Pagan Christianity is a new/old book by George Barna and Frank Viola. Viola wrote an earlier version called, confusingly enough, Pagan Christianity, which attracted much less attention. But this edition, with the well-known statistician George Barna listed as co-author, has attracted much more (Amazon rank of 1,667 vs. 215,610).
I’ve not read this edition, but I read the earlier one, and it’s very much in line with the thinking of the Restoration Movement, seeking to find a purer, better form of Christianity by getting back to First Century roots. However, unlike Restoration Movement churches, the authors make a strong push for house churches as truer to the scriptural pattern.
However — and this is why I’m posting this — I just read a fascinating review by Ben Witherington, where Witherington frankly challenges the idea of congregational autonomy, which seems worth talking about. For example,
There is frankly no Baptist or low church Protestant ecclesiology to be found in the NT in regard to this particular matter. Paul for example instructs his co-workers Timothy and Titus to appoint elders. The elders do not appoint themselves, nor do congregations get together and ordain or appoint them much less vote on them. The ecclesial structure of the NT church was hierarchial, not congregational—it started with the apostles and the 12 at the top, worked its way down to the co-workers of the apostles who were also itinerant and over multiple congregations, then there were the local church leaders—prophets, teachers, elders, deacons etc. In the early second century the apostolate seems to have been succeeded by bishops, most especially monarchial bishops like Ignatius of Antioch (read his letters sometime from the first 2 decades of the second century. They are quite revealing.). In short, the priesthood of all believers neither rules out nor negates the fact that there was an ecclesial leadership structure in the early church which involved in various cases a process of ordination from higher officials. To say otherwise is to misread the NT evidence. Of course it is true that what determined who had which gifts and graces was the work of the Spirit, but the Church needed to recognize that work and affirm it, and this took place through leaders who saw the gift in people like Timothy, and did from time to time use a process of ordination to make clear whom the Spirit had gifted and graced.
What do you think? Has Witherington proven his point that congregational autonomy is not required by scripture and may, in fact, not even be scriptural?