The post title is that of a book I just finished reading by Frank Viola and George Barna. The book goes through just about every facet of the typical modern church and shows how each has its roots in pagan practice or human embellishment rather than scripture. The basic layout of the sanctuary, the order of service, the sermon, the pastor, communion, and even the tithe all come under scrutiny. The authors contend that these things all take away from the proper functioning of the church.
To give this book a proper review would require extensive note taking and study that I did not do, but most of its content rings true to me. We like the Pharisee’s have elevated our traditions above the word of God. They are not necessarily wrong within themselves, but we should not hold them sacred. I am certainly tired of them. I’ve been in churches of many stripes and enjoyed some more than others, but inevitably I end up thinking the same thing. Here we go again. I prefer the charismatic flavored service with its emphasis on worship, but it too becomes stale as we do the same things week to week. There is little room for the congregation to become involved in the process beyond following the lead from the stage. Our current processes do little to enhance the growth of the individual believer, and the large meeting venues we typically choose to congregate in do not lend themselves easily to anything beyond entertainment.
In recent years, churches have begun to understand this, and have instituted small group settings in an attempt to address it. This is helpful, but participation is generally a fraction of the churches membership. The small group meetings are often just as regimented as the church service, , reducing their effectiveness. The traditional church model is inflexible, expensive, and will not survive in an increasingly hostile environment.
Neither I nor the book’s authors necessarily advocate a mass exodus from the traditional church. The book begins with an admonition against using it as pretext for rebellious and disruptive activity. Yet by the end of the book, one gets the impression that a radical change is indeed what it calls for. I think this change will happen. A quest for that which is genuine combined with increased persecution will demand a change in our approach to His service. The church is properly defined as all who are His.
I think the book does have some problems. In an effort to keep the book accessible to all readers, details that would have better supported its claims were left out. I would particularly like to have seen more Biblical references. It would have been helpful also to show where in scripture current practice is supposedly drawn from and why the reference is misused or not applicable. This was done in a few cases, but not consistently. Granted, the authors’ point is that there are no Biblical foundations for much of what we do, perhaps justifying this seeming omission. It may also be that more notes would have been present in the printed book. I rely on audio recordings which may not include such things as footnotes. Extensive reference is made to 1 Corinthians 14, yet the authors don’t address the fact that Paul is correcting a church that is out of order in this chapter. It seems the same sort of “cherry picking” that the book itself condemns is employed here.
I also question the assertion that there is no place for authority figures within the body. To be fair, this is not exactly what is being said, but I am left with the impression that not only is the pastor’s office being disputed, but any leadership position that does not arise naturally within a given group of believers. How then does Paul speak with such authority to the Corinthians’? Why are decisions about church practice taken to Jerusalem to be worked out? Why does Paul list qualifications for deacons and elders? While I would agree that far too much responsibility is placed on the shoulders of the modern day pastor, I think it’s clear that some kind of authority structure is scripturally sanctioned.
In summary, I think this is a great book for all Christians to read and consider. Read it with caution, but allow the truth to come through. Be willing to discard anything that seems holy yet cannot be supported by His Word, especially if it inhibits your relationship with Yahweh and His people. We will not reach the lost with rites and traditions. We will reach them with the truth and the love of Jesus.