Church Clutter


When Christianity was born, it was the only religion on the planet that had no sacred objects, no sacred persons, and no sacred spaces. Although surrounded by Jewish synagogues and pagan temples, the early Christians were the only religious people on earth who did not erect sacred buildings for their worship. The Christian faith was born in homes, out in courtyards, and along roadsides. 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.” (pg. 14, Pagan Christianity?)

So I have moved into Chapter 2 of Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. You can read my prior thoughts on the book here. In Chapter 2, Constantine, previously thought of as the first Christian empire (or so was taught to me), is really another pagan soul who worshipped other gods and himself. He introduced many Catholic traditions and made Christianity popular as he created the non-profit for church buildings. Many of these church buildings were built over sacred sites that Christians once met at for communion.

Did you know that Communion used to be full meals? My friend who knows Amish country well, once told me that some Mennonite or Amish churches usually do coffee and sweet rolls for communion. I laughed at the time, but after reading this chapter I understand why. The early Christianity that conquered the Roman Empire also acted like a family unit.

When you attend a family party, are you ignored? In normal family situations, the answer would be ‘no.’ The moment you walk in, your mother embraces you. Your cousins and siblings immediately come to you to share their secrets and joy. Meals are shared together with everyone helping. In the Bible, the church is illustrated as not a building, but a body (1 Corinthians 12).

Barna and Viola also dispel the myth that the reason early Christians didn’t have church buildings were due to the political climate. They said on page 14-16, “Some have argued that this was because the Christians were not permitted to erect church buildings. But that is not true. Meeting in homes was a conscious choice of the early Christians.”

It’s interesting to note how far we have come from a Christian family. It’s easy to walk into a large church and leave without knowing a single name or breaking our cliques to greet another brother and sister in Christ. I have been speaking to a pastor in India by email and he greets me in the same way the the Apostle Paul spoke to the New Testament church. It feels like the walls disintegrate when we reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ. But let me make my thoughts clear here. I am not against church buildings no matter how ornate.

Barna and Viola simply outline how far we have come from New Testament Christianity and how much of our traditions were born from paganism. They also make the point early in the book that while some traditions can be used because of cultural ties, some probably should go away. In many aspects, I agree with having a church building because it’s practical. Barna and Viola go into detail about how some Christians in the Roman Empire converted their homes by taking out a wall to accommodate up to 70 people so people could meet in homes. In America, due to zoning laws and just being practical, it’s good to have church buildings.

It’s a central place to meet and fellowship together as believers, like going to Aunt Edna’s house as a family to meet together; in the same way, we need to de-clutter our Christian life to come together and meet regularly. We need to remember early Christianity’s roots when meeting, break our habits of forming cliques, and greet our brothers and sisters in Christ, pray with them, serve them, and not expect others to serve us. Like I said earlier in my blog, if a cousin came to our family party our habit is to greet her with an embrace or a smile, and ask her about her week. If a grandmother lost a friend, a family would come together and grieve with her over her friend. That’s church.

I have always treated church like a second family, filled with quirky personalities, people with strong opinions, and sometimes there are some family members that just don’t get along. We’re saved as a church family by the blood of Jesus Christ, and that grace must be extended to each other if we are to get along.

Families as you know can get complicated. Barna and Viola explain in Chapter 2 how complicated Constantine made Christianity by adding unnecessary pagan rituals and not just a church building. It’s a real history lesson how religious clutter can keep the laity from participating in the worship of Christ. Chapter 2 goes in-depth into Constantine’s introduction of pagan traditions into the church like relic collecting, stages, thrones for the clergy and elders, etc. It’s easy  to forget that knowing Christ is about a relationship and we should participate in that relationship by talking to Him, reading the Word, and being His hands and feet.

What are you doing to treat your church like a second family?


16 thoughts on “Church Clutter”

  1. I am going to buy this book! It sounds fascinating. I currently attend a very large church and there is always someone at the door to meet you and shake your hand when you arrive and when you depart. I really like the feeling I get when I attend church. Now, there are drawbacks to attending a large church, as you have to make an effort to become involved in the programs and book studies. I grew up in OKC and attended a tiny church, which meant I was involved in everything because they needed me. I think this is what the big churches are missing or the members are missing–being needed.


      1. Nicole,
        I honestly think that you would have to divide the church into a certain number of people per pastor, like classrooms in a school. I think that church services would be more like Sunday School class where you could talk and discuss the Bible. In fact, my church offers a service on TV(live) from the sanctuary, in another part of the church, for folks that want a small church experience. It’s pretty interesting, but the TV situation is just not for me. Now, getting a pastor in that room to deliver the Sunday Message would be a whole other ball game!


      2. Our church tried that video thing and it didn’t work either. People prefer the live person. I think like Lisa in another comment mentioned Fellowship Groups or small groups. That helps, but not on Sunday morning. I also think it takes each one of us to reach out.


  2. There’s nothing like the church where your baby was born while you were grad students and they all helped so much. That was family! It didn’t hurt that I attended Tuesday Bible study, Thursday night crafts, and taught the toddlers (with picture books) when mine was in the class.

    Now my church is a church plant, so yes, it is much like a small family outreach. On Sunday evenings we have a vespers service in our home (singing, scripture reading, no sermon, no communion) and then open house dinner together. That’s been going for a little over a year now. That does sound like what you describe here.

    I am very interested in the book, from what you’ve written.


    1. It’s a good book so far. A very good friend let me borrow it. Being a Christian since 2002, I still have much to learn myself. My church family is invaluable in that.


  3. Actually it is the Moravians who use tubas,trombones,and trumpets as their call to worship (literally, outside the church). They would have what we called sticky buns and coffee for communion. Very welcoming. Very homey. Very loving. My husband’s Grandmim was Moravian.


  4. Excellent points. When my family was looking for a church, we visited one where we got no sense of community at all. In contrast, when we walked into the church that we would choose, we were greeted warmly. People really talked to us! We came back, again and again, because we felt so welcome.

    Like you, I see our congregation as a second family. I’m not naturally an extrovert, but with these people I’m comfortable.


  5. I have been hearing so much about this book lately. Cool to find you reading and writing about it. It’s definitely on my to-read list.

    My notion of church has been changing so much this past year. Although I have a “church home” where I attend on Sunday mornings–and I love it!–it’s not really my “church family.” That is the small group I meet with on Wednesday afternoons or the sisters I have lunch with at Casa Blanca or my friends I see every few months. I’m still working through it all in my heart, but church is definitely much more than where our bodies sit on a Sunday morning.

    I look forward to hearing more of your thoughts from this book! Thanks, Nikki.


    1. Small group is excellent. I think that’s why small groups have leaped in popularity. It goes back to what I am reading on Early Christianity. When we talk about reaching the orphans and widows, the only way is through befriending them in churches, unless you are able to reach out in the grocery store, on a walk, or in your neighborhood. The church is an excellent way to reach out to them. Single people who come alone to church and have no connections in the area can feel safe at church (or should).


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