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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Paul had the Bible memorized!

It is common knowledge that the apostle knew by heart the entire text of the Hebrew Scriptures. He also was able to cite another version at will: the Greek version of the Bible known as the Septuagint. This is the version he almost always quote in his letters to Greek-speaking Christians.

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Page of the Septuagint, 2nd century

Thus: when he quoted from the Scriptures, he didn’t have to look it up.

Just ran across this tradition concerning the rabbi Shammai, the important theologian who lived in the first century BC, that is, a couple of generations before Paul. He affirmed that in effect he owned two copies of the Bible:

There was the incident of a certain gentile who came before Shammai. He said to him, “How many Torahs do you have?” [Shammai] said to him, “Two, one in writing, one memorized.” [b. Shabbat 31A, Babylonian Talmud, Neusner edition, 2:127]

Two copies of the Bible, true for Shammai, true for Paul. How true is this for us?

“Paul had the Bible memorized!” by Gary S. Shogren, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

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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Sanctification as singlemindedness

Just ran across this from Calvin. By “integrity” he doesn’t mean what we usually do (ethical consistency) but “singlemindedness”, the opposite of “doublemindedness”.

Let us set this before our eye as the end at which we ought constantly to aim. Let it be regarded as the goal towards which we are to run. For you cannot divide the matter with God, undertaking part of what his word enjoins, and omitting part at your own pleasure. For, in the first place, God uniformly recommends integrity as the principal part of his worship, meaning by integrity real singleness of mind, devoid of gloss and fiction, and to this is opposed a double mind; as if it had been said, that the spiritual commencement of a good life is when the internal affections are sincerely devoted to God, in the cultivation of holiness and justice.

But seeing that, in this earthly prison of the body, no man is supplied with strength sufficient to hasten in his course with due alacrity, while the greater number are so oppressed with weakness, that hesitating, and halting, and even crawling on the ground, they make little progress, let every one of us go as far as his humble ability enables him, and prosecute the journey once begun. No one will travel so badly as not daily to make some degree of progress. This, therefore, let us never cease to do, that we may daily advance in the way of the Lord…

Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.6.5

Don’t critique Calvin before reading a bit of his writings! The reader can listen to the Institutes as audible files from librivox.org.

We might also add this from Wolfgang Schrage concerning how the wretched man of Romans 7 is a thing of the past for the Christian:

The human contradiction…the dichotomy and division within the self, is a thing of the past. The radical nature of this new being implies an undivided integrity of God’s claim upon us.

From The Ethics of the New Testament [Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988], 187; see also my “Are you a wretched man or woman? Should you be?”

“Sanctification as singlemindedness,” by Gary S. Shogren, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica

Bill Mounce asks: What makes a Bible translation accurate?

Bill Mounce is one of the evangelical experts in koine Greek, the dialect of the New Testament. He is also one of the translators of the New International Version.

The other day he published this short article, which I found particularly useful. He shows that the work of translation is far more complex than translating word-for-word! To quote:

This morning I was driving to the gym and saw a construction truck in front of me with the sign, “Construction Vehicle. Do Not Follow.” Now, if a German friend who didn’t speak English were riding with me and wanted to know what the sign was, how should I translate it?

The problem, of course, is that the sign does not say what it means. How can you not follow the truck in front of you? Once the truck is on the road, does the road have to be vacated until it leaves the road? Of course we understand that it means, “Do not follow closely.” So what would be an accurate translation? If you said, “Folge nicht,” would that be an accurate translation for your friend? Or would you have to say, “Folge nicht genau”?

It’s kind of like a Stop sign. The last thing it means is stop. It means, stop, and when it is your turn go; otherwise, you would never leave the intersection.

I highly recommend Bill Mounce’s blog in general! You might also enjoy my post, “Which Bible Version is the Most Literal?

 

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…)

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 1:1-17

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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The NIV and six degrees of Rupert Murdoch

We see it in panicked blog posts and garish YouTube videos, and hear it in whispers from concerned friends! That Rupert Murdoch is trying to take your Bible away from you and make you use the NIV Bible instead! That he is a friend to the Vatican and a pornographer and the guy who put shows like “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on TV, and so he must be involved in some sort of Illuminati/Vatican/Jesuit/New World Order/Antichrist/Satanist conspiracy. And of course, anyone who helps in the production of Murdoch’s Bible, any pastor or seminary professor who recommends it, must be under suspicion of being neck-deep in the conspiracy.

Rupert Murdoch – I won’t be defending him; frankly, I don’t have to defend him

The narrative boils down to:

Rupert Murdoch owns a publishing company that sells Bibles in the New International Version. Therefore, it is said, should we not reject the NIV, given that Murdoch might be trying to destroy the church’s faith in God’s Word? And so, shouldn’t we just stick with the King James Version, which is tried and true?

(more…)