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!

Have We Really Been Doing It By The Book?

Recently the teachings that have been coming my way – which our Lord Jesus Christ has been having me examine, is the way I do things in my life which is not always the way the Father has intended I do them. There is a correction that is being brought with discipline. What I am about to share what I believe God is showing me should also be taken before the Father in prayer by the Body of Christ. Much is being said about the Great Commission and evangelising in these end times, but what we are also commissioned by God to do is make disciples of all nations (see Matthew 28:18-20). The preaching of the Word teaches, but what happens to those who are convicted by the Holy Spirit of sin, of righteousness and of judgment to come and show repentance unto God and make a commitment to follow Christ? (See Galatians 3:24; Romans 10:13-15). Do we just pray for those witnessed by us and leave all to the Holy Spirit? Yes, this is what we should do, but we are also the temple of the Living God that is to do the will of the Father as He directs us and that would be for us to lead the new converts into the presence of God as we meet as His church. Through the gifts God gives to us we are to be His vessel to have our Lord Jesus Christ as the Head of His church to disciple the new converts and that we, too, are to be discipled by Him. We use the gifts to edify the Church and not for our own selfish-ambition.

Some time ago I made reference to this subject and referred the viewers of this blog to a book titled Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. As will be noted from the title, there is much that we do in the name of Christendom that does not find any authority in the Bible and is brought in from pagan practices. There is also much that we do and have in the institutional denominated local church that was never practiced in the first century church and if the believers of 30-100AD could be exposed to what is now masquerading as church they would reject it outright as foreign to the way it was done back then. We need to seek God on the way He wants things done and not how we perceive things aught to be done, because we “think” we have greater revelation from God than the next person when in fact we might never have received any revelation from God to start with. If what is written here and shared over the following days has anything of my flesh attached to it I pray and ask God Almighty that it all falls to the ground and is burned up, and if it is from the Father that He will bring it to pass and speak to His people.

If we are to be apart of the discipleship by our Teacher Jesus Christ in the process of having sinners transformed, which includes us, then we must be sure that there is harmony, being in one accord, with the teachings of Scripture and also how we are to meet as the Body of Christ – His Bride. There cannot be division in what one brother would explain how we are to meet, to someone else’s interpretation. That would bring about confusion and a schism within the believers. The reasons there are many denominations and ways of doing church is, because man has put his filthy hands upon another’s wife – the Bride of Christ. This is an adulterous and apostate generation that needs to awaken to God’s mandate, His Mission which His Church is evangelising the lost as His Son Jesus Christ did and by making disciples of sinners. Have you ever given thought that our Lord Jesus Christ started calling His disciples in John 1:35 and discipled His twelve, who were once unbelievers, who questioned Him and learned of Him over a period of three and a half years until they received the Holy Spirit when Jesus breathed on them after His resurrection in John 20:22. During this time in John 6:66 it reads about many other followers that followed Him no more: From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him.

We are to be making disciples of all nations, and that includes our neighbours, work colleagues and strangers we encounter everyday. To disciple is to lead them into discipline – to follow God’s ways, to receive the righteousness of Christ. Many disciples will start off before they are born again (John 3:3). To disciple them we need our Teacher to lead them and teach them, not that they be our disciples, but disciples and followers of the One true God Jesus Christ. To be the church – the ekklesia – is a lifestyle of a Christian community and not an occasion when one goes to a building.

In closing this posting, here is a scenario ‘sketched’ in chapter one of Pagan Christianity? of what takes place on Sundays. Does this ring true with you? We do need to examine all things.

— ooo —

HAVE WE REALLY BEEN DOING IT BY THE BOOK?

“The unexamined life is not worth living.” – Socrates

“WE DO EVERYTHING by the word of God! The New Testament is our guide for faith and practice! We live . . . and we die . . . by this Book!”

These were the words that thundered forth from the mouth of Pastor Farley as he delivered his Sunday morning sermon. Winchester Spudchecker, a member of Pastor Farley’s church, had heard them dozens of times before. But this time it was different. Dressed in his blue suit, frozen in the back pew with his wife, Trudy, Winchester stared at the ceiling as Pastor Farley continued talking about “doing everything by the sacred Book.”

One hour before Pastor Farley began his sermon, Winchester had had a fuming fight with Trudy. This was a common occurrence as Winchester, Trudy, and their three daughters, Felicia, Gertrude, and Zanobia, got ready for church on Sunday morning.

His mind began replaying the event . . . .

“Truuudyy! Why aren’t the kids ready? We’re always late! Why can’t you ever get them prepared on time?” Winchester yelled as he anxiously glanced at the clock.

Trudy’s response was typical. “If you ever thought to help me this wouldn’t happen all the time! Why don’t you start giving me a hand in this house?” The argument went back and forth until Winchester turned on the children: “Zanobia Spudchecker! . . . Why can’t you respect us enough to get ready on time? . . . Felicia, how many times do I have to tell you to turn off your PlayStation before 9 a.m.?” Hearing the commotion, Gertrude burst into tears.

Wearing their Sunday best, the Spudchecker family finally drove to church at breakneck speed. (Winchester hated to be late and had received three speeding tickets this past year – all given to him on Sunday mornings!)

As they raced to the church building, the silence in the car was deafening. Winchester was steaming. Trudy was sulking. With heads down, the three Spudchecker daughters were trying to prepare their minds for something they hated . . . another long hour of Sunday school!

As they pulled in to the church parking lot, Winchester and Trudy gracefully exited the car, sporting large smiles. They held each other arm in arm and greeted their fellow church members, chuckling and putting on the pretence that all was well. Felicia, Gertrude, and Zanobia followed their parents with chins pointed upward.

These were the fresh yet painful memories that coursed through Winchester’s mind that Sunday morning as Pastor Farley continued his sermon. Brooding in self-condemnation, Winchester began to ask himself some searching questions: Why am I dressed up prim and proper looking like a good Christian when I acted like a heathen just an hour ago? . . . I wonder how many other families had this same pitiful experience this morning? Yet we’re all smelling nice and looking pretty for God.

Winchester was a bit shocked by these thoughts. Such questions had never before entered his consciousness.

As he peeked over to see Pastor Farley’s wife and children, sitting prim and proper on the front pew, Winchester mused to himself: I wonder if Pastor Farley screamed at his wife and kids this morning? Hmmm . . .

Winchester’s mind continued to race in this direction as he watched Pastor Farley pound the pulpit for emphasis and raise his Bible with his right hand. “We at First Bible New Testament Community Church do everything by this Book! Everything! This is the Word of God, and we cannot stray from it . . . not even one millimeter!”

Suddenly Winchester had another new thought: I don’t remember reading anywhere in the Bible that Christians are supposed to dress up to go to church. Is that by the Book?

This single thought unleashed a torrent of other barbed questions. As scores of frozen pew sitters filled his horizon, Winchester continued to ponder similar new questions. Questions that no Christian is supposed to ask. Questions like:

Is sitting in this uncushioned pew, staring at the back of twelve rows of heads for forty-five minutes, doing things by the Book? Why do we spend so much money to maintain this building when we’re here only twice a week for a few hours? Why is half the congregation barely awake when Pastor Farley preaches? Why do my kids hate Sunday school? Why do we go through this same predictable, yawn-inspiring ritual every Sunday morning? Why am I going to church when it bores me to tears and does nothing for me spiritually? Why do I wear this uncomfortable necktie every Sunday morning when all it seems to do is cut off blood circulating to my brain?

Winchester felt unclean and sacrilegious to ask such things. Yet something was happening inside of him that compelled him to doubt his entire church experience. These thoughts had been lying dormant in Winchester’s subconscious for years. Today, they surfaced.

Interestingly, the questions Winchester had that day are questions that never enter the conscious thinking of most Christians. Yet the sober reality is that Winchester’s eyes had been opened.

As startling as it may sound, almost everything that is done in our contemporary churches has no basis in the Bible. As pastors preach from their pulpits about being “biblical” and following the “pure Word of God,” their words betray them. The truth is that precious little that is observed today in contemporary Christianity maps to anything found in the New Testament church.

QUESTIONS WE NEVER THINK TO ASK

Socrates (470-399 BC) is considered by some historians to be the father of philosophy. Born and raised in Athens, his custom was to go about the town relentlessly raising questions and analysing the popular views of his day. Socrates believed that truth is found by dialoguing extensively about an issue and relentlessly questioning it. This method is known as dialectics or “the Socratic method.” He thought freely on matters that his fellow Athenians felt were closed for discussion.

Socrates’ habit of pelting people with searching questions and roping them into critical dialogues about their accepted customs eventually got him killed. His incessant questioning of tightly held traditions provoked the leaders of Athens to charge him with “corrupting the youth.” As a result, they put Socrates to death. A clear message was sent to his fellow Athenians: All who question the established customs will meet the same fate!

Socrates was not the only provocateur to reap severe reprisal for his nonconformity: Isaiah was sawn in half, John the Baptist was beheaded, and Jesus was crucified. Not to mention the thousands of Christians who have been tortured and martyred through the centuries by the institutional church because they dared to challenge its teachings.

As Christians, we are taught by our leaders to believe certain ideas and behave in certain ways. We are also encouraged to read our Bibles. But we are conditioned to read the Bible with the lens handed to by the Christian tradition to which we belong. We are taught to obey our denomination (or movement) and never to challenge what it teaches.

(At this moment, all the rebellious hearts are applauding and are plotting to wield the above paragraphs to wreak havoc in their churches. If that is you, dear rebellious heart, you have missed our point by a considerable distance. We do not stand with you. Our advice: Either leave your church quietly, refusing to cause division, or be at peace with it. There is a vast gulf between rebellion and taking a stand for what is true.)

If the truth be told, we Christians never seem to ask why we do what we do. Instead, we blithely carry out our religious traditions without asking where they came from. Most Christians who claim to uphold the integrity of God’s Word have never sought to see if what they do every Sunday has any scriptural backing. How do we know this? Because if they did, it would lead them to some very disturbing conclusions that would compel them by conscience to forever abandon what they are doing.

Strikingly, contemporary church thought and practice have been influenced far more by postbiblical historical events than by New Testament imperatives and examples. Yet most Christians are not conscious of this influence. Nor are they aware that it has created a slew of cherished, calcified, humanly devised traditions – all of which are routinely passed off to us as “Christian.”

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