The Calf Path¹

Following on from yesterday’s blog posting “Have We Really Been Doing It by The Book?” this post will conclude chapter one of Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) which will hopefully challenge your understanding of “church” and you will prayerfully seek God on this matter. The reason I have quoted substantially from the aforementioned work is to “salt your oats to give you a real thirst for more.” After this, if need be, you’ll have to order the book to complete your further study . . .

A TERRIFYING INVITATION

We now invite you to walk with us on an untrodden path. It is a terrifying journey where you will be forced to ask questions that probably have never entered your conscious thoughts. Tough questions. Nagging questions. Even frightening questions. And you will be faced squarely with the disturbing answers. Yet those answers will lead you face-to-face with some of the richest truths a Christian can discover.

As you read through the following pages, you may be surprised to discover that a great deal of what we Christians do for Sunday morning church did not come from Jesus Christ, the apostles, or the Scriptures. Nor did it come from Judaism. After the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, Judaic Christianity waned in numbers and power. Gentile Christianity dominated, and the new faith began to absorb Greco-Roman philosophy and ritual. Judaic Christianity survived for five centuries in the little group of Syriac Christians called Ebionim, but their influence was not very widespread. According to Shirley J. Case, “Not only was the social environment of the Christian movement largely Gentile well before the end of the first century, but it had severed almost any earlier bonds of social contact with the Jewish Christians of Palestine . . . . By the year 100, Christianity is mainly a Gentile religious movement . . . living together in a common Gentile social environment.”⁶

Strikingly, much of what we do for “church” was lifted directly out of pagan culture in the postapostolic period. (Legend tells us the last surviving apostle, John, died around AD 100.) According to Paul F. Bradshaw, fourth-century Christianity “absorbed and Christianized pagan religious ideas and practices, seeing itself as the fulfilment to which earlier religions had dimly pointed.”⁷ While today we often use the word pagan to describe those who claim no religion whatsoever, to the early Christians, pagans were those polytheists who followed the gods of the Roman Empire. Paganism dominated the Roman Empire until the fourth century, and many of its elements were absorbed by Christians in the first half of the first millennium, particularly during the Constantinian and early post-Constantinian eras (324 to 600).⁸ Two other significant periods from which many of our current church practices originate were the Reformation era (sixteenth century) and the Revivalist era (eighteenth and nineteenth centuries).

Chapters 2 through 10 each trace an accepted traditional church practice. Each chapter tells the story of where this practice came from. But more importantly, it explains how this practice stifles the practical headship of Jesus Christ and hampers the functioning of His body.

Warning: If you are unwilling to have your Christianity seriously examined, do not read beyond this page. Give this book to Goodwill immediately! Spare yourself the trouble of having your Christian life turned upside down.

However, if you choose to “take the red pill” and be shown “how deep the rabbit hole goes”⁹ … if you want to learn the true story of where your Christian practices came from … if you are willing to have the curtain pulled back on the contemporary church and its traditional presuppositions fiercely challenged . . . then you will find this work to be disturbing, enlightening, and possibly life changing.

Put another way, if you are a Christian in the institutional church who takes the New Testament seriously, what you are about to read may lead to a crisis of conscience. For you will be confronted by unmovable historical fact.

On the other hand, if you happen to be one of those who gather with other Christians outside the pale of institutional Christianity, you will discover afresh that not only is Scripture on your side – but history stands with you as well.

The Calf Path

One day, through the primeval wood,

A calf walked home, as good calves should;

But made a trail all bent askew,

A crooked trail as all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled,

And, I infer, the calf is dead.

But still he left behind his trail,

And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day

By a lone dog that passed that way;

And then a wise bell-wether sheep

Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,

And drew the flock behind him, too,

As good bell-wethers always do.

And from that day, o’er hill and glade,

Through those old woods a path was made.

And many men wound in and out,

And dodged, and turned, and bent about

And uttered words of righteous wrath

Because ‘twas such a crooked path.¹

But still they followed – do not laugh –

The first migrations of that calf,

And through this winding wood-way stalked,

Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,

That bent, and turned, and turned again;

This crooked lane became a road,

Where many a poor horse with his load

Toiled on beneath the burning sun,

And travelled some three miles in one.

And thus a century and a half

They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet,

The road became a village street;

And this, before men were aware,

A city’s crowded thoroughfare;

And soon the central street was this

Of a renowned metropolis;

And men two centuries and a half

Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout

Followed the zigzag calf about;

And o’er his crooked journey went

The traffic of a continent.

A hundred thousand men were led

But one calf near three centuries dead.

They followed still his crooked way,

And lost one hundred years a day;

For thus such reverence is lent

To well-established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach,

Were I ordained and called to preach;

For men are prone to go it blind

Along the calf-paths of the mind.

And work away from sun to sun

To do what other men have done.

They follow in the beaten track,

And out and in, and forth and back,

And still their devious course pursue,

To keep the path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred groove,

Along which all their lives they move.

But how the wise old wood-gods laugh,

Who saw the first primeval calf!

Ah! Many things this tale might teach –

But I am not ordained to preach.

–SAM WALTER FOSS

_______________________

Footnotes:-

¹ In this book, we sometimes refer to “the crooked path” that led the institutional church to its current form. This poem, written more that a century ago, served as the inspiration for the metaphor.

⁶ Will Durant, Caesar and Christ (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1950, 577. See also Shirley J. Case, The Social Origins of Christianity (New York: Cooper Square Publications, 1975), 27-28. E. Glenn Hinson adds, “From the late first century on through, Gentiles came to outnumber Jews in the Christian assembly. They imported in subtle ways some of the ideas, attitudes, and customs of Greek and Roman culture” (“Worshiping Like Pagans?” Christian History 12, no. 1 [1993]: 17).

⁷ Paul F. Bradshaw, The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 65; Durant, Caesar and Christ, 575, 599-600, 610-619, 650-651, 671-672.

⁸ The term pagan was used by the early Christian apologists to group non-Christians into a convenient package. At its root, a “pagan” is a country dweller, an inhabitant of the pagus or rural district. Because Christianity primarily spread in the cities, the country bumpkins, or pagans, were regarded as those who believed in the old gods. See Joan E. Taylor, Christians and the Holy Places: The Myth of Jewish-Christian Origins (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993), 301.

⁹ The idea of the red pill comes from the thought-provoking hit movie The Matrix. In the film, Morpheus gives Neo the choice between living in a deceptive dreamworld or understanding reality. His words are applicable to the subject at hand: “After this, there’s no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill … and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” We hope that all of God’s people would dare to take the red pill!

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