How the Pastoral Role Damages Body Life

I have been reading the book Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna.  The subtitle to the book is “Exploring the Roots of our Church Practices.”  The basic premise of the book is that most of the practices that modern churches engage in are traditions that are rooted in pagan culture, not the Bible.  The inside dust cover states:

Many Christians take for granted that their church’s practices are rooted in Scripture.  Yet those practices look very different from those of the first-century church.  The New Testament is not silent on how the early church freely expressed the reality of Christ’s indwelling in ways that rocked the first-century world.

Times have changed.  Pagan Christianity? leads us on a fascinating tour through church history, revealing this startling and unsettling truth:  Many cherished church traditions embraced today originated not out of the New Testament, but out of pagan practices.  One of the most troubling outcomes has been the effect on average believers:  turning them from living expressions of Christ’s glory and power to passive observers.  If you want to see that trend reversed, turn to Pagan Christianity? . . . a book that examines and challenges every aspect of our present-day church experience.

I have been reading this book whenever I get a chance (which isn’t very often), but I just finished chapter 5.  Speaking of which, check out these chapter titles:

  1. Have We Really Been Doing It by the Book?
  2. The Church Building:  Inheriting the Edifice Complex
  3. The Order of Worship:  Sunday Mornings Set in Concrete
  4. The Sermon:  Protestantism’s Most Sacred Cow
  5. The Pastor:  Obstacle to Every-Member Functioning
  6. Sunday Morning Costumes:  Covering Up the Problem
  7. Ministers of Music:  Clergy Set to Music
  8. Tithing and Clergy Salaries:  Sore Spots on the Wallet
  9. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper:  Diluting the Sacraments
  10. Christian Education:  Swelling the Cranium
  11. Reapproaching the New Testament:  The Bible is not a Jigsaw Puzzle
  12. A Second Glance at the Savior:  Jesus, the Revolutionary

This whole book has been fascinating to read as I try to discern what God intends for His Church.  I believe firmly that God did not call some to be pastors as we see them today.  I am also firmly convicted that God did not call us as believers to build buildings or temples.  He called us to gather whenever and wherever we can and to live lives of service.

The unscriptural clergy/laity distinction has done untold harm to the body of Christ.  It has divided the believing community into first- and second-class Christians.  The clergy/laity dichotomy perpetuates an awful falsehood — namely, that some Christians are more privileged than others to serve the Lord.

Permit us to get personal.  We believe the pastoral office has stolen your right to function as a full member of Christ’s body.  It has distorted the reality of the body, making the pastor a giant mouth and transforming you into a tiny ear.  It has rendered you a mute spectator who is proficient at taking sermon notes and passing an offering plate.

But that is not all.  The modern-day pastoral office has overthrown the main thrust of the letter to the Hebrews — the ending of the old priesthood.  It has made ineffectual the teaching of 1 Corinthians 12-14, that every member has both the right and the privilege to minister in a church meeting.  It has voided the message of 1 Peter 2 that every brother and sister is a functioning priest.

Being a functioning priest does not mean that you may only perform highly restrictive forms of ministry like singing songs in your pew, raising your hands during worship, setting up the PowerPoint presentation, or teaching a Sunday school class.  That is not the New Testament idea of ministry!  These are mere aids for the pastor’s ministry.  As one scholar put it, “Much Protestant worship, up to the present day, has also been infected by an overwhelming tendency to regard worship as the work of the pastor (and perhaps the choir) with the majority of the laity having very little to do but sing a few hymns and listen in a prayerful and attentive way.”

But there is something more.  The contemporary pastorate rivals the functional headship of Christ in His church.  It illegitimately holds the unique place of centrality and headship among God’s people, a place that is reserved for only one Person — the Lord Jesus.  Jesus Christ is the only head over a church and the final word to it.  By his office, the pastor displaces and supplants Christ’s headship by setting himself up as the church’s human head.


Filed under Books, Review

2 responses to “How the Pastoral Role Damages Body Life

  1. Joey

    Item #8 “Tithing and Clergy Salaries: Sore Spots on the Wallet” reminded me of a pastor we had years ago when I was on a one year contract up in Washington State.

    In the short time there we became close friends with the pastor and his family. He and his wife were in their 60’s and had been in the ministry all of their adult lives. One night after dinner at their house he said something very interesting that kind of shocked me. In all of the years he’d been a pastor and the few churches he had ministered at when visiting a potential new church they never discussed salary and he would tell them he didn’t want to know. He would accept the job strictly on what God was leading him to do. They had been to really small churches and some ‘ok’ sized churches and he said that sometimes things were tight but God always provided what he promised. It was a humbling conversation to have.

  2. Jill

    The sequel to “Pagan Christianity?” is out now. It’s called “Reimagining Church”. It picks up where “Pagan Christianity” left off and continues the conversation. (“Pagan Christianity” was never meant to be a stand alone book; it’s part one of the conversation.) “Reimagining Church” is endorsed by Leonard Sweet, Shane Claiborne, Alan Hirsch, and many others. You can read a sample chapter at It’s also available on Frank is also blogging now at

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