“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?