15 January, 2008

Pagan Christianity

I link you to a book review of "Pagan Christianity" by Kruse Kronicle.

I have not read the book. I link it because the review provides a pretty good summary of the content of the book, and is material worthy of discussion in and of itself. I also link it because I have a little history with Frank Viola, and it's just funny to see a review of a book by a guy you know. Not enough history to really guess at the quality of this book, but he tied into the group I left about a year before I quit. We never really met, but we heard about each other and have talked since.

If you read the review, and read the list of pagan elements that have been added to Christianity over the centuries, you are reading my history. These were the things I learned in 1983 that put me off the organized church for a quarter century. As I read the list again, for about the hundredth time, I really don't know what to think. I was willing to do anything to see the church cleansed from those pollutions. I was aching to die on that mountain for decades, and I still see all those additions to the word of God as mistakes. But the passion is gone for me. And that's usually a bad place for me.

I think, this time, it's the right place for me.

The shift started when I took my latest position at work. I was made responsible for coming up with processes that worked for 400 really smart, regular people. Over 4 years of dealing with these folk, I learned that esoterica is completely ineffective. Nobody cares. Nobody. Not one person. Everyone wants to be part of a team that works. They don't care why it works or the hidden subtleties that play out in the background. I have been a high idealist all my life, and have always wanted all the subtleties to come together in a perfect picture of elegance. Learning that most people don't even see the things I treasure was a shock. Learning that they tend to be more successful than me was a crisis. But learn I have.

I'm currently taking a course in ITIL. You don't even care what that means, believe me, but it's a massive framework of subtleties. I should be able to take this back to my job and make all sorts of tweaks and tunings, but I cannot. No one could. If I'm going to introduce new ITIL concepts at work, I need to prove that they'll work. Nothing else matters.

Pagan Christianity seeks to tear down a bunch of stuff that is working for people.

I sought to tear down a bunch of stuff that was working for people.

Neither Frank nor I is going to have much luck.

I'm sure Frank has his eyes wide open to that fact. I know I did. But it didn't matter, because that was the hill I was tasked with taking. I had these truths, so I was responsible to shout them from the rooftops - the watcher who sounds no alarm, and all that stuff. I was looking forward to dying on that hill. (You know how it is - I was young.)

Then, about 2 months ago, I had this radical change of perspective. All we need to do is bloom where we're planted. Leave the pastors and the sermons and the church buildings where they are, and focus on fellowshipping deeply with those closest to us. The idea is radical to most of you, because it means being of one mind with a church with which you may not completely agree. It's radical to me because it means leaving behind years of ranting against everything those churches stand for.

This may or may not make sense to you, but seeing Frank charging up that hill spurs a little soul-searching. It's more than nostalgic, but less than melancholic. I've given up exactly the fight Frank is carrying forward with this book. And it's impossible to see that without questioning whether I've made the right decision.

Sally-Jane says I have.

Sally-Jane wants to love her Lord and serve Him successfully. I will always believe she would be best served to do so in the way Frank is presenting, but Sally-Jane cannot make that jump. She cannot. She cannot imagine a Christianity without buildings, sermons and services and every time I try to describe it to her she battens down the hatches and waits for the storm to blow over.

Frank's Christianity necessarily becomes elitist. It becomes a gathering of people who are curious about esoterica. It becomes a disorganization in opposition to the organized religion around it.

And in the end, who cares? The bible does not forbid church buildings, sermons, and sacramentalism (yes, I know some of you hold that it explicitly orders all these things - that's fine.) So, why spend time fighting them? I can make the smart people at work start doing ITIL if I can show them that their current methods are not successful, and my new methods will be. I need both a stick and a carrot. Frank believes he has both. I have to disagree.

The home church movement elevates the practice of gathering to a division-level doctrine. This has to be a step in the wrong direction.

This was way more than I meant to write on this subject, and it is more disjointed than I like but I'm not going to edit it. I hope it makes sense.


eclexia said...

Codepoke, I'm very glad that you wrote this. I have friends who read Frank Viola. In their words they "don't do buildings" anymore. But really, they continue to struggle in the home groups, too. It doesn't seem like any group anywhere is totally "getting it right" (and if they are, that they are able to sustain it for too long without pride at HOW they are getting it right!)

I don't say that depressingly, though. You've helped me come a long way in seeing that "getting it right" isn't a prerequisite and probably not even a goal for "doing church". And while I'm not against criticism per se (I think critical thinking and dialogue from that is a big part of iron sharpening iron and also why we need each other in our lives), I do think such intense anti-system criticism does tend to end up elitist. I've seen it, not just with "home church" vs. "organized church" proponents. I've seen "family integrated churches" (which I think, in theory is a great idea as well) end up just as elitist. Other types of "got the system right" churches and non-churches, too.

And I've been in churches with all the "pagan" elements that get it right about Jesus, about community, about caring for others and helping the poor. I was in a needy place for several years. And I was part of a church during those years, where the pastor and his wife and members were there for me, cared for me, gave me gift cards, brought me groceries, cried with me, prayed for me, fed me, cleaned my house, intervened for me, went to court with me, came when DCF showed up at the door from false allegations.

By any standards or label--house church, organic church, liturgical church, simple church, seeker church, family integrated church, contemporary church, traditional church-- their "form" was lacking. Pagan-influenced elements abounded.

And then, after five years, for a variety of reasons, none of which were finances or fighting, that church stopped meeting. So, in the end, to most watching eyes it was also seen as a failure and a "church that died". I never saw it as that way. Just because a group of Christians switches how and where and who they meet with doesn't mean a church died. The church, the body of Christ goes on. For that time and that place, that church, in its particular form, did the work of God. More people went out of that church than came in, because as people came in they were discipled and got excited about how they could serve God in new ways and they left--one family to another state to work with a mission to poor families. Several families, the men had never much been into going to church, but after a few years there, they were involved and had listened and learned and were excited about being involved and passing that on in other places. A whole family, ranchers, moved to another state to expand their ranch and were so excited about getting plugged into another church. Loads of people from that church moved on and out--to campus ministry, to overseas, to new jobs, etc.

Another family stepped out and opened a business they'd dreamed of for years. And did so as different people, spiritually, than they would have been a few years before. Others were saved and grew spiritually and continued to work day in and day out--at pool supply stores, as massage therapists, employees at Disney--again as different people than they'd been before.

When our church stopped meeting, there was a lot of sadness and a lot of grief and yet a peace and hopefulness. It's funny now to see the types of churches those of us from that little Southern Baptist church are attending--Assemblies of God, Lutheran, Methodist, independent charismatic, seeker sensitive, etc. etc. I've never been in such a theologically diverse church where the teaching was in line with one denomination and yet the people had differing theologies on many things and were from backgrounds preferring a wide variety of types of worship, and there we were, loving being together in that place, meeting with God. And we weren't doing hardly anything right by hardly any book or standard of how to do church (or how NOT to do it as the case may be in the anti-organization emphasis).

And you know what, I don't think it was a failure when we stoppped meeting. Because now I think as we have all gone our separate ways, I think what we experienced there will make a difference in how we "do" church in our new churches.

I'm not too worried about pagan Christianity (to return to your original post--hope I didn't ramble too far off topic). I think one unique thing about Christ and Christianity is how he makes his home in and works through any "package" or form--whether individual personalities, whole cultures, etc. He transforms us and conforms us to his image, but he does so without demanding monotonous uniformity. Other religions seems to require a level of outward conformity that Christianity does not (although Christians certainly try hard to push for conformity to whatever their particular shape is).

I think there is a real danger for syncretism in the system (which is why there are so many people quick to point it out when they see it). But, I think we do ourselves a disfavor if we are so worried about syncretism that we try to pull Christianity out of the shapes and forms where Christ is at work redeeming, changing and showing his glory in widely creative ways, and try to force it into a box that "gets it all right", a box of "this is how church is supposed to look" and "this is how Christian families are supposed to educate their kids" and "this is how Christians are supposed to dress" and "this is the political party Christians are supposed to vote for", etc. etc.

Yes, as Christians we are to be different from the world. But I don't think the difference is as much in the areas we focus on (making sure we rid ourselves of anything that had any pagan elements at any time in the past) as much as it is be living within the context of our own cultures, our systems, our personalities and yet looking radically different in how we do that. I don't mean dressing weird. I mean loving when others hate. I mean intervening on behalf of the poor and needy when others are complacent. I mean doing our job honestly when others see that we could have lied. Those are the differences, and I think they are not most clearly seen by coming up with a Christian form or system. They are most clearly seen by being the people God has made us, in the places God has placed us (I like your bloom where you are planted idea), in the jobs we have, in radically different, Christ-glorifying, ways.

Wow, you pushed some serious buttons with me this time :)

Kansas Bob said...

Tell me more about this CP:

"The home church movement elevates the practice of gathering to a division-level doctrine."

..what does "division-level" mean?

Thx, KB

eclexia said...

I'm sorry about that comment turning into a post. In hindsight, when it got that long I should have copied it and posted it as a post on my blog and not a "book" as a comment on yours! I'm still learning blog etiquette and know I get carried away in my responses at times.

Michael Kruse said...

Thanks for the link. I appreciate a lot of what you have to say in this post.

codepoke said...

In reverse order, for convenience sake:

Mr. Kruse - I started reading you a month or two ago, and have really come to appreciate both your views and the balanced treatment you give each of your subjects. I also appreciate that you seem to have genuine expertise in each of them. I wish my linkage were enough to move your hit counters, but I am trying to credit you with my thinking where it's new.

codepoke said...

> ..what does "division-level" mean?

Above brigade and below corp? That was rather a vague statement, wasn't it. {:-)

I meant that to varying degrees a home churcher withholds fellowship from organized churchers. At the extreme, a home churcher will complain of odd stomach aches at the mere thought of having to fellowship under a liturgy, or protest that he cannot be truly free in a place where a man takes the place of Christ/The Spirit as Leader of the meetings of the body.

I came from such a group. We hid behind several rationalizations, but in the end we separated from the organized church as surely as the protestants separated from the Catholics or the OPC from the PCA from the PCUSA from the RCA from the ..... and we decried the sin of denominating the whole time.

So: A doctrine over which Jesus would say you should separate from other Christians.

codepoke said...


> I'm still learning blog etiquette and know I get carried away in my responses at times.

I was raised hillbilly. I do my best at etiquette, but neighborly's all that really counts. Milly'll tell you that. :-)

Long comments are welcomed here, though counter-posting does seem to be the proper-est etiquette.

> And I was part of a church during those years, where the pastor and his wife and members were there for me ... More people went out of that church than came in, because ...


No wonder you had a hard time finding a new church. I pity the poor group that follows that beautiful fellowship in your life. Then again, I'm sure they'll have their own "something" going for them, and we both know God has brought you to THIS place at THIS time for some reason of His. It will work to your good and theirs, but it can't always be easy to feel that way.

> But I don't think the difference is as much in the areas we focus on ... as much as it is ... loving when others hate ...


You know, it's hard to find myself starting here at ground zero of being decent after so many years of thinking I knew some things. But I'd rather be just becoming decent than still be patting myself on the back for how different I was in the anti-pagan things.

I pray grace and success on Frank and his cohorts, and I thank the Lord for where He has me today.

And now... I must try to rest - big presentations tomorrow, and lots of work to catch up on.

eclexia said...

"You know, it's hard to find myself starting here at ground zero of being decent after so many years of thinking I knew some things."

A theme that keeps going through my mind lately is, "None of it is wasted." Even the wasted years according to human interpration are not wasted in God's economy.

As an outsider looking in, I don't see you at ground zero of being decent. God's not giving you the insights and growth he is granting, in spite of all that has gone before, but through and out of it all. You know and value what you do because of your other choices, beliefs, experiences.

When God redeems the stuff that's gone before, I think is when we see most clearly that even when we might have been getting things dreadfully wrong, he was there being faithful and doing his perfecting work in us and through us.

Thanks for your gracious neighborliness :)

Milly said...

Milly'll tell you that. :-)

You knew I was going to say it. It's fine to make long comments when you feel that you have a lot to say, you don't even have to agree with anyone you just need to be kind about the disagreements.

So keep typing.

steggy said...

You're making sense, but keep in mind I'm reading what you're writing from my perspective -- which is to say, I'm more or less Jewish, and am coming from a reform POV where there's a distinct difference between the ritual trappings of organized religion/business and belief. To make it even more confusing, we're actively encouraged to question our beliefs and practises.

Most (97%) of my worship is done within my home or on my own. I don't *need* songs, doo-dads, wine, candles, a choir, or bread each Friday night to get the job done, you know? I don't *need* to attend prayer services three times a day at my temple to be closer to God. However, all of those are mandated in Oral Law (rabbinical), as opposed to Written Law (the Big Guy's five books).

Anyhow, at one time or another the fight between the two eventually turned my head and heart into a mixmaster. My Rabbi and I had some fun times laughing and crying together over my fight to be as righteous as possible, let me tell you.

I came to the conclusion that, ultimately, the rock-bottom tenents are to be good, do good, and be happy. The rest of it is a dog-and-pony show. :)

Peace and stuff. ~S

codepoke said...

Thanks, Steggy, and I read'ya. I'm familar enough with the reformed interpretation of the rabbis' traditions to know you're hitting well inside the singles lines with your interpretation. And I certainly agree that there's a LOT of dog and pony in the best of my religion. Still, let me challenge you this.

If the rock that was cut without hands broke the feet of the statue (in Daniel 2:31ff - I can supply context as requested) could it have been human? Or must it have been divine?

The kingdom of God on Earth is not just humans living divinely, but God living in humans (hence cut without hands.) We cannot do this alone, though, or why did God call "a people" of Abraham? He could have called everyone in Ur of the Chaldees or even all the world, but instead He called one single man and formed a new tribe by a miracle of geriatric birth. He went waaaay out of His way to have "a people" uniquely His.

Nothing's changed. We need each other to love God well.

codepoke said...


> None of it is wasted

Amen. Again, you bring the book, "Shattered Dreams" to mind.

But by "starting over again at ground zero" I am only refering to my ecclesiology, not my relationship to the Lord. For the last couples days, I've actually been considering signing the rolls at my church. I did everything short of vow never to do that as early as 1980. For me to consider it now is undoing 28 years of things about which I was sure.

It weighs on me like having a glass of wine before waltzing with his wife at a town hoedown might on a life-long, serious Southern Baptist. God may rejoice at the thought, but I'm not at all sure of it yet.

steggy said...

There's an old saying (actually, it's also the title of a very funny book): If you put two Jews in a room, you'll find you've got three opinions and all are correct. This is especially apt when it comes to Daniel and interpreting his dreams.

Mine's pretty straightforward -- I fall to Orthodox interpretation here. The elements of the statue refer to kingdoms who have yet to conquer in succession. Gold (Babylonia), silver (Persiams/Medeans), copper (Greeks under Alex the great), iron (Christianity), earthenware (Islam). You might re-read the section with that historical context in mind, and see what you think. I found it quite interesting - but then, I was born with a Civ 1 book under my butt.

You asked:
"We cannot do this alone, though, or why did God call "a people" of Abraham?"

Oh boy, multi-faceted question, there.

We were never meant to do so alone -- God is always with us, so by default we are never alone. Together, we are always an assembly. He is above us, true, but he is also beside us and thus never out of reach.

So, if you are worshipping in a church, temple, or synagogue, God is with you. And if you are worshipping at home, God is with you. He chooses not to discern between the two, although we (e.g. his people) do, because we're always in a fit to do it "right" or "better" than someone else.

In conclusion, it's worth pointing out that Havurah (home-worship groups) have been a part of Judaism for thousands of years. Worship started off as Havurah, and people default back to it in times of spiritual need.

Havurah increased between 1940-1980, particularly among Reform jews. Basically, some folks felt that their local temple wasn't cutting the traditional mustard. Not enough Hebrew used in services, not enough prayer, not enough following of the mitzvot, etc. The reasons for people choosing to splinter off were myriad (and *all* were/are valid, IMO). Hence why the Reform movement has been steadily getting more and more traditional over time, hoping to reel these Havurah back in.

Bill said...

As usual, Kev, a lot of what you say sounds right on. Most people will always prefer reliable stability to idealistic upheaval. There's never going to be a perfect church until there's a group of perfect people. And whether or not we cease or adopt traditional or new practices, the bottom line is still simply whether or not people find the Lord together and care for one another.

We all know what we long for. We pick our battles and we choose our compromises. Sure, since Jesus didn't put a dent in the Synagogue (no offense, Steggy), I'm sure Frank won't stop the "IC" either - not even with Barna's help, this time around.

Btw, I haven't talked to FV in a long while, but I don't think his goal is to stop or change everything...

My own hope is that the book brings awareness to all that helps release the many who genuinely long for other forms of christian groupiness. Maybe it'll free-up a lot of christians who couldn't fight that battle for themselves. Who knows?

It may be hard to swallow, but maybe Frank will have more luck helping Sally-Jane than you did! (rib-rib) ;)

But - admittedly - if and when those people come down from those charges up "the mountain" as you say... I hope they manage to bring the richness of all they gain into whatever new lives they lead therafter.

Like you did.

So carry on, Kev. And carry on, Frank.


steggy said...

Bill: none taken. Jesus was a great Jew, imo, and a good example of what Judaism can be, if it steers away from being so insular and fractitious. He was kind to all peoples, he studied, he was a good man of deeds and words.

*munches philosophy flakes for breakfast*

codepoke said...

Steggy, I'm embarassed not to have answered you in so long. I'm sorry.

Of course, the Christian interpretation of the dream is that the iron and iron mixed with clay are early and late Rome. I can see where you get the Christian/Islamic viewpoint.

As to the Havurah, such lessons are always welcome. Thank you.

One thing about your answers confuses me. You seem sometimes to imply that it doesn't matter whom you worship, as long as you worship truly. At other times you seem to imply that the God of Abraham is the only true God. Classical Judaism, of course, is built around the belief that worship must not only be true but precise to be pleasing to God.

Jesus was a pretty upsetting Jew, because He said God was changing what defined precise worship. The argument that Jesus was a good Jew only works if you assume the early Christians stretched the truth in their gospels regarding what Jesus really said. If you believe the historical accounts, Jesus was not much of a Jew at all.