On Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity, Non-Instrumentals, Paid Ministry, and Following God's Calling

I received the following question from my friend Shannon:
Years ago when you were so anti-paid ministry and buildings, etc..., was much of that motivated by Pagan Christianity? I remember that being very influential. Now that you have moved into paid ministry, is that still a book you recommend?

I have feared reading it (though I have heard good things), because I wonder if reading how "everything we're doing is wrong" would do more to discourage and confuse me than to challenge and invigorate me. You know what I mean?
Here was my reply:

I actually had not read Pagan Christianity?: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices or any Frank Viola book at the time when we planted the house churches in Lansing, but I have just read Pagan Christianity. I started to work through it for Sunday School with the intention to show that most of our practices are not essential and can be changed to whatever is effective. It was way too divisive. I dropped it after week one. I can understand why some think it is divisive, but I just find it so liberating.

We did go through the chapter on sermons, The Sermon: Protestantism's Most Sacred Cow, in a preaching class I taught for people who would like to preach in our church. Viola is against the sermon. I agree with him that it can be a somewhat ineffective form of education, but it can also be a useful well to present a well, thought-out case for a subject. I shared Viola's chapter in the class to show that we have liberty to do whatever we think would best convey the Scriptural message in our sermons. We need to choose effective, yet Christ-like methods where we are not given a Scriptural command. Now some will say that the Bible tells us to preach the gospel, to them I would say read Viola's chapter on the sermon. Our form of preaching was not even around when that was written. Just because we use the same translated word, does not mean we are doing the same practice.

My problem with Viola's book is that Viola is like a non-instrumentalist when it comes to his method of deciding what is a right or wrong practice in the church. For those who do not know what I mean when I say "non-instrumentalist", it is those who believe that practices cannot be in the church unless they were expressly taught in Scripture. In the Restoration Movement, which I am happily a part of, there was a division over the instrument. Some argued that churches should not use instruments in worship because they are not used in the New Testament. Others argued that there is liberty where the Bible does not expressly teach something. If it isn't in Scripture, Viola presumes, like the non-instrumentalist, that we should not do it. I think that if it is not in Scripture, then we have liberty to do what is most effective. On a side note, I have seen many instrumental Churches of Christ/Christian Churches who take this non-instrumental approach to Scripture on all issues except the instrument. There is an old saying that our movement adopted: In Essentials, Unity. In Opinions, Liberty. In all things, Love.

Viola's book is a great read. It puts modern church practices in perspective, but you just have to realize that his conclusion is different because he comes from that non-instrumental (although I'm sure that he is from a different background) strain of interpretation.

As for paid ministry, it's effective in some areas. This town I am ministering would not accept a non-paid minister. In other areas, I would still advise tentmaking. The key is doing what is effective. The problem people, like me, have is that we often confuse our calling with God's universal truth. At the time of my dislike of paid ministry and buildings, my calling was for me to be a tentmaker, and I mistakenly thought that everyone else needed to be a tentmaker. Now my calling is different. God has room for both paid ministers and tentmakers, for buildings and houses, for praise bands and pianos, etc. We need to be sensitive to what God is calling us to and realize that everyone does not have the same calling.

In all of this, we need to remind ourselves that God calls us to be faithful, not effective.