The round of paper writing is over. For my last academic semester, I had to write a few papers on issues that I did not have a position on just a few months back, neither did I know too much about, which means much more thought was needed than was normally necessary. One paper that I did not have to think as much however is a paper for Doctrine of the Church, which I have decided to write concerning Frank Viola's denigration of the institutional church.
While the paper has just been submitted, I would like to discuss the implications of what I have written. My basic thesis in my paper is that the special office is commanded in Scripture for a church. The "organic" church movement by Frank Viola, with its vitriol against the institutional church (c.f. the title of his book Pagan Christianity) not only does not have any special offices in the church, but denounces any church that does as being "pagan." For Viola and company, "elders" are merely advisers in the church with no power at all except for that of persuasion. If that strikes you as ludicrous, it is. One does not have to be a genius to know that is a recipe for anarchy, for any Tom, Dick or Harry can go into an "organic church," gain some followers, and dispute with the "elders." Since those "elders" have no real authority, the only resolution is a split. While Christians should deplore the division in the Church, the "organic church" model splits "organic churches" so fast that, if that speed was normative for all churches, there probably wouldn't be any church at all in a few decades.
The main error of Frank Viola is that he is a radical Anabaptist and Restorationist. Viola holds to a dualism between nature and grace, and sees anything that smacks of culture (especially Greco-Roman culture) as "pagan." Viola holds to all manners of false dichotomies (e.g. between "organism" and "organization," between "head" and "heart"), and his radical egalitarianism results in anti-intellectualism. The problem is that there is such a thing as God's law, and thus Nature. Viola can redefine everything all he wants, but his theories have to deal with real life consequences. The "organic church" model cannot work, because God is not in it. In fact, the "organic church" is rebellion against the LORD, for attacking His representatives in the visible (institutional) church and trying to "be" the church outside His will. Is it any wonder that those who join such movement tend towards greater and greater apostasy?
Quite some time back, I had been contacted via email by someone from those circles. From my interaction, I have seen in some measure the type of bad fruit the "organic church" model has bore. There is nothing worse than conversing with people who have absolutely no respect for authority of any sort (including the words of Scripture, but excluding the teachings of Frank Viola), yet think that somehow their words command me to submit to their dictates. My refusal to do so of course causes him to say that that he will "pray for me," a symptom of false humility masquerading as spiritual pride. For if you refuse to interact with Scripture, what does "praying for me" means except a retort basically that "although I have no idea how to refute your arguments from Scripture, yet I still think I am right (and you wrong) and I will ask God to change your mind about it (contrary to the teachings of Scripture)"?
If Christ instituted the church (no pun intended), then the Church belongs to Christ. People like Frank Viola therefore who call on people to leave the institutional church to form their own bodies are preaching rebellion against the Church, and thus rebellion against Christ. It is noted that Viola is NOT asking people to leave false (institutional) churches to join the true (institutional) churches — that is always valid. No, Viola is asking people to leave the institutional church altogether as it being false! "Organic churches," being birthed out of rebellion and rejecting the marks of the church (i.e. they eschew preaching, they do not rightly administer the sacraments, and they certainly don't practice discipline) are not true churches at all! And since Christ saves His people into His Body the Church, all those in "organic churches" are not in the visible Body of Christ. At the very least, such is grievous sin. At the worst, this indicates that they were not saved in the first place. Here is why Viola's description of a so-called "conversion" by someone who visited an "organic church" is so sad. People are not saved by a "conversion experience," however you want to define that. People are saved by objectively confessing Christ in faith with repentance from sin, and baptism as the visible profession of faith, baptism indicating membership in a visible (institutional) church! That guy, whatever "conversion experience" he might have, has no true indications that he has true faith in Christ, at least none that can be considered as true according to the Scriptures. If the guy continues in his "conversion" experience in the "organic church," he is lost. He is one of those who will be receive a false counterfeit of the Gospel and thus may be immunized to the true Gospel when it is preached. Just like the cults, including the prosperity heresy, immunize people from the true Gospel, so likewise the "organic church" movement immunizes anyone, who was formerly an unbeliever but has now become a professing "believer" who joins an "organic church," from the true Gospel. Such a tragedy!
If one desires God's name to be glorified and people to turn to Him, one has to hate the "organic church." The "organic church" model is a tool in the Devil's toolkit for the destroying of souls. The Lord could indeed save people in it and by it, but such people are saved despite it. Such people are saved just like how Roman Catholics are saved, in spite of the false teaching they hear from their priests.
May the Lord open the eyes of those in the "organic churches" to the error of their ways.
Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus (Est) — Outside the Church there is no salvation -Cyprian