By Dr. Richard Ing
December 30, 2006
In our attempts to return to the pure church that Jesus gave us almost 2,000 years ago, we would do well to investigate the origins of some of the things the body of Christ does today. If we take the position that we will do only what the Bible says and what history tells us about the first century church, most of the things we do would be tossed out the window. On the other hand, we should not be afraid of truth; it will make you free. Keep in mind that the kingdom of God is founded on truth, while the kingdom of darkness is based on lies. Jn. 8:44.
Frank Viola wrote a book entitled Pagan Christianity, from which the following is extracted:
ORDER OF WORSHIP
No matter what denomination you visit for Sunday service, you will find a rigid order of worship with few variations. Most churches feature the following: (a) the Greeting; (b) Prayer or Scripture reading; (c) Song Service; (d) announcements;
(e) Offering; (f) Sermon; (g) one or more of the following Post Sermon Activities - pastoral prayer, altar call, singing, Lord’s Supper, prayer for sick; (h) Closing Announcements; and (I) the Benediction.
All of these are based purely on tradition and not on the New Testament. It comes from the basic roots of Catholic Mass which grew out of ancient Judaism and paganism. Gregory the Great (540-604) created it and it has been the church standard for almost 1,500 years. Martin Luther did not alter it much. Instead, he added on preaching as the mark of worship service and it has stuck until today.
Preaching from a pulpit was promoted by John Calvin (1509-1564) and service was directed from the pulpit. The church has never recovered from this. Calvin and reformer Martin Bucer (1491-1551) both introduced solemnity to the atmosphere. Smiling was not allowed and people would be fined if caught smiling. Having the clergy and choir walk up to the altar in procession while the people sang was also introduced by Calvin. The church became intensely liturgical, heady and ritualistic. It was based on Roman Catholicism.
18th century Methodists introduced long pastoral prayer at the beginning of service. John Wesley (1703-1791) introduced Sunday night services when the incandescent gas was invented.
The American Frontier Revival movement in the 18th and 19th centuries brought a revivalist mentality to services. They preached mainly to convert souls and nothing else. George Whitefield (1714-1770) introduced open-air services and “God loves you and has a beautiful plan for your life.” Emotionalism was important to revival and therefore, music was introduced. Maturing the saints was no longer important. Saving souls was. Therefore, people were not pressed to learn the Bible or grow in the Spirit.
The Frontier Revivalists and Methodists gave birth to the “altar-call.”
D. L. Moody brought us door-to-door witnessing and evangelistic campaigning, along with decision cards, etc.
The Pentecostals introduced more emotional expression of congregational singing, including lifting of hands, dancing, clapping, speaking in tongues and the use of tambourines. But if you remove the emotional features from a Pentecostal church service, you end up with a Baptist liturgy. Pentecostals and Charistmatics follow the same order of worship as evangelicals. Other adjustments are made to allow expressions of the Holy Spirit, such as prophecies, healing, casting out devils and so forth, but the order of service remains the same.
What’s wrong with this picture? First, there is no room for anyone besides the pastor to give an exhortation, share an insight, start or introduce a song, or lead a prayer spontaneously. You are forced to be a muted pewholder! The Holy Spirit cannot move and church growth is almost impossible. Second, Christ cannot express Himself through the members. Third, service becomes boring. Some churches introduce much entertainment to get over the boredom, but it still does not grow the members. Service remains unmovable, unimaginative, uncreative, inflexible, and mindlessly ritualistic.
Finally, the traditional order of service is not biblical; open services and spontaneous meetings are. In such services, there is a great deal of spontaneity, creativity and freshness - a free-yet-orderly functioning of the body of Christ.
Church buildings are so locked into our thinking that when we think of “church” we immediately think of a building. It all started, of course, with Emperor Constantine and the Roman Catholic Church. The early church never met in church buildings and met only in houses. Of the over 20,000 documents written in the first 300 years of the church, not one mentions a church building, although many mention churches in houses.
Judaism and paganism, of course, featured huge temple buildings. These soon became cathedrals with ornate architecture and works of art. Most of the early buildings were based on Roman basilicas with altars, pulpits, pews and balconies. Today, we spend billions every year building and maintaining huge church buildings, while very little in comparison is spent on saving souls.
THE PASTOR AND ELITE PRIESTHOOD
Today, the pastor is the dominating force in the church. Remove him and the church collapses. the only verse in the New Testament that contains the word “pastor” is in Ephesians 4:11. But the word “pastor” means “shepherd.” It does not envision a pastoral office, but one of the functions in the church.
Like in the days of Samuel, the prophet, mankind wanted a physical person to guide him and bring him to God. In Samuel’s day, the people wanted a king to lead them. In Moses’ day, the people wanted someone between God and them to mediate for them. Around 100 A.D., people began to rise above others and were appointed to lead. Soon, the people chose one person to be leader above all. In the end, that one person became the pastor in the local church. He was thought to have a special calling and talents and to be appointed by God to lead the local church. This was not true with the early church. This idea was passed down through the centuries.
So what’s the problem? First, it has made all those who are not pastors, second and third-class Christians with the idea that only the privileged can serve God. It has stopped your mouth and strapped you to a chair. You are now a mute spectator relegated to taking notes and putting money in the plate. The pastor and music ministry now entertain the saints and they have very little to do but sing a few songs. The Bible says that every believer is a priest
The net result is that Christians now look to the pastor to solve their problems and not directly to God.
The other bad result is that the pastor destroys himself. Being a pastor is one of the toughest and unappreciated jobs in the world. Many are victims of burnout and low self-esteem, unable to meet all the demands of the job, overstressed, underpaid, unappreciated, overworked, discouraged and without close friends. A very low percentage that start off as pastors ever retire as pastors.