Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Pagan Christianity ~ book review

Back in the 70's there were many Christians who felt that looking to the way the first churches did things (apostolic and just barely post-apostolic) was the cure for all of the current denominations worldly ways, would set the church back on fire etc.

It was a useful perspective, as otherwise average churchgoers tended to assume that traditional arrangements were set in concrete, anyone who wasn't blessed by them was a heretic etc. The mainline denominations HAD lost a lot of their fire, and while the architecture, hierarchical organizations weren't necessarily responsible for all of it, looking at them again critically as to whether they added or detracted from a true fellowship experience was a good, if not very popular idea.

I haven't heard anyone bring up these issues in person since the 70's - and its kind of a blast from the past to read the arguments again in this book (plus quite a few more!)

I personally agree that spectator church services do not create a sense of responsibility, personal involvement, or family connection among its members. I do not agree that designating bishops for the different churches was necessarily a negative development in the body of Christ. An ability to designate spokespersons and have community arbitrators necessitated the post. The fact that these positions became 'clergy' - considered much more priestly than the average members - is where it became a problem. The posts got reinvented over time.

I am very glad this book is becoming something of an underground classic (as many 'regular' churches are still opposed to its precepts.)

Frankly your 'average' Christian usually means someone who poses as respectable for a couple hours on Sunday, lets the sermon go in one ear and out the other and lives as they please all week.

[Sometimes they don't even behave in the short weekly visits! I know one church that personally persecutes, judges, and slanders their literal neighbors even while they are still attending as a group. The gospel clearly means nothing to them. Apparently they have had just enough exposure to the gospel in there to vaccinate them from ever catching the Holy Ghost!]

'Fellowship' in these setups is limited to the few friends they chose and is indistinguishable from carnal friendships - outside of any Bible studies they have together. Anyone not in these networks, or downed on by them is not treated as a brother or sister in Christ. Believers in other denominations are not acknowledged as family. To my mind this isn't fellowship at all - and so I do not forsake it by not attending these hypocrisy fests.

This is not to say that 'regular' churches can't be real fellowships or attendees are all fakers, but the setup makes it easy for fakers to slide and for the fires of those seeking to the serve the Lord to be somewhat quenched with no one they can definitely share the passion of their lives with. The Catholic Chrurch talks about the 'church within the church' - which has become a code phrase for the wheat among the tares in their fields. You can still get blessed even at a high mass, but you can't guarantee that you will easily find the other real believers in the cathedral just by showing up one day.

This is true in protestant churches as well. Knots of real believers may gather around the official services, and may be fed a bit by the teaching, but the real work and life of such churches tends to be 'on the side' - in the outreach ministries done by the layfolk, in the discussions of the enthused outside the 'led' Bible studies, in impromptu worship services that began as the prayer before the potluck or party. I think this book brings out very well why this is so.

I strongly recommend every believer read this book with an open mind. You don't have to agree with everything the authors believe to be blessed by a greater understanding of how Christian gatherings, relationships, and worship have changed over time.

Christians need to learn from the past too. We have nothing to lose from it but falsely based guilt trips! (Loved the section on tithing!)