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.