Buy the book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/141431485X/ref=cm_rdp_product
I recently reviewed "Pagan Christianity" by Frank Viola and George Barna on Amazon.com.
It really made me think, but it also gave me insight into why I feel the way I do about institutional church. It put into words feelings I've had for a long time that I couldn't find a way to verbalize. Check out my review (below) and buy the book (link above) if you're so inclined. The book is a very interesting read.
As a pastor's kid, a student in denominational Christian schools, and then as a member of a large pastoral staff, I never could put my finger on why certain teachings rubbed me the wrong way. I never could articulate why I didn't fit into the mega-church/church growth mentality. I had no way to express the unrest in my spirit when I heard people say that dressing up showed respect for God. This book did it for me.
"Pagan Christianity" presents the factual history on the origins of certain church traditions. This book was written to be paired with Frank Viola's other book "Reimagining Church", so "PC" deconstructs and "RC" constructs a vision for getting back to the concept of church at its most basic, without all the well-intentioned (but misguided) man-made frou-frou.
In the past, I didn't know how to handle my questions, though, or how to put them in the context of pastoring when the traditional setting was part of my job. I think that's why I always felt unsatisfied or like something was wrong and also why I probably put people off with my lack of "umph" when it came to DOING church and following a particular format.
Many people never even question WHY and they take the word of man and think that we should just do church a certain way because that's the way it's always been done. I think Frank Viola and George Barna would agree that the point of "Pagan Christianity" isn't to make people drop everything and change, but it's to at least make us question WHY we do what we do and to see what actually lines up with what God originally intended for his church. Also, it's about looking at the Scriptures in context and examining where our ideas of church actually come from.
People are afraid of change, especially within the confines (often an appropriate word) of institutional church walls. They're afraid of not having a middle man between them and God, much like Israel's desire for a king. I've done the traditional pastor thing, and I've also participated in things being done a new way. I can honestly say that when GOD is the one leading things in a new direction, it's a smoother transition than if we were to just try to change things ourselves. It's hard for pastors, though, when they rely on the church for their income. It's scary.
Many people deceive themselves into thinking that questioning why we do certain things in church is heresy. Especially in traditional denominations it seems, people have been taught to do certain things in the name of godliness or holiness when, really, Jesus' blood is the only thing that can make someone holy. It becomes all about appearances and impressing man.
I think it's easy to look at where Jesus says, "No one comes to the Father but by me" and know that it's true in your heart. However, when your church leadership is telling you that you should dress a certain way or act a certain way or participate in a certain way, they are presenting people with the idea that they come to God through Jesus, but in the manner that the particular church thinks it should happen. Church tradition for tradition's sake can be just as much a form of bondage as habitual sin. It's easy to believe that God sets me free from sin, but it's hard to believe that God needs to set me free from doing unnecessary and unbiblical acts "in His name".
I highly recommend "Pagan Christianity" for anyone who is ready to think through and to confront their preconceptions and traditions, when it comes to institutional church and how "church" should be done. I felt like it was a well-written, fact-filled feast for my spirit, and it wasn't written in an angry or in-your-face manner. You can tell that the authors are passionate about the information they are presenting. I am actually considering reading it again, even though I finished it only two days ago.