizona that is going for a premium right now...click the paypal link to the right, enter and process an amount with a number beginning with a 1 to a 9 followed by no less than 6 zeros and I'll call you later-LOL!!!!
Once again, this is a case of special pleading and is an argument that invalidates itself by the mere confusion that it generates. Just as we know the word Apostles indicated a concrete reality within the church, we can also know that the word "pastors" or 'shepherds" was no less of a concrete and identifiable reality within the church as well.
Conclusion Pt. 1
Information is valuable. Handling it responsibly is an art as well as a calling. In this day, people are hurting and looking for truth. the church has played so many games with lives and placed so many burdens on individual's lives that when a Frank Viola and George Barna come along validating the hurts of those who have been discouraged by the modern church and condemning what we all know is wrong, the temptation is to jump on board and blow the sails of anger and anguish. This is what many are doing with this book.
However, we must be careful. If all the people are wrong, if all the pastors fail, God is still right. Individuals certainly can be saved apart from the church. But be careful as not to condemn the church and the people in it who are saved, living right and serve the Lord with all their heart. God is either the God of all or of no one at all. He has always had a remnant and always will have one. Before Frank and George wrote this book God had a remnant and he yet does today.
1 - Viola, Frank; Barna, George "Pagan Christianity, Exploring The Roots Of Our Church Practices" 2002, 2008, 2012 Tyndale House Publishers Pg. 6
2 - Viola, Frank; Barna, George "Pagan Christianity, Exploring The Roots Of Our Church Practices" 2002, 2008, 2012 Tyndale House Publishers Pg. 34
3 - Viola, Frank; Barna, George "Pagan Christianity, Exploring The Roots Of Our Church Practices" 2002, 2008, 2012 Tyndale House Publishers Pg. 109
4 - Viola, Frank; Barna, George "Pagan Christianity, Exploring The Roots Of Our Church Practices" 2002, 2008, 2012 Tyndale House Publishers Pg. 106
5 - Viola, Frank; Barna, George "Pagan Christianity, Exploring The Roots Of Our Church Practices" 2002, 2008, 2012 Tyndale House Publishers Pg. 107
6 - Viola, Frank; Barna, George "Pagan Christianity, Exploring The Roots Of Our Church Practices" 2002, 2008, 2012 Tyndale House Publishers Pg. 107
7 - Viola, Frank; Barna, George "Pagan Christianity, Exploring The Roots Of Our Church Practices" 2002, 2008, 2012 Tyndale House Publishers Pg. 109
8 - Viola, Frank; Barna, George "Pagan Christianity, Exploring The Roots Of Our Church Practices" 2002, 2008, 2012 Tyndale House Publishers Pg. 107