Why am I reading a book that claims that "most of what present-day Christians do in church each Sunday is rooted, not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the Apostles"? Well, I had attended a mens' Bible Study at a local non-denominational Christian community regularly in the past (not so much lately), and I regularly get a weekly email update for the group's members. This week, the facilitator sent a link to the article I linked above for the book by Viola and Barna. I looked at the bullet-points in the article and responded to them in a reply email to the group. At the end of the email, I admitted I had not read the book, so I didn't know if the authors defended their position and refuted my explanations. I bought the book so I can read it and comment on it here.
It turns out the book focuses on "the central practices that define mainstream Christianity today" (page xx, bolding mine); footnote 7 on page xx clarifies this statement (bolding mine):
This book focuses on Protestant Christian practices. And its main scope is "low church" Protestantism rather than "high church" denominations like Anglican, Episcopal, and some stripes of Lutheran. By high church, I mean churches that emphasize the sacerdotal, sacramental, and liturgical Catholic elements of orthodox Christianity. The book touches on high-church practices only in passing.I'd like to make two comments right away. First, the authors' definition of "mainstream Christianity" is "'low church' Protestantism", which is helpful to know. Second, I am pleased they consider the "sacerdotal, sacramental, and liturgical ... elements" as a part of "orthodox Christianity", recognizing at least Catholic practices as Christian. You can never be too sure who will call Catholics Christians, these days.
Anyway, I'll be responding to the claims of each chapter on my blog. My general statement is this:
The Church is (as the authors state) organic, and as such, it grows over time, not merely in membership (size) but also in its ability to convey the message of the Gospel and in its ability to better direct worship to God. I don't think it is practical to assume the first-century Church was the epitome or ideal or summit. Certain practices that have since come into the Church that are not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament (or the Old Testament) are not necessarily wrong for that reason. That they existed in pagan (i.e. non-Judeo-Christian) cultures does not necessarily condemn them either. Furthermore, after seeing a brief list of the "additions" to the Church's practices, I think the authors have failed to incorporate the (scriptural) Jewish worship practices and the contents of the New Testament epistles. In the end, it appears that if it wasn't written in the N.T., it wasn't done, even though the N.T. is not a manual for describing Christian worship. I am very interested to see if this book paints a picture of "true Christian Biblical worship", since genuine first-century Christian worship (for at least a dozen years) was done without any "New Testament" literature, and was done without Bibles.
And I'm betting (and I thought this before even opening the book) that the authors completely neglect the development (or even existence!) of Eastern Christianity.