One of my longest standing friends from college recently persuaded me and a group of our friends to take a dive into Frank Viola’s book on ‘organic Christianity’ called ReimaginingChurch. Some people consider it a sequel to the book he co-authored with George Barna, Pagan Christianity. At my friend’s request, I read the latter book a few years ago, but only recently read the “sequel.”
The book starts off with a very clearly projected agenda of where individuals will probably land by its end. Either, the reader will strongly oppose the statements made in the book about various forms of contemporary church structure and governance, or, he/she will emerge as an advocate of Organic Christianity. And from what the pages of the book lay out, organic Christianity takes the form of what would be called a ‘house church’ with governance and direction coming from an external practitioner whose purpose is to travel from house church to house church to correct and encourage. The author, although he doesn’t cite Roland Allen’s Missionary Methods, I believe would find himself highly appreciative of the work. (Side note: I first discovered Roland Allen through taking a couple classes under Graham Tomlin a few years ago.)
The book builds a case for a different form of church practice to address multiple problems seen in the contemporary church (from abusive leadership to passive membership). While I do empathize with the problems the author points out and attempts to address through putting forth a different form for church practice, I can’t help but think that any form of any type of community (be it faith community or other) could easily fall prey to similar problems and challenges to address.
That being said, I found that while the book made for an interesting read, I could not find myself coming to either of the conclusive positions that the author suggested for me as a reader at the beginning of the book. What I believe may have been the actual purpose of the author in writing the book was something different than a landing place in either of the two camps outlined above, but rather a means for individuals and communities a little more ‘traditional’ in their practice to consider house churches as a viable alternative and within the realm of orthodoxy.
For me, I have no problem considering various forms of gathering and leadership as legitimate. I understand that some structures according to Viola seem to be more prone to abuse and passivity, but I can’t help but think that this results from a lack of humility in individuals who serve as leaders and a lack of discipline on the part of members of faith communities. In many ways, the challenge isn’t the structure itself as much as it is a matter of overcoming the human condition and tendency toward selfishness, laziness, pride and more.
Viola is also unabashedly biased in his presentation of organic Christianity. In spite of these biases, I believe that the book is born from a place of encouraging the modern community of faith to closely examine our lives and practices and ask hard questions about whether our practices are best serving the end of helping us to grow in our love for God and others. And, I’m extremely grateful to my friend for encouraging me to read this book, and question my own biases as well.