Review of Pagan Christianity, Frank Viola and George Barna
Review by Russell Earl
August 5, 2009
The material in the book
is not new. It has been known by anybody who has studied the history of the Christian church from almost all reputable church
historians from almost all denominations.
Since my expertise is in
the doctrine of tithing, I will focus on that one chapter in pages 171 to 186.
Page 171 begins with a
quotation from Philip Schaff. I highly recommend his Volume 2, History of the Christian
Church which covers AD100-325. This is the period during which most of the early church flourished without the doctrine
Page 172 is correct when
it says "The tithe belongs to ancient Israel. It was essentially
their income tax. Never do you find first century Christians tithing in the New Testament [after Calvary]."
Page 173 correctly points
out that there were actually three different religious tithes expected in the Old Testament which totaled 23 1/3rd per cent
for food producers who lived inside Israel.It is not mentioned, however,
that the first Levitical tithe went to the Levite servants
to the priests and not to the priests. They, in turn, gave a tithe of the tithe to the priests (1%). Neither is it mentioned
that those Levites and priests who received the tithe were not allowed to own or inherit property. I agree with the comment
"With the death of Jesus all ceremonial codes that belonged to the Jew were nailed to Christ's cross and buried, never to
be used again to condemn us."
Page 174 quotes from 2nd
Corinthians 8 and 9 and concludes "When it comes to financial stewardship we see the first century saints giving cheerfully
according to their ability --not dutifully out of a command."In discussing Abraham,
we are told that (1) Abraham gave voluntarily, (2) only from spoils of war, (3) not of his own property and (4) only once
recorded. I go further and point out that the text does not say that Abraham gave voluntarily
because he most likely was expected to obey a well-known custom of tithing spoils of war to his local priest king.
Page 175 discusses Malachi
3 which was only "directed to ancient Israel while they were under
the Mosaic Law. Like everybody else, Viola and Barna conclude that all Israel
was guilty of robbing God. I disagree because (1) the context of Malachi , 14; 2:1-2; 17 and 3:1-5,
(2) the Levitical cites, (3) the context of the 24 courses and (4) Nehemiah 10:37b must be included in any discussion of Malachi.
I understand Malachi to be cursing dishonest priests for stealing part of the tithe from the Levites as seen in Nehemiah 13:5-10.
Page 176 discusses Cyprian
in the middle of the third century in his (failed) attempt to teach tithing. To this I add that the communion meal was slowly
evolving into the sacrifice of the mass and the church elder was slowly evolving into a priest who offered sacrifice. An inversely
proportional doctrine was evolving as the priesthood of the believers is being replaced by the sacrificial priest who appears
like that of Aaron and "deserves" the tithe.
Page 177 is important because
it points out that the tithe in Europe began as a secular fife of the secular landlords and ended up being a religious
fife of food from those who worked land owned by the Roman Catholic Church.To
this I add that the Jews left farming and settled in the banking industry because tithes were only food from church-owned
Page 178 says "Yet the
obligatory practice of tithing is as much alive today as it was when it was legally binding. … In fact in many churches
if you are not a tither you will be barred from holding a ministry position." It is actually much more than this and is getter
even worse. In most churches today you cannot even hold a church office or teach Sunday School if you do not tithe. Some even
require the tithe for membership. This is a disgrace and is completely unbiblical. The qualifications for church officers
in Timothy and Titus do not include the ability to give a certain percentage of one's income. Since the spiritual gifts are
distributed to all church members by the Holy Spirit, even the poorest who are burdened with medical, food and shelter expenses
should be allowed to work in the church as officers and teachers.
Page 179 is the best new
thought for me. "Under the Old Testament system tithing was good news for the poor. However in our day mandatory tithing equals
oppression to the poor. Not a few Christians have been thrown into deeper poverty because they have felt obligated to give
beyond their means." To me this makes the very use of the word "tithe" a horrible scam. The blessings of Malachi 3:10 have
not worked for the millions in ghettos who have been giving the first of their meager means to the church for generations.
To compound this sin, the tithe is never equal to firstfruits in God's Word. First Timothy 5:8 commands poor believers to
first care for their medical needs and essential food and shelter.
Page 180 discusses clergy
salary. "In fact the clergy salary runs against the grain of the entire New Covenant. Elders in the first century were not
salaried. They were men with an earthly vocation. They gave to the flock rather than taking from it. … Giving a salary
to pastors elevates them above the rest of God's people. It creates a clerical caste that turns the living body of Christ
into a business. Since the pastor and his staff are compensated for their ministry, they are the paid professionals."Viola (and Barna?) may be more correct than I on this point. I personally think that
the Bible neither endorses nor denies full time paid ministry. It is quiet on the subject. My major complaint is "do not support
a paid ministry using the false doctrine of New Covenant tithing."
Page 181 says "Paying a
pastor makes him a man pleaser. It makes him the slave of men." Earlier they wrote "When the church functions as she should
a professional clergy becomes unnecessary. Suddenly the thought 'This is the job of the preacher' looks heretical." My only
comment here involves training. It seems to me that somebody needs to know biblical Greek and study hermeneutics. Otherwise
there would be an infinite number of different theologies. The early church almost disappeared in the second century because
of competition until it unified to some degree.
Conclusion: I very highly
recommend this book and the chapter on tithing. May God bless Frank Viola and George Barna for standing up.