Who Speaks for Us in God’s Name?

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“Who among you wants to be a modern day prophet?” one of our seminary professor’s asked a group of us back in the mid-90s.  I didn’t raise my hand because I thought it was a baited question.  But his answer surprised me, “Be prophetic, but remember, the people didn’t treat the prophets too well during their lifetimes.”  As I dug into the Bible I found it to be just so.  Jeremiah,  Hosea, Ezekiel, and many others had a rough road during their lifetimes.  Another important lesson I learned was that, unlike the popular image, prophets weren’t primarily holy future tellers of the distant future.  More often than not, the prophets were talking about their present and what could soon occur. Prophets looked at the world around them and said what God thought of it, what we should be doing, and what God would (or would not) be doing soon in response to human action (or lack thereof).

The problem I see is that we have many people today who seem to have appointed themselves as God’s prophets in the church and in the political arena don’t seem to have the same focus.  Instead, they often appeal to is fear – fear that society is changing, fear that the people are soon going to lose something, fear of a person (or persons) in power, and fear of their neighbors.  And they do so for popularity and to advocate for some issue they feel strongly about (which coincidentally, so does God (or so they say)).   

Jeremiah, Hosea, and Ezekiel and many others challenged the leaders and the people of their world based their prophecy upon the people’s fidelity to God (or lack thereof), their treatment of the weakest among them (which often wasn’t all so good), and where the people were ultimately putting their trust.  But so many of our “modern day prophets” do not sound like this at all.  They argue not for the weak but for the strong.  They do little to challenge their base’s religious practices or what they are placing their trust.  And they often do so at minimal personal risk.

I do believe in modern prophets.  I believe they make me uncomfortable.  They make me uncomfortable because they make me realize I am often complicit in the problems of this world. They make me realize we can all do better.

However we stand on social and political issues, I think it is important for us to distinguish between them and what our faith tells us.  Is our position really really really what Jesus would say in this situation?  I think it is fine to take a political or social stand if we simply say that is what we personally think.  But I find it hugely problematic if we couch our support in theological terms. We need to be very careful when we say we are on God’s side of an issue (more-less that we are speaking for God).

The church shouldn’t be timid.  We do need people to speak up and take a stand.  We need prophets!  But if they aren’t challenging us (personally and collectively), we need to ask ourselves if they are really prophets at all.

What do you think?

Until next time,

Tom

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About Tom Paine

I am a Presbyterian Minister and ANG Chaplain interested in current events, movies, TV, and novels.
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