Not good enough.
As a leader in a house church planting ministry, I so wanted to like this book! Frank Viola has been writing in favor of a more organic understanding of church life for years. Observers have often pointed out similarities between his books and some of mine. I see the overlap as well, along with some differences, which should be clear from my most recent book, Organic Disciplemaking. [The need for, and nature of disciplemaking was one area of solid agreement!] Readers like me who share the authors’ desire for an organic, New Testament-style church will experience real excitement while reading some parts of this courageous critique of the modern institutional church. But I’m afraid the work is seriously flawed.
We’ve all seen steer wrestling at rodeos. The cowboy seized the horns of the steer and twists his head, eventually forcing the hapless animal in a direction he never wanted to go. Some interpreters steer-wrestle the Bible and history to fit pre-conceived views of the church. I’m not denying that many, and maybe most of their claims are true. But mixing in exaggeration and selectivity can seriously distort the picture.
I am on their side of the river, and I’m recommending this book, even though I think they over-reached on a number of their points and weakened their case as a result. They show how the concept of church buildings as holy places originated and drew most of its content from pagan influences. They focus on the major formalism added at the time of Constantine, but in fact, church buildings were around, and were viewed as holy houses of God well before Constantine. He did greatly expand the acceptance and the number of “churches” throughout the empire. They then over-reach to the extreme of implying that using buildings at all is pagan and alien to the New Testament.
Their suggestion that the church could just rent or borrow a building like the schoolroom of Tyrannus or Solomon’s portico for "special occasions" doesn’t match New Testament precedent. Paul didn’t rent the schoolroom for a special occasion, but as a base of ministry that he carried on “daily.” (Acts 19:9) Solomon’s portico was in regular use also. Acts 2:46 says, "Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart."
Why should we conclude that large venues like this were for special occasions only, when they appear in the same sentence with things like breaking bread and house church meeting? Outdoor venues like that work well for warm-climates like Jerusalem. It wouldn’t work so well where I live in Ohio.
The point is that the poisonous part—viewing buildings as the “house of God” and auditoriums as “sanctuaries” (which means “holy places”)—should be decried without discrediting the whole argument by exaggerating. The authors think any ownership or regular use of buildings is bad, and steer-wrestle the scriptures to suit their preconceived view.