by Frank Viola and George Barna
Their proof that that there is an 'ORGANIC' church.
A Book Review by Bob Highlands III
I remember the story of the 10 blind men walking down the road together when they bumped into an elephant. It only lasted a moment and the elephant was gone but the men began to describe the elephant to each other. The first two swore it was like a great rope because they had only felt the trunk. The next two said it was like a giant leaf that floated in the wind because they had felt the ears. The next two said the elephant was like a great tree because they had felt the leg. The next two said it was like a great mountain that could not be climbed because they had touched its side. The last two said it was like a small cord because they had only felt the tail. The men all began to argue about what an elephant really looked like until they divided up and went their separate ways spreading the news about the elephant that was a rope, or a leaf, or a tree, or a mountain, or a small cord, according to their personal experience. They all missed the real elephant but were also all convinced they were right and the others were wrong.
Frank Viola and George Barna have touched the elephant and like two blind men are now spreading their version of what the church is to them. Making the same claim that has rung through the church since the last apostle died, they believe they have discovered how the church in the first century operated. They lay out in great detail why everyone else is wrong and why their way is the true way back to being the church.
They call their vision of returning to the 1st century apostolic church the “ORGANIC CHURCH.” They describe this “Organic Church” by saying; “In its purest form, it is the fellowship of the triune God brought to earth and experienced by human beings.” (Page 241)
The book is a back and forth between how everything in church history is wrong (pagan) and how they have discovered the truth (Biblical) and want to set everyone free. What is most remarkable is the criticism they used on everyone else is the one that exposed them the quickest and in the clearest manner. Their basic argument is that the church movement starting around 100A. D. going forward was not Biblical and was the combination of pagan or non-biblical beliefs along with manmade organizational structures. Their solution is to get back to the basics which they (the Organic Church) have discovered in the New Testament. Viola and Barna see everything the modern church has done over the last 2,000 years as basically wrong (pagan) and to be discarded. But, according to them, nothing to fear because the “Organic Church” has been rediscovered and is here to replace everything else.
They base their structure, worship, leadership model and spiritual formation on what I consider the shakiest ground they could. They PROOF TEXT their way into believing that the part of the elephant they have experienced is the whole church. If I were to refute or respond to all the problems I found in the book I would have to write one twice as long as the one they wrote. Instead I will only point out one large and glaring error they make and base their entire book and the Organic Church on.
Throughout the book they refer to the need to keep everything in context of the first century and not to lift verses from the Bible to prove a point. But, that is exactly what they do in their efforts to prove they have discovered how a real church operates. Their example is the church at Corinth and they lean heavily on 1 Corinthians 12-14. Their favorite section is in 1 Corinthians 14 which we will look at directly but first the background of 1 Corinthians and then the purpose of the 14th chapter.
The book of 1 Corinthians was written to a group of people Paul describes as “men of flesh.” 1 Cor. 3.1 NASB The book of 1st Corinthians is often used in parts but rarely seen in its whole. When looking at the whole book overview it was written to deal with 10 distinct problems that were destroying the church.
The 10 problems were
division in the church. 1st Cor. 1.10 to 4.21.
tolerating sexual immorality. 5th chapter.
lawsuits among believers. 6th chapter.
a misunderstanding of sex 7th chapter
food offered to idols 1st Cor. 8.1-13 & 10.1-11.1
paying spiritual leaders properly 1st Cor. 9.1-17
women in worship 1st Cor. 11.2-16
the Lord’s supper 1st Cor. 11.17-34
CONFUSION IN WORSHIP 1st Cor. 12.1-14.40
the resurrection 1st Cor. 15.1-58
The key here is chapters 12 through 14 are about problems in worship and these are the very chapters used by Viola and Barna to support their Organic Church and how to run worship. Barna and Viola show a church where everyone does whatever they feel like. In an effort to stabilize the worship in the church at Corinth Paul writes that each member should be aware of their place in the body and that there needs to order with limitations. The very verse used by Viola and Barna to justify their organic worship without organization is the one that says exactly the opposite of what they want it to say. Speaking about Organic or open worship without pastors, song leaders, preparation they quote 1 Cor. 14. 26. “What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.” This is not about open worship. The church at Corinth already had that and it was absolute chaos. This is about organization of worship. The exact opposite of the way Viola and Barna use it. They claim “The New Testament Church was organic, not organizational.” Page 248 Yet, Paul finishes up this section on dealing with confusion and problems in worship by saying, “But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.” 1 Cor. 14.40 Paul is doing exactly the opposite of what Barna and Viola say he is doing. Paul is organizing the church worship at Corinth.
I give the book two thumbs up and three thumbs down
Thumbs up ONE: is for the work done on church history and tracing the growth and development of the church over 2,000 years. They put it together in a simple and straight forward manner. (see lemon number one below)
Thumbs up TWO: is for their vision on what the spiritual church can look like. They especially do a great job in speaking about the possibilities of the church that is free from the restraints of tradition. Their attack on everyone and everything leaves me wondering if they would not call for the church to return to candles instead of electric lights because that is what the apostles used.
Thumbs down ONE: is for their inability to see that the church is a living organization that was always planned to be changing and adaptable. Their rejection of order and structure is almost absolute. They want the church to be what it was at Corinth or more exactly what they think it was like at Corinth. 1st Cor. 12-14 is not what they say it was and never will be.
Thumbs down ONE: is for their proof texting and disregard for the Bible truths they overlook to prove their points. Organization, leadership, delivery, music, finances, ordnances, according to them everyone or almost everyone for 2,000 years has gotten it wrong as they search the scriptures for truth. Viola and Barna work hard at explaining away everyone and anything they disagree with by using the Word of God as their great proof text.
Thumbs down ONE: is for their self-righteous, condescending, negative attitude. This everyone else is wrong and has always been wrong is not what the church needs. That changes need to be made and mistakes have influenced the way we function no one will disagree. I agree that the church is a living organism but have to say because of that it will not fit into their mold. Their Organic Church is the only church attitude and we are the only ones doing it right permeates the book and makes it a negative read. Hence, the negative third lemon.
In my final analysis there is much that could have been done with this book if the authors were not intent on proving themselves right and everyone else wrong. In my opinion you can skip reading this book. There is nothing new here. I first encountered these same teachings over 40 years ago while a young pastor in Oklahoma. They destroyed several churches and ruined the lives of young uninformed believers. The only difference was no one was calling it “organic” back then. Shows how far we have come.
Let me close with the warning of Jesus when he asked “Can a blind man lead a blind man?” Luke 6.39 Having touched the elephant Viola and Barna want to lead you to the “Organic Church.” There is far more to the church than they have experienced and you should move on if you want to declare with the man healed by Jesus, “One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” John 9.25
© 2017 Bob Highlands III