Church attendees should be seen and not heard…not!

In one of the only glimpses we have of an early church meeting, Paul observed: “When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation” (1 Cor 14:26). We would not say that 100% of the people always stood to lead the worship, but it certainly gives the impression that a broad percentage might. [1]

This verse was heavy in my mind when I wrote on Romans 16:

Today’s American church has become professionalized, and only a handful are allowed anywhere near the microphone. By contrast, the early believers did not meet as a megachurch, but as a network of house churches of fewer than 100 people. When Paul describes a meeting, he envisions a worship service where everyone had the chance to participate, not just by singing and giving money, but by teaching, leading a song, or giving a supernatural message.

Some indigenous tribes have used an object called a “talking stick”; in meetings, it was passed from hand to hand – whoever had the stick had the right to speak his mind.

talkingstick1

Traditional talking stick

Today’s church microphone has become the “talking stick” that is the domain of a few pros, usually men. Although in the first-century synagogue the women were generally not allowed to lead, still, a higher proportion of male attendees participated in leading the meetings than do Christian men today. The fact that an Old Covenant model beats out today’s New Covenant one should give us pause.

microphone-transparent-4

Modern talking stick: “Look with your eyes, lay people, not with your hands!”

There are groups that try to bend the church back to its first-century practices. The Plymouth Brethren with whom I have worked are partly successful, and the house church movement also might lay claim to some achievement in this area. But my quest is not a particular model of church, but a dynamic that any church ought to have.

I have recently seen a striking example of multiple participation in leadership. Let me take you to Cuba, to a tiny church hidden away on a back road, and let’s see if they have anything to teach us.

It’s June 2018. We have taken a bone-rattling ride to a small building tucked away from the road. The pastor and his wife and other members were all exceedingly friendly and grateful that I had come to visit – I told them politely that No, no, el placer is mío. No, no the pleasure is mine!

The sanctuary is a small cinderblock structure; it could seat about 50. It has a platform; a curtain across the front; a hand-made wooden cross of about 2 meters height.

They had about 30 adults in attendance – 24 women, 6 men – plus 10 kids of various ages. No keyboard, but big speakers and a projector. There are two sections of five metal or wood pews. The service starts at 10am, but even before we enter there is recorded music with a video being played. After I take a seat, a street dog comes in and makes himself at home under my pew. As is typical in Latin America, the dog is not petted or paid attention.

THE SERVICE

We sing a chorus

Next, a laywoman gets up for a “testimonio” about what God is doing in her life. She reads it off of a pad and then sits. This will become a running motif throughout the 2-hour service.

Next, the pastor’s wife leads in song.

But what’s this? Another sister gives a testimony. It’s now clear that someone has arranged all these people beforehand, since almost everyone gets up without being prompted. That is, the worship, while thickly peopled, is not out of control.

Someone leads us in singing from a dilapidated hymnal that is held together with tape and as fragile as an ancient manuscript. But this time the dog has wandered off.

Then a third devotional, by a man, this time reading Psalm 121.

Then a video presentation; I have seen it before, it’s the one about an auction with a painting that no-one buys, then a poor old man gives everything he has because his dead son had painted it.

Someone leads two more choruses.

A man gets up to ask for other testimonies; there are four people who rise to speak one after another.

A rooster crows outside.

Yet another woman with a devotional.

Then another leads in prayer.

Then another leads a chorus with guitar – this is the only live music of the morning, and as with the other songs someone played the maracas.

Another chorus.

Then 5 kids get up to sing and lead us in a song.

Then a baby dedication. The pastor reads a number of passages and he invites his co-pastor and myself to lay hands on the child, a boy of maybe 3 months. A dog (the same dog?) barks out front.

Finally, I am invited to come up to preach. They are a very nice audience to talk to, although there is a regular rustling – animals outside, people getting called to see to a child in Sunday School. I speak for maybe 45 minutes on the New Covenant and they seem quite pleased to hear it. The pastor gets up to give a few words at the end, to reinforce what I had said, then we sing and went out.

I remarked to the pastor that I was happy to see how so many people participated in leading worship. He was pleased that I noticed: “This is precisely what we are trying to accomplish!” he said.

The final tally? My best guess is:

  • out of 30 adults, 18 took to their feet to lead worship
  • out of 10 children, 5 did so
  • I, the visiting guest speaker, was leading for a bit more than a third of the time

That is: The majority of the worshipers at this service were not just onlookers, audience, singers-along-with-the-band, or tithers. They contributed in some specific way. Women and men stood up to lead in rough proportion to their numbers. [2]

Let’s contrast that with this image, where I will guess that far less than 1% of the congregation “leads” the worship.

The next Sunday, I preached at another Cuban church in the same denomination; they clearly are following the policy of their sister church. The participation was even more dense – maybe 20 people out of 35 in attendance led the worship at some point.

I do not believe in tricks, magic, models, gimmicks, or formulae to make our church experience perfect. But I do believe that any Christian meeting should arise from the many who are gifted, not just the few, and not just the one. And that there are many ways to implement Paul’s observation that “When you come together, each of you has…”

NOTE

[1] Importantly, D. A. Carson points out, “We have no detailed first-century evidence of an entire Christian service.” See Worship by the Book (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), p. 21. The earliest detailed description is probably that of Justin Martyr, in his First Apology, from around 155, that is, a fully century after 1 Corinthians. The description strikes me as a service that is much more formal, ordered, and focused on a few leaders than that which 1 Corinthians implies. See his full statement here: http://silouanthompson.net/2008/05/justin-martyr-describes-christian-worship-c150-ad/

[2] My Plymouth Brethren friends will be immediately aware of how these churches are applying 1 Cor 14:26 across the sexes, which is what Paul implied would happen in 1 Cor 11:5, “every woman who prays or prophesies.”

“Church attendees should be seen and not heard…not!” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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Romans Commentary, Romans 9:1-11:36

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans

Outline:

V. The Historical Problem of the New People of God and God’s Ancient People Israel (9:1-11:36)
A. The unbelief of Israel and the election of the Gentiles is in accordance with Scripture (9:1-10:4)
B. Israel can receive righteousness of Christ if only it believes (10:5-21)
C. Both the chosen Gentiles and the eschatological remnant of Israel will be saved (11:1-36)

V. The Historical Problem of the New People of God and God’s Ancient People Israel (9:1-11:36)

Romans 9-11 is a unit and must be read as such. Paul returns to the fellow Israelites about whom he spoke in chapters 2-3. Again there are frequent quotations of the Old Testament (see 3:10-18) and an “apostrophe” to address an imaginary opponent (compare 9:19-21 with 2:1-24). It is possible that in chapter 9 Paul is using previous material, perhaps a sermon he had used within a synagogue. Nevertheless, the whole section is well connected with the rest of the letter, especially God’s “call” to receive the gospel (see 1:5, 6, 7; 8:28-30). It is not something tacked on, interrupting the flow from chapters 8 to 12 with some random thoughts on salvation history.

Paul starts out in Romans 9, apparently in a black mood concerning Israel’s fate. Yet he finishes Romans 11 with joyful praise. Despite this surprising conclusion, “…one can hardly claim that Paul did not know at the outset how his discussion would end” (Käsemann, p. 257). The pivot of his argument lies in 10:1 – “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved.” And his study of the Scripture plus a fresh revelation of a divine “mystery” intersect at the same conclusion, that one day, “all Israel will be saved” (11:26a).

The section offers solutions, but it is also necessary to reconstruct what were the questions that Paul was trying to solve. We propose the following:

  1. What is the relationship between God’s calling of the Christian (8:29-30) and his ancient call of Israel to be his chosen people (9:12; 11:29)?
  2. If the author of the gospel is the God of Israel, then why does only a small minority of Jews believe it?
  3. If the Jews fail to see Jesus Christ in the pages of their own Bible, then does that mean that the Old Testament is invalid for the Christian?
  4. Is this the end of Israel’s status as God’s ancient people?

His answers are:

  1. If even one single Israelite believes in the gospel, then God must still be calling Israelites to faith.
  2. The Old Testament Scriptures show that God’s chosen people Israel constantly rebelled and refused to believe.
  3. The same Scriptures, if properly interpreted, predicted this outbreak of unbelief among the Jews, the call of Gentiles to faith, and the ultimate bright future of Israel.

God will use the conversion of many Gentiles, in part through Paul’s mission, to provoke Israel to jealousy; in the end, all the survivors of the nation of Israel will be redeemed (more…)

Published in: on August 11, 2018 at 1:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Prayer for our nation

Here is a prayer I use:

Almighty God, who has given us this good land for our heritage: We humbly beseech you that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of your favor and glad to do your will.

Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and pure manners.

Save us from violence, discord, and confusion; from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion us into one united people. Endue with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in your Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that, through obedience to your law, we may show forth your praise among the nations of the earth.

In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in you to fail; all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Gary again – May I suggest that many (most?) of us would pray it this way:  that we will apply the “good stuff” to ourselves, and the negative things to The Other (the other race, the other language, the other political party).

That would make it look something like:

And so forth.

No. I cannot imagine that we can dissect a prayer like this and go before the Lord with a straight face. Woe to the worshiper who speaks or even implies such proud exceptionalism in their prayer.

“Prayer for our nation,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

My new book “Iceberg Ahead!” – an excerpt

I have been working on and off for the past few years on a new book. It is a real departure for me, working through how to face ministry disappointments, whether minor or major.

What happens when God’s servants face apathy, ingratitude, racism, psychological issues, physical ailments, lies, and other problems? Our solution is not to ignore our pain, but to “re-tell” our stories through the biblical lens, to ourselves, to others, to God.

We use the experiences of the apostle Paul on his missionary journey to Macedonia as the framework for understanding our own trials.

Enjoy! And I hope to see this in print before too long.

The disappointments in Christian ministry might feel like colliding with an iceberg!

TITLE:
Iceberg Ahead!
When God’s servants
crash into cold, hard reality

Excerpt from the INTRODUCTION

Collision, the North Atlantic, 1912

Two massive objects took intersecting paths. And they nearly missed each other – this word ‘nearly’ is key, since it was a glancing blow alone that turned fatal for 1500 people.

RMS Titanic was the dream of Bruce Ismay of the White Star Line, which planned to astonish the world with the biggest ocean liner ever built. It was ready with only hours to spare: the boarding passengers remarked on the smell of fresh paint. From concept to maiden voyage took four long years, and finally it sailed forth under the command of Captain Edward Smith.

Meanwhile, traveling from the north: The berg was ages older than this or any human ship, calved from a Greenland glacier that had taken thousands of years to form out of layered ice and snow. The massive piece of ice had broken off the previous summer, and it took a year to drift in the direction of Nova Scotia, ambling toward its date with history. On April 14, 11:40pm, it would have been moving at less than half a mile per hour. Later reports noted that it was the only large berg in the vicinity, that is, in theory it could easily have been missed.

And traveling from the east: the Titanic plowed ahead with geometrical accuracy, as if it had planned its deadly rendezvous with the help of satellite positioning. If only the great ship had been traveling one knot faster or slower; if it had steamed from port a few minutes earlier or later; if it had turned a fraction of a degree further south when the iceberg warnings came in. If only we could factor in one of these minute changes, the Titanic would have sailed on to New York and the berg would have floated by in the darkness, unseen and unremarked. The name Titanic would be as historically obscure as the names of its two sister ships, the Britannic (sunk in World War I) and the Olympic (after many years of service, sold for scrap). There are no movies about the Olympic; no Celine Dion songs about the Britannic!

A hundred vain ‘what-ifs’ – and we have had a century to wonder why this disaster came to this ship on that night.

Collision, Paul on his first Macedonian Tour

It was at roughly the midpoint of his ministry years when the apostle Paul launched a new operation, with what seemed like specific direction from God: Go to Macedonia, announce the good news of Jesus.

As it turned out, Paul ran into massive opposition there. To extend the Titanic image even further, Paul rammed into one iceberg, but did not sink; he then limped along and smashed into a second one; and again, and again, for a total of, by our count, eleven distinct collisions, any one of which could have finished him off. (more…)

Gossip, anyone?

“Let’s pray first!” I overheard the two sitting at the next table at my favorite coffee shop, before they sipped their coffees and nibbled at their bizcochos. I smiled, pleased to hear people stopping to pray in a public place.

My smile was soon to fade.

  • So they bowed their heads.
  • And prayed.
  • And as soon as they finished, launched right into an angry running attack on a person who wasn’t present. The target was another church member who was engaged in some sort of ministry with them.
  • And kept it up for a good 45 minutes.

(It’s cool – they’re just “networking”!)

Now, I promise, I was trying hard not to eavesdrop, but they were very passionate, and I didn’t want to give up my comfy chair just to avoid hearing them.

I have just spent some time in Romans, and 1:29-31 seemed relevant here – I have marked the sins that this pair may have been committing.

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. [And if they were not telling the strict truth about their “frenemy,” one could tack deceit on to the list]

And if we do what we’re supposed to – read the Bible in its context (more…)

The ‘Ultracharismatics’ of Corinth and the Pentecostals of Latin America as the Religion of the Disaffected

Originally published as: “The ‘Ultracharismatics’ of Corinth and the Pentecostals of Latin America as the religion of the disaffected.” Tyndale Bulletin 56.2 (2005): 91-110. This is a detailed exegetical study, more technical than most of what I post on this blog.

To download the article as a pdf, click here Ultracharismatics in Corinth and in Latin America. La versión en español AQUI.

Summary

This paper arises from research on 1 Corinthians within a Latin American milieu. It shows the value of studying God’s word from non-First World perspectives, particularly with regard to the themes of societal status and the charismata in the first century church. The majority opinion is that 1 Corinthians was written to correct a ‘pneumatic enthusiasm’, with such diverse components as the denial of the resurrection, egalitarianism and triumphalism. It would follow that the teaching about the charismata in chapters 12–14 is directed against that same outlook. We will argue that the majority of the letter is addressed to Christians who dabbled in philosophy as a sign of their upward mobility. But then, using sociological insights from Roman Corinth and from the contemporary Latin American church, we will propose that chapters 12–14 speak to the marginalized of the church. They had turned to the showier charismata as a means of creating an identity for themselves in a church where the elitists received all the attention…as well as invitations to the table of other rich Christians. Thus while the bulk of the letter is a harsh rebuke to the arrogant elitists, chapters 12–14 are directed to the marginalized ultracharismatics, showing them that all of God’s gifts must be used in the loving service of the body.

1. Introduction: 1 Corinthians 12-14 in the scope of the letter

In 12:1 Paul responds to a written question regarding the gifts of the Spirit.[1] The main issue was that some were ignoring apostolic custom, which the apostle reaffirms in chapter 14. For want of a better label, we will refer to them as ‘ultracharismatics’. Given Paul’s response, we will argue further down that tongues were causing some – whether it was their intention or no – to withdraw inwardly from the group dynamic of the assembly. What is more readily obvious from the text is that their noise and unintelligibility tended to overwhelm those who wanted to unite the group with teaching, song, or prophetic revelation (14:26). John Hurd is not quite on the mark, therefore, that chapters 12-14 are ‘one long attack upon the notion that speaking in tongues was the single or the best manifestation of the Spirit at work in the Church’.[2] This may have been the specific issue in the letter from Corinth, but Paul’s larger criticism has to do with using any charism without due care to the church’s need for corporate edification (more…)

Romans Commentary, Romans 6:1-8:39

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans

 

IV. The Miraculous New Life in Christ (6:1-8:39)

Ask citizens of the Majority World, “What is the main human dilemma?” and they might respond with legitimate concerns: economic inequality, or perhaps corruption, political oppression, lack of education, destruction of the environment. But according to Romans 1-5, our most basic and universal and intractable predicament is that we all, Jew or Gentile, are cut off from God through deliberate or even unconscious rebellion, meriting his anger. The only solution is forgiveness and reconciliation, freely offered through Christ. All other issues are secondary, all further discussion mere commentary. (more…)

Published in: on March 29, 2018 at 1:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Book Review: Lisa J. Radcliff, Hidden with Christ – Breaking Free from the Grip of your Past

Capture.PNG

Ideally, a young girl should grow up surrounded by love; the adults in her life should be dependable; they should respect boundaries; they should alleviate fear rather than stir it up. We instinctively feel that all of these shoulds ought to be a given. But the sad reality is that a large percentage of girls, and boys, are sexually abused.

It has been repeated so often that it has achieved the status of a mantra: Most molesters are people known to the child, be they relatives, family friends, teachers, community leaders, and even religious leaders.

And to multiply the evil, many in society and church have chosen the path of least resistance, going on the presumption that adults are more believable than children; that men are more believable than women; that abuse is caused more by the victims’ behavior or dress than the choices of the perpetrators.

Lisa Radcliff has lived this whole narrative (more…)

Romans Commentary, Romans 3:21-5:21

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans

III. Salvation in the Gospel of Christ (3:21-5:21)

Paul has moved step by step to reach his goal, “that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (3:19b); he needed, as previously noted, approximately 68 verses to close everyone’s mouth. But now that he has arrived at the solution for the human dilemma, he needs fewer than 10 verses. This disparity reveals what was the mindset among the Roman Christians – no-one doubted that salvation was through Christ; some may have doubted that Christ was indispensable for Jews (in Spain? in Rome?) who were faithful to Torah. (more…)

Published in: on March 6, 2018 at 10:11 am  Leave a Comment  
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Romans Commentary, Romans 1:18-3:20

This commentary was prepared for Kairos Publications in Buenos Aires. It was composed specifically for the Latin American church. In some cases I have retained the words “Latin America,” at other times I have substituted “the Americas.” The bibliography reflects what is available to the Spanish-speaking church. We will publish it a section at a time, and eventually as an entire pdf file. The reader will notice that its purpose is to explain and apply this wonderful epistle to the church of today. Blessings! Gary Shogren

To download the full commentary as a pdf, click here Shogren_Commentary on Romans

 

II. The Coming Condemnation of All (1:18-3:20)

Paul’s goal is to prove that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23) and that even more fatally, any and all sin is eternally disastrous for Gentile or Jew.

Foremost of course he is addressing the Christians of Rome, whether they are Jewish or not. But on another level, Paul is talking as if he were addressing an imaginary synagogue audience (see our description of “apostrophe” under 2:1). In 1:18-32, he first speaks about Gentile wickedness, in a way that his hypothetical synagogue would have certainly appreciated. It is precisely what the young rabbi Sha’ul would have heard or preached before he encountered Christ. Then, beginning in 2:1, he speaks to that same imaginary audience of Jews about how their own sins are enough to bring down God’s wrath on their heads.

It is human nature that we feel most happy when someone judges the sins of “them” or “Those Others,” especially if we are left in peace with our own behaviors (more…)

Published in: on February 27, 2018 at 12:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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