The Prophetic Voice

The prophetic ministry is one area of gifting in the church that is controversial yet worth investigating in greater depth. From Moses to Paul, the prophetic gift was something that they wished all God’s people had. That being said, the gift of the prophetic much less that of the function of a prophet has led to a wide range of responses in the church. On one hand you have those that deny outright that such a gift even functions within the Body of Christ today. On the other hand, you have those calling for a restoration of the prophet and the prophetic that is taken to extremes with to much emphasis on prophetic words over the living Word.

Rev 19:10 states, ‘The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Yet all too often, the spirit of prophecy overlooks Jesus for the personal, strategic or big word that makes us feel better without pointing us to Jesus or encouraging us in our growth to Christ-likeness. Granted this is an extreme among certain charismatic folk but the problem remains something not even addressed among cessationist Christians or pointed out as to why such gifts should be avoided. Ultimately, balanced prophetic words will point to the living Word, encourage us in our Christian maturity and play a part in Christ being formed in us.

1 Cor. 12-14 provides a great deal of insight into the prophetic gift and the story of Acts also provides the role of the prophets in the early church. From these two examples one can see two different types of prophetic words, the personal/corporate word and the prophetic word regarding events effecting regions or nations. The words for an individual or a church provide a source of encouragement for the building up and assembly of the Body of Christ. Such words can come from a prophet or from one having a prophetic gifting to provide the right word at the proper time. The main point in receiving such prophetic utterances is not about ‘us’ but about the formation of Christ in us and the establishment of the Body of Christ.

The role of the prophet as told in the book of Acts focuses on the future events that would affect nations and the believers in those nations such as the famine predicted by Agabus. This is probably the trickier type of prophetic word that I have not had the opportunity to see this in action. I say trickier, because of the future orientation and the often conditional nature of such prophetic words. This would seem to place a great burden on the one functioning as a prophet. The book of Acts records prophecies that came to pass. However, if the word is mistaken or does not come to pass, do we as the church allow for grace and restoration or do we quickly condemn the ‘false prophet’?

Others in recent times have spoken prophecies on a national scale. Often phrased in terms of blessing or wrath, such prophecy is problematic by its very nature. We expect such things from an OT style prophet but we are now under a new covenant; again, tricky stuff. The big question is does such prophecy have a place in the church?  I believe people (even large groups of people) should be called to repentance, but should this apply to nations as well? Under the new covenant, should prophetic words still be framed in language of blessing and cursing? Maybe the bigger question is this, if one has a prophetic function in a church, what language and character would they express under the new covenant?

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Pastors, Shepherds and Leadership

Over the next week or two, I’ll examine the functioning roles within a church. In this context, I’ll look to the 5-fold ministry of Ephesians, that is apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, along with deacons and elders and maybe bishops. Mind you, I’ll look at these from a slightly different perspective than the traditional/institutional church. I’m not knocking these men and women of God. They work hard and long for the church and are often facing burnout because of it. I primarily want to say that there is a simpler way and a different way.

First, I want to look at pastors and shepherds. The modern understanding of a pastor has little grounds in the NT narrative. What often passes for a ‘pastor’ these days is nothing more than a sanctified version of a CEO. Granted this is not always the case but this is what is often expected. Many a church runs like a private or publically held corporation at worst or a non-profit organization which most are. This approach toward guiding sheep in the church has its share of difficulties. For many pastors, taking care of business often over rides care for the sheep. Preaching a sermon is looked upon as feeding the sheep when the shepherd should be practically guiding the sheep to the feast found in Christ. The care for the sheep is focused on the ‘pastor’ who runs here and there instead of equipping those other saints in the church with the pastoral gift to share the burden. Is it a big surprise that so many pastors are facing burn out?

So how can the pastoral ministry be done differently in a traditional church? Allow the ‘pastor’ to say, ‘no.’ This one thing can help greatly to prevent a pastor from being overextended. Free the pastor by letting her/him to equip others in the community, with a pastoral gift, to share in the work of service. Let the pastor seek sheep not of this fold, that is, let him develop friendships with the lost sheep beyond the edges of the flock. Above all, encourage the guidance of the sheep to the true Shepherd. Ultimately, any pastor should reflect this characteristic of Christ. Likewise, remember, these people we see functioning as pastors/shepherds, these brothers and sisters in Christ are also frail and broken like the rest of us. Mistakes are made and we should be hesitant to throw stones, cast judgment or gossip. I do not condone the overlooking of moral lapses but when they occur, be quicker to forgive, love and restore.

While the suggestions above are more for a traditional church, what about those shepherds in an emerging/organic church? In such a faith community, a greater emphasis will be on a flock mentality in contrast to a fold mentality. See Neil Cole’s blog for more on this idea. A flock follows the Shepherd, i.e. Christ, and is flexible in structure and movement. The fold keeps the sheep within the wall/fence of the fold, a discernable in/out, and restricts movement. The shepherds within a flock will point to the Shepherd. Likewise, they will reflect those qualities of the Shepherd, care, guidance and protection. In an emerging/organic context, fellow sheep will recognize those in their midst functioning as shepherds because they follow the true Shepherd. So given this view of a shepherd, what are the characteristics of such a pastor? Can a pastor care for those beyond the edges of the flock? Should they?

Freedom

Braveheart is one of my favorite movies and the story of William Wallace and the fight for a freeScotland garnered awards and praise. (A good deal of why it is a favorite is that I can easily recognize my inner barbarian and the violence in my heart.) Granted the violence inherent to many revolutionary and freedom fighting movements is at odds with what it means to follow Jesus, the ideas presented regarding freedom are what stand out to me.  The notion that, leading the people to freedom from tyranny is important, rings true even to this day.

Of course, how you do it is just as important. The violence of spiritual warfare does not entail the need for physical violence.  If anything, the spiritual warfare we engage in is a reminding of the powers that be of their defeat through the cross of Christ. It is also a reminder to the church; the cross is our example in how to engage the powers. That being said, the following quotes from the movie are not an endorsement of violent revolution but examples of how important freedom is, especially in light of the cross of Christ.

Early in the movie, we see William’s father brought home as a slain warrior in the fight againstEngland. After his burial, Williams’s father appears to him in a dream, telling him, “Your heart is free. Have the courage to follow it.” These words shape the remainder of his life.

Later, after engaging the English and declaring the freedom ofScotland, he meets with the future king ofScotland, Robert the Bruce.  In the context of rallying the nobles and the people to the cause of freedom, William tells Robert the Bruce, “And if you would just lead them to freedom, they’d follow you. And so would I…” He seeks to instill courage into this future royal.

Both of these quotes from the movie show the importance of courage in light of freedom. Granted the path of taking up the sword is distant from the way of Jesus, we need courage nonetheless to embrace the freedom we have in following Jesus. The heart is set free in pursuit of Christ. However, fear and forgetfulness will seek to stifle that wonderful freedom in Christ. We must remember, we are free in Christ and we must encourage one another in that freedom.

Often, those in leadership in the church take to feeling entitled to the position they have. If anything, the leaders should seek the example of Christ and point the way to Christ. If a leader does this, embrace and encourage freedom in Christ, the transformation of believers and the church will be nothing short of a resurrection that empowers the Body of Christ for service in the world. Will those in leadership in the church give up control for freedom in Christ? Isn’t this what the world needs?

 

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Some Thoughts on Osama bin Laden’s Death

“…theUnited States has conducted an operation that killed Osama bin Laden” -President Obama

I thought I would react to hearing such news in a different way. I thought I would be happy, but I’m not. Sure, Osama was an architect of mass murder that put Manson to shame. Thousands of American troops have been and still are in harms way in response to his actions. I respect the work they do. Thousands have died both military and civilian. I mourn such loss. Was this an act of justice or an act of national vengeance? I tend to think the latter.

So now America rejoices. I get it. I just cannot and will not participate in it. This has solved nothing. Osama reaped what he sowed. Will the violence end with his death? I doubt it. He was considered the head of the snake; destroy the head and terrorism dies. But what if it is a hydra and not a snake? Could this action by America make things worse? Possibly…We just made a martyr.

Now I would like to be a martyr not in the sense of me dying right now for my faith, but rather to be a witness to the living God. Any notion of divine justice must go back to the cross of Christ. Any evil, human or demonic; any suffering, personal or massive must be seen in the light of the cross. The power of satan was defeated at the cross, Jesus Christ exposed the powers that be for what they are, the monstrous system and actions that seek to dehumanize and destroy humanity. This is why I cannot rejoice over Osama’s death. The power that is America was subjected to the cross just as much as Al Quaeda. So as a Christian, where does your loyalty lie?

I hear the reports of chanting in the streets. This is the sound of Empire. America is in a dangerous place and the church in America even more so. Many an American church has co-opted to politics to justify certain political agendas. This has occurred on the Right and the Left. If the church is to be an expression of the Kingdom of God in the earth, she should reflect the values and attitudes of God’s Kingdom. Don’t get me wrong, I love and pray for the American people. I also love and pray for the people of Venezuela,Iran,China,Sudanand so many others. My ultimate allegiance lies with the Kingdom of God. The kingdoms of this world will eventually fade, includingAmerica. When? No one but God knows. In the meantime, I will seek God’s Kingdom and yield to the peaceful and suffering Lord who has called me to it.

May the peace of Christ be with you,

JWR