Why Does Everything Revolve Around the Sermon
in Church Services?
The answer to this question and many others of more
significance will be found in Pagan Christianity. The authors have
painstakingly dug into the archives of history and shown the origins of the
most striking features of the institutional Christianity that emerged in
post-apostolic times -- things like the church building, the order of
worship, the sermon, the pastor, dressing up for church, seminaries, the
altar call and tithing.
This book is a fascinating read just from a historical vantage point. For
example, you learn that Christians were in the catacombs not because of
persecution, but because they wanted to be near the dead. The church service
in France is called "aller a sermon" (go to a sermon). There are a myriad of
details drawn from church history that help one understand how certain
traditions became entrenched in the way church was done.
While there are certainly allusions to organic New Testament perspectives in
the course of the book, it is not ultimately about solutions. Pagan
Christianity is about documenting the Greco-Roman origins of many church
practices that stand in open opposition to the New Testament revelation.
"The sermon" is one tradition that arose from pagan, not biblical soil. In a
book to come out later in 2008, "Reimagining Church," Frank will unfold more
specific pathways to practicing community that would contribute to
untangling the churchy mess we find ourselves in.
Because this book challenges ecclesiastical motherhood and apple pie, it
will no doubt be a hard pill for many to swallow. But it must be stressed
that the major points in PC are confirmed by the historical research of
scholars from all across the theological spectrum. Emil Brunner concluded in
"...what was known as ecclesia in primitive Christianity -- [is] so very
different from what is to-day called the Church both in Roman and Protestant
camps . . . . Many theologians and Church leaders are . . . So much the more
painfully aware of the disparity between the Christian fellowship of the
apostolic age and our own 'churches,' and cannot escape the impression that
there may perhaps be something wrong with what we now call the Church . . .
. It is in fact the opinion of the author that the Church itself, in so far
as it identifies itself with the Ecclesia of the New Testament, rests upon a
misunderstanding" (The Misunderstanding of the Church, London: Lutterworth
Press, 1952, PP.5-6).
Likewise, one of the foremost New Testament theologians of our times
affirmed with clarity some of the central theses of of PC:
"Increasing institutionalism is the clearest mark of early Catholicism --
when church becomes increasingly identified with institution, when authority
becomes increasingly coterminous with office, when a basic distinction
between clergy and laity becomes increasingly self-evident, when grace
becomes increasingly narrowed to well-defined ritual acts. We saw above that
such features were absent from first generation Christianity, though in the
second generation the picture was beginning to change" (James D.G. Dunn,
Unity & Diversity in the New Testament, Westminster Press, 1977, p.351).
The quest for authentic, organic ekklesia must begin by an examination of
the key components and pillars of what people have come to associate with
church. Pagan Christianity has done a superb job of demonstrating that most
of what we assume is necessary to practice church is of very suspect origin,
and comes into conflict with the simplicity of Christ found in the pages of
the New Testament.
I would strongly encourage anyone who hungers for the expression of Christ
in his body on earth in our day to read Pagan Christianity and explore the
implications for their lives. I was greatly blessed by working my way
through this material.
It is of interest to note a very strange phenomenon that
has occurred with the publishing of Pagan Christianity: it has provoked
numerous "reviews" by people who haven't read it or just skimmed it!
Jon Zens, Editor, Searching Together