I just received my copy of Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna from Amazon, and have begun to read the first chapter.
I’m going to withhold full judgment until I’ve read it fully, but my first impression is mixed.
I can’t disagree with the premise that a lot of what Christians do today in gathered worship has little in common with what Christians did in their worship together in century one.
What I’m not certain about is whether that’s a completely bad thing.
The first chapter of the book speaks to the point that both Jews and pagans differed from early Christians in their worship by their emphases on sacred places, people and things – and that, over time, Christianity began to absorb the same fascinations. Did Christians in century one never purchase or build a place for worship together? There’s no record of it in scripture. Can we assume that it never happened?
More importantly – does it matter?
Can God be worshiped acceptably in other places?
In the early days of Christianity, Jewish Christians met in the temple courtyards. Daily.
For good reason: Jesus taught in the temple courts, too. And on mountainsides, from a boat, on a plain. He accepted worship in the home of a Pharisee, on the streets as he traveled, on horseback … all right, donkeyback. He went to synagogue, read Isaiah there. (Synagogue was not something God included in His commandments revealed through Moses.) He prayed in lonely places. He sang with his followers after Passover in a second-story room. He prayed in a garden.
Stephen taught on the road in a chariot. Paul taught (and presumably worshiped) in synagogues, and when they booted him out, went next door to the synagogue ruler’s house or rented a lecture hall. (He could have spent the money on meeting the needs of the poor.) Or looked for a place of worship and prayer by a river where there might not be any synagogues. Christians met in homes, broke bread together – however you wish to interpret that phrase.
You can probably think of a lot more.
I get the picture that what’s important about worshiping together is not so much the where, but the how: in spirit and in truth. With His Spirit poured into our hearts to commune with Him; with our hearts, minds, souls and strength truly engaged.
If God accepts worship from within a stinky animal stable from foreign astrologers, from inside a religious leader’s home tainted by a sinner’s perfume, from a magnificent incense-fragranced temple made with hands, from a fresh-aired lake or a mountainside or a plain made by His hand – where can we go to escape His Spirit? Where can we flee from His presence?
Are we not to be the aroma of Christ to others wherever we are?
Are the prayers of the saints not regarded as incense to Him in heaven?