Frank Viola & George Barna
(courtesy ‘Beyond Evangelical‘)
By Spencer D Gear
Book Review: Frank Viola, Pagan Christianity. Present Testimony Ministry, 2002 (paper, 304 pages). See http://www.ptmin.org for purchase details. [1a]. Now available at: ‘Beyond Evangelical‘.
I have a crisis of conscience after reading this dangerous, but prophetic book. It’s a threat for all who believe that any of the following current church practices are based on the Bible: mute Christians when the church gathers, order of worship, the contemporary sermon, church building, the CEO pastor’s function today, Sunday morning costumes, ministers of music, ordained clergy, clergy salaries, tithes, as we know it, the in contemporary view, and Christian education.
I don’t expect too many pastors will rush to purchase this one, unless they are fed up with their job, have sought God diligently, and see a radical difference between church function Bible-style and what we do today. It would be too painful for this prophetic revision of the doctrine of the church.
Viola takes many of our church practices to the cleaners – successfully, I believe. You will either love him or hate his conclusions. All of God’s people deserve exposure to this radical critique of church practice today.
Viola “makes an outrageous proposal: That the modern institutional church does not have a Biblical nor historical right to exist” (p. 18). Then he sets out in 11 riveting chapters to prove his points. They cut to the core of today’s church practices. We can’t ignore his charges if we want to be a biblical church.
I. He has many beefs with the contemporary church
We claim that “we do everything by the Word of God! The New Testament is our guide for faith and practice! We live . . . and we die . . . by this Book!” (p. 23). We don’t!
What we Christians do for Sunday morning church did not come from Jesus Christ, the apostles, or the Scriptures. Nor did it come from Judaism. Shockingly, most of what we do for “church” was lifted directly out of pagan culture in the post-apostolic period (pp. 27-28).
This view leads to the provocative title of his book, Pagan Christianity. Viola seeks to demonstrate it. I found his arguments pretty convincing.
Here’s the major issue: The non-biblical development and practice of the church “stifles the functional Headship of Jesus Christ and hampers the functioning of His Body” (p. 28). He warns: “If you are a Christian in the institutional church who takes the NT seriously, what you are about to read will force you to have a crisis of conscience” (p. 29).
The problem lies at the feet of Ignatius, Cyprian, St. Augustine, Roman Catholic popes, Luther, Calvin, the Puritans, Methodists, Free Church traditions, revivalists, Pentecostals, and others. He claims that “at no time did Luther (or any of the other mainstream Reformers) demonstrate a desire to return to the practices of the first-century church” (p. 45).
Why this concern after 20 centuries of church life?
A. Christ’s Body has lost its function
The meetings of the early church were those of “every-member functioning, spontaneity, freedom, vibrancy, and open participation . . . It was unpredictable, unlike the modern church service” (p. 38). This left the church about 19 centuries ago. The institutional church, Protestant (including Pentecostal), Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox don’t have a clue about NT church function. The threat has come from . .
B. Pagan influences!
Just about every sacred cow in the Protestant arsenal of church practice gets a searing critique from Viola. Here are the charges:
1. The modern Protestant order of worship
Today’s order of worship was “not patterned after the Jewish synagogue services,” but had “its basic roots in the Catholic Mass. . . Gregory the Great [540-604] is the man responsible for shaping the medieval Mass” (p. 39).
Calvin stressed the centrality of preaching, was
intensely theological and academic, . . highly individualistic, a mark that never left Protestantism. . . Probably the most damaging feature of Calvin’s liturgy is that he led most of the service from his pulpit! Christianity has never recovered from this (pp. 48-49).
The idea that we are “to be quiet and reverent for this is the house of God” is “a throw-back to the late medieval view of piety” and does not have biblical warrant (p. 50).
Viola admits that “Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, et. al. contributed many positive practices and beliefs to the Christian faith” but “they failed to bring us to a complete reformation” (p. 51). I was dumbfounded to learn that “a pastoral prayer in a Sunday morning Puritan service could easily last an hour or more” (p. 52).
The Free Churches’ order of worship of three hymns, Scripture reading, music, unison prayers, pastoral prayer, the sermon, the offering, and the benediction is not found in the NT (p. 55).
I ask: What’s the big deal when God is worshipped from the heart, the Word is proclaimed, and people are saved through revivals?
In connection with frontier revivalism, he explains:
“The goal of the early church – mutual edification and every-member functioning to corporately manifest Jesus Christ before principalities and powers – was altogether lost” (p. 60). Even John Wesley saw the danger of moving to individualistic decisions of individual sinners when he said that “Christianity is essentially a social religion . . . to turn it into a solitary religion is indeed to destroy it” (p. 60).
The Pentecostal contribution, to bring back a NT pattern, is not significant:
If you removed the emotional features from a Pentecostal church service, it would look just like a Baptist liturgy. . . Pentecostals and Charismatics follow the same order of worship as do all other Protestants. A Pentecostal is merely allowed more room to move in his pew! . . Such a pinched form of open participation cannot accurately be called “Body ministry” (pp. 63-64).
Where are we today? The result of 20 centuries of church traditions is: “God’s people have never broken free from the liturgical straightjacket that they inherited from Roman Catholicism” (p. 65). Robert Banks (of house churches’ fame) claims that the Reformers’ “Catholicism increasingly followed the path of the [pagan] cults in making a rite the center of its activities, and Protestantism followed the path of the synagogue in placing the book at the center of its services” (p. 66). It is Viola’s view that “the Reformers produced a half-baked reform of the Catholic liturgy” (p. 66).
a. What is wrong with the order of worship in today’s church?
(1) “Neither Catholicism nor Protestantism were successful in making Jesus Christ the center of their gatherings” (p. 66).
(2) “The Protestant order of worship did not originate with the Lord Jesus, the apostles, or the NT Scriptures.” The Sunday morning order of worship is not only “unscriptural and heavily influenced by paganism,” but also “it is spiritually harmful” (p. 67) because:
It “represses mutual participation and the growth of Christian community” (p. 68);
It “strangles the Headship of Jesus Christ. The entire service is directed by a man. Where is the freedom of our Lord Jesus to speak through His body at will?” (p. 68);
“For many Christians, the Sunday morning service is shamefully boring” (p. 69);
“The Protestant liturgy that you quietly sit through every Sunday, year after year, actually hinders spiritual transformation” (p. 69). Why? Because it (1) “encourages passivity,” (2) “limits functioning,” and (3) “implies that putting in one hour per week is the key to the victorious Christian life” (p. 69).
Viola’s earlier book, Rethinking the Wineskin (Present Testimony Ministry, 2001), described a church gathering, first-century style. He notes in Pagan Christianity that “the purpose of the first-century church meeting was not for evangelism, sermonizing, worship, or fellowship. It was rather for mutual edification through manifesting Christ corporately” (n178, p. 70).
What is your response to such a claim? Viola writes that “the only sure way to thaw out God’s frozen people is to make a dramatic break with the Sunday morning ritual. The other option is to be guilty of our Lord’s bone-rattling words: ‘Full well do you reject the commandment of God that you may keep your own tradition’ [Mark 7:8]” (p. 71).
2. The sermon
This radical renewal leader sails into “the sermon: Protestantism’s most sacred cow,” heading up the second chapter of his book with historian, Will Durant’s, comment, “Christianity did not destroy paganism; it adopted it” (p. 75). The author’s view is that “the sermon actually detracts from the very purpose for which God designed the church gathering. And it has very little to do with genuine spiritual growth.” People are likely to respond to this comment with, “People preached all throughout the Bible. Of course the sermon is Scriptural.” Viola grants that “the Scriptures do record men and women preaching. However, there is a world of difference between the Spirit-inspired preaching described in the Bible and the modern sermon” (p. 76).
He contends that the apostolic preaching recorded in the Book of Acts was: sporadic, delivered on special occasions, plain and simple without “rhetorical structure.” It “was most often dialogical (meaning it included feedback and interruptions from the audience)” rather than as per today’s monologue from the pulpit (p. 78).
For examples of the sermon as a dialogue, he refers to Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8-9; 20:7, 9; 24:25. In each of these verses, Paul uses the Greek verb, dialegomai, meaning, “A two-way form of communication. Our English word ‘dialogue’ is derived from it. In short, apostolic ministry was more dialogue than it was monological sermonics” (p. 78).
Viola claims that the modern sermon “is foreign to both Old and New Testaments. There is absolutely nothing in Scripture to indicate its existence in the early Christian gatherings.” The earliest sermonising was mentioned by Clement of Alexandria who lived from 150-215 and he “lamented the fact that sermons did so little to change Christians.” However, they “became standard practice among believers by the fourth century” (p. 79). I will contest this claim; see my “assessment” below.
a. From where did the sermon originate?
He traces the sermon back to the sophists (wise ones) of fifth century BC who “were expert debaters. They were masters at using emotional appeals, physical appearance, and clever language to ‘sell’ their arguments.” Around the third century after Christ, “a vacuum was created when mutual ministry faded from the Body of Christ. At this time the traveling worker who spoke out of a spontaneous burden left the pages of church history” (p. 79) and the “clergy-caste began to emerge” with “the clergy-laity distinction . . . widening at breakneck speed” (pp. 79-80).
By the fourth century the hierarchical structure and the “religious specialist” were developing as “pagan orators were becoming Christians,” and “pagan philosophical ideas unwittingly made their way into the Christian community” (p. 82).
What caused today’s sermon to degenerate into a monologue instead of being a vibrant interaction between speaker and audience? Viola says that this was caused by the influence of
former pagan orators (now turned Christian) [who] began to use their Greco-Roman oratorical skills for Christian purposes. They would sit in their official chair and ‘expound the sacred text of Scripture, just as the sophist would supply an exegesis  of the near-sacred text of Homer.’ If you compare a third-century pagan sermon with a sermon given by one of the church fathers, you will find both the structure and the phraseology to be shockingly similar (pp. 82-83).
From Viola’s research, he states that the early church’s proclamation (e.g. Book of Acts) involved two-way conversation. This changed when the Greek orators were converted and brought their methods into the church. This made a permanent impact on the church. Conversational style of preaching was expelled by Greek-style one-way communication.
Worse still, “the Greco-Roman sermon replaced prophesying, open sharing, and Spirit-inspired teaching. The sermon became the elitist privilege of church officials, particularly the bishops” (p. 83).
b. Who can we blame specifically?
“We can credit both Chrysostom and Augustine (A.D. 354-430), a former professor of rhetoric, for making pulpit oratory part and parcel of the Christian faith.” Chrysostom emphasised that “the preacher must toil long on his sermons in order to gain the power of eloquence” (p. 85).
The Protestant Reformers of the 16th century, the Puritans and the preachers of the Great Awakening of the 18th century (eg. Wesley and the Methodists), continued the tradition. Martin Luther saw the church as “the gathering of the people who listen to the Word of God being spoken to them. For this reason, he once called the church
a Mundhaus (mouth or speech-house) [p. 86].
“Ironically, ‘the Book’ [Bible] knows nothing of a sermon” (p. 87). I will challenge this view in my “assessment” below.
c. Sermonising harms the church
One would think that teaching as sermonising would provide edification for God’s people. Isn’t that beneficial? Not so, says Viola. Today’s “conventional sermon has contributed to the malfunction of the church in a number of ways” (p. 88). These include:
Making the preacher “the virtuoso performer of the church service. As a result, congregational participation is hampered at best and precluded at worst.” It has made congregations “a group of muted spectators who watch a performance. There is no room for interrupting or questioning the preacher while he is delivering a discourse” (p. 88).
“The sermon stalemates spiritual growth. Because it is a one-way affair, it blunts curiosity and produces passivity.” Christians need to function when they gather, in order to grow (p. 88).
The sermon bolsters “the unbiblical clergy mentality,” making “the preacher the religious specialist” and “everyone else is treated as a second-class Christian – a silent pew-warmer” (p. 89).
“Rather than equipping the saints, the sermon deskills them” (p. 89).
“The typical sermon is a swimming lesson on dry land! It lacks any value. . . The sermon mirrors its true father — Greco-Roman rhetoric” (p. 90). Viola affirms that “the gift of teaching is present in the church. But teaching is to come from all the believers as well as from those who are specially gifted to each” (pp. 91-92). He appeals to I Cor. 14:26, 31 to support this claim (n110, p. 92). See the “Assessment” below to challenge this claim.
d. Summing up
The sermon, in Viola’s view, is not found in Judaism of the OT, the ministry of Jesus, or in the ministry of the early church. It is a product of Greek rhetoric, brought into the church by pagans who were converted to Christ. “By the fourth century it became the norm,” although it is “an unscriptural practice” (p. 92).
The sermon is an unbiblical sacred cow that causes the priesthood of all believers to become passive in the pews. Since we as Protestant Christians affirm “the doctrine of sola Scriptura (‘by the Scripture only’),” how can we “still support the pulpit sermon.” (p. 93)?
3. The edifice complex: the church building
People often speak of “the beautiful church we just passed . . . Our church is too small. . . The church is chilly today” (p. 97). Secular and Christian people often think this way, but “none of these thoughts have anything to do with NT Christianity. . . Nowhere in the NT do we find the terms ‘church’ (ekklesia), ‘temple,’ or ‘house of God’ used to refer to a building” (pp. 98-99).
What caused ekklesia to be translated as “church”? Viola gives this historical background:
The translators of the English Bible did us a huge injustice by translating ekklesia into “church.” Ekklesia, in all of its 114 appearances in the NT, always means an assembly of people. . . William Tyndale should be commended because in his translation of the NT, he refused to use the word “church” to translate ekklesia. Instead, he translated it more correctly as “congregation.” Unfortunately, the translators of the KJV chose not to follow Tyndale’s superior translation in this matter and resorted to “church” as a translation of ekklesia. They rejected the correct translation of ekklesia as “congregation” because it was the terminology of the Puritans (n17, p. 100).
a. Building evolution
From where did the idea come that the building where Christians gathered, became identified with the church?
Christians are “the temple of God.” See I Cor. 15:25, where the resurrected Christ, the last Adam, became a “life-giving spirit” (ESV). See also John 2:12-22 and 4:23. Viola contends that “when Christianity was born, it was the only religion on earth that had no sacred objects, no s
acred persons, and no sacred spaces. . . For the first three centuries, the Christians did not have any special buildings” (pp. 102-103). Rather, the house, the courtyard, roadsides and living rooms were the places where Christians gathered. See Acts 2:46; 8:3; 20:20; Rom. 16:3, 5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Philemon 22; 2 John 10. Occasionally Christians used existing buildings (see Acts 5:12; 19:19), but “their normal church meetings, however, were always set in a private home” (n30, p. 102).
When did the church move out of the houses and into special purpose buildings called, “churches”?
b. When did buildings become “churches”?
“For the first three centuries, the Christians did not have any special buildings. As one scholar put it, ‘The Christianity that conquered the Roman Empire was essentially a home-centered movement'” (p. 103). By the third century after Christ, “Christians had two places for their meetings: Their homes and the cemetery” (p. 105).
Emperor Constantine, who lived from A.D. 285-337, had a major impact on moving the church gathering from the house to other buildings. This story “fills a dark page in the history of Christianity. Church buildings began with him” (p. 107). We need to understand that “Constantine’s thinking was dominated by superstition and paganistic magic. . . Following his conversion to Christianity, Constantine never abandoned sun-worship. . . Almost to his dying day, Constantine ‘still functioned as the high priest of paganism” (p. 108).
Constantine influenced these changes in the church:
In A.D. 321 he decreed Sunday as the day of rest, making it a legal holiday. Sunday was the “day of the sun” (pp. 108-109);
He “strengthened the pagan notion of the sacredness of objects and places” (p. 109);
In A.D. 327, he “began erecting the first church buildings throughout the Roman Empire. . . Many of the largest buildings were built over the tombs of the martyrs.” One of the most famous “holy places” is St. Peter’s on the Vatican hill, which was supposed to be “built over the supposed tomb of Peter” (p. 111). These “church edifices built under Constantine were patterned exactly after the model of the basilica. The basilica was the common government building. And it was designed after Greek pagan temples” (p. 113). The centre of the building was the altar, considered the most holy place in the building and “it often contained the relics of the martyrs” (p. 114).
The church building had a major influence on worship. “The pomp and ritual of the imperial court was adopted into the Christian liturgy” (p. 115).
The clergy with special garb happened under Constantine. This was borrowed from the Greco-Roman world, thus aligning it with pagan culture.
During the fourth century, pagan religious ideas and practices were absorbed into Christianity. The clergy were elevated in function and the laity were gradually silenced in the church gathering.
At this time, there were changes in church architecture with the entrance of Gothic structures
Things did not change with the Reformation, when “thousands of medieval cathedrals became their property” (p. 122).
Sir Christopher Wren introduced the church steeple following the fire that swept through London, England, in the year 1666.
Then came the pulpit, pew and balcony
c. Exegeting the building (p. 130)
You may be asking what Viola questioned:
So what’s the big deal? Who cares if the first-century Christians did not have buildings? Or if church buildings were built on pagan beliefs and practices. Or if medieval Catholics based their architecture on pagan philosophy. What has that got to do with us today? (pp. 130-131).
The social location of the church meeting expresses and influences the character of the church. If you assume that where the church gathers is simply a matter of convenience, you are tragically mistaken. You are overlooking a basic reality of humanity. Every building we encounter elicits a response from us. By its interior and exterior, it explicitly shows us what the church is and how it functions. . . The form of the building reflects its particular function. . . A church’s location teaches us how to meet (p. 131).
What has happened since the introduction of special buildings for “church”? The present building arrangement with the pulpit domination “creates a sit-and-soak form of worship that turns functioning Christians into ‘pew potatoes.’ To put it differently, the very architecture prevents fellowship except between God and His people via the pastor!” (p. 134)
So, for the last 1700 years, Christians have seen the church as a special building set apart for worship. This has had a disastrous impact on the real church. It has created “an obscenely high cost of overhead” (p. 134). Take this example:
The church edifice demands a vast wasteland of money. In the United States alone, real estate owned by institutional churches today amounts to over 230 billion dollars. Church building debt service, and maintenance consumes about 18% of the 11 billion dollars that are tithed to churches annually. Point: Modern Christians are wasting an astronomical amount of money on unnecessary edifices!
There is no good reason to possess a church building. In fact, all the traditional reasons put forth for “needing” a building collapse under careful scrutiny. We so easily forget that the early Christians turned the world upside down without them. They grew rapidly for 300 years without the help (or hindrance) of church buildings (pp. 134-135).
d. Can this tradition be overturned? (pp. 135-137)
Viola asks us to consider these points:
The church building rips into the heart of the Christian faith that was born in the living rooms of the first century.
When you sit in a church building, you are celebrating the pagan origins and pagan philosophy on which Sunday morning worship has been built.
“There does not exist a shred of Biblical support for the church building” (p. 136).
We are “completely unaware of what we lost as Christians when we created the church building” (p. 136). It was “fathered by Constantine who was overcome by the basilicas of the Greeks, Romans, Goths and even the Egyptians and Babylonians.
We have bought into the non-biblical notion that we
feel holier when we are in the “house of God”. . . There is nothing more stagnating, artificial, impersonal or stuffy than a clinical church building! In that building, you are nothing more than a statistic – a name on an index card to be filed in the pastor’s secretary’s office. There is nothing warm or personal about it (p. 136).
The nature of the true function of the ekklesia is very counter cultural. The church building smothers the possibility of true church function. For centuries many Christians have accepted what we have as the norm. There is a way back, but most are not thinking in that direction.
4. The pastor’s role needs radical reformation.
The pastor “is the fundamental figure of the Protestant faith.” The word “pastors” does appear in the NT at Eph. 4:11, which reads, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers . . .” Viola’s chapter heading is, “The pastor: Thief of every-member functioning.”
Viola is so provocative as to state that “there is not a single verse in the entire NT that supports the existence of the modern day Pastor! He simply did not exist in the early church” (p. 141). Beyond that observation, he claims that “there is more Biblical authority for snake handling than there is for the modern Pastor. (Mark 16:18 and Acts 28:3-6 both mention handling snakes.) So snake handling wins out two verses to one verse” (p. 142). He has a point, but the analogy is meant to arouse interest. Viola’s point is that the role of solo pastor in a local church has no biblical precedent. “Pastors” is used in the plural, as shepherds, with “a particular function in the church. It is not an office or a title” (p. 143).
Viola quotes Richard Hanson with favour: “For us the words bishops, presbyters, and deacons are stored with the associations of nearly two thousand years. For the people who first used them the titles of these offices can have meant little more than inspectors, older men and helpers. . . It was when unsuitable theological significance began to be attached to them that the distortion of the concept of Christian ministry began” (pp. 143-44).
Therefore, “the first-century shepherds were the local elders (presbyters) and overseers of the church. And their function was completely at odds with the modern pastoral role” (p. 144).
a. From where did the contemporary pastoral role come?
The author observes that the seeds of such a role were with the prophecy of Eldad and Medad (whom Moses tried to restrain — see Numbers 11:26-28) , the people seeking a physical mediator when Moses ascended Mount Horeb (Ex. 20:19), and with Diotrephes “who loved to have the preeminence” (3 John 9-10). He sees the hierarchical form of leadership of the social structures of ancient cultures being adopted by post-apostolic Christians (p. 145).
The one-bishop-rule started with Ignatius of Antioch (35-107): “We can trace the origin of the modern Pastor and church hierarchy to him” as he “elevated one of the elders above all the others. The elevated elder was now called ‘the bishop'” (pp. 146-47). By the end of the third century, the one-bishop-rule “prevailed everywhere. . . The congregation, once active, was now rendered deaf and mute. The saints merely watched the bishop perform” (p. 148).
By the time of Cyprian in the third century, bishops began to be called priests and pastors. Together they were called “the clergy.” “It is upon Cyprian’s lap that we can lay the non-NT concept of sacerdotalism – the belief that there exists a Divinely appointed person to mediate between God and the people” (pp. 149-50, 152).
b. Other influences
1. Thanks to Ambrose of Milan in the 4th century, the priest became the overseer of the Catholic Mass where the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper “magically” turned into the Lord’s physical body and blood. (p. 153). By this time, “human hierarchy and ‘official’ ministry institutionalized the church of Jesus Christ” (p. 154). Roman Emperor, Constantine, cemented this hierarchical structure in the organised church.
2. Secular historian, Will Durant, admitted to the synthesis of pagan ideas into
the Christian faith by stating that Christianity grew by the absorption of pagan faith and ritual; it became a triumphant church by inheriting the organizing patterns and genius of Rome. . . As Judea had given Christianity ethics, and Greece had give it theology, so now Rome gave it organization; all these, with a dozen absorbed and rival faiths, entered into the Christian synthesis (in pp. 156-157).
3. Emperor Constantine exalted the clergy in the 4th century and under the emperor Christianity was honoured and recognised by the State and thus the church was secularised and polluted from its pure stream. The laity became second-class Christians, a division that had never existed in the biblical revelation.
4. “By the fifth century, the thought of the priesthood of all believers had completely disappeared from the Christian horizon. Access to God was now controlled by the clergy caste” (p. 162).
5. By the 4th century, Augustine taught “that ordination confers a ‘definite irremovable imprint’ on the priest that empowers him to fulfill his priestly functions! For Augustine, ordination was a permanent possession that could not be revoked” (p. 165). However, the apostle Paul knew nothing about an ordination that confers ministerial or clerical powers to a Christian. First-century shepherds (elders, overseers) did not receive anything that resembles modern ordination. They were not set above the rest of the flock. They were those who served among them (p. 166).
6. The Reformation of the 16th century did not change the clergy/laity distinction. Although “the rallying cry of the Reformation was the restoration of the priesthood of all believers,” the Reformers failed “to recover the corporate dimension of the believing priesthood” (p. 168). The Reformers were hostile to a functioning priesthood of all believers:
Luther and the other Reformers violently denounced the Anabaptists for practicing every-member functioning in the church. The Anabaptists believed it was every Christian’s right to stand up and speak in a meeting. It was not the domain of the clergy. Luther was so opposed to this practice that he said it came from “the pit of hell” and those who were guilty of it should be put to death! (Behold your heritage dear Protestant Christian!) [p. 169]
7. The term, “pastor,” did not replace “preacher” or “minister” until the 18th century (p. 171). John Calvin, however, in the 16th century believed “the pastoral office is necessary to preserve the church on earth in a greater way than the sun, food, and drink are necessary to nourish and sustain the present life” (p. 172).
It is Viola’s view that
The unscriptural clergy/laity distinction has done untold harm to the Body of Christ. It has ruptured the believing community into first and second-class Christians. . . Our ignorance of church history has allowed us to be robbed blind. The one-man ministry is entirely foreign to the NT, yet we embrace it while it suffocates our functioning. . . The pastoral office has stolen your right to function as a member of Christ’s Body! It has shut your mouth and strapped you to a pew (p. 178).
Viola pulls no punches in his assessment:
The modern Pastor is the most unquestioned element in modern Christianity. Yet he does not have a strand of Scripture to support his existence nor a fig leaf to cover it! . . . The Protestant Pastor is nothing more than a slightly reformed Catholic priest! (p. 183)
Poet John Milton put it this way: “New presbyter is but old priest writ large!” (p. 183).
It is shown that the development of the pastoral role and the function of the pastor in the local church was something that happened over time. The CEO pastor/priest and the one-man band preacher cannot be found in the NT. I can’t imagine that too many current pastors will be thrilled with this view. If the church accepted Viola’s assessment, which I consider has biblical substance, it would mean radical changes in much of the church function. I can’t see the average church being ready for such – sadly!
5. Church costumes
Over 300 million Protestants put on their Sunday best to attend church, but this is “a relatively recent phenomenon,” beginning in the late 18th century (p. 187). Why? While the well-to-do folks could afford nice clothing at any time of the week, but for common people they had only “two sets of clothes. Work clothes for laboring in the field and less tattered clothing for going into town” (p. 187). The exception is with “neo-denominations” such as the Vineyard, where dress is casual.
In the 19th century, church leaders such as Horace Bushnell sought to affirm this new attire, claiming that this “sophistication and refinement were attributes of God and that Christians should emulate them.” Others such as Presbyterian, William Henry Foote, stated that “a church-going people are a dress loving people” (p. 189).
What’s wrong with dressing up when going to church? Viola claims that:
“It reflects the false cleavage between the secular and the sacred”;
It “screams out a false message: That church is the place where Christians hide their real selves and ‘dress them up’ to look nice and pretty. . . It gives the house of God all the elements of a stage show”;
“Dressing up’ for church smacks against the primitive simplicity that was the sustaining hallmark of the early church” (p. 190-91).
Emperor Constantine. It was during this time that “distinctions between bishop, priest, and deacon began to take root” (p. 193). The model followed that of the secular court ritual.
The origin of the clerical “dog collar” goes back only as far as 1865 and was an invention of the Anglicans, not the Roman Catholics (p. 196).
Why the fuss about clergy dress? Viola believes that it “strikes at the heart of the church by separating God’s people into two classes: ‘Professional’ and ‘non-professional'” (p. 197). Jesus and his disciples did not wear special clothing to impress God or others. The Scribes and the Pharisees were into special garb.
The Lord’s view is: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts” Luke 20:46 (ESV).
This critique of Christianity’s pagan paraphernalia extends to . . .
6. Ministers of Music
These, along with the choir director, worship leader or praise and worship team, are “second-string clergy” and are “in stark contrast to the first century way” where “worship and singing were in the hands of God’s people. The church herself led her own songs. Singing and leading songs was a corporate affair, not a professional event led by specialists” (p. 201) . He accurately refers to Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 to support his claims.
From where did this non-Christian emphasis come?
a. The choir
We can thank Constantine’s reign for choirs that were “developed and trained to help celebrate the Eucharist,” but Viola calls upon historian of ancient history, Will Durant, to show that the roots of the choir go even further back to “pagan Greek temples and Greek dramas” (p. 202). Durant comments:
In the Middle Ages, as in ancient Greece, the main fountainhead of drama was in religious liturgy. The Mass itself was a dramatic spectacle; the sanctuary a sacred stage; the celebrants wore symbolic costumes; priest and acolytes engaged in dialogue; the antiphonal responses of priest and choir, and of choir to choir, suggested precisely that same evolution of drama from dialogue that had generated the sacred Dionysian play (Will Durant, The Age of Faith, n 5, p. 202).
Viola claims that by A. D. 367, congregational singing was altogether banned. It was replaced by the trained choirs. . . The Council of Laodicea (A.D. 367) forbade all others to sing in church beside the canonical singers. . . The liturgical chant is the direct descendent of the pagan Roman chant, which goes back to the ancient Sumarian cities. . . Trained choirs, trained singers, and the end of congregational singing all reflected the cultural mindset of the Greeks (pp. 203-204, incl. n9).
b. Funeral processions
Constantine was again the culprit because during his time “Roman betrothal practices and funeral processions were adapted and transformed into Christian ‘weddings’ and ‘funerals’ Both are borrowed from pagan practice” (p. 205).
Viola quotes from Johannes Quasten’s, Music & Worship in Pagan and Christian Antiquity: “The pagan cult of the dead was too much a part of the past lives of many Christians, formerly pagans, for them simply to be able to replace pagan dirges and funeral music with Psalmody” (in p. 205).
c. Did the Reformation help?
Congregational singing and the use of musical instruments were restored, however, “there is no evidence of musical instruments in the Christian church service until the Middle Ages. . . The church fathers [e.g. Clement of Alexandria, Ambrose, Augustine and Jerome, n35, p. 207] took a dim view of musical instruments, associating them with immorality and idolatry.” John Calvin also “felt that musical instruments were pagan. Consequently, for two centuries, Reformed churches sang Psalms without the use of instruments.” It was during the Reformation that “the organ became the standard instrument used in Protestant worship” (p. 207).
d. The worship team
This is of recent origin, dating back to the founding of Calvary Chapel in 1965 by Chuck Smith who started with “a ministry for hippies and surfers. . . The Vineyard has probably shown more influence on the Christian family in establishing worship teams” (p. 210)
e. What’s the big deal?
What’s wrong with ministers of music, choirs, worship leaders and worship teams leading a church’s singing?
Nothing. Except that it robs God’s people of a vital function: To select and lead their own singing in the meetings – to have Divine worship in their own hands – to allow Jesus Christ to lead the singing of His church rather than a human facilitator.
Listen to Paul’s description of a church meeting: “Every one of you brings a song . . .” [1 Cor. 14:26] “Speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs” [Eph. 5:19]. Song leaders, choirs, and worship teams make this impossible. They also put limits on the Headship of Christ – specifically His ministry of leading His brethren into singing praise songs to His Father (p. 211, emphasis in Viola).
What’s the alternative? Viola meets
with churches where every member is free to start a song spontaneously. Imagine: Every brother and sister leading songs under the Headship of Christ! Even writing their own songs and bringing them to the meeting for all to learn. . .
Let me warn you, however. Once you have tasted the experience of having worship and praise songs in your own hands, you will never wish to go back to standing in a pew and being led about by a choir director or a worship team. . .
It is high time that the ministry of music and song be taken away from the second-string clergy and be given back to the people of God (p. 212).
Viola adds one qualifier:
I have no problem at all with talented musicians performing for an audience to encourage, instruct, inspire, or even entertain them. However, that ought not to be confused with the ministry of praise and worship singing which belongs to the whole church (n63, p. 212).
7. Tithing and clergy salaries
This is getting close to home and I don’t expect too many clergy will be wanting to support and promote Viola’s view. Anybody who sails into clergy salaries and the sacred tithe will not be standing in line for the church’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize or a Rhodes Scholarship.
Of all people, Viola calls upon the infamous renegade Anglican bishop, formerly Bishop of Woolwich (south London), United Kingdom, John A. T. Robinson of Honest to God fame, for support:
The real trouble is not in fact that the church is too rich but that it has become heavily institutionalized, with a crushing investment in maintenance. It has the characteristics of the dinosaur and battleship. It is saddled with a plant and programme beyond its means, so that it is absorbed in problems of supply and pre-occupied with survival (Robinson, in Viola, p. 215).
a. Tithing is biblical but not Christian
The tithe belonged to Israel (see Lev. 27:30-33; Num. 18:21-31; Deut. 14:22-29; 26:12-13), which was “to give 23.3% of their income every year, as opposed to 10%” (p. 219). This is calculated by “20% yearly and 10% every three years” and “equals 23.3% per year. God commanded all three tithes (Neh. 12:44; Mal. 3:8-12; Heb. 7:5)” (n6, p. 219).
So, what is the NT standard that should be practised by the contemporary church?
With the death of Jesus, all ceremonial, governmental, and religious codes that belonged to the Jews were nailed to His cross and buried. . . never to come out again to condemn us. For this reason, we never see Christians tithing in the NT. Tithing belonged exclusively to Israel under the Law (p. 219).
The NT emphasis of the first-century saints was that they were “giving cheerfully according to their ability – not dutifully out of a command. Giving in the early church was voluntarily. And those who benefited from it were the poor, orphans, widows, sick, prisoners and strangers” [see 2 Cor. 8:3-12; 9:5-13] (p. 220). “Paul’s word on giving is: Give as God has prospered you – according to your ability and means” (n8, p. 220).
b. Tithes and clergy salaries
Cyprian (200-258) was the first Christian to “mention the practice of financially supporting clergy. He argues that just as the Levites were supported by the tithe, so the Christian clergy should be supported by the tithe” (pp. 221-222). Cyprian was the only Christian writer before Constantine who recommended the OT tithe for the NT clergy.
One scholar, Edwin Hatch, is quoted: “For the first seven hundred years they [tithes] are hardly ever mentioned” (in p. 222). Viola states that “the Christian tithe as an institution was based on a fusion of Old Testament practice and pagan institution” (p. 222).
There were no salaries for church “ministers” for the first three centuries of the church, but that changed with Constantine who “instituted the practice of paying a fixed salary to the clergy from church funds and municipal and imperial treasuries. Thus was the (sic) born the clergy salary, a harmful practice that has no root in the NT” (pp. 223-224).
The contemporary view of tithing and salaried clergy have “no NT merit. In fact, the clergy salary runs against the grain of the entire New Covenant” (p. 225).
The point is made that while we have exalted paid professionals, “the rest of the church lapses into a state of passive dependence” and the question, “What on earth are we paying the pastor for?” does not arise (p. 226).
Viola is even more critical of paying the clergy:
A further peril of the paid pastor system is that it produces men who are void of any skill – something we inherited from the pagan Greeks. For this reason, it takes a man of tremendous courage to step out of the pastorate.
Unfortunately, most of God’s people are deeply naive about the overwhelming power of the pastor system. It is a faceless system that does not tire of chewing up and spitting out its young. Again, God never intended the professional pastorate to exist. There is no Scriptural mandate or justification for such a thing. In fact, it is impossible to construct a Biblical defence for it (p. 227).
So, what does he conclude about tithing and the clergy system?
Jesus did not affirm the tithing system. It was part of the Old Covenant and the early church did not practise it for the first 300 years of its existence.
NT giving was according to one’s ability and believers gave to support apostolic workers who were planting churches.
Christians in the early churches were liberal in their support of the poor and needy. This caused others to affirm the “awesome, winsome power of the early church and say: ‘Behold how they love one another'”
“You, dear Christian, have been set free from the bondage of tithing and from the obligation to support an unbiblical clergy system” (p. 229).
I don’t expect to see a mass exodus from the clergy and tithing system until the church comes to this biblical understanding. Viola’s claims have biblical and historical warrant. It would send the church back to grass roots again if we accepted the author’s critique. This is certainly radical Christianity with a biblical edge. I am convinced by his arguments, but I don’t expect too much support from clergy and ordinary Christian folks in the traditional evangelical church.
But there is more to come in observing the pagan influence on other church practices.
8. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper compromised
Renowned church historian, Philip Schaff, warned that
the church, embracing the mass of the population of the Empire, from the Caesar to the meanest slave, and living amidst all its institutions, received into her bosom vast deposits of foreign material from the world and from heathenism. . . Although ancient Greece and Rome have fallen forever, the spirit of Graeco-Roman paganism is not extinct. . . It lives also in many idolatrous and superstitious usages of the Greek and Roman churches, against which the pure spirit of Christianity has instinctively protested from the beginning, and will protest, till all remains of gross and refined idolatry shall be outwardly as well as inwardly overcome (in p. 231).
Even though most evangelical Christians believe and practise believer’s baptism (immersion) rather than infant baptism, the emphasis has changed with today’s believers being saved at one age and baptised at another age.
a. Baptism vs. the sinner’s prayer
Viola shows the change from the biblical emphasis on baptism right after confession of faith and the current aberration.
In the early church, converts were baptized immediately upon believing [see Acts 2:37-41; 8:12ff., 27-38; 9:18; 10:44-48; 16:14-15, 31-33; 18:18; 19:1-5; 22:16]. One scholar says of baptism and conversion, “They belong together. Those who repented and believed the Word were baptized. That was the invariable pattern, so far as we know.” Another writes, “At the birth of the church, converts were baptized with little or no delay.” (p. 234).
For the first-century Christian, the confession of baptism was “vitally linked to the exercise of saving faith. So much so that the NT writers often use ‘baptism’ in place of the word ‘faith’ and link it to being ‘saved'” [see Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21] (pp. 234-235).
Infant baptism was powerfully advocated by Cyprian (martyred, 258), who “attributed magical powers to it in its ability to wash away sin,” but
the earliest plausible reference to infant baptism is found in Irenaeus (130-200). Tertullian (160-225) . . . opposed it. Infant baptism seems to have begun in the early second century and had an elaborate theology to go along with it. By the fifth century, infant baptism became a general practice replacing adult baptism (n1, p. 233).
Viola’s view is that “baptism was simultaneously an act of faith as well as an expression of faith” (p. 235, emphasis in original). However, by the third century the new convert’s “life was scrutinised with a fine tooth comb. You had to show yourself worthy of baptism by your conduct” (p. 235).
Thanks to D. L. Moody (1837-1899), the “Sinner’s Prayer” replaced the role of water baptism as the initial confession of faith, while accepting Jesus as one’s “Personal Saviour” can be attributed to Charles Fuller (1887-1968) [pp. 235-237]. “In the first century, water baptism was the visible testimony that publicly demonstrated the heart of this [sinner’s] prayer” (n16, p. 237).
b. The Lord’s Supper
For the NT church, the Lord’s Supper was a communal meal shared in the house of Christians.
Around the time of Tertullian (160-225) the bread and the cup began to be separated from the meal. By the late second century, the separation was complete. . . By the fourth century, the love feast was “prohibited” among Christians. . . [and] the terms “breaking of bread” and “Lord’s Supper” disappeared. . . The mystique associated with the Eucharist was due to the influence of the pagan mystery religions. . . By the 10th century, there was a shift in thinking and language. The word “body” was no longer use to refer to the church. It was only used to refer to the Lord’s physical body or the bread of the Eucharist (pp. 239-241).
What did this do? It “completely removed from the communal nature of the ekklesia” (p. 243) something that was core Christianity in the NT. The doctrine of Transubstantiation (the bread and wine were allegedly changed into the Lord’s actual body and blood) ” became explicit teaching in the 4th century, but it was developed further in the 11th-13th centuries. While contemporary Protestants don’t accept the Roman Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation, “they have continued to embrace the Catholic practice of the Supper” by discarding the communal meal (p. 242).
c. This means . . .
The true meaning and power of the water baptism is now ill conceived. “Water baptism is the believer’s initial confession of faith before men, demons, angels, and God” (p. 243). This is “God’s idea” and we are the losers when we change it.
The Lord’s Supper has turned into a strange pagan rite and been emptied of “a shared-life experience enjoyed by the church” (p. 244).
The Lord’s Supper has moved from an every-Christian meal of “bare simplicity” among friends in a house to the “elaborate splendor” of “a priestly function.” (p. 244)
Christians should “shun the vain traditions of men and return to the ancient paths” (p. 244).
9. Christian education wrecked
To be a pastor today, most Christians believe the person has to attend Bible College or seminary to be qualified for the Lord’s work. This view doesn’t go well with the NT, which was based on a discipleship/apprenticeship model and not on intellectual learning.
Others have recognised today’s problem with discipling and equipping believers. Puritan, John Owen, said that “every church was then a seminary, in which provision and preparation was made” (p. 248). Contemporary writer, R. Paul Stevens agrees:
The best structure for equipping every Christian is already in place. It predates the seminary and the weekend seminar and will outlast both. In the New Testament no other nurturing and equipping is offered than the local church. In the New Testament church, as in the ministry of Jesus, people learned in the furnace of life, in a relational living, working and ministering context (p. 248).
a. Ministerial training
By contrast, “Modern ministerial training . . . [is] rational, objective, and abstract” (p. 248). Viola states that theological education has developed through four stages in the history of the church:
Episcopal in the patristic age (3rd-5th centuries) was training by bishops in how to perform the rituals and liturgies of the church.
Monastic education was associated with the ascetic and mystical life, starting in the 3rd century. This involved the training of missionaries for “unchartered territories.” The Eastern church fathers mixed the Greek thought of philosophers, Plato and Aristotle, with the Christian faith (many of the fathers of the faith were previously pagan philosophers and orators). They came with a concoction that historian, Will Durant, observed as “the gap between philosophy and religion was closing . . . The ideas and methods of philosophy had flowed in such mass into Christianity, and filled so large a place in it, as to have made it no less a philosophy than a religion” (in p. 251).
The Scholastic stage owes much to the culture of the university, the university of Bologna in Italy (13th century) being the first university, followed by the universities of Paris and Oxford. The term, “university,” comes “from the medieval Latin universitas which was a term used for the medieval craft guilds. . . The word ‘seminary’ comes from the Latin seminarium meaning seedbed” (nn 24, 27, p. 252). Martin Luther, had it right, says Viola, when he said: “What else are the universities than places for training youth in Greek glory” (in p. 253).
The Seminarian model was developed from the university’s scholastic paradigm, originally pursuing the Aristotelian philosophical system to train “the professionally ‘qualified’ minister” (p. 254). Both Protestants and Roman Catholics rely on Aquinas’ work for the outline of the theological curriculum: God, Trinity, Creation, Angels, Man, The Divine Government (Salvation, etc.) and The Last End (p. 255).
b. Seminaries, Bible Colleges, etc
The founding of “the first Protestant seminary is clouded in obscurity. But the best evidence indicates that the Protestants copied the Catholic model and established their first seminary in America. It was established in Andover, Massachusetts in 1808” (p. 258). Prior to this time, the Protestants trained clergy in Yale (1701) and Harvard (1636), but more seminaries were spawned when Yale and Harvard promoted Unitarianism and rejected other orthodox Christian beliefs.
These are some of the colleges and seminaries at which I have studied. From four of them I have graduated.
I thank Pastor Fred Lancaster for introducing me to systematic theology; Pastor Aeron Morgan for exemplary expository preaching; Dr Larry Hurtado for my first stumbling Greek summer course; Dr. David Lim for teaching solid biblical studies; Dr. Jerry Flora for his love of biblical theology and Professor Ernest van Eck for doctoral supervision. It all started when Christ invaded my cane farmer parents’ home in 1959 through a Billy Graham landline crusade rally at the Showgrounds, Bundaberg, Qld., Australia. Their love for Jesus was infectious and the three children responded to Christ’s invitation to salvation.
The Bible College is a 19th century phenomenon in North America, the first two Colleges being The Missionary Training Institute, now Nyack College, New York (1882) and Moody Bible Institute (Chicago) in 1886. However there was influence from London, England, pastors H. G. Guinness (1835-1910) and C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1892). There are now over 400 Bible schools (“a minor league version of the seminary”) and colleges in the USA and Canada (p.258).
c. There is more . . .
1. Robert Raikes 91736-1811) from Great Britain established a school for poor children, but he “did not found the Sunday School for the purpose of religious instruction. Instead, he founded it to each poor children the basics of education” (p. 260). The first actual Sunday School was in Virginia, America in 1785.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, many Sunday Schools operated separately from churches. The reason: Pastors felt that laymen could teach the Bible. D. L. Moody is credited with popularizing the Sunday School in America. . .
As a whole, the modern Sunday School is simply not an effective institution. . .
If the truth be told, most youngsters find Sunday School dry, boring, and irrelevant. Sunday School is a dinosaur that is overripe for extinction (pp. 261-262).
2. The youth pastor didn’t come to the fore until the 20th century, Calvary Baptist Church in Manhattan, NY, having one of the first youth pastors in the late 1930s.
d. What’s the problem?
I agree with Viola when he states that “modern theological education is essentially cerebral” and “does not prepare a person for ministry. . . Formal theological training is grossly overrated” (pp. 265-266). A survey of seminary graduates by Hartford Seminary found that
congregations with leaders who have a seminary eduction are, as a group, far more likely to report that in their congregations they perceive less clarity of purpose, more and different kinds of conflict, less person-to-person communication, less confidence in the future and more threat from changes in worship (in p. 266).
“Perhaps the most damaging problem of the seminary and Bible college is that it perpetuates the crippling, unscriptural humanly-devised clergy system” (p. 267). Viola is spot on in his assessment.
How, then, can this whole unbiblical system of church life and training in the 21st century be turned around?
III. What’s the cure
This demolishing of the contemporary evangelical church tradition should be a wake-up call for all church members and especially for the leaders. It won’t be, because it is too threatening to the status quo. Frank Viola is not the first to call today’s church to account. A. W. Tozer did it:
If Christianity is to receive a rejuvenation it must be by other means than any now being used. . . There must appear a new type of preacher. The proper, ruler-of-the-synagogue type will never do. Neither will the priestly type of man who carries out his duties, takes his pay and asks no questions, nor the smooth-talking pastoral type who knows how to make the Christian religion acceptable to everyone. All these have been tried and found wanting. Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will not be one but many) he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom (in p. 271).
A. Christ the revolutionary
Change will come through those identified “with Christ as revolutionary teacher – radical prophet – provocative preacher – controversialist – iconoclast – and the implacable opponent of the religious establishment” (p. 272).
Renewal movements won’t do it. Revivals won’t cut the mustard.
The axe must be laid to the root of the problem and a revolution ignited. . . All traditions that find no soil in Scripture must be forever abandoned. We must begin anew. . . from ground zero. Anything less will prove defective (p. 274).
It will take disciples “of the Revolutionary from Nazareth . . . the Radical Messiah” who will lay “his axe to the root.” Viola believes it will take disciples who will evoke a special question that was asked of Jesus Christ, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?” [Matt. 15:2] (p. 274).
Frank Viola is honing in on core biblical material for ecclesiology that has caused the church to get right off track in functioning biblically when the church gathers. However, it is one thing to pull apart one system, but what does he construct as a better biblical paradigm for today’s church? He questions: “Why is it that we Christians can follow the same God-forsaken rituals every Sunday without ever noticing that they are at odds with the NT?” (p. 277)
B. Cut & paste Christianity
Viola claims that one of the problems is with proof-texting Scripture based on the order of books, chapters and verses of the NT especially.
God’s people have approached the NT with scissors and glue, cutting-and-pasting isolated, disjointed sentences from different letters. . . This half-baked approach still lives in our seminaries, Bible colleges, churches, Bible studies, and (tragically) our house churches today (p. 284).
Much of the blame is placed by Viola on those who arranged the NT books in their present order and those who divided Bible books into chapters and verses.
In the year 1227, a professor at the University of Paris named Stephen Langton added chapters to all the books of the NT. Then in 1551, a printer named Robert Stephanus numbered the sentences in all of the books of the NT. . . Stephanus did not use any consistent method (pp. 283-284).
This seems a minor issue, but not for Viola.
Seminarians are rarely if ever given a panoramic view of the free-flowing story of the early church with books arranged in their chronological order. If you do not believe me, try this: The next time you meet a seminary student (or graduate) ask him or her to rehearse for you the entire series of events from Paul’s writing of Galatians to his writing of Romans. Ask them to include dates, places, names of important characters, and the events mentioned in Acts (n16, p. 284).
This piece-meal approach to the Bible has had a startling impact on the life and practice of the church as the individual Christian “ignores the fact that most of the NT was written to corporate bodies of people (churches), not to individuals” (p. 286). As a result, today’s Christians
treat the NT like a manual and blind us to its real message. It is no wonder that we can approvingly nod our heads at paid pastors, the Sunday morning order of worship, sermons, church buildings, religious costumes, choirs, worship teams, seminaries, and a passive priesthood – without even wincing (p. 286).
C. The Headship of Christ over the church is the cure.
How do we resolve this impasse? Here is a call for all motivated believers to “a first-century styled church” (p. 289). By this he means
a group of people who know how to experience Jesus Christ and express Him in a meeting without any human officiation. I am talking about a group of people who can function together as a Body when they are left on their own after the church planter leaves them.
The man who plants a first-century styled church leaves that church without a pastor, elders, a music leader, a Bible facilitator, or a Bible teacher. If that church is planted well, those believers will know how to touch the living, breathing Headship of Jesus Christ in a meeting. They will know how to let Him invisibly lead their gatherings. They will bring their own songs, they will write their own songs, they will minister out of what Christ has shown them – with no human leader present (p. 289).
Viola is not an arm-chair theologian in his radical statements. He has “worked with churches that fit this bill” and “after planting a church, church planters should be absent more than they are present” (nn24, 25, p. 288).
D. The house church is part of the solution.
Objections are anticipated through his character, Joe Housechurch, who goes to verses such as Acts 14:23 which says, “And they appointed elders in every church.” Joe wants to appoint elders only weeks after starting a church in his home. However, the historical context of Acts 14 indicates that two church planters, Paul and Barnabas, were sent from the home church in Antioch where “both men had already experienced church life as brothers, not leaders (Barnabas in Jerusalem and Paul in Antioch)” (p. 290).
Acts 14:23 is part of a discussion of two church planters in South Galatia who were now “returning to visit those churches six months to one year after those churches were planted. Paul and Barnabas return to each of the Galatian churches and ‘publicly endorse old men’ in each church” (p. 290).
Yes, it does affirm that Paul and Barnabas appointed elders in every church, but here “every church” means “every church in South Galatia in A.D. 49” (p. 290). The problem we run into is using the cut and paste method of biblical interpretation when “we blithely lift verses from their historical setting” (p. 290).
Viola examines a biblical approach to taking offerings (collecting money) for the Gentile churches which he has planted and shows that this is very different to the contemporary approach to “offerings” in the traditional church (see p. 291).
With the “Great Commission” of Matt. 28:19, he claims that it reads, “Having gone on your way . . .” and “is a prophecy (‘having gone’), not a command (‘Go’).” He uses Kenneth S. Wuest’s exegesis to support this view [Wuest, The New Testament: An Expanded Translation] (Viola, p. 292). See below for an assessment of this view.
Viola believes that:
Those who opt to meet in homes rather than church edifices have cut out two very fat overhead accounts: Salaried pastors and church buildings. Contrast this with the overhead of a house church. Rather than paid staff and building “overhead” siphoning off 50-85% of the house church’s monetary giving, its overhead amounts to a small percent of their budget. A house church can use more than 95% of its shared money for delivering real services like ministry, mission, and outreach to the world (p. 135).
E. A practical solution
To get us back to “a living expression of the Body of Christ, first-century style,” we must get back to the NT that excludes proof-texting. A fresh look at the Scriptures” is necessary as we
learn the whole sweeping drama from beginning to end. We need to learn to view the NT panoramically, not microscopically. . . To learn the story of the early church is to be forever cured of the cut-and-paste, clipboard approach to the NT (pp. 294-295).
Viola’s “final challenge” is a call for believers to abandon the church practices that have no foundation in the Bible and that “thwart God’s ultimate intention for His church” (p. 295).
The challenge to believers, after reading this expose of pagan practices in the church, is to ignore the evidence or
make a clean break with man’s tradition, so as to pursue the fullness of Christ and His church. . . Will you step out of the institutional church which embraces practices that violate the NT or will you “invalidate the Word of God for the sake of your traditions” [Matt. 15:6]? (p. 296)
The historical evidence is that when conscience and tradition collide, “most of God’s people go with tradition. . .What are you going to do?” (p. 296).
1. It would be easy to dismiss Frank Viola as a fringe dweller taking pot shots at the traditional, contemporary church. But these are canons, not toy pistol shots, that ought to be received and examined carefully by all of God’s people – leaders and everyday Christians alike.
We cannot ignore the contents of Viola’s book if we are to maintain biblical integrity. You may disagree with some specifics, and I do, but he is correct in showing how we have dumbed-down God’s people and exalted the CEO pastors and priests – without biblical precedent.
2. When the church gathers today, only a few believers function. They are the ones in leadership of the church service. Most who attend are mute believers who are not encouraged to participate. The function in these gatherings of God’s people is in no way similar to what we see in the NT, especially in I Corinthians, chs. 12-14. The Corinthian church had lots of problems, but at no point did Paul exhort to close down the mutual ministry promoted in these three chapters.
The NT norm was that “when you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction [lit. a teaching], a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (I Cor. 14:26, NIV). The possibility of participation by every believer in the early church “services” has been lost in most of the Body. Viola’s points are extremely valid.
3. We need to examine some of Viola’s specific claims. These include:
Preaching and Mutual ministry
Preaching sometimes involves dialogue and the church gathering is a time of mutual ministry. These are biblical views
. Let’s examine some of the biblical words used in the NT that have a bearing on the type of “preaching” that happened in the early church.
What do we make of Viola’s statement: “Ironically, ‘the Book’ [Bible] knows nothing of a sermon” (p. 87). This is a view that needs to be investigated because a number of Greek verbs (in addition to dialegomai) could indicate something similar to today’s sermon or evangelistic method was practised. Let’s investigate.
The Bible uses dialegomai (I argue), (I teach), (I proclaim), katangello, from angello (I proclaim or I announce), euangelizo or euangelizomai (I preach the gospel). We need to examine these briefly to see if Viola’s case is substantiated.
Viola’s understanding of preaching as interaction is confirmed by a leading Greek authority on the NT, who stated that dialegomai
Means in Mark 9:33 f. and Jude 9 to argue, fight with words; but in Heb. 12:5 it is used of God’s speaking through fatherly discipline. . . The word here [in Acts 17:2, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8 f.; 20:7, 9; 24:12, 25] has become a technical term for Paul’s teaching in the synagogue and approaches the meaning of give an address, preach. . . The RSV rendering “argue” is justified in so far as the audience was permitted to ask questions (Brown, 1978, p. 821).
NT Greek scholar, A. T. Robertson, explained dialegomai in Acts 17:2 as being an old verb meaning
to select, distinguish, then to revolve in the mind, to converse (interchange of ideas), then to teach in the Socratic (‘dialectic’) method of question and answer (c/f. Acts 17:17), then simply to discourse, but always with the idea of intellectual stimulus (1930, p. 267).
Greek exegesis is supportive of Viola’s contention that interaction between speaker and audience (two-way communication) was an important dimension of public presentations in some instances in the Book of Acts. However, much of this was Paul’s pioneer church planting ministry in territory that had not been exposed to the Gospel. Is that different from the regular gathering of the church?
Take Hebrews 10:24-25 as an example: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (ESV). This hardly sounds like one-way conversation, but mutual involvement in ministry – even though the context is not dealing with preaching and teaching specifically.
There seems to be ample biblical evidence for the church gathering to be a place of the Body functioning with mutual ministry and teaching by way of dialogue.
However, there is more. The Greek language is rich in the use of other words to describe proclamation and teaching.
“In the NT didasko occurs 95 times, of which 38 are in the Synoptic Gospels.” There are 15 instances in the Pauline Epistles (Brown, 1978, p. 761).
When Jesus taught (didasko), it was as
a Jewish teacher of the period. It is true that we are not always told concerning the externalities of the teaching of Jesus. This was hardly necessary. . . We do at least have information about what happened in the synagogue at Nazareth (Lk. 4:16ff.). After the reading of the Scripture portion (Is. 61:1f.), which took place standing, Jesus seated Himself like other expositors of the time and based His address on the passage just read (Lk. 4:21 ff.). . . The same practice of sitting to teach is mentioned by Mt. 5:1 at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount by Mk. In 9:35 when Jesus gave instruction to the twelve on the occasion of their quarrelling for supremacy (Kittel, 1964, p. 139).
The teaching of early Christianity followed the external forms of Jewish teaching [see Acts 5:25]. . . Acceptance of the form denotes similarity of content. That is to say, the teaching consisted primarily in exegesis and exhortation rather than factual instruction in the work of salvation. . .
Since one of the marks of didaskein is the constant reference to Scripture, it includes proving from Scripture that Jesus is the promised Messiah. . . In Acts 18:25 it takes place in the synagogue, which naturally determines the method (proof from Scripture). In Acts 28:31, it is mentioned that there is “proclaiming (kerysso) the kingdom of God” (ESV). “Here again one cannot assume that it denotes the impartation of facts; it rather presents these facts in such a way that the only possibility is to accept them or to be betrayed into opposition to Scripture” (Kittel, 1964, pp. 145-146).
In didasko, the Greeks had a word that could infer interaction with people, but “the gift of teaching in the New Testament is the ability to explain Scripture and apply it to people’s lives” (Grudem, 1994, p. 1061). See Acts 15:35 and 18:11, where teaching the word of God was evident (also Heb. 5:12). Rom. 15:4 states that the Old Testament Scriptures were “written for our instruction [i.e. teaching]” (ESV). According to Paul to Timothy, “all Scripture” is “profitable for teaching” (didaskalia) (2 Tim. 3:16).
There is no guarantee that this type of teaching always involved two-way communication. Contrary to Viola, theologian, Wayne Grudem considers that “in the New Testament epistles, ‘teaching’ is something very much like what is described by our phrase ‘Bible teaching’ today” (1994, p. 1062).
Nevertheless, there is practical value in interactive teaching, where Christians are able and encouraged to engage the teacher for clarification and challenge – but ultimately for edification. I’m not convinced that most of today’s evangelical pastors are prepared to be vulnerable to this extent – or are too ready to give answers in interaction with the congregation. Besides, if the church gathering really got going with significant interaction, the service could last for 2-3 hours. That would not be politically correct for today’s underfed, malnourished Christians who can view hours of TV but are not prepared to endure a church service for much more than an hour! Lord help the preacher who teaches for 45 minutes! I know from experience!
Could it be that there is such spiritual anaemia in the pew because there are so many spiritual novices in the pulpit?
In the NT, this verb is “found relatively frequently (61 times)” (Brown, 1978, p. 52). It means to “announce, make known by a herald” (Arndt & Gingrich, 1957, p. 432). This preaching/proclaiming/announcing had content (see Jesus use of the word in Luke 4:18). Examples of the content of announcing included: the Gospel (1 Thess. 2:9; Gal. 2:2; Mark 1:14), the Kingdom (Luke 8:1; Acts 20:25), baptism (Acts 10:37), repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 24:47), the Christ (Acts 8:5; 19:13; 2 Cor. 11:4), Christ’s resurrection (I Cor. 15:12), etc. As a participle, kerysson, it can refer to “a preacher” (the one preaching/announcing) as in Rom. 10:14 (Arndt & Gingrich, 1957, p. 432).
A wide range of verbs was used in the Greek NT to indicate proclamation as a process and event . . . Kerysso is one of a number of formal verbs of telling and communication, which connote a certain means of communication but are not limited as to the content (e.g. didasko, to each; angello, to report, together with its compounds; lego, to say; homologeo, to confess; martyreo, to bear witness, with its compounds; euangelizomai, to preach; gnorizo, to make known; and others) . . . The wide range of words used in the NT indicates that none of the verbs gained a position of clear dominance or was able to become a technical term.
Just how fluid the terminology was [is] seen from the fact that Paul in 1 Thess. 2:2, 9, described his ministry in the same context as lalesai . . . to euangelion, “we proclaimed . . . the gospel”; Similarly, Luke in Luke 4:43 (parallel Mark 1:38) and Luke 9:6 (parallel Mark 6:12) replaces the Marcan kerysso by euangelizo. But in Luke 8:1 he uses both verbs synonymously side by side . . . (Brown, 1978, p. 54).
How does kerysso compare with the other synonyms used for communicating the message of Christ? Colin Brown’s assessment shows the shortfall in Viola’s exclusive emphasis on dialogue in communication:
Both Luke and Paul prefer the verb euangelizo when they want to describe the total activity of proclamation (in the case of Luke, katangello also). But it may also be noted that kerysso is particularly used when the message of the rule of God as it has dawned in Christ, and of his resurrection, is proclaimed in a particular instance by angels (Luke 1:19; 2:10) or men (Luke 3:18; 9:6; Acts 5:42; 8:4 ff.) [Brown, 1978, p. 57].
As in Col. 1:28, this word means “to announce. . . to proclaim far and wide” as also in Acts 13:5 where Paul announced the Word of God in the synagogue (Robertson, 1931, p. 485). The context indicates the nature of this announcing, as it was according to the manner in the synagogue. Acts 17:17 found Paul in Athens, reasoning (dialego) in the synagogue and in the marketplace (the agora). The synagogue provided Paul with an opportunity to engage in conversation with people gathered in the synagogue. That was the nature of interaction in the synagogue.
Generally synagogues were
“Located in houses with the plan and facade of private homes”. . . Only from the third century in Palestine do typical patterns of construction for synagogues become widespread, and at the same time stunning artistic embellishments were widely represented (Chilton & Yamauchi, 2000, p. 1149).
“Just what part a formal sermon played [in the synagogue] is unknown.” However, “the traditional material of the Targum and the involved rabbinic commentaries of the Mikraoth Gedoloth must have originated as running commentaries and organized sermons once delivered in the synagogue.” We can say that the elevation of the clergy in leading liturgical forms of worship in the Christian tradition was not a part of the synagogue service, which “was led by the members of the congregation” (White Jr., 1976, p. 567).
5. Euangelizo / Euangelizomai,
This Greek verb means to “bring or announce good news” (Arndt & Gingrich, 1957, p. 317).
Content and process of preaching are one. They are not separated in thought (Rom. 1:1), apart from when they are set close alongside each other (1 Cor. 9:14, 18). For in the very act of proclamation its content becomes reality, and brings about the salvation which it contains. . . The action of proclamation is denoted not only by the verb euangelizomai (as e.g. in 1 Cor. 1:17), but also by euangelion used as a noun of action (Brown, 1976, p. 111).
6. What can we conclude?
Viola’s statement is that, “ironically, ‘the Book’ [Bible] knows nothing of a sermon” (p. 87, emphasis added)? The evidence from the above group of NT word studies (and it is not complete) related to the proclamation and teaching in the early church, is not as adamant as Viola’s position.
A wide range of verbs was used in the Greek NT to indicate the proclamation and teaching processes and events. There was a fluid use of terms. Therefore, from the exegetical evidence, I am convinced that Viola protesteth too much. There is every indication from this brief examination of some of the verbs used that something similar to the contemporary sermon could have been used. No verb for “preaching” or something similar, gained a clear dominance in the NT.
From a practical perspective, there is much value to be gained from teaching that involves dialogue for clarification and edification. However, such was not the exclusive use in the NT church.
B. My issues with Viola
1. Not for academics
He warns that “this is not a work for scholars” (p. 18) and I agree, based on its style and lack of primary source referencing in places. Why should the author not call scholars to involvement in his conclusions, if he is addressing such serious unbiblical matters that are practised by many within the church today?
A critique by serious Bible teachers (scholars?) is needed to verify Viola’s penetrating claims. If his view can’t stand the heat of solid scholarship, it is too weak and subjective to pursue as a means of radical renewal. He may not consider himself a biblical scholar, but his subject matter has enormous ramifications for scholars with a thorough knowledge of the original languages of the Bible, historical and cultural studies for biblical background, but especially of NT studies. I hope that scholars investigate his many claims about the paganisation of Christianity.
2. Slack exegesis
If he is going to make such negative claims about the contemporary sermon, in comparison with the early church, he should do his word studies and an examination of context for NT teaching and proclamation. Exegetical work should form the foundation for his conclusions about the divergence between NT Christianity and today’s version of the sermon. My word studies above should show the shortsighted nature of his view on teaching and proclamation as exclusively related to dialogue.
3. His view on the gift of teaching
He considers that “teaching is to come from all the believers as well as from those who are specially gifted to teach” (pp. 91-92). He appeals to I Cor. 14:26, 31 to support this claim (n110, p. 92). I consider that a better statement would be, “Teaching can potentially come from all believers, if the Holy Spirit gifts permanently or for the occasion.”
In I Cor. 14:26, the reference is to Spirit-prompted teaching available to “each one.” However, I Cor. 14:31 refers to prophesy, not teaching. Viola overstates his case here by including 14:31. This is disappointing when one sees so many positive dimensions to this prophetic book.
4. The Great Commission: command or prophecy?
Viola’s claim that the Great Commission of Matt. 28: 19 is a prophecy and not a command (p. 292) needs investigation. Verse 19 begins with the Greek, poreuthentes, an aorist, plural participle, from poreuomai (I go). It is true, as Viola states, that this participle is not a command. However, the verb to which it is connected, “make disciples” (matheteusate) is an aorist imperative (command). Therefore, a translation such as “having gone, disciple!” (Lenski, 1943, p. 1172), or “having gone, make disciples” (Hendriksen,1973, p. 999) is possible, but “go” still has the force of a command. D. A. Carson explains:
In the Greek, “go” – like “baptizing” and “teaching” – is a participle. Only the verb “make disciples” is imperative. Some have deduced from this that Jesus’ commission is simply to make disciples “as we go” (i.e. wherever we are) and constitutes no basis for going somewhere special in order to serve as missionaries. . . There is something to this view, but it needs three careful qualifications.
1. When a participle functions as a circumstantial participle dependent on an imperative, it normally gains some imperative force (cf. Matt. 2:8, 13; 9:13; 11:4; 17:27)….
2. While it remains true to say that the main imperatival force rests with “make disciples,” not with “go,” in a context that demands that this ministry extend to “all nations,” it is difficult to believe that “go” has lost all imperatival force.
3. From the perspective of mission strategy, it is important to remember that the Great Commission is preserved in several complementary forms that, taken together, can only be circumvented by considerable exegetical ingenuity (e.g., Luke 24:45-49; John 20:21; Acts 1:8; cf. Matt. 4:19 10:16-20; 13:38; 24:14) [Carson, 1984, p. 595].
Hendriksen (1973, p. 999) agrees: “The participle as well as the verb that follows it can be – in the present case must be – interpreted as having imperative force. ‘Make disciples’ is by itself an imperative. It is a brisk command, an order.”
It is poor exegesis to call on Wuest’s expanded translation of the NT for support, “Having gone on your way . . .” (Viola, n30, p. 292) and announce that the Great Commission is a prophecy and not a command, without exegetical reasons. Wuest’s expanded translation of Matt. 28:19 reads: “Having gone on your way, therefore, teach all the nations, making them your pupils, baptizing them into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (1961, p. 78).
This example in Viola shows imprecise and inadequate exegetical skills in addressing an important piece of Greek grammar. He could accuse me of being one from the traditional school (I am a graduate of a college and a seminary) who is more interested in the cerebral, academic, intellectual learning of the frontal lobe than the relational and the spirit (see Viola, p. 247). This is false. I am committed to “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, ESV) and that means careful exegesis.
C. What do I conclude?
This is a cutting edge expose of traditional evangelical and liberal church practice that ought to be read, assimilated and actioned by all people in the pew as well as church leaders. It is controversial in many parts, has problems with some exegesis of the biblical text, but he is calling the church back to its roots in first-century church function. If this is accepted as a substantive call to a biblical examine of the doctrine of the church (ecclesiology), it could be the beginning of a new Reformation in church function, a Reformation that did not happen for Martin Luther and the Reformer of the 16th century.
If you accept Viola’s analysis (and it has a lot going for it), what’s his advice? “Either leave your church quietly, refusing to cause division, or be at peace with it. There is a vast gulf between rebellion and taking a stand for what is true” (p. 26).
1. Strengths of the book, Pagan Christianity
Here are some quick points of the strengths of this much-needed book:
We have lost the Headship of Christ when the church gathers. Many people today would not have a clue about how to function with Christ as Head of the church when it gathers.
Evangelicals claim that they do things according to the Word of God. They don’t! They have adopted some non-Christian perspectives in their doing of church.
Christ’s Body has lost most of its first-century functions, thanks to the professionalism of the church.
The CEO pastor is totally unbiblical and is a “thief of every-member functioning.” Every-member functioning must return.
The clergy/laity distinction is unbiblical.
The church service today is shamefully boring in too many churches. We need to abandon Sunday ritual.
Some of his complaints about today’s sermons are valid – they foster performance, muted spectators in the pew, and exalt the clergy.
The church as a building is unbiblical. The benefits of the house church are many.
Tithing is biblical, but not Christian, is an accurate assessment!
We have moved from the NT meaning of baptism “as an act of faith and an expression of faith.” The NT emphasis is that baptism was an initial confession of faith and we have substituted that with the sinner’s prayer.
The Lord’s Supper has been changed from its biblical meaning and practice.
Christian education and ministerial training have been wrecked by the academic emphasis.
Christ, the revolutionary, has been tamed to become Christ, the traditional.
Cut-and-paste proof-texting of Scripture must go (Viola practises some of this himself, I believe).
The call back to first-century styled church function in the house is authentic and biblical.
The author’s “outrageous proposal: That the modern institutional church does not have a Biblical nor historical right to exist” (p. 18) has been established in a substantive way.
2. Weaknesses of the book, Pagan Christianity
Suspect exegesis on some points (articulated above) causes me to be suspicious of whether he is doing a cut-and-paste (something which he detests) on the historical material that he associates with the pagan influence on church traditions. Has he found areas of legitimate concern in present church practice (e.g. the silence of everyday believers when the church gathers, the failure to acknowledge the Headship of Christ in the church meeting and the non-biblical CEO pastor) and pressed the point to arrive at his own presuppositional conclusions? This may not be the case. I would have to do more research on the individual areas he has raised, where the church has adopted pagan practices, to conclude if his concerns are authentic or biased towards his predisposed views.
His use of secondary sources is a worry. When quoting early church fathers such as Cyprian, Chrysostom, Ignatius, Augustine and others, why does he resort to quoting from recent authors, rather than quoting directly from the church fathers? Much of the material from the early church fathers is available on the Internet (see ‘Early Church Fathers
‘. I consider it lazy when an author does not refer to primary sources so that I could check him out as to the context of the church fathers’ remarks.
While Viola’s book is not for scholars, its format is deficient in that an index was not provided. An index is needed for everyday Christians who need to refer back to important principles and teachings that the author is confronting.
V. Who is Frank Viola?
The book’s cover states that he “is a high school psychology and philosophy teacher. In his spare time, he plants house churches, speaks at church-life conferences, and authors books on Christ and His church.” Elsewhere, we learn that
Frank Viola left the institutional church at the age of 23. For the next eight years he experienced church life in a first-century styled house church in Tampa, Florida. Following this intense experience, he was sent out by the church to plant first-century styled churches in other areas. Frank presently co-works with Gene Edwards and is involved with five other men in Gene’s 3-year training (“Seedsowers” 2003).
His latest books are: So You Want to Start a House Church and Straight Talk to Elders (Present Testimony Ministry, 2003). Samples from his books, including Pagan Christianity, were found at: http://www.ptmin.org/articles.htm (cited, 12th November 2003).
1a. Distributed in Australia by:
W.A. Buchanan Co.
P.O. Box 469
37 Dalton Street
Kippa Ring, Queensland 4021
On 7 July 2015, the book in a revised edition was co-authored by Frank Viola and researcher, George Barna, and was available at: ‘Beyond Evangelical‘.
2. Viola correctly views exegesis as “an interpretation and explanation of a Biblical text” (n. 52, p. 83). Grudem (1994) agrees: “Exegesis is the process of interpreting a text of Scripture. Consequently, when one studies principles of interpretation, that is ‘hermeneutics, but when one applies those principles and begins actually explaining a biblical text, he or she is going ‘exegesis'” (p. 109).
For a book of approx. 200 pages that teaches the essentials of exegesis, I recommend Gordon Fee (1983, 1993). Fee defines exegesis “in a consciously limited sense” (for his text) as referring
to the historical investigation into the meaning of the biblical text. Exegesis, therefore, answers the question, What did the biblical author mean? It has to do both with what he said (the content itself) and why he said it at any given point (the literary context). Furthermore, exegesis is primarily concerned with intentionality: What did the author intend his original readers to understand? (Fee, 1983, p. 27)
William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich (transl. of Walter Bauer), A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press (limited edition to Zondervan Publishing House), 1957.
Colin Brown (gen. ed.), The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (vol. 2). Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1976.
Colin Brown (gen. ed.), The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (vol. 3). Exeter: The Paternoster Press, 1978.
D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in Frank E. Gaebelein (gen. ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (vol. 8). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House), 1984.
B. Chilton and E. Yamauchi, “Synagogues,” in Craig A. Evans and Stanley E. Porter (eds.), Dictionary of New Testament Background. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2000.
Gordon D. Fee, New Testament Exegesis: A Handbook for Students and Pastors (rev. ed.). Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1983, 1993.
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press/Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994.
William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: The Gospel of Matthew. Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1973.
Gerhard Kittel (ed.), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (vol. 2, transl. & ed., Geoffrey W. Bromiley). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964.
R. C. H. Lenski, Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of St. Matthew’s Gospel. Hendrickson Publishers / Augsburg Publishing House, 1943.
A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (vol. 3, The Acts of the Apostles). Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1930.
A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (vol. 4, The Epistles Paul). Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1931.
Seedsowers, 2003, retrieved from: http://www.seedsowers.com/authors/viola.html (13th Sept. 2003).
W. White, Jr., “Synagogue,” in Merrill C. Tenney (gen. ed.), The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible (vol. 5). Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1976.
Kenneth S. Wuest, The New Testament: An Expanded Translation. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1961.
Copyright © 2007 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 8 October 2015.