Pagan Christianity

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 18, 2008 — 12 Comments

George Barna, head of the conservative Christian polling organization The Barna Group, has co-authored a new book that takes a deeper look at traditional Christian practices. The result, “Pagan Christianity”, seems almost like a fun-house mirror reflection of the rhetoric you can hear from many modern Pagans.

“Pagan Christianity makes an unsettling proposal: Most of what present-day Christians do in church each Sunday is rooted not in the New Testament, but in pagan culture and rituals developed long after the death of the apostles. Authors Frank Viola and George Barna support their thesis with compelling historical evidence and extensive footnotes that document the origins of our modern Christian church practices.”

Barna, a Catholic turned conservative evangelical, and advocate for the “house church” movement, sees paganism everywhere in the modern Christian church structure.

“Pagan Christianity? also addresses a myriad of other practices, including tax-exempt status for churches, pews, stained glass windows, altar calls, the pastoral prayer, church bulletins, bishops, clergy attire, choirs, tithing, the collection plate, seminary training, infant baptism, the “sinner’s prayer,” and funeral processions, among others.”

Barna’s attitude isn’t all that unique. Many critics of Catholicism and other Christian denominations that cling to “high church” trappings (“smells and bells”) often invoke the spectre of “paganism” to discredit their idealogical opponents and label them “unchristian” (to differing degrees). While Barna claims he only wants to promote “significant reflection”, his insights aren’t that much removed from the obsessed fringe.

Did Christian leaders borrow/steal/sanctify elements from ancient pagan culture, philosophy, and religion? Of course they did. Few argue otherwise. Christianity leapt into the cultural and religious vacuum created within the Roman Empire when Constantine, and subsequent emperors, gradually removed the traditional/pagan faiths from power. It is only natural that the assumption of that much power and prestige would alter a previously persecuted minority faith in an overwhelmingly pagan world.

The question now is if these “acquired” practices are still “pagan” centuries later. Barna, like many disaffected believers, longs to re-create a more “biblical” Christianity. An urge that has fueled radical reformations, and created several different ideas of what “biblical validity” means. In the end, I think the “Pagan Christianity” label says far more about Barna’s hopes and aspirations than it does about content of “high church” Christianity.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Puck A. Goodliffe

    Sounds good to me. It’s about time they left ALL of the good stuff to the pagans.

  • James

    I’m confused. Are they suggesting this is a bad thing?

  • Yvonne

    At least the Orthodox Church admits that the Christian year is tied to the cycles of Nature, and they also say this is a good thing (but then they’re panentheists).If the fundies want to purge all the “pagan” elements of faith, then they will remove all the most attractive aspects. Religion should appeal to the senses as well as to the intellect (though I doubt whether fundamentalism does appeal to the intellect), and according to a Christian I heard on the radio yesterday, it should “harness the body to the soul”. (I disagree, I think it’s about the equal marriage of spirit and matter, soul and body, not the subservience of one to the other.)

  • Robin Edgar

    Gotta love this hilarious example of Pagan Christianity or would that be Christianized Paganism?Silly Christians. Clits are for pagans! 😉

  • Robin Edgar

    BTW No serious offence to Christians is intended by the above comments. It is a pun based on the old TRIX breakfast cereal advertising slogan, “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for Kids”. It refers only to the fact that ancient Christians, who obviously did not have an “Eye of God” perspective of the ancient Goddess worship site Glastonbury Tor, quite unwittingly engaged in some virtual “body modification” when they constructed St. Michael’s Church right on top of the pagan sacred site that graced the summit of the Tor as was the wont of Christians.

  • Anonymous

    I read the book and it’s awesome. The authors are suggesting that the borrowing of pagan traditions has made “church” something non-Christian. It’s a fair argument since Jesus established the church in a certain way. The book is written to show that the modern church has strayed from the bible’s teaching and instead adopted pagan practices. It’s very powerful and educational, whether you’re a pagan or a christian. apparently, there’s a up roar among some christians against the book. there’s even a spoof video on it that’s hilarious. it seems that some christians are warning people against reading the book who haven’t even read it themselves. I laughed my head off at this. I recommend the book. it’s apparently a real hot potatoe now among some church people.Ben

  • James

    A minor point, Ben. Jesus didn’t establish anything, near as I can tell. What he left was a ragtag of followers. What comes to be called the church evolved over all of the two thousand odd years since Jesus’ death. With, as this thread suggests, more than a little assist from pre-existing religious traditions…

  • Anonymous

    “Jesus didn’t establish anything…”?Then why is He still up for discussion…. “two thousand odd years” after His death and consequent resurrection? What He established has survived the misguided “assist(s)from pre-existing religious tradition” and continues to flourish and grow despite man’s (and women’s) attempts to undermine it. I dare say that there are a few more than “a rag tag of followers” now….and while those that call themselves Christian but do not follow Christ see their ‘churches’ dying….those of us who truly desire to follow Him and walk in obedience to Him are growing in number…..and we’re doing our best to walk in obedience to Him in ALL things….even if it means accepting that some of the traditions we have been taught are not from Him, and need to be revisited.

  • Anonymous

    I forgot to post my name to my comment (#8)….it’s Deb. My sincere apologies.

  • Jilliefl1

    Revisiting “Jesus didn’t establish anything”, Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”What Jesus established was a relationship with individuals who received the Gift He so freely offers. He wanted a family to express His love within. It has nothing to do with religion, which is man’s attempts to reach God. God came after us in Christ. Many of the traditions we’ve embraced have hindered His purposes for the Church, so a book like Pagan Christianity forces us to reexamine those practices in light of His eternal purpose. It’s true that many are reviewing the book that haven’t even read it, and the spoof at is quite funny.I appreciate your dialogue.Jill

  • James

    Certainly an interesting forum to be discussing Christian origins, Jill.This is not my area of interest, and I cannot commit to an extended conversation, but a couple of points: First, I think it only fair to acknowledge your citation in support of Jesus’ establishing a church. There it is, Matthew 16:18, in just about any Bible you’re going to pick up.And, second, to note the authenticity of Matthew 16:18 is disputed. The liberal Christian “Jesus Seminar” folk, for instance, believe this line was added to support an institution that was established well after Jesus’ death. (And putative resurrection. Sorry, I do not accept the assertion as factual…) believe a fair reading of the NT suggests that most likely following Jesus’ death a Jewish community gathered in the vicinity of Jerusalem under the leadership of his brother, James the Just. For almost two generations that sect was normative Christianity. So, even in the Pauline writings there he is raising money for them and deferring to them – including in his famous dispute with Peter. Suggesting, it seems to me, that Peter was not the head in actuality…Of course, as we all know, the Pauline church filled the vacuum that followed the death of James and the devastation of the Jerusalem community with the destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70.Eventually, it is the gentile organization following Paul which became “normative” Christianity.The various Pagan aspects of Christianity, which inspired this thread, are all a part of the rise of the Pauline school as dominant…As I see it, anyway.

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