Where are all the prophetic voices? part 1 of 2

Where are all the prophetic voices? part 1 of 2 October 12, 2021

Let me begin by noting that the Church is a marvelous thing. The Church has been the arm of God’s work in this world. The Church has brokered peace and ended wars. The Church has transformed cultures. The Church has fed the hungry, housed the homeless, visited the lonely, healed the hurting, and comforted the afflicted.

I believe in the Church.

I am writing this post because the church I just wrote about is not the Church that most people see when they look at American evangelicals.

I think is a tragic irony that:

We love Jesus, yet His radical call to a cross-bearing, self-denying, love of the other[1] was considered so radical and such a threat to the religious people that they had Him killed?

We love Isaiah, especially the parts where he prophesies about the coming of Jesus, yet his call was also considered radical and a threat to the religious people. So, they had him killed.[2]

We love Jeremiah, especially the part where he prophesies about the new covenant, yet his call was also considered to be radical and a threat to the religious people. So, they had him imprisoned and killed.[3]

We love Paul, especially the books of Romans and Philippians, yet his call was also considered radical and a threat to the religious people. So, they had him imprisoned and beaten numerous times.[4]

There is an interesting pattern here. We love Jesus. Yet many of those who wrote about Jesus and His radical call to a cross-bearing, self-denying, love of the other, were, like Jesus Himself, beaten, imprisoned, and even killed.

Then I look at the evangelical church in the West today and it makes me wonder:

Do we really love Jesus?

I ask this because I don’t see many evangelical Christians carrying out this radical, cross-bearing, self-denying, love of the other: certainly not in the public sphere.

[NB: I will resume the posts on Race in 2 weeks]

Prophetic suffering is often at the hands of the people of God

It is critical to note that the suffering which Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Paul endured was largely, if not exclusively, at the hands of the people of God[5] (It was often not the pagan nations or the enemies of the people of God that made life difficult and at times deadly for the prophetic voices. It was most often the people of God themselves).

A study of the life of Paul will confirm that his greatest difficulties and most consistent source of suffering was at the hands of those who thought they were the chosen people (whether it was local Jewish communities or the members of the Christian communities).[6]

Where are the prophetic voices today?

This question was recently posed to me. In fact, we addressed it on a recent episode of the Determinetruth podcast.

Some of you might ask: “what do you mean where are all the prophetic voices?”

We hear prophetic voices every day! Indeed, we do.

Paul says that,

“The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:3-4).

And Peter adds,

“False prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you” (2 Pet 2:1).

I ask then:

  • Are the prophetic voices we hear simply affirming our chosenness and condemning those who oppose us?
  • Are they affirming our comforts and condemning those who threaten it?
  • Are they affirming our superiority and denying the cries of those around us?

Biblical Prophets

The biblical prophets throughout the OT were hindered by two things:

First, the number of false prophets far exceeded the number of God’s true prophets.

Secondly, the biblical prophets were mouthpieces of God and announced what God had given them. The false prophets merely proclaimed what the people wanted to hear.

Who can compete with this? Not only are you outnumbered but your message sounds more like the words of Debby-Downer compared to the comforting and assuring words of the false prophets.

Essential features of the prophetic voice

Prophetic voices denounce superficial religiosity.

Isaiah 1:13-15:

“Bring your worthless offerings no longer . . .

I cannot endure [your] iniquity and the solemn assembly.[7]

I hate . . . your appointed feasts, they have become a burden to Me . . .

So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you

Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen.

Your hands are covered with blood.”

Jeremiah 5:21, 23-24, 27-28:

hear this, O foolish and senseless people,

Who have eyes but do not see;

Who have ears but do not hear. . . .

this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart;

They have turned aside and departed.

‘They do not say in their heart,

“Let us now fear the Lord our God. . . .

Like a cage full of birds,

So their houses are full of deceit;

Therefore they have become great and rich.

‘They are fat, they are sleek,

They also excel in deeds of wickedness;

They do not plead the cause,

The cause of the orphan, that they may prosper.

And they do not defend the rights of the poor.

Since prophetic voices speak against our faithfulness, they can’t be correct

The people of both Isaiah and Jeremiah’s day, as with most generations, believed they were righteous. They were bewildered by the words of the prophets. Look at Isaiah 1:13-15 again. They were participating in religious festivals They were praying regularly. They were bringing offerings and sacrifices. Yet, Isaiah says they were worthless.

Jeremiah said that things were so bad God would destroy Jerusalem. Then he declared that when the destruction comes from the Lord’s hand, the people will ask, “why has the Lord our God done these things to us?” (Jer 5:19).

They didn’t see any problems.

Add to this the fact that Jeremiah proclaimed doom for 40 years and nothing happened.

He was easy to dismiss. It was obvious that what he was saying wasn’t true.

Very few churches today would welcome messages like these into their community. Of course, we wouldn’t accept it because it is not true for us!

Prophetic voices announce doom upon the people of God

The OT prophets are commonly described as “covenant enforcers.” What is meant by this designation is that the prophets were called to exhort the people of God (not the nations) to be faithful to God’s covenant (by God’s covenant it is meant: the commands for God’s people: especially those found in the book of Deuteronomy).

Many of those who consider themselves “prophets” today are crying out to the nation to enforce Christian ethics and uphold Christian laws.[8] They are “false prophets” because this is not what prophets do. Prophets exhort the people of God (not the state or the people in it) to be faithful.

Prophetic voices challenge us to live a life of cross-bearing, self-denying love for the sake of the other

Prophetic voices challenge the people of God to not do things the way the nations do. The nations use power and military might to fulfill their own interests.

The Gospel of Jesus shows us what true power looks like: it looks like the Cross and Resurrection. Love is the way of God’s kingdom. And love sacrifices one’s own desires for the sake of the other.

With this as a foundation, now let’s look at the question at hand: where are all the prophetic voices?

This I will do in the next post.

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[1] The Gospel of Jesus demands a life of cross-bearing self-denial (Mark 8:34; Phil 2:3-8).

[2] According to tradition, which Heb 11:37 affirms, he was sawn in two during the reign of Manasseh.

[3] According to tradition he was stoned to death. Cf Heb 11:37: “they were stoned.”

[4] Paul testifies, himself, “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes” (2 Cor 11:24; cf 11:23).

[5] I fully recognize that we could debate who the “people of God” are. One could limit the term to only those who are truly faithful to the Lord. Or, as I am doing here, we could use the term to refer to those who at least profess to be the people of God. Since, my point here is that it wasn’t outsiders but those who at least self-identify as insiders, I am using the term in the broader sense.

[6] NB: as one who has served in Christian ministry for more than 30 years, the conflict that is the most discouraging is when that conflict comes from those within the church.

[7] The NLT reads here: “I want no more of your pious meetings.”

[8] Those who contend that the nation of Israel in the OT era and the nation of the US are parallel often fail to recognize that prior to Christ, the people of God were essentially limited to the Jewish people and nation. Today, followers of Christ are found within most nations but are not to be identified with any nation.

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