Tag: what does it mean to be prophetic

What Does It Mean To Be Prophetic, Part Four

message-from-god

About a week ago, the church I am pastor at voted to become an Open and Affirming congregation, meaning it openly welcomes LGBT persons into the life of the church.  I think it was a big step for the church.  It might help people who were thinking of visiting the church to take a second look.

But while I think it was a good thing and while I think it helped stressed God’s love for all, I don’t think it was a prophetic move.

Do I think we were trying to witness to the world our intent to be like Jesus and seek out those on the margins?  Yes.  But that doesn’t mean it’s prophetic.  It means we are trying to be faithful.

And therein lies a problem.  These days, if a pastor says something edgy on race or sexuality, or if a congregation is exhibiting “radical hospitality,” we somehow think this is prophetic.  But I wonder if at times this is a big misunderstanding.  Are we giving ourselves too much credit?

For one thing, most of the prophets of Israel were chosen by God.  And they were chosen by God to say hard things to people.  And the thing is, they usually aren’t happy that God chose them. Read the story of Elijah or Jeremiah and you find people who don’t really want to be doing this job. When Jonah (as in Jonah and the “Whale”) was so excited to be go a preach repentance to the people of Nineveh, that he ran- in the other direction.

Prophets were sometimes called to do odd things like the prophet Hosea who was called to marry a prostitute.

What I’m trying to get at is that the people who were called to be God’s prophets were not eager to be prophets.  They didn’t want to be picked.

The problem with modern Christians who want to see themselves as prophets is that they have taken the whole role of a prophet out of context.  Instead of trying to understand what the role of the prophet was in ancient Israel, people just plop it into modern America without a thought.

But that’s not all.  The prophet is then made to fit the person’s political ideology, so that the prophet strangely is saying all the things you would say regardless.

I think God still sends prophets.  But just because you believe #blacklivesmatter doesn’t make you a prophet, no matter how worthy the cause. Theologian David Watson reminds us that prophets probably didn’t have many friends on Facebook:

The prophetic life is not an easy one. In fact, it is likely to be quite difficult, even painful, because the prophet will inevitably conflict with a world that does not acknowledge the identity and demands of the one true God. Think of Elijah despairing in the wilderness. “He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors’” (1 Kings 19:4). Think of the sad fate of John the Baptist.  If you find your message lines up nicely with the values of secular culture, you’re probably not being prophetic.

I’m not a prophet.  I don’t think I’ve ever been prophetic.  And there is nothing wrong with that. What I am is a disciple (and a Disciple).  I try to follow God, to do justice and love mercy, but I’m not Amos with a laptop.

My job as pastor is not to be a prophet, but to be a disciple that helps make other disciples for Christ.  I will leave the prophet business to God, since God is the one that raises prophets anyway.

Read past posts in this series by going here.

What Does It Mean to Be Prophetic, Part Three

JayWhiteMoralMondayNC

It was two years ago, that I wondered aloud what it meant to be prophetic.  I’ve heard that phrase a lot in many of the progressive circles I’ve been in, but I’ve always wondered if what is called prophetic is nothing more than espousing your ideology and wrapping it up in God-language.

What does it mean to be prophetic?  The reason I ask is that I think a lot of folks have an idea what it means to be prophetic that I think is a bit wrong.  I will see a pastor who will get up and talk about some of the major issues facing our world and it is billed as “prophetic.”  But more often than not, what I hear is more of a political agenda than it is calling the church to present the Kingdom of God.  Since I move around mainline/progressive Christian circles, I tend to hear what sounds like a churchified version of the Democratic party platform, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of what might pass as prophetic in evangelical circles just mirrors the GOP agenda.

So, what does it mean to be prophetic?  What does a prophetic church look like?  I have to think that it’s more than a party platform sprinkled with lots of Jesus.  I’d like to know, because what I see passing as prophetic kind of falls short.

Methodist pastor Drew McIntyre is asking the same question.  He comes up with an answer that is shocking (at least to me,) but true.  Quoting Henri Nouwen, he remarks that there is very little theological reflection in the church today:

In his wonderful little book In the Name of Jesus, Henri Nouwen names temptations common to leadership and offers particular disciplines as solutions.  He concludes this brief treatise by discussing the temptation “to be powerful.”  In different ways, both the right-wing and left-wing perversions of the prophetic are temptations to power.  Fundamentalists manipulate Scripture to show forth their own insight and giftedness, unlocking “secrets” of the end times heretofore unknown.  In so doing they often amass large followings (and bank accounts).  Progressives too quickly make use of the prophetic role to mask their own ideological agendas with a veneer of Biblical authority, and claim God’s voice for whatever the cause happens to be that week.

For Nouwen, the solution is “theological reflection.”  He concludes,

“Few ministers and priests think theologically. most of them have been educated in a climate in which the behavioral sciences, such as psychology and sociology, so dominated the educational milieu that little true theology was being learned. Most Christian leaders today raise psychological or sociological questions even though they frame them in scriptural terms.  Real theological thinking, which is thinking with the mind of Christ, is hard to find in the practice of ministry.  Without solid theological reflection, future leaders will be little more than pseudo-psychologists, pseudo-sociologists, psuedo-social workers.” (65-66)

Theological reflection is critical because without it, we will too quickly mistake our words for God’s, and so make fools of ourselves when speaking on His behalf (as a pastor, I’ve done this more than once).  This discipline is sorely lacking in every corner of the church, Mainline or Evangelical, Catholic or Charismatic.  Such a poverty of theological insight is all the more problematic because we (all of us, including the author) are quick to forget that we are not brilliant by virtue of living in the 21st century or having masses of education.  The great missionary and ecumenist Lesslie Newbigin points out that we may come to different conclusions than Paul, but that doesn’t  make us Paul’s moral superiors; we are apt to be as blind to some things in our day as Paul may have been to certain obvious evils in his.

McIntyre briefly talks about the Moral Mondays campaign in North Carolina.  The movement happens to be led by a Disciples of Christ pastor.  Mother Jones magazine has a pretty good profile of Barber, but in reading you have to wonder: is this about following God or following a party platform (and protesting the other party)?  Would there be Moral Mondays if instead of a conservative legislature and governor passing conservative legislation, there were liberals in power. The answer of course is no and that’s the problem. If you are willing to protest Republicans who you are against and not Democrats that you agree with, then what you are doing isn’t prophetic and you need to quit fooling yourselves.

I tend to think that a true prophet is not going to be liked by either liberals or conservatives.  Another Methodist pastor, Alan Bevere had this to say in 2012 about prophets:

I have spent some time this week in the Old Testament prophetic books. I do not find it surprising that most prophets are not accepted in their own time. Their cutting words of truth at best fall on stopped ears. Then, in order to reinforce their words, they resort to symbolic acts which, if committed in the 21st century West, would be more than sufficient cause for them to be put away in special places reserved for people who walk naked in public (Isaiah) and who eat paper (Ezekiel), and walk around with an oxen yoke on their neck (Jeremiah). The people of God today have no more clue on how to recognize a prophet than the ancient folk. Every time I hear someone referred to as prophetic, it’s only because they are speaking words that the hearers who so designate them agree with. But that’s precisely the problem.

When God used Amos or Micah, it wasn’t because God wanted to raise the minimum wage or ban gay marriage.  God had a covenant with the Israelites and from time to time, God would tell the people when they were off track or when their worship wasn’t matching with their lives.  The closest parallel to this is God talking to the church today.  The prophets were speaking for God, calling the people back to righteous living.  The prophets were not setting policy.  They weren’t talking about voting rights, or same sex marriage or abortion, or the minimum wage.  It’s okay for Christians to work on these issues, but don’t use the prophetic writings for your own agenda.

This brings me back to Nouwen.  I think he’s correct that the church is sorely lacking in thinking theologically.  In a lot of cases evangelicals and progressives have basically adopted the ideologies of the main political parties and sprinkled God talk around them.  I’m starting to think that thinking theologically would mean spending time discerning issues and reflecting on what scripture and tradition have to say about an issue.  That isn’t attractive to a smashmouth church culture, but slowing down to find out how to listen to God and to each other might present a real third way to how the church responds to the outside world.

None of this means that churches should withdraw from the world.  But we need to be able to standback from an issue and see what God is saying.  Maybe in that time of listening we will learn what truly is prophetic.

* I know there have to be a few folks wondering why I didn’t take conservatives to task for doing the same thing.  I didn’t do that because that observation has been used ad nauseum for years.  We all know that the Religious Right jumped into bed with the GOP.  There’s no sense in repeating what we already know.  What a lot of people don’t know is how liberal Christians have basically done the same thing.  I condemn both, but the latter is a story that is not always told.

What Does It Mean to Be Prophetic, Revisited

Alan Bevere again picks up the the theme of being prophetic in a post today:

I have spent some time this week in the Old Testament prophetic books. I do not find it surprising that most prophets are not accepted in their own time. Their cutting words of truth at best fall on stopped ears. Then, in order to reinforce their words, they resort to symbolic acts which, if committed in the 21st century West, would be more than sufficient cause for them to be put away in special places reserved for people who walk naked in public (Isaiah) and who eat paper (Ezekiel), and walk around with an oxen yoke on their neck (Jeremiah). The people of God today have no more clue on how to recognize a prophet than the ancient folk. Every time I hear someone referred to as prophetic, it’s only because they are speaking words that the hearers who so designate them agree with. But that’s precisely the problem.

Back in February, based on another post by Alan, I asked what it meant to be prophetic:

Which has led me to ask this question: what does it mean to be prophetic?  The reason I ask is that I think a lot of folks have an idea what it means to be prophetic that I think is a bit wrong.  I will see a pastor who will get up and talk about some of the major issues facing our world and it is billed as “prophetic.”  But more often than not, what I hear is more of a political agenda than it is calling the church to present the Kingdom of God.  Since I move around mainline/progressive Christian circles, I tend to hear what sounds like a churchified version of the Democratic party platform, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of what might pass as prophetic in evangelical circles just mirrors the GOP agenda.

So, what does it mean to be prophetic?  What does a prophetic church look like?  I have to think that it’s more than a party platform sprinkled with lots of Jesus.  I’d like to know, because what I see passing as prophetic kind of falls short.

I have to ask again: what does it mean to be prophetic?  I tend to agree with Alan, if we met a modern day prophet of God, no one would really like him or her.  I don’t think they would say things that would basically piss off everyone.

Have we misread the prophets of the Bible?  Have we read Amos or Micah, with their denuciations of wealth and their concern for the poor and confused it with a political agenda?  Have we approprated these words to give us comfort and to use as weapons against others who don’t agree with us?

I don’t have the answers.  I do think that the words of the prophets are harder to understand than we think they are.

What Does It Mean to Be Prophetic?

I stumbled across a post by Methodist blogger Allan Bevere on the prophetic nature of the church.  He ends to post like this:

As I continue to say– when Christians hear the word “politics” they should not think state; they should think church. For Christians, our politic is church. But that clearly is not what it has been and both the Christian right and the left are guilty of making the church somehow beside the point. Because we have reduced the “political” to partisan politics we have reduced the church to one more social agency and one more culturally acceptable option to choose from– like the having season tickets for the local sports team and a membership in the zoological society– though we are actually more excited about going to the ballgame than being an ecclesially based new society.

As Stanley Hauerwas has prophetically said, “in the name of being politically responsible, the church became politically invisible.”

Which has led me to ask this question: what does it mean to be prophetic?  The reason I ask is that I think a lot of folks have an idea what it means to be prophetic that I think is a bit wrong.  I will see a pastor who will get up and talk about some of the major issues facing our world and it is billed as “prophetic.”  But more often than not, what I hear is more of a political agenda than it is calling the church to present the Kingdom of God.  Since I move around mainline/progressive Christian circles, I tend to hear what sounds like a churchified version of the Democratic party platform, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of what might pass as prophetic in evangelical circles just mirrors the GOP agenda.

So, what does it mean to be prophetic?  What does a prophetic church look like?  I have to think that it’s more than a party platform sprinkled with lots of Jesus.  I’d like to know, because what I see passing as prophetic kind of falls short.