What? Me, a priest?!

Note: this is the abridged verion of a talk I gave at Seminario ESEPA, on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. To download the entire article with footnotes, go HERE or download the pdf here: Shogren_The Priesthood of All Believers in the Reformation En español: Shogren_El sacerdocio de todos los creyentes

We are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, when believers came to reject certain tenets of the Roman church and attempted to restore biblical doctrine. And everyone remembers that doctrinal superstar, the final authority of the Scriptures; also, the famous justification by faith alone. But according to many experts in the field, the third principle, there would have been no Reformation. This is the doctrine of the universal priesthood of all believers; that because we are united with Christ, and anointed by the Spirit, then each and every Christian is a priest (more…)

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Published in: on October 27, 2017 at 1:39 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Priesthood of All Believers in the Reformation

To download the entire article with footnotes, click here: Shogren_The Priesthood of All Believers in the Reformation En español: Shogren_El sacerdocio de todos los creyentes

Introduction
1. The Catholic Doctrine
2. The Reformation and Beyond: Luther, Calvin, the Anabaptists, the Wesleyans
3. Modern Abuses of the Doctrine: Anti-Intellectualism, the “Super-Anointed” Leader, Hyper-Individualism
Conclusion

Introduction

Some years back three opera singers formed a trio, and took the name “The Three Tenors.” With their recordings and concerts, they became a megahit and came to be even more famous. Ah yes, the people said: The Three Tenors! The magnificent Luciano Pavarotti! The incomparable Plácido Domingo! And the third guy. Yes, what was his name? (Ah, yes! The unforgettable José Carreras!)

We are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, when believers came to reject certain tenets of the Roman church and attempted to restore biblical doctrine. And everyone remembers that doctrinal superstar, the final authority of the Scriptures; also, the famous justification by faith alone. But according to many experts in the field, without the “third tenor,” the third principle, there would have been no Reformation. This is the doctrine of the universal priesthood of all believers; that is, that Christ is the one and only high priest, and that because we are united with Christ, and anointed by the Spirit, then each and every Christian is a priest.

Its biblical basis, among other texts, is:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation (1 Pet 2:9, the NIV here and elsewhere in this paper). This is lifted textually from the promise made to Israel in Exodus 19:6 LXX – “you will be for me a kingdom of priests.”

[Christ] has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father (Rev 1:6).[i]

Theology Puzzle: Circle the priest in this photo. It’s fun!

Interestingly enough, the Protestant and the Catholic both are in agreement with respect to the importance of the doctrine, since priesthood is not a peripheral doctrine or secondary; it is one vital component of how we understand salvation itself.

1. The Catholic Doctrine

The Roman doctrine is that, of course, there is only one high priest, Christ, after the order of Melchizedek. Therefore, the ecclesiastical priesthood cannot be said to be a separate entity, but rather a participation by the ordained in the one true priest in heaven. The technical term is that the Catholic priests act in persona Christi, that is, “in the person of Christ.” (more…)

Published in: on October 22, 2017 at 10:50 am  Comments (5)  
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Preaching: whether you go long or go short, just GO DEEP!!

Here is a link to the article under question, “Still Saving Eutychus,” by Marty Sweeney. Says the author: “In my circles it is assumed, to put it simplistically, that to be more faithful to God you must preach longer.” He goes on to question that assumption.

And despite my sermons of 40ish minutes, I more or less sympathize with the article.

I have heard 90 minute sermons which flew past; I have heard 15 minute ones which I thought would never end.

Now, I don’t mind a longer sermon, but I do object to:

  • Those preachers who lack basic self-discipline and try to pass that flaw off as depth.
  • Or who preach “in the spirit of the Puritans,” who, you know, gave really long messages.
  • Or who preach on and on because, if they don’t, then somehow we have caved into that handy catchall bogeyman, postmodernism.
  • Or because we don’t want the bigger boys to make fun of our unmanly “sermonettes preached by preacherettes!” (that other bogeyman, the ideology of gender)

But wait! Eutychus! I hear you say. Acts 20:7-12! Ah, yes. But when Eutychus (whose Greek name means “Lucky”) took a header from that window, it was during an extraordinarily long preaching session. A record-breaker. One that the author describes only because it was such an oddity, given under urgent circumstances.

But I insist that, if Paul taught (let’s say) for 12 hours that night, there is no way that he filled that slot with stories of guys he knew growing up in Tarsus; or some cute thing that Epaphroditus had said the other day: or a long list of “You Might be an Ephesian if…”; or 15 principles of how to become a better executive; or why gladiators (the ancient equivalent of football stars) have excellent insight into gospel truths; or page after page that he got from some bestseller; or some clever but unhelpful analysis of some Hebrew verb. Nor even a sermon that might have gone somewhere, but then went off the grid (“I HAVE A DREAM TODAY! Well, not really a dream, it’s more of a…what’s that thing, what do you call it, an ideal. But a realistic one that may or may not be able to be pulled off! Anyway, I have one of those,” etc, etc). Or a conclusion he makes 5 or 6 attempts at, before finally “sticking the landing.”

A Preacher Amber Alert – “The pastor was last seen at 10:58 Sunday. He looked lost. He wandered in, he wandered out. And now his people are getting really worried!”

We should be very conscious that every minute we speak, we are asking the People of God to invest that amount of time with us.

If I am preaching to a group of – well, let’s say, 60 people, to make the math easier – then for every minute I speak, I am consuming a man-hour of the church’s energy. For every hour I speak, I am consuming 60 man-hours. And yes, I am fully aware that God’s people misuse whopping amounts of time on junk, but that gives me no excuse for burning up the clock unnecessarily.

At the very least, God’s people should get a lived-out and prayed-through encounter with the Lord in and through his Word, a right-out-of-the-gate beginning, a solid meal, realistic and specific application, and a confident conclusion.

Related Posts:

“Mini-Sermon: Matt 22, What is the Greatest Commandment.”

“‘But the Greek REALLY says…’: Why Hebrew and Greek are not Needed in the Pulpit”

“Preaching: whether you go long or go short, just GO DEEP!!,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Why Would a Hurricane Hit Texas and Florida, and not, for example, Alabama?

Related essay: “False Apostles are Smacked Down by Hurricane Irma!

I offer the following difficult theme with, I hope, all respect to those who suffer and with prayer God’s blessings on the residents of Texas as they pull their lives back from the flood and the Caribbean and Florida and especially Puerto Rico. And we will close with an appeal for donations.

Hurricane Harvey, 2017

Human beings are wired to look for cause and effect. The car won’t start; that means the battery must be dead! That bell keeps ringing; there must be someone at the front door!

But we don’t always get it right.

My favorite “false cause” story comes from the great Northeast Blackout of 1965. Millions from Ontario through Pennsylvania went without power for hours. When it hit, a Conway, New Hampshire, boy was on his way home from school. As boys will do, he was hitting stuff with a stick. He swung with all his might at a telephone pole, and just as he connected, the lights went off all over town! He ran home distraught, telling his mother that the blackout was all his fault! (more…)

My month with the Book of Mormon – May 2017

To download the article as a document, take a picture here:

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The Bible is really, incredibly old! The Old and New Testaments were copied by hand for centuries, if not millennia! And to interpret the Bible correctly, an expert ought to be well aware of the original languages! At least, that’s how it is with my Bible.

All the more striking, then, that the Book of Mormon (BofM) was the first scripture I have read that was originally composed in – or, according to Joseph Smith, miraculously and infallibly translated into – my own language. That is, it is the English text of the BofM that is considered divinely authoritative, beyond which version there is no further appeal.[1]

The BofM is one of the principal books of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) popularly known as the Mormons, and other related groups.[2] It is not the only one considered as new revelation; the LDS later added “Doctrine and Covenants” and “Pearl of Great Price” to their canon.

We live in an age of people giving reviews of books they have never read. The Bible is probably the most-reviewed and least-read book of our age (more…)

Bible Prophecy, ch 1 – “Bible Prophecies” that are NOT found in the Bible

This is a long essay with numerous footnotes. The reader may prefer to download it in pdf form: Shogren_Bible Prophecy #1 Bible Prophecies that are NOT in the Bible

I plan on at least two more articles in this series, in which I will describe End-Time expectations that may or may not be found in the Bible, depending on your interpretation; and End-Time expectations that are in the Bible.

I grew up in the woods. By “woods”, I don’t mean a park with some scattered trees, but a place where large patches were so choked with brush and thorns and fallen branches and boulders from the last Ice Age that it was literally impossible to pass through. My mind returns to the woods every time I fight my way through the thicket created by our modern prophets. Because of their creativity, the predictions that people claim to be in the Bible outnumber, exponentially, the predictions that actually are in the Bible. That is why, before we can begin to talk about Bible prophecy, we have to clear the ground of heavy undergrowth, the things that people have been told are in the Bible, but which we cannot seem to find on any actual page of Scripture. I write this, not because I don’t love Bible prophecy, but because I respect it too much to see it taken lightly.

The very length of this article is the unfortunate side-effect of the tonnage of “prophecy myths” that are out there. One reason for this is that End-Time predictions are big business: take a look at the books by Tim LaHaye, Jack Van Impe, Jonathan Cahn, John Hagee, and even David Jeremiah. The Left Behind series of books alone has sold over 65 million, not to mention the movies and the merchandise. Irwin Baxter has no difficulty selling his very expensive DVD’s; and there are influential sites like Rapture Ready and End Times Prophecy News and Signs of the End and The Jeremiah Project and Terry James Prophecy Line or groups such as Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Many of them employ the same opening stratagem: “I have been studying and teaching Bible prophecy for X number of years; therefore, you should trust me to know what is in the Bible!”

In fact no: the Word of God tells us what to believe, and the believer has no need of a Prophecy Gatekeeper to access its pages.

Here we will focus on those who teach with the Bible in one hand, and today’s headlines in the other.[i] There are two problems with their method: first, it assumes that Bible prophecy must be being fulfilled in today’s news, as opposed to headlines from AD 582, 1007, 1851, or 2086; two, the prophecy experts have the unhappy tendency of starting with the news headlines, and then reading them back into the Bible. The 2016 Blizzard? Yes, someone discovered that it was an End-Times event, but only after the storm.[ii] Minor stock market crash in 2016? Same thing, and from the same source, the always-ready-to speculate Charisma News. While we would take to the streets in protest if some theologian placed his or her own tradition about the Bible, we don’t blink when the high priests of prophecy do basically the same thing with today’s headlines. We won’t even delve into the secular gurus such as David Ickes or Alex Jones or the Flat Earthers, who preach an apocalyptic viewpoint with very little Bible mixed in.

If some evangelicals (and yes, some Catholics,[iii] some Orthodox,[iv] some Adventists, plus the majority of the sects) are known for this sleight of hand, then the Jehovah’s Witnesses have to get the blue ribbon. Their modus operandi is to zero in on the Anxiety of the Day, knock on your door, mention how anxious people are about it, and then show how they, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, saw it all coming ahead of time! Exhibit A: this issue of Awake magazine from 1968: “Is it Later than you Think? Is time running out for this generation? What will the 1970’s bring?”

Take any headline from today’s paper, or Time magazine, or YouTube, or your newsfeed, or Facebook, and if you really, really try, I guarantee you’ll be able to find a Bible verse to show how it was predicted long ago. Syria in the news? Just look in the concordance and you will find a verse that fits.

Wow! All those 7’s, and just because Donald Trump sent a few small missiles into an empty airfield, one which the Syrians were able to quickly repair and start using again.

Another example: I just saw on CNN, “Promising Zika Vaccine Moves to Next Stage.”[v] And so let’s say I channel my Prophetic Ingenuity to put together an article like this:

“Revelation 16 says that there will be many plagues, which will kill a huge number of people. And what do we see in the news? People are coming down with Zika, and desperately trying to find a vaccine, instead of repenting from their sins.”

Now – remember that I did this “blindfolded,” without peeking, but let’s see if I can find someone doing this very thing (more…)

Published in: on April 27, 2017 at 1:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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Holy books, wholly understandable

I try, every year, to read the scripture of some other faith. That is, read the books themselves, not just a second-hand analysis of them

In 2016 it was the Koran, which I found well worth the read, if a little repetitious. It is about 4/5 the length of the New Testament.

In 2017 I have read the Bhaghavad Gita, which is a substantially shorter book. And I have just started the Book of Mormon, which is twice as long as the New Testament.

The two books I did as Audible recordings, of which I am a major fan, the Book of Mormon on LibriVox.

My observation here has to do with clear communication:

The Koran I read was the Penguin edition (1956) by N. J. Dawood; it is meant for non-specialists and was very understandable. Click HERE.

The Bhaghavad Gita I accessed two ways; first through then through the wonderful introduction and translation by Eknath Easwaran. And much, but not all, of the 2000-page commentary by Swami Ramsukhdasji, a gift from a dear Hindu friend.

Especially in the case of the Eknath Easwaran edition (click HERE), the rendering is very clear, with technical terms carefully explained; and then before each chapter, the author sums up the previous context, then gives a summary of the new chapter. In other words, it couldn’t be easier for the non-Hindu.

Foment curiosity and independent thinking? Sure! Create confusion? No!

All to say that, in both cases, someone exerted a great deal of effort to make clear to me the basic message of the holy books of another faith. In neither book was I ever lost, although of course my understanding of them remains superficial.

The application for the Christian should be clear.

How much more should someone who is interested in communicating our true message take great pains to

  • study it seriously,
  • meditate on it deeply,
  • pray about it thoroughly,
  • rely on God’s grace to live it authentically, and
  • seek God’s direction to proclaim it truthfully and powerfully.

Also, I would add, use straightforward language instead of flowery or technical; and to employ good English – rather than Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, or Bohairic, or who knows what. (See my long article on this issue HERE). To give Paul’s statement a different but legitimate application: “in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue.” And out of the church, even more so.

These versions of holy books remind me of our dear late professor, I. Howard Marshall; the first sermon I heard him preach, in Kings College Chapel in Aberdeen, was on the theme of “repentance” from Romans 2: “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” He was speaking to a mixed group, some of whom were not very familiar with the Bible. I paraphrase him: “Repentance is not making ourselves out to be the worst person that ever lived,” he began, and then gave us a simple short sentence on what it does mean to repent. Clear as a bell. The handful of times I went to hear John Stott preach, same thing.

That is the apostolic way, it is the way of love.

“Holy books, wholly understandable,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Christians and “Coincidences” or Is There a Hex in the Patternicity?

This article has many images and footnotes; I encourage the reader to download it as a pdf here: Shogren_Christians and Coincidences

It happened just the other day: I had been thinking about James Bond, and later when I pulled out a form of identification for the bank teller, I noticed that my ID number began with 007! Was I a secret agent? Perhaps one suffering from amnesia?

Or, let’s say a man “has a system” for beating the Vegas roulette table. He has noticed that black has come up eight times in a row. So he bets everything on black, because “there’s clearly a pattern to the wheel tonight.” Meanwhile, a man across from him is thinking to himself, “I’d better put everything on red, since it looks like it’s due to come up.”

A child and her companion lie on their backs, looking up at the clouds. “That one looks like a giraffe!” she says. “And that one a camel!” “No, not a camel, look at it upside-down, it looks just like an octopus.” One child says, “An angel!”; another says, “Actually, it looks quite like Charles Darwin!”

We have all played this game without realizing that we were doing pattern recognition. As Paul Simon wrote many years back, in the song “Patterns”:

The night sets softly
With the hush of falling leaves,
Casting shivering shadows
On the houses through the trees,
And the light from a street lamp
Paints a pattern on my wall,
Like the pieces of a puzzle
Or a child’s uneven scrawl.

Leaves, shadows, trees, indecipherable scrawling – these can all seem like messages because of our human tendency for patternicity. So can tortillas and numbers and corporate logos, as we shall see.

This is why astronomers speak of the Horsehead Nebula, which was not modeled after a terrestrial animal, but just sort of looks like a horse!

From ages past, people have imagined patterns in the stars and constructed “constellations” of animals, gods, heroes. And we can get a cross-check on patternicity by seeing how different cultures “read” the same stars –  it’s Orion in European legend, but the same stars are a hunter and his dogs chasing a deer in India. Mr. Rorschach invented his famous ink blots on the basis of human pattern recognition (“Ummm…is it, maybe, two ducks kissing?” “Okay, Mr. Anderson, we’d better make it three sessions per week!”)

We are wired to quickly detect patterns in the data we see and hear. This is a huge help to get us through the day: when our alarm clock goes off, we don’t have to puzzle over, “Now, what could that buzzer possibly mean?”

But for some people, that recognition faculty goes beyond what is useful (more…)

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