Saturday, November 16, 2013

6 False Premises in the Book, "Pagan Christianity"

Frank Viola best describes Pagan Christianity? (George Bama, co-author) in his preface: "This is not a work for scholars." I agreed, so somewhere in chapter six, I set the book down. I may not be a scholar, but I am not interested in reading unscholarly work. Here's the point of their book according to Viola:
...if the church is following the life of God who indwells it, it will never produce those [Catholic] non-scriptural practices this book addresses. Such practices are foreign elements that God’s people picked up from their pagan neighbors as far back as the fourth century.
The authors give us page after page of misapplication of facts about how, when and from where Catholicism gets its doctrines and traditions. To the authors' credit, they did some extensive research, but their interpretation of facts is not well-informed. The authors simply do not grasp the pre-Reformation worldview of Christendom and that is vital when attempting to discern history. For it really does matter if one reports that the sign of the cross comes from paganism rather than from the letter "tau" Jews made on their forehead to symbolize the Torah. One is a breaking of the commandment not to bear false witness against thy neighbor.

[Note: The irony for the Protestant authors is that they assert Christianity should rid itself of Catholic man-make traditions that cannot be proven in scripture just to write an entire book based upon Protestant man-made traditions which cannot be proven in scripture!]

To be brief, I have chosen six false premises that underpin Christian Paganism's assertions: 
False Premise #1: The Church Abandoned God, Therefore, She is the False Church 

When Martin Luther couldn't immediately and decisively persuade the Church, that his interpretation of scripture was correct and the Church's interpretation of scripture had been incorrect for 1500 years, he ordered a revolt. He went from an understandable concern about indulgence abuses to storming out of the Church calling her the "whore of Babylon." 
This is why a reformation from within turned into a protest from without. He convinced a lot of people that you can't reform or reconcile with the Devil's agent--the whore of Babylon. This is Luther's tradition.

But, you might ask, "Didn't the Reformers call the Church the false church and the Whore of Babylon because she rejected God by infusing the gospel with pagan rituals, sacraments and hierarchies?" The authors attempt to prove this by tying most past and current church traditions to pagan roots and warn that we must seriously consider extracting these foreign element from Christianity. (I didn't read a direct statement that the Catholic Church is the false church but it is implied on every page.)

This premise could be argued on two levels: 
a) that the rituals are, in fact, pagan and 
b) that if they were pagan, it would automatically mean the Church had deserted God. 

Look at the people of God in the Old Testament. God sent numerous prophets to Israel to warn them against their wicked, pagan ways, but He never took away their position as the people of God. There is a difference between being an imperfect, even corrupted church and a false, pagan one.

There is no New Testament prophet who warns that the New Covenant Church at any point in history will become pagan or "false." (Christ threatens to remove one of the seven lamp stands and spew the church at Laodicea out of His mouth, but these are individual churches, not the whole of the Body.) 

If something so momentous as God's Bride going rogue was going to happen, don't you think God would have warned us through scripture? 

There is no Biblical evidence that the Catholic Church is a false church nor the whore of Babylon. That is a man-made tradition and interpretation. 

False Premise #2: The Church Abandoned God, Therefore, God Abandoned the Church 

Even if the Church had discarded their covenant with God, it doesn't follow that Christ would disown His Church. He is faithful even when we are not! He didn't forsake Israel when she was practicing idolatry (at least not forever), He punished Israel. Punishment is God's way of dealing with His children, not abandonment.
In fact, Jesus promised His Church that He would be with her forever
So they are no longer two, but one flesh (man/wife and Christ/Church). What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate. Matt. 19: 6
I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever. John 14: 16.

Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. Matt. 28: 20.

False Premise #3: The Church Abandon God, So We Should Abandon the Church. 
There is no precedent nor prophecy anywhere in scripture that encourages a sheep to leave the fold. 

No Hebrew was told to start a New Israel. The Bible never predicts that Christ's Church, His Body, His Bride would become so corrupted that He would desire Christians to start a new Church. 

St. John's first letter warns that some of those who leave the church are antichrists. 
[Y]ou have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come...They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us. I John 2: 18-19
Jesus said to cut off the part of the Body that is causing it to sin. He didn't say throw the entire body out, nor separate from the body or start a new body.

False Premise #4: The Early Church's Doctrines Were Based in the Bible 

Viola writes: 
The normative practices of the first-century church were the natural and spontaneous expression of the divine life that indwelt the early Christians. And those practices were solidly grounded in timeless principles and teachings of the New Testament. 
The early church did not have the Bible. The scriptures, known as the Bible, were not compiled until the fourth century. At best they may have had a copy of of an Apostle's letter or the four gospels, but what Christ taught was transmitted orally--through preaching. We could easily reverse this statement to get to the truth: The Bible is based on the doctrines of the early church.

False Premise #5: We Must Return To the Early Pristine Church
 Viola states in his preface: 
I beleive the first-century church was the church in its purest form, before it was tainted or corrupted.”

He's wrong on two levels. Jesus tells us the opposite when He speaks to the seven churches in Revelation. Paul describes many problems in his letters to the churches. The early church was split into many heretical factions. 

The authors also are wrong assuming that doctrines should not develop over time and that somehow the early church was pure, complete and uncorrupted is nowhere in scripture. Nothing in scripture tells us that things are to remain primitive. The early church was the seed that was to develop into a large tree. The history of God's people starts in a garden (Eden) and ends in a city (New Jerusalem). The early church did not have a definition of the Trinity or the full Divinity of Christ. The mysteries of salvation were slowly revealed and deepened in understanding through Biblical history. This idea that we should return to the first century to find the fullness of truth is not a Biblical idea. 

False Premise #6: Church Traditions Should Come From Bible
Again, we must emphasis that the very reverse of this is true.
Scripture came from Church Tradition. 

Another mistake the authors make, as well as many Protestants, is to believe that all Jesus said was written down. It wasn't. 
I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. John 16:12 

But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. John 21: 25

I will give directions concerning the other matters when I come. I Cor. 11: 34

The first chapter of Acts reports that Jesus taught the disciples for forty days after His resurrection. This vital message is not in scripture. We cannot presume that the oral teaching of Christ the forty days following the Resurrection should be discarded as unimportant because they weren't written down.

The premise that the oral words of God cannot be trusted but the written words of God are the final authority for the Christian is a Protestant tradition. That claim is not found within scripture itself. In fact, the Bible points to the Body of Christ, the Church, as the final authority on doctrines.
If your brother sins...go and tell him his fault...But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you...If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Matthew 18: 15-17
 We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. I John 4: 6
The authors trust only scripture and refuse to go outside of it for church practices, saying about certain traditions:
Such practices are foreign elements that God’s people picked up from their pagan neighbors as far back as the fourth century.
If the fourth-century church was already corrupted so badly with paganism that we cannot trust her to correctly pass down the oral teachings of Christ, then we can’t trust the Bible because at that time the canon of scripture was decided upon by Catholics councils. The fourth-century Catholic Church decided which books would be in the Bible!)

I think this is worth repeating because it is such a widespread Protestant premise that the Bible is the Church's final authority. This is a Protestant tradition and has no scriptural evidence. Actually:

The Bible is the greatest evidence the Church has that God gave the Church His authority.

Viola and Barna are noticing the same thing the Luther and Zwingli and Wesley brothers did. And frankly, all of us realize, that Christianity is filled with corrupt people and doesn't seem to be "working." The church is in need of reformation and renewal. (And this isn't some shocking news to the Catholic Church. She has always taught that each generation must be reforming the church.) 

Where the authors go wrong is that they blame the corruption in the church on extra-biblical traditions. But as we have seen, each new reformer or group of reformers begins with the idea of starting over and wiping away all traditions. Yet they inevitably end up creating a new set of traditions that divide the body of Christ. 

Christ never said to tear down and start His church over, He said to repent, renew and refresh. This isn’t an institutional problem we can blame on rituals and rites. This is a heart problem, a sin

problem, that has to be dealt with on an individual basis. The rituals are there to facillitate individual regeneration and renewal. Don’t blame the rituals if the people in the church are dead (or sleeping). Blame the people.