Your politics is not Christianity

No matter what you think; no matter what your favorite pundit tells you; no matter what the majority of your friends believe; no matter if you are Right, Left, Center, or Other:
Any word you can tack “ism” to the end of is a potential idol. Anytime you add a hyphen to the word “Christian” (Christian-hyphen-whatever, or Christian-slash-Whatever) you nibble away from the significance of “Christian.”

Whether election season or not, this wonderful insight from Thomas Merton remains relevant:

…on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the “opium of the people.” And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with him. When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system – when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandist, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program, then religion does tend to become an opiate…his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith in his own nation, class or race. His ethic ceases to be the law of God and of love, and becomes the law that might-makes-right: established privilege justifies everything, [his] God is the status quo.

Taken from Thomas Merton, Contemplative Prayer, available cheaply used or on Kindle. Merton was, by the way, strongly in favor of political activism, as am I; but not religion as the appendage of a political ideology.

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Bible study – a work of prayer!

This is a prayer of the great church father Augustine, which he was accustomed to use after his sermons and lectures. I have updated the version found in NPNF 1,8, p. 683.

We now turn to the Lord God, the Father Almighty, and with pure hearts we offer to him, so far as we can with the little we have, great and sincere thanks.

With all our hearts we pray for his exceeding kindness:
– that of his good pleasure he would condescend to hear our prayers,
– that by his power he would drive out the Enemy from our deeds and thoughts,
– that he would increase our faith, guide our understanding, give us spiritual thoughts, and lead us to his bliss,
through Jesus Christ his Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Gary again: I don’t care how well you know the original languages, or what study method you use, or how many commentaries, and what preaching method – and I affirm them, one and all! – without prayer, there is no authentic Bible study or teaching.

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“Bible study – a work of prayer!” by Gary S. Shogren, PhD in New Testament Exegesis, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

The Golden Rule and Political Discussion

This has been the most difficult election season, at least since 1948, perhaps since 1860.

For that reason, may I request that, when someone didn’t vote the way you or I did, that we not automatically respond:

  • “Oh, that means you don’t care at all about ____.”
  • “Oh, you’re ignoring the sins of your candidate, and damning the sins of mine.”
  • “Oh, you’re deluded by your choice of news outlet.”
  • “Oh, you only look at information that backs your candidate.”
  • “Oh, only imbeciles and morons vote for ____ (not my terms, I’m quoting).”
  • “Oh, only people with zero education vote for____.” When I tell people I have a college education, some reply, “Well, there are plenty of stupid people with degrees, they don’t mean anything!”
  • “Oh, you must be brainwashed or a ‘useful idiot’ or politically-correct or anti-politically-correct.”
  • “Oh, you must be a lemming (or some other slow-witted mammal).”
  • “Oh, why would you vote for the devil” or “the antichrist?”
  • “Oh, you must be morally corrupt.”
  • “Oh, you have an agenda! (And I sure don’t).”
  • “Oh, you can’t possible be a Christian if you voted like that!”
  • “Oh, God told me how to vote, so if you voted differently, you must not love the Lord!”
  • “Oh, prayed about my vote, and if you did not vote the same, you must not have prayed.”
  • “Oh, that means you are a (communist, fascist, Nazi, etc.).”
  • “Oh, you just threw your vote away (maybe on a Third-Party Candidate).”

These are all more or less quotes from things I’ve seen the last few days. From Christians and non-Christians.

Personally, I can’t think of anyone I know who found this election easy. Maybe you didn’t have to think hard about whom to choose, I certainly did. This isn’t a math problem, where 2 + 2 = 4 every time, there are hundreds of variables, and I know thoughtful people who have come up with different answers. That’s not “moral relativism,” it’s a nod to the difficulty of the problem we are trying to solve.

The Golden Rule would suggest that I should do unto others (I should assume they had wrestle through this) as I would have them do unto me (I want people to assume that I had to wrestle through this).

May we please – for the nation’s sake – assume until we hear otherwise, that perhaps, just perhaps, the person who voted for the other team really does care, really did look into things, and really did have to struggle about how to vote.

Yes, it works in politics, too

Yes, it works in politics, too

“The Golden Rule and Political Discussion,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Will it Kill your Pastor if he Visits You? A Response to Thom S. Rainer

Thom S. Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources and has a very popular blog on church life. Having read with approval a number of his other articles, I was surprised to find one that I roundly disagreed with.

It is titled “FIFTEEN REASONS WHY YOUR PASTOR SHOULD NOT VISIT MUCH”

And he is serious. He is really not happy with churches which expect to see their pastor in their home any time soon. Unless it’s an emergency. A big one.

So with all due respect, I responded to him on his blog, and will offer much the same thoughts here. (Here is another, very useful, response, by Andrew Roy Croft, who offers a positive argument for pastoral visitation).

To begin with, I thought this was one of those stealth articles that start off, “10 Reasons to Vote the Socialist Ticket,” but turn out to be pro-Republican. But no, I read it through a number of times, and it’s not ironic.

His point is that pastoral visitation a newfangled idea, that there’s altogether too much visitation going on, and it should be slimmed down and (perhaps) limited only to extreme situations. Otherwise pastor visitation is the Zika virus that will kill your church, leave your pastor burned (out) beyond recognition, and make him/her leave! Oh yes he will!!

Don't answer the door! It might be the pastor, and it will lead to him burning out, quitting, and destruction for your church!

Don’t answer the door! It might be the pastor, and it will lead to him burning out, quitting, and apocalyptic destruction for your church!

Pastor Rainer has 15 objections to pastoral visitation, many of which are, upon closer examination, the same reason stated differently. To quote:

  1. It’s unbiblical. 2. It deprives members of their roles and opportunities. 3. It fosters a country club mentality. 4. It turns a church inwardly. 5. It takes away from sermon preparation. 6. It takes away from the pastor’s outward focus (the same as #4, right?) 7. It takes away vital leadership from the pastor. 8. It fosters unhealthy comparisons among the members. 9. It is never enough. 10. It leads to pastoral burnout (see #9). 11. It leads to high pastoral turnover (see #9, 10). 12. It puts a lid on Great Commission growth of the church (see #4, 6). 13. It leads pastors to get their affirmation from the wrong source. 14. It causes biblical church members to leave. 15. It is a sign that the church is dying (see #14). And then later: It’s a key sign of [church] sickness. It’s a clear step toward [congregational] death.

So, it is no exaggeration that his message is that pastoral visitation may even now be killing your church!

Let’s define “pastoral visitation” as, where one or more of the leaders of the church go to where their people are, traditionally but not necessarily in the home, hospital, or long-term care facility, in order to spend time with them and to conduct pastoral ministry (exhortation, encouragement, correction).

Here is part of the response that I wrote on his website, that there were three weaknesses to the argument; I address the author as “you.”

First, the historical. You write that “‘Visitation of the members’ became a common job description of pastors about a century ago.” You imply that it is a recent innovation.

While it may have become more conventional these days to write the thing out in a job description, visitation of the members has been part of the pastoral task since the beginning. In fact, it was a vital aspect (more…)

Strong’s Concordance – a Good Tool Gone Bad

To download the entire article, click here Shogren_Strongs Concordance or take a photo

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Strong's Concordance - a Good Tool Gone Bad

Strong’s Concordance – a Good Tool Gone Bad

For Bible students who don’t use Hebrew and Greek, the Strong Concordance is a popular tool, available online. [1]

But it has a serious limitation – namely:

the “dictionary” in the back of Strong’s is not really a dictionary at all, and should not be used to find the “real, true, or root meaning” of a word

I will use the KJV version of Strong’s, since that is the one version I have on hand, but the same thing applies with the ESV or NASB editions.

We are all familiar with Matthew 1:20 –

But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.

Let’s say I want to learn more about the words angel (Strongs #G32). (more…)

Women in Ministry, according to F. F. Bruce

Woman-Praying-Bible

This is a topic which interests me very much, not just in theory, but because of my involvement of training both female and male soldiers for the kingdom of God. I hope to publish some thoughts of my own at some point, but for now I yield to the master, and his brief article from 1982.

Evangelical scholar F. F. Bruce promoted the ministry of women in the Christian Brethren Review, which is significant, as anyone who has attended a traditional brethren assembly will recognize. As was his custom, Bruce turned to the Word of God as his authority.

I would not say that he was “ahead of his time,” which attribution is not necessarily a compliment. But I do think he was able to see beyond his tradition and to look at Scripture afresh; also, to realize that the charge that one’s opponents are under “cultural influence” is a sword that cuts both ways.

Enjoy! Gary

Women in the Church – A Biblical Survey FF Bruce

See also:

Thoughts on Greek from a scholar – F. F. Bruce

Gary S. Shogren is Professor of New Testament at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

An Epidemic of the Ethical Woulda-Dones

sad_docThe doctor has paid a house call and left, shaking his head. The diagnosis? American Christians have come down with a bad case of the Woulda-Dones. The symptoms? We are irresolute about making tough, righteous decisions today, but we know exactly what we bravely and clearly and boldly “woulda-done” if we had faced the moral dilemmas facing Christians in days gone by.

It’s easy to Dare to Be a Daniel – so long as we limit it to “I woulda defied the king like Daniel did, back, y’know, in the 500s BC!” The truism is right – “We are always fighting the last battle.” (more…)

Did your pastor/teacher/expert/YouTube guru set a wrong date for the Second Coming? Don’t let them off the hook

It appears to be the busy season of people telling us when Jesus will return. I have seen five dates for the period of September-December 2015 and others for 2016 or 2017. Four of those dates have already passed us by. Whether these date-setters claim to be prophets or not, they all transgress the Lord’s warning – “Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ do not believe it.” (Matt 24:23); and Paul’s statement that we shouldn’t let anyone confuse us with their predictions (2 Thess 2:1-2).

As I have written at length elsewhere, these Date Setters tend to fall into predictable behaviors. Download the entire article here: “Shogren_How to calculate when Jesus will come without even being a prophet!”

First, people speak with great confidence ahead of time, naming dates or months or years and offering incontrovertible proof that the Lord will return as they predicted.

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Second, when he does not return, what happens? Most date-setters have a strong psychological (more…)

Published in: on September 30, 2015 at 3:36 pm  Comments (2)  
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How to Calculate when Jesus will Come – without even being a prophet!

Download the entire article here: Shogren_How to calculate when Jesus will come

What follows is my response to the outbreak of Blood Moon Fever and the Shemitah Virus, and more broadly, to the rapidly-spreading epidemic of predictions of Jesus’ near return between 2015-2017. I offer it to the Christ whose coming I love.

Something like 41% of the American people believe that Jesus will definitely or probably return by 2050. That figure shoots up to 58% when the pollster asked white evangelical Americans.[1] So, once someone starts with that basic assumption, that we must be in the Latter Days, very few will question it: it now becomes a question of detail and voilà, a whole End Times cottage industry springs up.[2]

My readers know that I am a “Matthew 24:36 Strict Constructionist”: that when Jesus said that no human – or angel, or the Son of Man – knows the time of the Second Coming, his original intent was to forbid all date-setting, not just the “day or hour” but any time at all; and that he meant that we should leave off amateur predictions of the End Times.

I mention this verse, which is found in my Bible in Matthew 24; but I suspect that some imp has gone around and whited out v. 36 from many copies.

There are two types of individuals who set dates for the Second Coming: the one who regards him or herself as a “prophet” who receives messages from God; the one who insists that he or she not be called “prophet”. I break them down as follows:

Date-Setter by Revelation – an early example is that in the 2nd century, a man named Montanus claimed that Jesus would soon return, to a little town in Asia Minor; more recently, all sorts of prophets – and psychics – predict the Second Coming – we can probably put Emanuel Swedenborg in this group, also Edgar Cayce; so did Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter-Day Saints. Just go on YouTube and you’ll find plenty of these dreams and visions, and most are not cult leaders.

Date-Setter by Calculation – these are the people whom we will study in this article. They base their predictions principally on the Bible text or some strained reading of the Bible text. They dazzle us with numbers, dozens of verses, references to lunar eclipses, killer asteroids, flip-flopping magnetic fields, RFIDs,[3] chemtrails, earthquakes, assertions about how many years a “generation” really is, and so on. Let’s call them End-Time Number Crunchers or ETNCs.[4]

I guess we could consider a third group the Blended Date-Setters; they appeal now to their calculations, now to dreams and visions. Here’s one, a man who sets dates according to Jewish feasts, and also collects testimonies of “Dreams and Visions of September [2015] Rapture”; for example, he tells of one dream about how Puerto Rico was covered by snow – hence the End is Nigh.[5]

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Who are the End-Time Number Crunchers (ETNCs)?

One of the reasons ETNCs are dicey about the label of “prophet” is because Deut 18:15-22 prescribes the death penalty for all who make “presumptuous” predictions, that is, “if the word does not come to pass or come true.”[6] I have run across a number of these date setters, some of whom use the title Watchman or Watchman on the Wall (see Isa 62:6, Ezek 3:17, 33:6). The idea is that they have a Get out of a Stoning Free card if they make mistakes in their calculations. (more…)

Published in: on September 10, 2015 at 5:47 pm  Comments (16)  
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Read the Hebrew Torah in 2015-2016!

Some friends and I are going to read through the books of Moses over the next year. We will be follow the liturgical cycle of the synagogue for the Jewish year 5776, with a set portion or parashah every week. This breaks down to a chapter-plus per day.

I will be using Logos 6 with Stuttgartensia as my base text with the BDB lexicon.

Our reading will be exegetical and reflective rather than mystical or kabbalistic.

For those who wish to, we will be using Facebook to post our observations.

Please, this is for people who already are readers of Biblical Hebrew. I need to bring my level up, and so will others of the group, but this is not a course in Hebrew! You can study Hebrew online from many seminaries, and in Spanish from Seminario ESEPA, from May-December every year, online.

The liturgical year begins with Simchat Torah, on the evening of October 5, 2015. Will you join us?

We will follow the full kriyah calendar from Hebcal.com, the Diaspora version.

In addition, here is a full list of the 613 commandments or mitvot of the Torah, as compiled by Maimonides; it is a widely-accepted tabulation.

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