Saturday, March 1, 2008

Pagan Christianity? by Viola and Barna Part 4

Read Part 1
Read Part 2
Read Part 3

Why critique a book in detail chapter by chapter? On the Amazon reviews for this book and on Frank's website, critics are frequently charged with not having read the book. At other times, defenders have complained that critics have failed to argue with the content or points in the book but just dismissed in a general way. Well I did read it, and my problems are with specific positions taken.

Today we start with the chapter, “The Pastor: Obstacle to every member functioning.” This is the most accurate chapter in the book. Traditional church people will have a hard time facing the truth here, but Viola and Barna have correctly traced the development of the monarchical of leadership that has ted church history and still controls the church today, in spite of the reformation.

The shift away from corporate leadership to single leaders, the separation of the idea of bishops from the idea of elders, these are changes that began very early in the church. The concentration of power into a hierarchical structure, along with the idea that only these were capable of interpreting scripture, later supplemented with the idea that only they could offer the sacraments; these added up to a complete disenfranchisement of normal Christians from meaningful ministry.

Tithing and clergy salaries: Their section on how tithing is strictly an Old Testament approach to giving is excellent. Unfortunately, again they feel the need to over-reach. They claim, “Elders (shepherds) in the New Testament were not salaried. They were men with an earthly vocation. They gave to the flock rather than taking from it…. Giving a salary to pastors elevates them above the rest of God’s people.” (180)

Certainly, there were unpaid elders in the New Testament, but these statements are exaggerated, unsupported, and wrong. The authors correctly point out that Paul sometimes worked as a tent-maker and paid his own expenses, but they imply that he always operated that way. They ignore the cases when he received financial support (Acts. 18:5 compare Phil. 4:15). They ignore that Paul and Jesus taught that the laborer is worthy of his hire, referring to Christian workers being supported by the church. They steer-wrestle the passage where Paul told Timothy that elders who work hard at preaching and teaching should be paid generously. (1Tim. 5:17, 18) In a question at the end of the chapter, they try to respond to this passage with a literalistic interpretation of "double honor," saying it means these elders should get more respect. This ignores the context and how Paul uses the notion of not muzzling the ox while he is threshing. (vs. 18) They fail to deal with Gal. 6:6 in context: "Let him who is taught share all good things with him who teaches." According to the authors, only itinerant workers could be supported financially. In fact, the early church did pay elders who taught a lot, although not all elders.

Their theology of church finance is flawed. They think anyone who lets the church support them is "taking from the church" instead of giving to the church. By this logic, anyone who lets others in the church bless them (with, for instance, counseling, teaching, encouragement) is a taker instead of a giver. In fact, we are to serve and give and to let others serve us. They think paying someone elevates them above the others in the church--a view that, if true would remove any basis for paying anyone ever. My objection to these views is not that they are not held by any mainstream church group or theologians (although that is true). The problem is that they are not taught in scripture. When Paul says "the laborer is worthy of his wages," referring to elders, he is quoting Jesus. This is the New Testament teaching.

I should point out that my understanding of church finance was developed and on record long before I ever received a dollar from the church. Our church was approaching a thousand people in twenty five home churches before we ever put anyone on staff. So, I'm not speaking from a self-serving or biased perspective. When my partner and I gave up our business and went to work for the church I wept because I had wanted to pay my own way. But the church didn't agree and scripture speaks directly to this issue. This claim that elders were never paid in the New Testament church is completely novel and simply doesn't square with the text of the New Testament.


Smooth Jazz said...

Hey, who's censoring comments on this site? I know I left two comments here earlier & they were not only insightful but powerful...yet they disappeared? Is this Castro's Cuba?

Dennis said...

Not me. I haven't seen any comments show up before this. Did you do the letter recognition thing?

Dennis said...

Are you sure it wasn't on the previous post? I see a comment from you there. Check part 3.

Smooth Jazz said...

Ooopsy. Yeah, you're right. There it was all along! My apologies.

Anonymous said...

George and Frank just did an audio audio interview on the book at

For questions or comments, contact me at or Frank at

Jeanette M.