Doing it by the Book?

Every church, in essence, wants to do things ‘by the book’ (meaning the Bible). Yet, it is surprising that many of the ‘sacred cows’ we have in the church have little foundation in the New Testament at all.  Here is a list (with help from Frank Viola and George Barna) of some of the post-biblical, post-apostolic features of church which are largely influenced by Christians accepting the pagan influence of the day that many of us think are crucial to church life and practice founded on the tradition of the bible.  Hold onto your hat….

  • The Church building – first appeared in around 327AD under the influence of the supposedly converted emperor Constantine.  These were patterned after pagan Greek Temples and Roman basilicas.
  • The ‘Pastors’ Chair –  taken from the seat of the judge that featured in pagan Roman basilicas.
  • Tax exemption for clergy – emperor Constantine (again) made churches tax exempt in 323AD and in 313AD gave priests tax exemption so that they were equal to pagan priests.
  • Cathedrals – first built in the 12th Century according to the pattern of the pagan philisophy of Plato.
  • Church Steeples – find their root in ancient Egypt and Babylon but popularised by Sir Christopher Wren in 1666 rooted in his interest in freemasonry which utilized Egyptian pagan beliefs.
  • The Pulpit – appeared as late as 250AD, borrowed from the Greek ambo which was used by Jews and Greeks to deliver monologues
  • The Sunday Morning Order of Service – has remained relatively unchanged all the way from Pope Gregory’s Mass in the 6th Century all the way through to our modern day practices.  Whether you are Roman Catholic, free church, state church, pentecostal, evangelical or charismatic, your order is simply a variation of the 6th Century Mass and bears little resemblance to any early church or New Testament  format.
  • Candles on the ‘communion table’ and incense – from the pagan ceremonial court of the Roman emperors of the 4th century.  The table came from Zwingli in the 16th century.
  • Congregation standing to sing/music playing whilst clergy and/or bible enters – borrowed from the pagan ceremonial court of the Roman emporers in the 4th century and brought into protestantism by Calvin.
  • Coming into church with a sombre/reverential attitude – from medieval notions of piety, brought to the protestant church by Calvin and his cronies.
  • Guilt over missing church services – 17th century English Puritans
  • Long prayer by the Pastor before the sermon – those jolly Puritans again.
  • The Altar Call – Methodists followed byCharles Finney
  • Bowed heads and eyes closed in response to ‘salvation message’ – Billy Graham in the 20th century
  • The Contemporary Sermon – borrowed from the Greek sophists, highly trained and skilled in rhetoric.  Augustine (himself trained in rhetoric) converted it and made it central to Christian worship.
  • The contemporary Pastor (ie ‘Single Seat Bishop/overseer’ as opposed to Eph 4 pastor) – Ignatious of Antioch in the 2nd Century but wasn’t popularised until Constantine standised the clergy system in the early 4th Century
  • Hierarchical leadership – Constantine again.  This was the model of the Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and Romans.
  • Clergy – Constantine again, although Tertullian first coined the concept.
  • Contemporary ‘ordination’ – evolved from the 2nd Cenutry to the 4th century.  It was taken from the Roman concept of accepting men into public office.  The ‘holy man of God’ idea can be traced to Augustine, Gregory and Chrysostom.
  • The Title ‘Pastor’ – this didn’t come around in the church until the 18th century in the Lutheran church.
  • Wearing your Sunday Best – late 18th Century during the Industrial Revolution rooted in the working classes wanting to keep up with their middle class neighbours.
  • Clerical Robes –  330AD with, you guessed it, Roman Emperor Constantines influence.  He wanted his clergy to wear the same as the Roman officials of the day.  By the 12th century, clergy began wearing clerical garb instead of every day clothes to separate them from the ‘normal’ people.
  • The Clerical’backwards’ Collar – The Rev Dr Donald McLeod from Glasgow in 1865.
  • The Choir– provoked by Constantine’s desire to mimic Roman imperial services.  Developed also from Greek dramas in Greek temples.
  • Boys/Children’s Choirs – began in the 4th century based on the pagan idea that children’s voices were more divine.
  • The Worship Team – based on the modern rock concert, and brought into church in 1965 by Calvary chapels and later the Vineyard churches.
  • Tithing – although a system operated for the temple in the Old Testament, tithing was not a Christian practice until the 8th century.  The tithe was taken from the Roman rent charge/tax and later justified by using the Old Testament to bolster its position in the church.
  • Clergy salaries – ole Constantine
  • the Collection Plate – the first collection plate was passed round the church service in 1662.
  • Infant Baptism – rooted in the superstitious beliefs of Greco-Roman culture, brought into Christian culture in the late 2nd century.  It replaced adult baptism almost entirely in the 5th century until the emergence of the Anabaptists during the reformation in the 16th/17th century
  • The Lords supper reduced from a full ‘agape’ meal to the cup and bread – during the 2nd century as result of pagan ritual influences
  • Paul’s letters arranged according to length in the NT – based on the Greco-Roman system of compiling philosopical writings in the 2nd century.
  • Bible split up into chapters – University of Paris professor Stephen Langton in 1227.
  • Bible chapters split into verses – printer Robert Stephanus in 1551

So what? you might be saying.  Basically, when you explore some of these ideas, we see that much of modern Christian practice has no New Testament root yet we see many of them as central to our experience.  The thing is, the bible is not silent on the functions of the people of God and many of our common practices marginalise, neutralise and disempower the priesthood of all believers.  It is just striking that so much of what has become part of the Church of Jesus Christ has little foundation in the early Christian community.  Yes, things adapt and change but the issue, certainly for me, is not just about practices but in how the practices change the theogical thrust of the church’s teaching.  We often don’t see these things because we tend to ‘read back’ into the bible our modern practices.

So, for example, when we see ‘pastor’ in Ephesians, we read our modern day picture back into it.  When we thing leadership, we read our heirarchical top-heavy systems back into it.  When we read the bible, we read it split into verses and we use them devoid of their context without good knowledge of the history they are rooted in, what the other part of the conversation is (especially with Paul’s letters).

For more indepth info about how these things impact the modern church, see Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna.



6 thoughts on “Doing it by the Book?

  1. Churches can also be traced by to the King Solomon's temples, to the temples made by God's chosen nation, Israel, who were commanded to make the temples, which were the dwelling place for the most High, mirrored after the ones in Heaven.However, of course, church buildings are probably more influenced by the pagan Greek temples, instead. You might want to accuse me of reading church buildings into Israel's temples, & that also goes for the bad habit of reading Christians into the Old Testament by saying we were drafted in to the extent to say that we were & are one & the same with the Jews back then, that Christians are Jews. People do say that & believe for almost a good enough cause.Taking things out of context, reading things into the text, taking things out, ignoring the history behind the text, only being Christian on Sundays during the sermon, taking the Pastor's words as God's Word, taking it for granted, not testing the words yourself, not keeping an open mind, or allowing the Pastor to spoon feed you, you know, doing all of those things is doing major damage to this world on several levels.On one hand, I will not automatically declare any of the above practices or things to just merely be absolutely evil or against God's will or whatever just because they may or may not have came from pagan influences. Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Because God came before the pagans did & anything that the pagans come up with probably came from God first, or a more pure version of anything is available from God. That includes music too. I am against having worldly music in churches but I am totally for God's music in God's churches & God's music everywhere really. But worldly music is totally stealing a page out of God's play book for music. God makes people & people make music. Music can be bad, but more importantly, people can be more bad. Having bad music is like having a car that is upside down. If you have a car that is upside, you do not declare it evil. You put the car back on it's feet or wheels. You get it back rolling the right way. The same goes with music. I think worldly music is simply upside down cars.So, anyways, on another hand still, of course, we do have to think about why we do what we do. Practices or programs are there to illustrate & illuminate & help us live out the principles & philosophies that God wants us to live out. Programs & practices & products & parts & places & things & all changes, they do, they evolve or change, & yet the principles behind them are foundational, they are the roots, the pillars, fundamental, unchanging, inescapable (like gravity, a force worth considering).

  2. Hi Joey, thanks for your comments. Not sure we've met, but 'hi'.You make some good points, let me respond. First of all I'll make a general point and say that, of course, I've made a list tracing modern day Christian practices back to roots not primarily in the New Testament church as founded by Jesus and the apostles. Churches, as in buildings, can have something of a relation to the temples of the Old Testament. But the point is that what goes on in the 'churches' bears more relation to what happened in the pagan temples than necessarily what happened in the life of the Temple in the OT. Moving towards Jesus, we have the promise that the way that we connect with God was going to change. Jesus fulfilled the temple system with its sacrifices and 'levels' through which people had to pass. Peter emphasises for us that the new temple would be the people of God and that we'd be living stones. As a consequence of this, the apostles build a predominantly buildingless faith – for the first time in many many years, a living faith that didn't rely on a priestly caste performing ceremonies in a temple. The 'Romanification' of the church by Constantine began the stark reverse of this.Your point about reading Christians back into the OT and churches back into the OT is a concern I'd share. Whilst as gentiles we're grafted into the people of God, the Old Testament and its message doesn't apply to Christians in the same way it applied to the people of Israel and the 'system' was as you say, a foretaste of what was to come in the age of the Spirit after Jesus death and resurrection = pentecost.I haven't particularly declared these things to be evil, I've simply blogged them to highlight firstly that many of the things we do aren't from the historic foundation of the churches the apostles built. However, when things drasically change the whole ethos of churches (for example, the clergy/laity divide) thats where I really think it needs to be challenged.A lot of what I'm saying here relates to the function of the body. All the things in the post, from clergy to choirs, to bibles to robes have the potential to alter the picture we have in the New Testament of how the body of Christ was meant to function. I will develop that though in the next blog post. You could say that this post was a 'disection' of a few things, however, there is something to place alongside this story…that is what we can glean from scripture about how the body functions. So that is my intention.You devote some time to music – let me say, on the basis of my last paragraph, that I certainly am not declaring any sort of music 'evil.' Whether a Christian song is from the first century or the twenty first, I care not. The issue for me in that regard is that we have a picture in the NT of open participatory gatherings, where anyone could sing, preach, pray, prophesy, etc etc and the choirs, the order of service and even the worship band generally prohibit the body to function as intended. I will paint a sketch of the NT church in the next blog post.thanks for your commentsAndrew

  3. I was pretty involved with many churches, but mostly with my Community Baptist Church first twenty or so years of my life, so, it was during Bible College when we were going through church history when I started noticing the evolution or the course that church has been on, a course which is partly bad & yet partly good.I remember being in an adult Bible study when I was eight (I must have just came for the food), & I started thinking, "Why are we folding our hands, closing our eyes? Is that the secret recipe to effective prayer? Does it not work without that? What if you're driving?" Then I started thinking about communion? Is that really his body? Is that all we get to eat? Sadly, my younger sister got baptized when she was four, & yet I wasn't able to talk well enough to explain that I understood well enough to get it. Then I was like, "This is horrible, I'm never getting baptized. But then ended up getting baptized four years later.Anyways, I say all of that to say that I am not totally against programs, ordinances, sacraments, or even Salvation Army things. & I think all of these things can be good, unless if we forget why we are doing what we are doing, the principles.On a side note, I also remember while at that same adult Bible study when I was eight, thinking, "Why are they talking so seriously (& boringly) about Jesus & His disciples because it's not like Jesus was King Arthur & his knights." If only Christianity was cool.Just kidding. Of course Christianity is cool. We don't really have to try too hard to make it too cool. Maybe that is how we got into this mess in the first place. Even organ music was once worldly music. We forget God invented cool, not the world. We got to go to Him in order to figure out what is cool or not.The world stoled it from Him.

  4. I am an ex-Salvation Army officer, and I am currently working in a church that has a lot of the things I mentioned. I'm not saying I'm necessarily 'against' all these things and many of them can be done within the construct of the living out of Christian faith. However, its where they pervert the NT understanding and teaching that I think they need to be explored. More than that, its that some of those things are treated as 'sacrosanct' when in fact they are not.

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