Monday, April 07, 2014

Reimagining Church by Frank Viola

Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity, Frank Viola. Colorado Springs: Cook, David C., 2012. e-book, 251 pps.

     Frank Viola is a well-known name among those within the house church movement [H.C.M.]. In the preface of Reimagining Church, he says that he left the institutional church [I.C.] in 1988. He refers to:
          "...the tyranny of the status quo...[and] oppressive 
           leadership that Jesus Christ can be made                  central and supreme in His church again." (p. 9)

     Reimagining Church is composed of two parts, fifteen chapters, an appendix, an extensive bibliography, notes, and a bio. At the end of each chapter under the heading of "Questions That Must Be Faced" are several questions which the reader may choose to answer. The problem with the questions is that the answers seem to me to be self-evident. In other words, the reader is led to accept the premise of the chapter just read or asked to share on experiences which back-up the suppositions of the chapter. Leading phrases such as "Do we really have a spiritual and biblical...?" and "Does it bother you that...?" and "Are we not obligated by Scripture to...?" are hardly examples of open-ended questions. I found the questions to be annoying.

     Viola readily admits that there are problems within home churches. He states that the early Christians also had problems within their home churches. He says all of the home churches in one community were known by the name of the town. He offers countless bible verses and Greek words to back up his theorems.

     I have not read Viola's other books which may include more history behind the home church movement. Criticisms of the H.C.M. on the Internet link it or parts of it to the Third Wave, Toronto Airport Revival, dominionism, and the gospel of accommodation.

sapphoq reviews says: One of the criticisms frequently found on the web is the idea that some percentage of folks in the H.C.M. are somehow antagonistic or against discipline and correction because the roles of pastors, elders, and deacons are changed or rotating or absent. In the preface, Frank Viola references:

          "...the tyranny of the status quo...[and] oppressive 
           leadership that Jesus Christ can be made                  central and supreme in His church again." (p. 9)

     Yes I know I quoted the same passage early on in my review but it did stand out to me.

     As an atheist with a pagan "soul," I have not attended any H.C.M. nor am I likely to. At first Reimagining Church was attractive to me precisely because of the claim of doing church in the manner of the early christians. Then my rational thinking kicked in.

     I have had the misfortune of stumbling upon several "pagan circles" which purported not to have any set "leader." They were appealing to the public precisely because they accommodated anyone's beliefs-- no matter how whacked out those beliefs might be. You believe that you channel aliens? No problem. Want to show up drunk and then puke on the carpet in the middle of the place? Hey, welcome. And the utmost "pagan sin" of mixing gods and goddesses from a variety of pantheons along with the same silly chant "Come to us. Come to us. Come to us." was mind-numbing but soothing in its rhythms. 

     It's nice (I guess) that Frank Viola offers seminars and instruction to folks who want to do the home church/organic christianity thing. He claims that people are not ready or don't know how to make the idea work if they are not trained. I wasn't impressed.

     The thing is that in any group, natural leaders will emerge when leaders [or pastors etc.] are not appointed. I found the idea that there are no authorities in the H.C.M. to be unbelievable. While there is certainly evidence that cults or cult-like or controlling situations can evolve out of I.C.s, I maintain that the personal mysticism that H.C.M.s foster [even if "based" upon the New Testament, or justified by verses cherry-picked from the N.T.] is fertile ground for a gospel of accommodation and worse. The movement is perhaps too much in its infancy to tell what will come of it in the long-term. Yet to me, the indicators are there. Isolated bodies of people, particularly those who are perceived of as Other, tend to actions which can be detrimental to the whole of society. Here I am thinking of various christian sects involved with communal living. There is a certain risk involved with being pioneers. Frank Viola claims that heresies are quickly routed out of home churches. I am not quite certain that it is that easy. Feelings are not facts. Relying on feelings alone-- even claims of "feeling" the movement of the Holy Spirit-- is dangerous. Anyone who claims special knowledge is suspect to my way of thinking. And this is true of folks in home church movements as well as "New Age" white lighters. [I am not a fan of the New Agers but that is subject for another blog post some other time perhaps].

     Isolated reports that Starhawk [a witch who founded Reclaiming] is involved with one such home church group which has become ecumenical ought to be disturbing to any christian. In an "institutional" church, there is usually a check and balance system in place. Excesses are [usually] avoided. Pastors and others who stray off the christian path can be counseled on their error and brought back into the fold. The Bakkers and Jimmy Swaggert come to my brain here along with Ted Haggert. [Ted Haggert now subscribes to the third wave].

     I ended up not liking Reimagining Church. Although the writing was competent, I cannot recommend this book. Those who are curious about the H.C.M. who can get through the quotes of rather [I found to be] stuffy theologian-types may enjoy this book. I didn't, for reasons that had very little to do with my atheism. Not really recommended.

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