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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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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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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Romans Commentary, Romans 1:1-17

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

 

It is the style of Paul in his letters that the introduction is a road map, to show where the apostle is going. A sermon is not like that! The pastor gives some announcements, he asks why the projector isn’t working, he has to change the batteries in his lapel mike, he tells a story, funny in its way, but having nothing to do with his message. And finally, he launches his sermon into the deep.

An epistle has another nature, or to use the technical term, it is in the epistolary genre. In this case, Paul indicates from the first word where he is going to take us. That is why, if we compare Romans 1 with 1 Corinthians 1 or Galatians 1, it will be evident to which epistle belongs which introduction, since they are not interchangeable parts.

Years ago, in a class dedicated to the Pauline letters, the professor told us: The introduction of an epistle is simply a way of saying Hello, there is no substance in it. So we can jump over the first two or four or six verses and move directly to the “body” of the letter. With all due respect to the teacher, this idea is indefensible, and in fact many scholars have written about the introductions to Paul’s epistles, showing that each one has its own agenda and also tone, and that they merit our full attention.

In 1:1-17, Paul drops several clues to show where we are going. One might speak of “foreshadowing”, a literary figure in which something that happens early in the story hints at what will happen later on. One example in Romans: once we arrive at chapter 3, Paul will have proved that the Jews and the gentiles have a desperate need for the gospel. And in that moment, we will see that his references to the Jews and the Gentiles (or Greeks) in 1:16 was no casual observation, but a foreshadowing of a vital part of the message to Rome.

Other foreshadowings in the introduction include:

  • 2 – the Old Testament prophesied the gospel
  • 3 – Jesus Christ is the descendant of David
  • 4 – God declared him Son of God by the resurrection, and the Spirit of God is who gives him life
  • 5, 14-16 – the gospel is for the Jews and for all the nations
  • 5, 8, 12, 16-17 – one receives the gospel by faith

And others too; the reader will gain much by tracing these themes throughout the book.

A. Greetings (1:1-7)

v. 1

Imagine a narrow, stuffy apartment in Rome, where you and your companions in the faith are seated shoulder to shoulder. When the time comes, you close their eyes to hear the words written on a scroll, read by Deacon Phoebe of Cenchrea (see Introduction). To recall Genesis 27, The voice is the voice of Phoebe, but the words, these are from the Apostle: “Paul, servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle…”

Epistles in the ancient world began with a formula in which the author identifies himself, then greets the recipient and offers some sort of blessing or prayer. A typical letter would thus start off with something general: Paul, to the Romans, may God grant you grace and peace. The fact that Paul takes seven verses to begin his epistle reinforces what we seen above, that he is adding extra material in order that his listeners might know from the very beginning which direction he is taking. (more…)

Published in: on February 13, 2018 at 4:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Romans Commentary, Introduction

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

 

Introduction

The epistle to the Romans rises to meet the reader on two levels: (1) as a treasure house of beloved gospel texts; (2) as an ancient missionary letter, written for a specific moment in Paul’s work among the nations. Both levels are valid. Today’s disciple first comes to know Romans because of its neat formulations of, for example, the deadliness of sin (3:23), the free gift of eternal life (6:23), the transformation of the new person in Christ (12:1-2). Beyond that, secondly, we must enter into the mind of Paul and appreciate his plan for the final years of the AD 50s – a missionary journey that would take the gospel farther west from Jerusalem than it had ever gone, across several of what we now call time zones. We then see that Romans, when first delivered, was a clear call to action for the believers in the capital to receive Paul for a time, and later to sponsor his trip to evangelize Spain. In the Americas too, we are arming ourselves to take the gospel to the nations, in particular unreached ones. We too will benefit from knowing, not just what Paul said about salvation, but why he said it to these Christians in Rome, and by extension how it is God’s summons to us to show forth the gospel (more…)

Published in: on February 7, 2018 at 1:43 pm  Comments (3)  
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** GARY commentary alert!

To my surprise, I just found out that Zondervan republished my Thessalonians commentary some months back!

You can now buy three full commentaries in one eBook! Mine has a lot of Greek in it, but also much application and thoughts on how to preach the letters. The collection includes Holmes NIV Application Commentary (which I have used, and is fine), and also the Story of God Commentary (which I have not used).

OR you can buy my commentary alone at a discount, from Amazon.

CLICK HERE to order!

Published in: on January 3, 2018 at 12:25 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Solitude of the Dusky Cave

When I first saw the title of the epic novel Cien Años de Soledad by Gabriel García Márquez, and got that it meant “one hundred years of solitude,” my heart leapt in anticipation. But 500 pages later, I finally grasped that the protagonists of the story didn’t get their promised seclusion; the title seems to have meant something else!

And let’s turn our thoughts to spiritual solitude.

For some believers, there exists a sweet solitude of the lone rider (“God and I”); but for others there is the hostile drawing into themselves (“I Alone, Without God”), an implosion.

We are all familiar with how Adam and Eve put on masks to hide themselves:

the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. (Gen 3:7-8 NRSV)

Now in fact, this was a symptom of an earlier refusal to live in God’s presence; they had turned a cold shoulder to God even before they covered up and ran away. The very act of eating the fruit was already a signal of their independence – not the emotional self-actualization of the adult, but the sulky leave-taking of the runaway child. (more…)

John Wesley’s “Rules for Band-Societies”

Gary’s Introduction: this concept of Band-Societies was a small group dynamic, in which believers would volunteer to be accountable to one another. It has inspired similar meetings for almost three centuries. By the way, this was not simply a “lowest-common-denominator” group to share your feelings and that was that! These same men also gathered for two hours, four evenings a week, for rigorous study of the Greek New Testament and prayer.

Wesley’s Rules for Band-Societies, Drawn up December 25, 1738.

The design of our meeting is, to obey that command of God, “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed.”

To this end, we intend.

  1. To meet once a week, at the least.
  2. To come punctually at the hour appointed, without some extraordinary reason.
  3. To begin (those of us who are present) exactly at the hour, with singing or prayer.
  4. To speak each of us in order, freely and plainly, the true state of our souls, with the faults we have committed in thought, word, or deed, and the temptations we have felt, since our last meeting.
  5. To end every meeting with prayer, suited to the state of each person present.
  6. To desire some person among us to speak his own state first, and then to ask the rest, in order, as many and as searching questions as may be, concerning their state, sins, and temptations.

Some of the questions proposed to every one before he is admitted among us may he to this effect.

  1. Have you the forgiveness of your sins.
  2. Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. Have you the witness of God’s Spirit with your spirit, that you are a child of God.
  4. Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart.
  5. Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you.
  6. Do you desire to be told of your faults.
  7. Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home.
  8. Do you desire that every one of us should tell you, from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you.
  9. Consider! Do you desire we should tell you whatsoever we think, whatsoever we fear, whatsoever we hear, concerning you.
  10. Do you desire that, in doing this, we should come as close as possible, that we should cut to the quick, and search your heart to the bottom.
  11. Is it your desire and design to be on this, and all other occasions, entirely open, so as to speak everything that is in your heart without exception, without disguise, and without reserve.

Any of the preceding questions may be asked as often as occasion others; the four following at every meeting.

  1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting.
  2. What temptations have you met with.
  3. How were you delivered.
  4. What have you thought, said, or done, of which you doubt whether it be sin or not.

‘John Wesley’s “Rules for Band-Societies,”‘ by Gary S. Shogren, Professor of New Testament, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica