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.


Traditional talking stick

Today’s church microphone has become the “talking stick” that is the domain of a few pros, usually men. (more…)


How do you pick out a thank-you gift for Someone who (literally) has everything?

schoolcolorsblackJust before the end of 2012, the Lord helped me to complete two multi-year writing projects (1000 pages in all) plus two other big papers. It was a major answer to prayer.

Now, I’m a believer in divine grace, and  fully appreciate that I can’t repay or earn his goodness toward me. Nor can my actions please him beyond the total acceptance I already have in the Beloved, [1] so anything I give him will by definition be “re-gifting”: “All things come of thee, O Lord; and of thy own have we given thee.”

Still: I wanted to give God a special thank-offering. (more…)

the Parable of the Little Toe

Once upon a time there was a church, a body of Christ.

On the platform stood various members. One man led the worship and read a Psalm aloud. A woman was the main singer; she too held a microphone. Two other women and a man were backup singers. There was a guitarist who played the chords; a drummer who provided the rhythm; a man with a trumpet, another with a bass guitar. Each member of one body, each one with his or her special contribution.

But what is this? What’s the hold-up? The worship leader asks that the church sing louder, with more joy and enthusiasm, but the people don’t follow his lead. Are they, as he suggests none too subtly, unspiritual? Well, it’s not their fault: they’d like to sing with more energy, but something is holding them back. They don’t know the words of this song, and the screen is blank!

Because up in a little control-room in back of the church, there’s a member of the body who handles the technology: the projector and the PowerPoint in order to show the lyrics. But he seems to be dreaming and his attention is wandering. He answers his phone, he chats with his girlfriend, he sends a text, he updates his Facebook.

The people want to sing with all their might, but without this one member, the hymn doesn’t fly.

“Just look,” he complains, instead of doing his job. “I can’t sing like her, I can’t play an instrument like they do. No wonder I skip rehearsal, since my part in the ‘show’ hardly matters. I’m not important, my part in this is tiny. In the body of the Lord, I’m just a little toe!”

Now you see the point of my little story: Everybody has their gift, whether they’re an elbow, a hand or an ear. And if one member doesn’t work, the body doesn’t function; when one little toe is missing in action, the whole body ceases to worship.

All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.If the foot would say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be…On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. 1 Cor 12:11-12, 15-19, 22

“The Parable of the Little Toe” was written in Spanish for a Latin American context and is here presented in English. By Gary Shogren, Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica. Visit us at

What kind of music is “Christian”?

I just read a blog about music in the Latin American church. He noted that there is a strong tendency to emphasize the music over the text of the song; that the lyrics are often shallow and repetitive; that the sound system tends to drown out the congregation; that the worship leaders seem to be putting on a show more than directing worship. With much of this I was in agreement, and I plan to blog on contemporary Christian music. He continued on, and argued that much of the style we hear in the Latin church is by nature carnal. He criticizes salsa, jazz and rock rhythms, and he cites John MacArthur as his authority. And so I responded with the following:

Nevertheless, I must take strong objection to the point made by John MacArthur, which you in turn quoted with approval: “The pulsating rhythms of native African music mimics the restless, superstitious passions of their culture and religion.” [1]

I do not know how many times we’ve heard repeated from the pulpit the “urban legend” about African music: one person reports that, when the children of missionaries played rock music, the Africans exclaimed “Hey, that’s the music that we use to summon up the demons!” Other Africans supposedly say, “We know that kind of music – it’s the kind that homosexuals use!” No-one has ever given me details of who this happened to or where, it’s always something vague like “a friend of a friend said so, and he’s very reliable” or “everyone knows that it really happened.”

John MacArthur might be a famous expositor, but he has no expertise in the area of music (and I less so). And it saddens me to hear that he is repeating pseudo-scientific charges that have circulated in the United States for years and years. They’ve denounced the African is by nature sensual, degenerate, superstitious, full of lust, a fount of cultural and spiritual corruption. One preacher on the web declares that rock music is the equivalent of apostasy, since it comes from the people of Ham, who was supposedly put under God’s curse (see Gen 9:25 for a reminder that Noah never cursed Ham).

May I suggest that it is no coincidence that one fundamental argument against jazz or rock is precisely this connection with Africa? When they speak of the African culture, they are speaking of the African or African-American people. Racism is the original sin of the USA, and it has always manifested itself in the marginalization of the African and his/her music. The question of what kind of music is appropriate in the worship service is indeed one worthy of consideration; nevertheless, we should not exclude one genre or another, simply because of its African roots.

MacArthur cites the story about how plants exposed to rock music withered and died. So far as I can tell, he refers to the experiment from Dorothy Retallack in 1973 ( Unfortunately for the anti-rock argument, modern classical music also seems to have dismayed the plants, where they most liked Indian music – the very Asian music MacArthur regards as un-Christian.

Update: google “John MacArthur”, “rock music” and “apostasy” and you´ll get an eyeful. Irony of ironies: it turns out that many people are now attacking MacArthur for compromising with Satanic music and other worldly practices.


[1] This is taken from The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Ephesians (Chicago: Moody, 1986), p. 260. In other sources, MacArthur is quote as saying “some African music”; in the commentary he clearly states that all African music is inherently so. He also says that rock music by its nature “creates pride in the musician rather than humility.” I suppose it can, and does, although I’ve known some traditional organists and pianists who rate high on the pride scale, not to mention folk singers.

Related posts:

For the urban legend about the African missionary:

Christian urban legends

Christians and myths

“What kind of music is Christian?” by Gary Shogren, PhD in New Testament, Professor at Seminario ESEPA, San José, Costa Rica