Bush Fires

Pagan Christianity?

Pagan Frank Viola and George Barna's book Pagan Christianity boldly declares that everything most churches are doing is wrong: meeting in church buildings, having an order of worship, sermons, pastors, Sunday morning dress, ministers of music, tithing and clergy salaries, the way baptism and the Lord’s Supper are conducted, as well as Christian education. These are not the way church was done in the first century. In fact, they believe that they have pagan origins.

The book is an interesting read and it raises lots of issues worth discussing. Of course, it assumes that the the expression of the church in the first century is exactly what is to be followed today. I'm not sure that is totally true. After all, Jesus and the first Christians didn't use mobile phones and email, so maybe we shouldn't either!?

I'm also not so sure that Jesus is that overly fussed about forms or expressions of the church as he is about the heart, spirit, and priority of his church. Where the church is truly a community of Christ-followers, empowered by the Spirit to participate in God's mission in the world, I think a variety of forms can emerge within different contexts and cultures. After all, it takes all sorts of different churches to reach the all sorts of different people in our world.

However, there is no doubt that it is good to review all of our current beliefs and practices in light of Jesus and the church he established, as recorded in the New Testament documents.

Here are a few interesting links to some responses to this book:

  1. Some comments by a reputable Biblical scholar, Ben Witherington. See here and then here.
  2. Discussions on this book on the Christianity Today web site. Part 2 continues here.
  3. A review by a friend of mine, John Stanko.

You might also like to check out Frank and George's web site where they present more support for their claims.

What do you think?


I can see both sides of this. I like the zeal the first Christians had and their commitment to community, helping those in need, how quickly the church was able to grow through house churches and how their faith was everything to them. Something about there simple way of doing things seems "pure".

However I still believe that God has prompted us to have church buildings, sermons, paid ministers, an order of worship. After all Jesus preached to the crowds (ie the sermon of the mount). There was also Synagogues set up around the place that were pretty structured in the way they did things. The Priests were supported too. So the way we now do things does have a lot in common OT practices in many ways.

I personally think there is room for both expressions. The key I think is to work together and not throw stones at each other. Just allow the other to get on with the work that God may have called them to do and encourage the other when we can.

People will always tell you what is wrong with church. My opinion is there is not enough people in them!!!

I've read "Pagan Christianity" (well, most of it at any rate), and found it a little bit mean-spirited. I think it did a good job of disproving the scriptural basis for a number of practices that have become so integral to how we do church that they have essentially become sacred, and that was a worthwhile point. But I couldn't help but feel that it was being delivered in quite an unloving and ungenerous spirit, to the point that I needed not to keep reading.

I have heard however that Viola's companion book - "Re-imagining Church" is a much more positive read, and I have had it recommended from people I respect a lot. But I haven't got to it just yet.

I've been looking through the scriptures..and I just can't seem to find the bit where it says that congregations should be pressured by their pastor to give a visiting speaker many thousands of dollars/denarii for 45 minutes of lame public speaking .. funded by people who work real jobs, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, earning $24,000 ...A YEAR... and then the speaker returning the favour to the pastor when they visit the speaker's home church....and using that reciprocal arrangement as the basis for a 'love offering' speakers' circuit, where as much as $50,000 plus 5-star accommodation plus first class airfares are swapped between pastors.

Actually ..hang on... there are some bible verses on this. Titus 1:10-16

Shhh...everyone pretend they're not there.

Ok, feel free to stay on the circuit.

Hello again, Lance.

Bit of a hobby horse for you, this topic?

Anyway, you've raised a good issue again, and you're right, this sort of thing that you describe shouldn't happen.

I can't talk for other churches .. but at CityLife we usually only take extra offerings for humanitarian or mission causes. For instance, we took a special offering up on Christmas Day for a terrific ministry reaching out to poor and needy people in Ethiopia.

We don't have a lot of visiting ministry at our church but when we do, we treat them well, with warm hospitality (however, not 1st class airfares, 5 star accommodation or limos!) and a generous, but never extravagant, honorarium. This is usually from our general expense budget, but occasionally through a special offering, though never a pressured one. That's not our culture and inappropriate from my perspective.

By the way, there are some good NT texts on treating preachers and traveling ministries well (see 1 Timothy 5:17-18 and 3 John 5-8).

We're not into having people who are just looking for a place to preach or another love offering. We only invite people who we believe can make a significant spiritual contribution to people in our church community.

Personally, I am not on any 'circuit'. In fact, I am only away from our church about 4 weekends a year, and 1-2 of these are international mission trips. My next outside ministry trip is an interstate training event for pastors. I'll be traveling economy and staying with a friend.

Titus 1:10-16 is a rebuke from Paul to the Judaizers in the 1st century. Not sure the contemporary connection you are making fits??

Thanks Lance

Mark, that was a very good response to Lance's comment. It says a lot about you and your church.

"We don't have a lot of visiting ministry at our church but when we do, we treat them well, with warm hospitality (however, not 1st class airfares, 5 star accommodation or limos!) and a generous, but never extravagant, honorarium"

To cover the visiting pastor's sermon and preparation time ($50 an hour for, say, 5 hours work) I would regard $250 dollars as a 'generous but never extravagant' honorarium for the work they put in..and the usually lame result they produce.

I suspect however, your visiting pastors get much, much more than this.

"Titus 1:10-16 is a rebuke from Paul to the Judaizers in the 1st century. Not sure the contemporary connection you are making fits??"

Pastors are the 21st century Judaizers.

The issues are different (enforcing the obsolete practice of 'tithing', correct worship, technique, defining acceptable social behaviour and attitudes, etc) but the underlying Judaizer approach is the same.

It's the mindset that outward manifestations of certain behaviour and thinking are only what is acceptable to God. That's primarily what your blog is about...and what your gospel is about. A 'tips for better living' gospel.

The deserving 'better livers' get God's grace, and inference.....the undeserving awkward outcasts who can't get their sh1t together get the Lemonade and Sarse from the Kingdom of God.

'Yeah, sorry mate, you miss out on Heaven because you didn't 'live excellently' enough.'

Frankly, we should not compare the Church of the 1st century with the 21st century Church.

Time has changed many things. For example, our wardrobe is not the same as that of our brethren of the first century and our food has more flavour and delicacies than what our brethren ate in the first century..

The main point to me is: It is not where we worship that matters but how we worship. In John 4:23 Our Lord said this in reply to the Samaritan woman who questioned Him as to why Jesus worshiped in Jerusalem and her ancestors worshiped on that mountain.

Our Lord said, "The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. "

Is our worship true and real?

Do we have the Holy Spirit 's help in our worship?

Or do we just worship the Father as the Pharisees do?

Many things we all do have Pagan origins - wedding rings, flowers on graves are a few examples.

Christianity should be able to adopt other practices and use them to honour God or as an aid to worship.

Tithing (my hobby horse) may have some Pagan origins - yet in the Church it is largely based upon bad scriptural interpretation. Many Pastors will be held accountable for imposing this false teaching upon and taking advantage of the scripturally naieve.

Actually, Lance, the gospel we preach IS one of grace. God loves and accepts everyone regardless of their behaviour. Salvation is a free gift, not something we earn or strive for through 'good works' (Eph.2:8-10).

However, once we are saved and become children of God, God wants us to begin to live as he would and to do 'good works' - not in order to be loved, accepted and forgiven, but because we already are. This too is a work of grace but also requires our co-operation and involvement.

Theologically, this is about positional and experiential truth. For instance, the letters of Ephesians and Colossians both begin with positional truth - who we are in Christ and what he has done for us, that we could not do for ourselves. They then both move on in the second half of their content to talk about experiential truth - now that you are God's children, stop lying, get rid of anger, forgive one another, etc.

You can't separate one from the other. It's about Justification AND Sanctification.

Tips for living? Most of the entire New Testament is about practical advice for everyday life for followers of Christ and is also mainly about relationships. Why wouldn't we do the same today?

Heaven and hell is a matter of grace - believing and trusting in Jesus for our forgiveness and salvation. Spiritual maturity and eternal rewards are a matter of obedience - putting into practice the life of Christ on a daily basis. Let's not mix these up.

Hello Lance,

Mark has humbly been very gracious and openly honest in his past and present dialogue with you on this very topic of offerings in great depth (both on his and your blog). He has my highest respect for his integrity and leading by example with excellence.

Re your statement here: > The deserving 'better livers' get God's grace, and inference..... the undeserving awkward outcasts who can't get their sh1t together get the Lemonade and Sarse from the Kingdom of God. 'Yeah, sorry mate, you miss out on Heaven because you didn't 'live excellently' enough.' <

My heart goes out to you. Are you feeling conmdemned? Have you made your peace with God to accept His grace, yet?

Romans 3:23 says that ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Remember, Jesus IS the Way, the Truth and the Life. (John 14:6) His Truth sets us free from condemnation to become who God really created us to be in Christ.

"Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."
~ 1 Corinthians 3:17

BUT God gives us a choice. He left us an instruction manual (the Bible) for doing life right, and it's up to us what we do with it. All our questions are answered in His Word.

His Word says, Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and PERFECT will of God. ~ Romans 12:2

And as He which has called you is HOLY, so be you HOLY, in all manner of conversation; because it is written, be you HOLY; for I am HOLY. ~ 1 Peter 1:15-16

"He has chosen us...that we should be HOLY and without blame before Him in love.."
~ Ephesians 1:4

"That He might present it to Himself,a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing: but that it should be HOLY and without blemish..." ~ Ephesians 5:27

And every man that has this HOPE in Him purifies himself, even as He is PURE.
~ 1 John 3:3

Therefore, "Follow peace with ALL men, and holiness, without which no man can see the Lord." ~ Hebrews 12:14

(see also 1 Thessalonians 4:7; James 1:17)

Bottom line is: Jesus loves you where you're at unconditionally, but because He loves you, He will not leave you the same way that He found you, if you are willing. How excellent is that?

God is LOVE, but He is also LIGHT, TRUTH and JUSTICE.

Only God can judge righeously what is inside a man's heart. For our part God desires us to be holy, even as He is holy and be PERFECT in LOVE. Those who love know God. We love because He first loved us.(1 John 4:19) None of us have arrived at perfection on this earth YET, "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord." ~ 2 Cor. 3:18 NKJV

Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. ...but glory, honor, and (Shalom) peace to EVERYONE who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the HOPE of glory. ~ Col. 1:27

Jesus said, "Behold, I come quickly"... and every man that has this HOPE in Jesus purifies himself, even as He is PURE.

*** Click on Stephen Chia and check out his excellent blog. Worth a look!

Have a great weekend my friend.

Shalom with Love in Jashua HaMashiach.

Mark, excellent answer to Lance.

Lance - have you ever attended CityLife for any length of time or at all?

Have you heard CityLife messages on:
- how the "Church" has often failed to respond to the needs of the poor and a wrong gospel that suggests Christians should always be prosperous?

- why heartache and tragedy is part of the Christian experience and how much of what is taught in the "Church" is wrong in suggesting there must be somthing wrong or sin in our lives to explain these events?

These are examples of recent sermons. I started my walk in a church overseas 14 years ago and can say that my recent experience (teaching from CityLife) has changed some of my fundamental beliefs in how we should do church. I now believe I should help any human in need and not just a believer. I no longer think that my helping someone gives me the right to force my beliefs on the recipient of help. Help is now un-conditional. I think twice before making any significant purchase i.e. a plasma tv because I can't help but think of the poor and how I really don't need better definition or a larger screen when others don't have food.

These are changes as a direct result of the teaching of Mark Conner and his teaching team. If you feel that the "Church" and it's preachers are sooo bad, why don't you start a church and become a pastor and show us how it should be done? Mark is not perfect and he would be the first to tell you that. I have seen and heard Mark and others in the leadership team share their fears and some of their failings. They make themselves vulnerable to the congregation and this in turn encourages the members of the church as they do not put themselves above us in the sense of being superior.

As scripture says, judge by the fruit. Citylife has and is changing many lives for the better. We have not obtained perfection or perfect Christ likeness but we are trying and isn't that the point - that we try even though we know it will never be perfected until we are in heaven?

So while I was really annoyed with your initial usual sarcastic blog entry - I now don't care because when all is said and done and we stand before Christ as our Judge the truth about CityLife, Mark Conner and YOU will be made known. Are you prepared for that day?

Hi Mark,

Firstly, I'd like to thank you for the efforts you put into making your blog well presented and easy to follow. Whilst I do not read it regularly, it is often what I turn to for inspiration. I like the fact that I can look for something easily from your past posts. I am constantly thankful that I can obtain great resources from your blog. So, in response to the comment Lance made regarding what your blog is about...well, frankly, I have no idea what his point was, I just want to encourage you and make you aware that many of us who read your blog but are not posting responses constantly do appreciate you. I know I'm not alone in saying this :).

Secondly, I am very thankful to you and your teaching team for messages that challenge our thinking and for making us aware that it is our responsibility to delve into God's Word and find out for ourselves what He is saying to us. I've used the present tense because God's Word is living and I believe what was said when the Bible was written is applicable to us in present day.

I have not looked into the book you mentioned and probably won't get round to it so, keeping in line with the origins of your post, my comments goes only as far as to say, I don't really care what these guys say because there are just so many writers these days and whilst it may matter to many others to read the many different views regarding so many different issues that people write about, I am happy to live my life discovering who I am meant to be and be challenged by the Holy Spirit in the things that matter to me.

Very simply, I'm content with my life and that's not to say I don't have my moments or struggles like everyone else, it's just the way I view the world.

Keep up the great work, Mark!

Great response, Marija. I love your spirit.

"Actually, Lance, the gospel we preach IS one of grace. God loves and accepts everyone regardless of their behaviour. Salvation is a free gift, not something we earn or strive for through 'good works' (Eph.2:8-10)."

That is just simply not true.

"....Thankfully, through Jesus Christ there is redemption, healing and restoration. We can come to a place of
wholeness in our sexuality (see 1 Cor.6:9-11). As followers of Jesus Christ, we have a responsibility to develop
a healthy sexuality and live a life of sexual purity. The Christian community must adopt different values than
the pagan world we live in when it comes to the area of sexuality. God’s standard is clear: If you are single,
God desires you to refrain from sex at least until you are married. If you are a married, God wants you
to enjoy sex with your spouse but refrain from sex outside of your marriage. In a sexually permissive
society like we live in today, this can sound fairly restrictive but let’s remember that God’s commands are
always for our good and for our benefit (Deut. 10:13). He wants the best for us......."

[Mark Conner - God and Sexuality Oct 15-16,2005]


"Sex really is sacred because it was created by God. As we follow his guidelines in this important area, we will experience his favor and blessing on our life."

You emphasise and re-emphasise that God has set a standard that must be achieved in order to achieve God's blessing.. No mention anywhere there of grace.

It's clear you subscribe to the (discredited) Narth/ex-gay theology which promotes the 'effort brings grace' gospel, rather than grace being an undeserved gift of God to undeserving sinners.

It would be a good idea if you checked back on your own teachings before you make false claims about what Shitty Life Church does and doesn't teach.

Hello again, Lance.

You have clearly never been to our church (I understand that you live in Perth), so you really do not have an accurate perspective on what we teach and who we are as a church. It is easy to throw mud from afar, and you are pretty good at that.

To take a few summary teaching notes from a web site and then use them as the final evaluation of a church and its teaching is unfair and inappropriate. You are not aware of the full teaching of our church, you haven't heard the heart and spirit in which teaching is conveyed, nor have you seen how what we teach is appropriated practically within our community.

You could do the same to Jesus and Paul. Take this for an example ...

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." [Jesus - Matthew 5:48]

"Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." [Paul - 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. TNIV]

Doesn't sound like much grace there, does it! Yet I don't hear you attacking them ... like you do me ... and others.

Of course, we know from the broader context that both Jesus and Paul were persons of grace - who reached out to everyone, including those with same sex attraction. Why don't you give us the same courtesy?

You seem like a very hurt person, Lance. I am sorry for that. However, attacking other people all the time, like you do, doesn't help or benefit anyone.

In fact, in all of your writings and comments which I have read, I have never once sensed even an ounce of love or grace, yet I assume that you claim to be a follower of Christ. Maybe you should spend a little more time looking in the mirror at yourself rather than attacking others all the time. Just a thought ... :)

I have to say that I can't see anything wrong with Mark's teaching on sexuality as quoted above. In an ideal sense, sexuality needs to be preserved for marriage. Acting in accordance with the precepts outlined in scripture will bring 'blessing' - and acting outside these boundaries does have consequences in this lifetime.

Problem is that we all live in a world where it is difficult - or even impossible to live up to these ideals. That is where Grcae comes into play.

I have to say that Lance has brought a fresh perspective to my views on homosexuality - by pointing out that homosexuality is not a greater sin than many of the sins that we who profess to be Christians commit on a daily basis - pride, arrogance, deceit, judgement etc. As a Christian and a heterosexual married person - I am no less guilty of sin (lust) than then homosexual, the fornicator etc.

When Lance writes, he does have a style that may seem both witty and contemptous ... hey, if any one reads the writings of Luther, you will see a similar style. It may be naive, or even dangerous to infer that someone is not a Christian, or is not speaking the Truth because their tone is persitently gruff.

Just my two cents.

Thanks for your comments, Lionfish

I too agree that no one sin is worse than another yet it is easy for the church to elevate some above others. Jesus never spoke once about homosexuality yet spoke a lot about pride and hypocrisy.

I also don't think that sexual attraction (in whatever form), in and of itself, is a sin either, just like temptation is not a sin either.

I was not intending to question Lance's Christian faith. I guess that I see him as someone asking for lots of grace but I have yet to see him show any grace to me or anyone else for that matter. That concerns me a bit- hence my push back to him.

Lance tends to come in and blast away. I, and others, do my best to answer his questions and comments as honestly and openly as possible. He then comes back, completely ignores the answers given to him, and then has another blast on a different topic. He shows no genuine desire to dialogue and discuss issues in a constructive manner. I find that very frustrating, as I know other people do too.

I try to be open to criticism and I am willing to debate issues as they emerge and I'm open to hearing different people's perspective, so I can learn and grow. It's just hard when you don't feel others are coming to the dialogue in the same way.

Any suggestions are always welcome.

"You have clearly never been to our church (I understand that you live in Perth), so you really do not have an accurate perspective on what we teach and who we are as a church. It is easy to throw mud from afar, and you are pretty good at that."

You put the audio of your sermons on your website. People outside of your cocoon can download them.

"To take a few summary teaching notes from a web site and then use them as the final evaluation of a church and its teaching is unfair and inappropriate. You are not aware of the full teaching of our church, you haven't heard the heart and spirit in which teaching is conveyed, nor have you seen how what we teach is appropriated practically within our community."

You are trying to be a seeker-sensitive Willow Creek-style Pentecostal church.

That's a contradiction in terms.

You can't be seeker-sensitive AND Pentecostal, because the Penty belief system is fundamentally about being arrogant and insensitive. You can't have it both ways, though you may try.

"You could do the same to Jesus and Paul. Take this for an example ...

"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." [Jesus - Matthew 5:48]

'Perfect' is a mistranslation of the Greek word 'teleois'..which means to be complete or mature.

Shitty Life Church is neither (nor 'perfect')

"Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." [Paul - 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. TNIV]

Doesn't sound like much grace there, does it! Yet I don't hear you attacking them ... like you do me ... and others."

Again, a mistranslation, unthinkingly unquestioned by your 'seeker sensitive' (*cough*) church.

"Of course, we know from the broader context that both Jesus and Paul were persons of grace - who reached out to everyone, including those with same sex attraction. Why don't you give us the same courtesy?"

Because I know what Pentys are like and how two-faced you are.

"You seem like a very hurt person, Lance. I am sorry for that. However, attacking other people all the time, like you do, doesn't help or benefit anyone."

Incorrect. It greatly benefits gay people (you know, the ones you're adamant won't inherit the kingdom of heaven in your world of 'grace') to know that they can't be intimidated by pastors and other stand-over merchants in the church.

"In fact, in all of your writings and comments which I have read, I have never once sensed even an ounce of love or grace, yet I assume that you claim to be a follower of Christ. Maybe you should spend a little more time looking in the mirror at yourself rather than attacking others all the time. Just a thought ... :) "

I have made no claim to be a 'follower of Christ'.

I would describe myself merely as a 'very interested observer.'

It seems a bit curious that a Penty preacher should consider a gay person as a 'follower of Christ'.

Surely in Pentydom, the two concepts are mutually exclusive.

Don't let your Penty preacher mates (aka 'the boys' as in 'one of the boys') find out, or you'll find your lucrative speaking circuit earners will dry-up."

Sorry, Lance. I'm doing my best to try to understand you and were you are coming from. I just don't seem to be getting anywhere.

You clearly seem to think you have me all figured out, because you have already labelled and boxed me.

Maybe we can have have a coffee together some time, if you are ever in Melbourne. Who knows, maybe that that might help.

As a third party observer, I think Lance, regardless of what is said with grace has already made up his mind and judgement.

Nothing can alter his perception regardless of the grace shown by others. So, it might be much better to say that we all agree to disagree and leave it to God to make the final judgement on judgement day.

Hi Mark,

I think you have fallen into a debate which will only cause frustration for yourself.

Lance has stated that, "I have made no claim to be a 'follower of Christ'."

If that is the case, then I will commend him to Our Beloved Lord Jesus to open his spiritual eyes to see the Truth and the Truth will set him free. A person whose spiritual eyes are blinded to the Truth must first be set free before any dialogue can achieve any success. Otherwise, there will be no end to arguments and whatever you said will only sound foolishness to him.


Hi Lance,

I'm truly sorry that you feel that way about City Life Church. Just remember when you verbally attack the Church, you're not attacking a building, but some 8,500 precious & blood bought children of the Almighty Living God, who Jesus loves & died for. All those thousands of feeling, breathing, and lovingly caring people ARE the City Life Church! You're one of the people who Jesus loves & died for on the cross. He paid the highest price to purchase mankind with His precious blood, so that we ALL could enjoy His victorious abundant life of freedom from our sinful fallen nature, when we receive His free gift of saving grace and turn to Him. Just remember, whatever you do to others, you're actually are doing it to yourself. We're ALL one in the heart of God & here on this earth to learn to love God and others before going to our real home in Eternity. BUT It's your choice where you spend Eternity. It's all in the Bible. God's promises are true.
My heart goes out to you with compassion. I've added your name to our Salvation Prayer list & we're praying for you. Please click on Stephen Chia's name above my post to visit his excellent blog & be really blessed. Jesus loves you so much Lance and so do we. Shalom peace to you with love in Jashua HaMashiach.

Hi Mark,

Re: "I try to be open to criticism and I am willing to debate issues as they emerge and I'm open to hearing different people's perspective, so I can learn and grow. It's just hard when you don't feel others are coming to the dialogue in the same way.

Any suggestions are always welcome".

I have been thinking through this overnight and I think the problem lies in Lance's frustration that every Contemporary Church Pastor - sees and promotes themselves as a 'good guy' but really refuses to deal 'head-on' and take a stand on certain real and pertinent issues that may put themselves offside with the wider networked Contemporary Church - for fear of recourse to their reputation (with men) and ministry.

Mark, I like and respect your style - so please do not take this as a dig at you personally.

But when you think about it we see a bunch of networked "good guys" (Brian Houston, Phil Pringle, Pat Mesiti, Phil Baker) that are allegedly enriching themselves from their networked ministries.

Each would aloofly acknowledge that there is some level of 'dodginess' ocurring - but its always occuring in some unnamed other guys patch or in America.

Yet to use a Bobby Houston expression - you have to be "Blind Willy" not to see that Contemporary Church Leaders are enricing themselves through dodgy doctrine and the netwoked speaking circuit. Even Brian Houston claimed to making as much as the average High School teacher - yet later it was revealed that he turns over $1.3M in his charity Leadership Ministries Incorporated which was blatantly misleading.

There is dodgy doctrine (esp Tithing). There is a networked speaking circuit where large undisclosed amounts of money exchange hands between Churches Leaders outside reported salaries. This is coupled with a lack of transparency and accountability - when financials are not provided upon request.

When you think about it all of these "Good Guys" people appear to making good money and living large (ie profiting from the Gospel - something St Paul distanced himself from).

There are significant question marks over the modus operandi of the networked Contempory Churches. The media has picked up one it, thinking Christians are asking questions - even politicians (including Senator Grassley) has started investigating several major ministries.

There was a time when Marjoe Gortner was a "Good Guy" until he revealed what was going on behind the scenes of the network of family controlled event marketing Businesses.

Now what would be frustrating Lance? You promote yourself, and come across as a good guy. And you probably are sincere and genuine. But even whilst there are question marks over "God's (networked) Millionaires" you have associated with some of them and even endorsed one of these ministries.

And to date - you have not dealt with the issue (sacred cow) of tithing as promised last year. Many people have been rejected from and consequently by these Churches when they asked questions about - or challenged the sacred Tithing doctrine.

What is true Leadership? Doing the right thing yourself is part of it ... but it is also taking a stand and point people in the right direction, and to yell out and let them know when they are wandering in the wrong direction - even when it may cost them personally.

Please think about it mate. People are looking for real Leadership.

With respect


Matthew 7:6 "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

Without revelation there can be no understanding. I suggest that no one enter into any dialog with Lance as it is pointless. On the flip side we do need people who question and challenge views (like Lionfish - excellent posts) so we learn and grow what God is doing in a constructive manner. Avoid group think. I have tried arguing the gospel from a logical perspective and it just does not work. The spirit must be made alive first and then understanding and conviction of the truth comes.

Well said R. Poyton and a good scripture to back it up. Sometimes we have to give up on saving those who refused to be saved and look for those who are more open-minded.

It is wise to also not waste precious effort on those whose spirit are dead, eventho' how much we would like to save them. Sigh.

Sigh, such high-minded clarity from those who stand in the temple, and tithe and pray and 'thank God they're not like those 'sinners'.

Gee, what a timely reminder that it's the outwardly religiously righteous of Sh1tty Life Church who get into Heaven, not those who fall on their face, beat their breast, and can't even look up to God because they recognise how sinful they are.

Keep pumping out those Hill$ongs (even though Jesus explicitly said that he did not want the praises of men)

"Matthew 7:6 "Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces."

You forgot to add the church catchphrase...

'You're always welcome here'.

Hey Lance,(Geelongboy)

What makes you so sure that R. Poynton or Jeff are from City Life Church? They sound like they are from the same place Lionfish is. We don't consider you to be a waste of time. Yes, you most definitely ARE ALWAYS welcome at City Life! It's a great place to be loved and to learn who you REALLY are in Christ. Your attack on City Life Church is unfounded, but it sure is getting you attention :) Isn't that the idea? I guess negative attention is better than none. HMMmm?

Enjoy your day. Shalom peace to you.

I am not saying Lance is a waste of time. All I am saying is you can lead a horse to the water but you cannot force it to drink. So no point to expend any more effort to force it to drink.

If the horse refuses to drink, there are other thirstier horses to water.

Of course Lance has the final choice to drink or not drink. God bless you Lance.

Hey Jeff,

Forgive me for misunderstanding your comment here > "It is wise to also not waste precious effort on those whose spirit are dead, eventho' how much we would like to save them. Sigh."
We cannot save anyone apart from Jesus. Only Jesus saves. All we can do is share God's love and Good News to bless others. God does the rest by His Holy Spirit.

Forgive me R. Poyton for mistakenly thinking you're from the same place as Lionfish. After reading you previous post I see you ARE from City Life Church! :O

Enjoy your day everyone. Shalom in Jashua HaMashiach

Well said Jeff, Lance is not a waste of time and God loves him and I pray that he will come to the knowledge of the absolute truth. What I mean by absolute truth is a revelation given by the Holy Spirit of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for humanity. We all have perceptions of how things are and they seem like our reality. These perceptions influence our reactions, what we say and do. This does not make them the truth. Lance is either stirring us up for the fun of it or he really believes everything he says and that he is the holder of truth and we are all experiencing a sort of self deception of the truth. I welcome my belief being challenged when done so respectively and without insult. I have considered this with regards to what I believe and have changed some of my thinking over the 14 years I have been a believer. As I said in an earlier posting, it doesn’t really matter as God is the keeper of all truth. Lance is no better or worse than me – we are equally sinful. I have a hope that my confession of faith that Jesus Christ is the son of GOD will save me at judgement. I strive to be Christ like, I fail often and come before Christ in repentance. Only difference between any real Christ follower and Lance is Christ. End of story.

Hi Mark,

I'm curious now about this book. I am reading the comments by Ben Witherington and from what I gather, he knows Frank Viola but can't figure why through all the answers Ben had provided over time, that it was ignored and Frank and George Bana go off on tangents and make claims like Isaiah died by being sawed in two. (Huh?) I can't think how views from such authors would help me in my walk with Christ. I know you like reading Mark and that's great. I wish I had time to read [please don't try to help me with time management tips (I know you have tips on that and I do try)'s a up and down journey for me as far as that goes :( ] When I try to juggle being wife, Mum, friend, and trying to get my new business started, time to read just doesn't happen. That's right, time to confess, Bible reading and quiet time is also a challenge at the moment. Anyhow, I digress, can you help me understand how supporting authors like Frank Viola and George Bana by paying to read a book with views such as theirs would enlighten me in any way? I'm not seriously thinking about buying their book but my point is that there are soooo many authors out there and the only way these people make a living is when there is demand for their material. Take the Left Behind series, anyone out there read those? I did and it was UTTERLY frustrating. I got really fed up in the end and was so disappointed because to me it became a cash cow for the authors. The last few books were just soooo incredulous.

So, why would Frank and George say Isaiah died as a result of being sawn in two? Hope you will take some time to enlighten me. Thanks, Mark. Hey, anyone else able to shed some light on this is welcome to respond as well. :)


Hello Marija,
I agree with you in prayer for Lance's salvation.

Hi Lance,
Just like Marija said, "Just remember when you verbally attack the Church, you're not attacking a building, but some 8,500 precious & blood bought children of the Almighty Living God, who Jesus loves & died for. All those thousands of feeling, breathing, and lovingly caring people ARE the City Life Church!
I would like to add that when you attacked His Church, you are in essence attacking the Lord Jesus Himself.
Go to the Book of Acts 9:1-5. The Lord takes this attack personally when you attacked His Church.
God loves you Lance as He desires no one should perish and be separated from Him.

Hi Happy.

No need for you to buy this book. I posted about it just for general interest. Obviously, as a church leader I try to keep abreast of what people are thinking and writing about the church. With a bit of searching on the web you can get a handle on what they are saying and responses to it - all for free! ... that's of course, if you have the time and interest

Stay happy :)

Thanks for the feedback, Lionfish. I appreciate it.

I'll address the tithing issue on my blog in due time. As said, previously, we see the OT tithing teaching as a relevant 'principle' (not a 'law') for the NT church, although we pick up the greater NT emphasis of generosity - in every area of life (resources, time, and talents). We don't teach things such as, "If you haven't tithed, you are under a curse and God won't bless you." Anyway, I'll pick this topic up further in due time. I agree that some preachers and churches over-use and abuse the OT tithing teaching.

I also believe that financial integrity and accountability is VERY important for churches and ministries, as is proper governance practices. We take these issues very seriously at CityLife Church. That's why we have membership open to all, public annual general meetings (with open question time), externally audited financial statements available for all to look at, and a Board of Elders with the majority (2/3rds) of them being non-staff members (not employed by the church or any of its ministries) and also chaired by someone other than me (the current Senior Minister). I pray that more and more churches will do the same.


Will look forward to the tithing thread in due course. I believe that you can be trusted to handle this topic openly and honestly.

I am delighted that CityLife has those governance processes in place. I agree that these are important.

I hope that you can also see how you can be tainted by the same brush when you associate or endorse ministries who do not have the same standards as yourself.

People have been devasted when they have asked for answers to honest questions or asked for (finacial) information at Churches such as Riverview and Hillsong and have been stonewalled.

These Churches are contributing to a mockery of our faith in eyes of the world.

The world can see that this cult form of Christianity is a counterfeit of what the 'real thing' is all about.


It's always such a pleasure to read your honest and encouraging feedback. You have earned my respect :) Hope to see you and your family at City Life someday. You're ALWAYS welcome here.

As you have perceived, Mark CAN be trusted. His heart is in the right place and he IS real. He leads with transparent integrity, in the light of our overall Leader Jesus, in humble obedience to Him, and that's who shapes him into an outstanding and examplary leader of today.

Enjoy your day my friend. Shalom and blessings to you in Jashua HaMashiach.

Thank you Stephen for caring and agreeing in prayer for Lance's salvation.

Thank you Happy for your kind words of encouragement :)

Really appreciate you both.

Stay happy and enJOY your day :) Many blessings to you with Shalom

Hey let's package all these comments and send them to Frank Viola and George Barna. I am sure they will see the connection between their book and these posts. Seriously guys, when Mark asked 'What do you think?'., he meant what do you think about the book.......

This discussion has seriously gone off track. The lack of discipline when posting comments is quite offensive (as far as netiquette goes) and is a very good demonstration of why a lot of bloggers vet comments before they are posted on-line. If anyone wants to have a crack at Mark send him an email please...

Yes, you are right Iain. It has gone off track. Personally, I appreciate each person's dialogue and find it interesting to read ALL comments and responses. We can all learn from one another. Mark has been very gracious to keep his blog open to all. Shows how much he really cares and values people. Very commendable.

Now, getting back on the subject. Frank Viola's and George Barna's book is an interesting and controversial read. Food for much thought there.

Here's a link of some interesting reviews on the book:

Frank Viola will respond to questions & objections on his site:

Shalom blessings.

Hi Happy,

Wrt your question about Isaiah being sawn in half & Ben Witherington's commentary, I have pasted below a long..... reply to Ben from a reader of Ben's blog. Happy reading!

Note: the comment on Isaiah is found/buried somehwere in Item 1.



For years I have deeply appreciated your insightful studies, especially concerning the cultural settings of Jesus, Paul, the church and women. You have truly opened some crucial gates for better understanding and applying the New Testament documents.
Your review of Pagan Christianity (PC hereafter), however, was quite disappointing. It didn’t breathe the same careful and unbiased air that your published works do. It rather gave the clear impression that you hadn’t read the entire book, and that what you did read, you didn’t read very carefully. I think this opened you up to making some of the mistakes in your review which I will outline below. Furthermore, the authors have already answered many of your objections quite satisfactorily at The interviews with Barna and Viola are particularly helpful. I suggest you and your readers take the time to read and listen to them.
You begin by mentioning that your works were not found in the bibliography of PC and that you somehow had expected them to be. However, in some of Frank’s other books he does in fact make reference to your writings and contributions. It is my understanding, therefore, that Frank’s questions to you were not about the subjects in PC, but about issues relating to his other works, particularly his book, The Untold Story of the New Testament Church, which is a popular narrative of the first-century church. Your work is cited there a good bit.

It’s clear from some of PC’s footnotes and acknowledgements that Frank has consulted many competent historians on his research for the book (some of whom obviously disagree with you on certain points). PC is primarily a historical work. Since you are a NT scholar, and not a church historian, one wouldn’t expect you to be consulted for the material in this particular work.

The thrust of your critique seems to lie in your assertion that the authors don’t deal with the scholarly literature of those who disagree with their conclusions. It implies and wrongly assumes that they were, at best, ignorant of such literature or, at worst, were less than honest in discussing it.

A careful reading of the source material and the bibliography of PC demonstrates that they were well aware of “the scholarly literature that would call into question their strident claims and theses,” and were not persuaded by them. The bibliography alone contains hundreds of books showing a wide breath of the subjects at hand, many of which were written by scholars and historians who disagree with some of the authors' conclusions. The book shows keen familiarity, for example, with two well-known liturgical scholars, Frank Senn and Gregory Dix and their work – scholars who disagree with some of the authors’ conclusions.

Furthermore, a good number of the sources they use were written by Anglican and Catholic scholars who admit that various practices they embrace are of pagan origin; yet these scholars still uphold and defend their present form of church. (Barna and Viola go a step further and challenge some of those practices on biblical, spiritual, and pragmatic grounds. And then leave it to the reader decide if those practices are a help or a hindrance to what Jesus had in mind for His church.)

Very simply, it was not within the scope of the book to examine the claims and counter-claims that others have made. The book states this very point in the preface, arguing that if they had dealt with every counter-claim and traced every practice in detail (making it a “scholarly” work), it would have consisted of many volumes that few people would read. I think that one reason that PC has become a bestseller is that it is so accessible to the average reader.

PC was concerned to boil things down to the key issues related the shift from New Testament simplicity to post-apostolic bureaucracy. I’ve been studying “church” issues for thirty years, and it would be my conclusion that PC accurately reflects the basic conclusions – even virtual consensus -- of a wide range of NT theologians and church historians.

For example, it would appear that James D.G. Dunn’s summary remarks capture the essence of PC’s heartbeat:

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 (Unity & Diversity in the New Testament, Westminster Press, 1977, p.351).

Here are some other observations for you and your readers to consider:

1) In the beginning of your review, you say: "I personally knew we were in for trouble even from the beginning of the 2008 edition of this book when early on we are told that Isaiah died by being sawed in two. This may be in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (an early example of Protestant hagiography complete with myths, legends, half-truths, and yes some truth), but it is not in the Bible and we don’t have any historical evidence to verify it. So much for presenting us with ‘just the facts Mam, just the facts.’ "
I felt this was both a weak and misleading statement for two reasons. First, both Jewish and Christian traditions suggest that Isaiah was sawed in half. (Some believe this is alluded to in Hebrews 11:37.) This account is mentioned in the The Martyrdom of Isaiah, The Ascension of Isaiah, and the Talmud, for example. Just because it's extra-canonical doesn't mean it's untrue. Peter being crucified upside down is based on similar traditions. Yet authors frequently mention it without qualifying that it's based on tradition.
But second, and more importantly, this is an example of how it seems to me that a) your review doesn't provide hard proof to disprove the authors' specific statements (just because another author disagrees with one of their particular findings doesn't make it untrue or false), and b) your review reads too much into certain statements and disregards context. For instance, neither Barna nor Viola were trying to make a case for Isaiah's death in a specific manner, as those who haven’t read the book would easily assume by your review. It was a fleeting statement at best. Here's the exact statement in context.
Isaiah was sawn in half, John the Baptist was beheaded, and Jesus was crucified. Not to mention the thousands of Christians who have been tortured and martyred through the centuries by the institutional church because they dared to challenge its teachings (p. 4).
Therefore, to judge the whole book on that one statement, which does have some historical attestation, is quite an over-reach to say the least.
2) The authors do not suggest, as you have implied, that “house church” is the only form or model of church. In fact, if one reads the entire book, they will discover that the authors are quite critical of much that goes on in some house church circles today. Instead, they argue for something they call “the organic expression of the church,” which takes many different forms depending on culture and time, but which is always consistent with NT principles and the nature of God. In this regard, they issue various critiques on house churches in Chapter 11. On pages 240 and 241, they write:
Is “organic church” a synonym for “house church”? If not, what is the distinction? No, it is not a synonym. Some house churches are organic, while others are not. A number of present-day house churches are glorified Bible studies. Many others are supper-fests (the meetings revolve around a shared meal and that is about it). Some house churches are just as institutionalized as traditional churches—with a living room pulpit and chairs arranged in rows so attendees can listen to a forty five-minute sermon.
3) Much of what you have argued were points that the authors themselves agree with. For instance, in the book they never suggest that there is only one way to do church. In fact, the authors refute that very thought. They write:
The term organic church does not refer to a particular model of church. (We believe that no perfect model exists.) …. Note that our goal in this book is not to develop a full description of the organic church but only to touch on it when necessary.
4) They never suggest that it’s always wrong to use a building or that buildings are somehow inherently evil. Here’s a direct quote from them on this question:
Do you think it’s always wrong for a group of Christians to use a building for worship or ministry? Not at all. Paul rented a building (the Hall of Tyrannus) when he was in Ephesus, and the church of Jerusalem used the outer courts of the Temple for special gatherings. What we are establishing in this chapter are five key points: (1) it is unbiblical to call a building a “church,” “the house of God,” “the temple of God,” “the sanctuary of the Lord,” and other similar terms; (2) the architecture of the typical church building hinders the church from having open-participatory meetings; (3) it is unscriptural to treat a building as though it were sacred; (4) a typical church building should not be the site of all church meetings because the average building is not designed for face-to-face community; and (5) it is a profound error to assume that all churches should own or rent buildings for their gatherings. It is our opinion that each church should seek the Lord’s guidance on this question rather than assume the presence of a building to be the Christian norm. Tracing the history of the “church” building helps us to understand why and how we use them today.

5) You state: “There were plenty of tribal religions in the ANE that could not afford and did not have Temples, or priests.” The truth is, however, that the overwhelmingly vast majority of religions have been marked by the presence of, as John H. Yoder called him/her, “the religious specialist.” Yoder rightly observes:

There are few more reliable constants running through all human society than the special place every human community makes for the professional religionist . . . . in every case he disposes a unique quality, which he usually possesses for life, which alone qualifies him for his function, and beside which the mass of men are identifiable negatively as “laymen,” i.e., non-bearers of this special quality . . . . One person per place is enough to do what he needs to do . . . . the clergyman mediates between the common life and the realm of the “invisible” or the “spiritual” . . . . No one balks at what his services cost (“The Fullness of Christ,” reprinted in Searching Together, 11:3, 1982, pp.4-7).

As the authors argue in Chapter 5, the whole “clergy” tradition has no basis in the NT, and is one of the most enormous obstacles to the Body of Christ functioning as it should. Roman Catholic William Bausch makes these astute observations:

Our survey has shown us that no cultic priesthood is to be found in the New Testament. Yet we wound up importing Old Testament Levitical forms and imposing them on Christian ministry . . . . Nevertheless in practice there is no denying that there has historically been a gathering into one person and his office what were formerly the gifts of many . . . .[This practice] goes astray, of course, when it translates to mean that only ordination gives competence, authority, and the right of professional governance. It goes further astray when eventually all jurisdictional and administrative powers in the church come to be seen as an extension of the sacramental powers conferred at ordination. In short, there is a movement here away from the more pristine collaborative and mutual ministries of the New Testament (Traditions, Tensions, Transitions in Ministry, Twenty-Third Publications, 1982, pp. 54, 30).

6) You seem to totally miss the point when you say, “I was also surprised by the bold claim that there were no sacred persons.” This is one example of how you didn’t read the book very carefully. Of course, the authors affirm that all of God’s people are “holy ones.” They write:

In the minds of the early Christians, the people—not the architecture—constituted a sacred space ( p. 11).
What was meant is that in Christ’s kingdom there are no “holy persons,” in the sense Yoder described above the “religious expert” who is a notch above the “lay” people because of some special ceremony, often called “ordination.” In Chapter 5, they effectively argue that the NT never envisions a sacred priesthood or a sacred clergy that’s set apart as more holy than the rest of the body of Christ. Again, a careful reading of the whole book before you did your review would have avoided making this mistake.
7) The “recognition” of functions portrayed in the NT is a very far cry from the “ordination” to office that developed in post-apostolic times (cf. Marjorie Warkentin, Ordination: A Biblical-Historical View, Eerdmans, 1980). You seem to merge the two together as if they are organically connected. A number of scholars, like Warkentin and Banks, have uncovered some fresh thinking of what ordination was in the NT that flies in the face of traditional assumptions on the issue. PC treats this subject quite competently in Chapter 5, and it’s treated in more depth in the sequel, Reimagining Church.

8) “The ecclesial structure of the NT church was hierarchial.” It would seem that Jesus’ corrective remarks to the Twelve ruled out such a model of leadership – “not so among you.” There are many scholars who would differ with your conclusion. One example among many would be Herbert Haag, a Roman Catholic himself, whose examination of the evidence led him to assert:

In the Catholic Church there are two classes, clergy and laity . . . . This structure does not correspond to what Jesus did and taught. Consequently it has not had a good effect in the history of the Church . . . . Among his disciples Jesus did not want any distinction of class or rank . . . . In contradiction to this instruction of Jesus, a “hierarchy,” a “sacred authority,” was nevertheless formed in the third century (Upstairs, Downstairs: Did Jesus Want a Two-Class Church?, Crossroad, 1997, p.109).

Another author who asserts this position would be Kevin Giles. This concept is dealt with in great detail in the sequel to PC, which releases in August.

9) You suggest that the NT views the Lord’s Supper as a “sacrament,” but I do not think this is accurate. And many scholars would agree with me. As PC points out, the Lord’s Supper, as instituted by Jesus and practiced in the early church, was a meal together. Leonard Verduin gave a number of reasons why the transformation of a meal into a post-apostolic “sacrament” was retrogressive and connected to alien pagan influences (The Reformers & Their Stepchildren, Eerdmans, 1964, pp.137-142). As Vernard Eller noted, “the whole style of thought that goes along with the concept ‘sacrament’ is just plain foreign to the N.T.” (“The Lord’s Supper is Not a Sacrament,” Searching Together, 12:3, 1983, p.3).

10) You say: “They could have saved themselves a lot of trouble by reading sources more recent than Will Durant and Shirley Case, neither of which represent the state of the discussion on such matters in the last 50 years.” I feel this statement is misguided. First, the The Story of Civilization is the most successful historiographical series in history. Second, a look at the bibliography and the footnotes reveals that the authors also rely on more recent historians. And third, simply broad-brushing Durant as outdated without giving specifics as to where the authors cite him with incorrect information and how and where those statements have been refuted by all modern historians is not compelling at all. The fact is that the pieces of history that the authors cite from Durant are attested to by many other historians, both past and present.
11) I was surprised and taken back by your disparaging comment that "Dan Brown would have liked this book." That struck me as a cheap shot that I find ridiculous. It also suggests, underhandedly, that Barna and Viola are not interested in truth or are making things up. After reading your review combined with that statement, I thought to myself, “It could be said, then, that Pope Leo X would have liked Witherington’s review!" I say that based on your approach which I felt was largely made of argumentation that omitted important facts that would call your conclusions into question.
12) You rightly note, “The question is which traditions comport with Biblical tradition and which do not.” This is the very question the authors ask again and again. I believe that PC has done an admirable job of trying to sort out the general contours of organic church life reflected in the NT from the subsequent trappings that sapped the life out of the church. There is great liberty under the New Covenant. But surely we are not free to do “church” is any way we please. Surely not everything that calls itself “church” is really ekklesia. Aren’t we supposed to pay attention to the “apostolic traditions” contained in the NT? Should not our church practices be in harmony with the teachings of Jesus and the apostles and consistent with the nature of God? Is the acid test of any church form whether or not it fosters and cultivates NT values? Isn’t it safe to say that the great majority of post-apostolic traditions only served to move the church away from Christocentrality and NT simplicity? These are the central questions that PC asks.
13) You make a wrong assumption about what the authors mean by “institutional church.” Here is their definition from their own words:
This term refers to a religious system (not a particular group of people). An institutional church is one that operates primarily as an organization that exists above, beyond, and independent of the members who populate it. It is constructed more on programs and rituals than on relationships. It is led by set-apart professionals (“ministers” or “clergy”) who are aided by volunteers (“laity”).
14) Your statement that “Everyone agrees that the church is a living thing and organism, not an organization,” fails to reckon with the fact that history is replete with examples where institutionalization kills life. The truth is that many forms of church are out of sync with the DNA of the ekklesia. Many environments are hostile to organic life. PC rightly points out that there is good reason to question if the inherited ways of doing church are conducive to promoting the growth of living forms.

15) You assert: “Christians continued to meet with Jews in synagogues.” I see no evidence in the NT that Christian gatherings were held in synagogues. The times Paul and a few others visited synagogues was not to have a gospel-based gathering, but to proclaim Christ from the OT evangelistically.

16) The authors aren’t against tradition. In fact, they argue for what they call “the apostolic tradition” which is mentioned within the NT. Moreover, they don’t believe that a practice is wrong just because it may be post-apostolic or invented by pagan sources. They repeat this point throughout the book. They write:
The way in which we practice our faith can, indeed, affect the faith itself. Does that mean we must go back to the Bible and do everything exactly as the disciples did between AD 30 and 60? No. Social and cultural shifts over the last two thousand years have made it impossible to imitate some of the lifestyle and religious efforts of the early church. For example, we use cell phones, drive in automobiles, and utilize central heat and air. The first-century Christians had none of these forms of human convenience. Therefore, adhering to the principles of the New Testament does not mean reenacting the events of the first-century church. If so, we would have to dress like all first-century believers did, in sandals and togas! (p. xxxix).


The use of chairs and pile carpets in Christian gatherings has no biblical support either. And both were invented by pagans. Nonetheless, who would claim that sitting in chairs or using carpets is “wrong” simply because they are postbiblical inventions authored by pagans? The fact is that we do many things in our culture that have pagan roots. Consider our accepted calendar. The days of our week and the months of our year are named after pagan gods. But using the accepted calendar does not make us pagans (p. 74-75).

17) Keep in mind that the constructive side of the authors’ argument is only tangentially discussed in PC. Not much attention is given at all to defending what NT-based church life looks like. Nor is any attention given to refuting many of the counter-arguments to it. This is quite deliberate. Interestingly, I noticed that your review gives full attention to this matter, when the book doesn’t. This has created some obvious misunderstandings on what the authors fully believe about the subject.

The sequel called Reimagining Church which I, Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, Rad Zdero, John White, and others have heartily endorsed, does this very thing. In Len Sweet’s words, “In Reimagining Church, Frank Viola is at the top of his game, showing a serene, soaring mastery of the theology of church as organism rather than organization” (quoted from

Reimagining Church carefully refutes such popular concepts as hierarchical leadership structures in the church, official ordination, common myths about the purpose of the ekklesia meeting, et al., and it paints a compelling picture of organic church life that’s rooted firmly in the nature of God and NT principles. I hope that all of your blog readers will read both PC and Reimagining Church and analyze for themselves the merits of the arguments.

There are many other matters I could speak to in your review, but these will suffice for now. I will plan on responding to your “Part 2.”

In closing, I would like to make this observation that I would think should give us pause for serious reflection. In the period when the early church blossomed incredibly with divine love and spiritual power, it had no special buildings, no clergy, and no fixed ritual (cf. Graydon Snyder, First Corinthians: A Faith Community Commentary, Mercer, 1992, pp.248-249; William A. Beardslee, First Corinthians: A Commentary for Today, Chalice Press, 1994, pp.136-137). When church edifices, clergy and fixed rituals became prominent, the visible church became focused on perpetuating itself and lost the simplicity of Christ. This is why I believe the information in PC has appeared for such a time as this, when the Body of Christ needs to recapture a NT vision regarding the “new humanity” in Christ.

Given that PC is truly a ground-breaking book (no other book traces and documents the origins of our modern church practices, nor issues the sort of specific challenges that Barna and Viola do), it’s sad to me that a person with your acumen would not attach more value to the book (as other scholars have), but rather go out of his way to dismiss it without a substantive basis.

You accuse Barna and Viola of being too sure of themselves and their views on church history. That may or may not be the case. Having read and listened to them in many interviews, I would say that’s hardly the case. But after reading your review, I had to ask myself that same question of you. Since other competent scholars and historians that Viola and Barna cite and quote disagree with your analysis of church history and ecclesiology, is it possible that you’re a bit too confident in your take on those subjects?

I would encourage folks to read the book for themselves carefully, prayerfully, and critically. Do not be persuaded by a review, either by a Robert Banks, a Howard Snyder, an Alan Hirsch, a Ben Witherington, or even myself. Read it for yourself before God and test it against Scripture. And above all, follow your conscience rather than what any human being says.

There are many other matters I could speak to in your review, but these will suffice for now. I will plan on responding to your “Part 2.”

– Jon Zens

WOW! Thank you Stephen Yip for sharing Jon's excellent review on this book.
He sure did his homework! :)

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