I have finished re-reading Frank Viola’s book, Pagan Christianity, and I must say, “whew…glad that mindless waste of time is over!” Viola’s sources for his “anti-church” view are mostly liberals. Take Will Durant, for example. Durant was an adamant anti-Christian, and agnostic. Yet, this is one of Viola’s sources.
What is NOT quoted in the study of the origins of Church order and liturgy (Liturgics), are scholars like Gregory Dix, Alexander Schmemann, Cullman, Duchesne, Dugmore and Freeman (and others). For example, in Schmemann (Introduction to Liturgical Theology – St. Vladmir’s Seminary Press, 1986), we read, “No matter what disagreement may exist between historians of the Christian cult, they all agree on the acceptance of the genetical link between this cult and the liturgical tradition of Judaism as it existed in that period. The study and evaluation of this link has been hindered for a long time by a myth which has been central in liberal theology, the myth of the rebirth of the Church under the influence of the Hellenistic world. According to this myth, the organized catholic Church, as we see from the middle of the second century on, with her doctrine, worship and discipline, was separated from her Hebrew beginnings, and was the fruit of the Hellenistic metamorphosis which the original teaching of Christ underwent, it is said, some time prior to the Church’s emergence as an organized structure” (53,54).
And, again, in academic study, “…we may assume that this Hellenistic myth in its pure form has finally been laid to rest” (54). Schmemann then goes on to painstakingly document his theses: Church Order, its buildings, architecture, worship, etc., came out of two concerns: New Covenant means the People of God, the ekklesiai, are “the New Israel”; and two, Christ had commissioned the teaching and disciplining of the world, to bring the world under dominion, hour by hour. Basically, the Church inherited, as the New People of God, Israel, her calendar or ordered it according to the New Covenant Eucharist and Baptism (entrance into the Kingdom was Baptism; maintaining relationship within the Kingdom, was in the Eucharist – drinking anew in the Kingdom, proclaiming both the Death and Life of the Son).
Viola, on the other hand, completely accepts the old, liberal myth. Gregory the Great is bad. Constantine was bad for the Church, etc., etc. (check this out). However, he does note that some scholars see the connection of the synagogue (Judaism) and influences on Church order (39, Viola), but then states, that the church meeting “was not patterned after the Jewish synagogue”. However, just a few more sentences down, he writes, quoting Will Durant, that the church services as “based partly on the Judaic Temple service…” (39). Well, even Durant, writing in 1950, got at least part right.
Viola’s book goes on and on about how “dangerous” sunday school is, (or even Sunday, which originated in the eschatological consideration of Jesus inaugurating the timeless “Day of the LORD” on the “eighth day” – the Day of the New Aeon, which came directly from Judaism – Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday was on the mia sabbaton – the first Day – and was viewed as cosmically significant in that it tied time (in the world) together with the timeless (eternal Kingdom) in the present. Schmemann writes, “This messianic kingdom has entered into the world, becoming the new life in the Spirit given by Him…[it is] actualized – becomes real – in the assembly of the Church…The Eucharist is therefore the manifestation of the Church in the new Aeon; it is participation in the Kingdom as the parousia, as the presence of the Resurrected and Resurrecting Lord. It is not the “repetition” of His advent or coming into the world, but the lifting up of the Church into His parousia, the Church’s participation in His heavenly glory” – 72). Let that one sit on your brain for a while.
Viola’s book sounds like a disgruntled old man sending back soup in a deli. Church buildings, choirs, pews, are all dangerous to the faith. Really? The early church, being persecuted and having no ability to build, immediately set to build after persecution officially ceased. Why? Just a spur of the moment thought, or was there something else rooted there: building, spreading, dominion. The church “building” itself was seen as a place that established God’s “footstool”. Where pagan temples were found, they were demolished. They built a building to house the Holy Temple Itself: the Body of the Christ, the Church. In fulfillment of prophecy, the Church, when finally given the chance, set about its task: rebuild, restore, redeem.
Viola wants to return to the old days, when the Church was in infancy, meeting in homes, fearing the persecution, meeting in caves, catacombs and the like. The good old days. He never quotes from the Didache. He has no clue, it appears, of real history (he is not a Historian). On page 294, he wants a return to “first century christianity”. Well, this was Oxford Group stuff (Frank Buchman). Restorationist stuff (Church of Christ – the good old, days before the Creeds, and all that crap). I don’t want to return to those days. I want to forge ahead, not “return”. Move on, not move back. The Church has become a major party in all affairs of the world: politics, religion, philosophy, science, education, economy, education, history and the like. We have claimed an place in all these things to the point of “you CANNOT ignore us”; “You CANNOT pretend we are not here. We are too MANY.” And, yet, rather than forge ahead, we get a stupid book from Viola wanting to go back. Stop building. Stop the pomp. Stop the Pageantry. Stop the banners, the hymns, the choirs, the robes, stop it all! We are a simple, pacifistic crowd of house meeters, causing no real disturbance.
In another book I have by Viola, From Eternity to Here, he appears to capture what Schmemann wrote above, but without the buildings. His stated goal for the Church is cultural dominion. However, he only spells this out in terms that would make any Charismatic happy. He does not spell out “how” in terms of “what does that look like” in the world. Do we build hospitals, or let the world do that? Do we build orphanages? Surely, the focus of the Church is the perpetual and eternal Day of the LORD (Sunday) and the Eucharist. From that source we begin anew (“renewed day by day” – II Cor 4). But, to just say, “follow Jesus” smacks of antinomianism. It sounds pious, but inevitably comes to nothing. People get tired of chanting. Eventually, they want to go out and build something.
Anyhow, Viola wrote a dumb book. I don’t recommend it at all. Better, get Dix’s The Shape of Liturgy, or Schmemann’s book.