Christianity 201

June 23, 2017

Being a Prophetic Church

NLT Jn. 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet…”

This is our second visit to Mystery of Faith. Glenn Packiam is the lead pastor of new life DOWNTOWN, a congregation of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Click the title below to read more articles.

What Does It Mean to Be a Prophetic Church?

What does it mean to be prophetic? The word is thrown around a lot, but depending on which circles you run in, it means something quite different. If you’re in the charismatic crowd, being prophetic means speaking the ‘now’ word of God— bringing ‘fresh revelation’, and possibly even doing it in a way that is spontaneous and disruptive to the plan or the schedule. But if you run with justice-oriented Christ-followers, being prophetic is being bold, confrontational, and possibly disruptive not to a plan but to an order, a societal framework. How could the same word have such different connotations? What can we recover from the Biblical roots of the prophetic role?

In the Old Testament, two words are used to describe the prophet. The earlier of the two is the word ro’eh, which roughly means, ‘the one who sees’. Later, the more common word used for a prophet is nabi, which can be loosely translated as, ‘the one who speaks’, particularly, on behalf of another.

A prophet is one who sees a different world, and says a different word.

Specifically, a prophet is able to speak a revealing word because he sees something others don’t, something hidden to others. This is why the woman at the well in John 4 called Jesus a prophet– he revealed the truth about the number of men who had married and abandoned her. And this is why Paul is a prophet– because the mystery of the Gospel has been revealed to him. If we bring all this together, we can outline a sketch of what it means to be a prophetic church.

A Prophetic Church…

1. Sees Jesus as King and His Kingdom arriving here and now.

One of the major themes in the Old Testament is that the Creator-God is the King of His Creation (many of the Psalms praise God in this way). When we read the first few chapters of the Bible through that lens, we begin to understand that human beings were created to reflect the wise and loving rule of God the Creator-King into His creation. This is what having ‘dominion’ means. Yet, the fall was a rebellion that forfeited that privilege.

Until…the True Adam came as the world’s True King. When Jesus announced His Kingdom mission in Luke 4, He quoted Isaiah 61, where the anointing of the Spirit is the empowerment to bring good news to the poor, freedom for the prisoner, and more. In Luke’s ‘Volume 2’— the Book of Acts— the Spirit is poured out on the Church so that this Kingdom mission can continue.

Paul argues through his letters in different ways that the Church participates in the Kingdom by confessing Jesus as ‘Lord’— the true sovereign of the world— and by living under His reign by the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Church is at its prophetic best when it lives in a way the would make no sense unless Jesus is King, and His Kingdom really were arriving here and now. That is why a prophetic church does not divide up evangelism and miracles and justice. We see them as a threefold cord. A prophetic church announces the forgiveness of sins, healing for the sick, and justice for the oppressed in Jesus’ name.

2. Speaks the truth to power.

Our image of the prophet has to be shaped by the Old Testament’s regard for Moses as the greatest prophet in Israel. We don’t usually think of Moses as a prophet, but when we do, we understand that part of the prophetic call is speaking truth to power. In that light, Nathan’s rebuke of David and Elijah’s confrontation with Ahab and Jezebel all begin to make sense. Sometimes the prophet does the truth-telling through the voice of lament, as Jeremiah did.

Thus Jesus is prophetic not only because of His revealing the marriage history of the woman at the well, but also because of His confrontations with power. When Jesus overturned the tables of money-changers in the Temple, and when He defied Pilate— by reshaping his questions, refuting his claims to power, and even by refusing to answer— He was living out the prophetic vocation by speaking the truth to both religious and political powers. (Paul echoes these behaviors in his conversations with various religious and political rulers in the latter half of the Book of Acts.)

The early Christians were not killed because Christianity was a religion Rome did not like. Rome welcomed any and all religions, but they were particularly threatened by Christianity. Why? Because Christianity made a radical, new and exclusive claim: Jesus alone is the Lord of all, worthy of worship; all other gods must be renounced as false. Rome viewed this as a dangerous belief. And every time the Church gathered to worship, there were speaking the truth to power by confessing Jesus as the True Lord– using terms Caesar had applied to himself as political propaganda– and thus declaring the gods of Empire as false.

Every time we show the gods of our age to be false, and expose their claims as a lie, we are speaking the truth to power. We denounce the lie that economic prosperity is the source of joy, that sexual pleasure is the highest end of every relationship, that violence is the path to peace, that a people-group or nation matters more than another. Sometimes our voice is the voice of proclamation and confession; others it is the voice of lament. Both are forms of prophetic truth-telling.

3. Signposts toward the future.

Activism has many appealing qualities. It is better than doing nothing; it unites and mobilizes people toward a common cause. It can raise awareness and even adjust a widely-held cultural paradigm.

And yet, activism is not the same thing as being prophetic. The Church does not care for the poor or feed the hungry or speak for the marginalized for the same reason an activist does. They may be in the same march or use the same hashtag, but the Christian is motivated by something different than the activist. The Christian is not in this— ultimately— to create change or to solve problems. If this were so, then a Christian may weigh the odds of actually changing a situation before speaking up or acting. A Christian is driven to act and speak because she has seen a different future. Remember: a prophet says a different word because he sees a different world.

Every time the Church ‘welcomes the stranger’, forgives an enemy, shows mercy to the offender, or protects the vulnerable, we are a signpost to the future. We don’t do these things to be a good humanitarian or to solve a global crisis. We do it to point toward the day when the Kingdom comes in fullness, on earth as it is in heaven, when every tear will be wiped away, when suffering is no more.

Now more than ever, we need the Holy Spirit to help us live as a witness in the world of a different kind of King and a different kind of Kingdom, arriving on earth as it is in heaven. May God give us the grace to live as a prophetic Church.

March 26, 2011

Most Mis-Applied Bible Verse

For this one, we go all the way back to the summer of 2010 — considered ancient history in Blog-land — and this post by Crossway author and Illinois pastor Chris Brauns, where it appeared under the title Where There Is No Vision, The People Perish, One of the Most Mis-Applied Verses in the Bible.


…[R]ead Proverbs 29.  And, when you do, stop to consider Proverbs 29:18: one of the most misapplied verses in the Bible.  See also this post on reading Proverbs.

Christian leadership books often quote Proverbs 29:18 as a rationale for a church writing a vision statement.  The KJV version reads, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” This wording fits nicely for those who want to persuade others regarding the need for a vision statement.

While it is good for leaders to communicate vision, Proverbs 29:18 is not talking about a leader’s vision.  Rather, “vision” here refers to special revelation and the principle is that that apart from God’s Word, society quickly spins into moral chaos.

Below is an excerpt of something I wrote elsewhere.

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The ESV gives this translation if Proverbs 29:18.

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law (Proverbs 29:18, ESV).

The word translated “prophetic vision” refers to special revelation or God’s Word.[1] The word translated “cast off restraint”[2] carries the idea of there being a total loss of social order. It is the same word used in Exodus 32:25 to describe the Israelite’s frenzy during the Golden Calf disaster. The NIV translation reads:

Moses saw that the people were running wild and that Aaron had let them get out of control and so become a laughingstock to their enemies (Exodus 32:25, NIV).

If a people do not hear God’s Word, then we can expect society to break down and even local churches to cast off restraint.[3] “Social harmony and restraint cannot be achieved without the exhortations of the prophets and the teaching of the law.”[4] Public morality depends on knowing the law of God.[5] Fabarez argues that the reason there is so much immorality in evangelicalism today is because God’s Word is not preached.[6]


[1] “חָזֹון”, see Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, Edward Robinson, Charles A. Briggs, and Wilhelm Gesenius, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament : With an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic : Based on the Lexicon of William Gesenius as Translated by Edward Robinson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979), 302. Waltke concludes that this word refers here to, “the sage’s inspired revelation of wisdom.” Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 446.

[2]“פָּרַע,” has the idea of “let go, let alone.” Brown, Driver, Robinson, Briggs, and Gesenius, 828. There is some confusion about the meaning of this verse because of the King James Version translation, “perish.” See Robert L. Alden, Proverbs: A Commentary on an Ancient Book of Timeless Advice (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 202.

[3] This Proverb has been used a great deal in recent years as a biblical defense for local churches writing vision statements. Writing a vision statement is a good idea. However, this verse doesn’t apply to that task. Alden summarizes, “Verse 18 has been misinterpreted for many years, probably because of the way it reads in the KJV; ‘Where there is no vision the people perish.’ ‘Vision’ here does not refer to one’s to need formulate goals and work toward them, nor does it mean eyesight or the ability to understand. ‘Vision’ instead is a synonym for what a prophet does. Thus its real meaning is God’s ‘guidance’ (TEV), ‘revelation’ (NIV), ‘authority’ (NEB), ‘prophecy’ (NAB).” Alden, 202. See also, Kaiser, 10-11. Kaiser applies this passage directly to a call for expository preaching. Delitzsch summarizes, “People are only truly happy when they earnestly and willingly subordinate themselves to the word of God which they possess and have the opportunity of hearing,” quoted in Waltke, 447.

[4] Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, The New American Commentary, vol. 14 (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1993), 232.

[5] Derek Kidner, The Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 176.

[6] Fabarez, xiii.