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.

April 25, 2017

Got Questions for God? God Has Questions for You

A year later, we’re back to the website Forward >> Progress, written by Michael Kelley an in-house writer for LifeWay. This is a writer who offers great content daily and I encourage you to check it out by clicking the title below and then clicking the “blog” tab at the top of his page.

How God Uses Questions in the Bible

Most every parent has gone through the sweetly annoying stage of questions from their children. These are the days when kids seem to have an inexhaustible curiosity, and the correspondingly inexhaustible list of inquiries to go along with it. The questions range from why the sky is blue, to why certain animals have spots when others don’t, to why we have to eat our vegetables.

The questions come in a flurry during that season of life – one right after the other, until most of the time the parent says that he or she has dispensed enough information for the day.

Now the reason kids ask these questions, at least in the purest sense, is because they lack information. They are sponges, wanting to soak up every bit of information that we, as the parents, have to give them. They assume that we, because we are their parents, actually are in possession of all this information and will freely give it to them.

Parents ask their children questions, too, albeit for different reasons. Sometimes we ask our kids things because we feel distant from them. We want more than anything for our children to open up and share not only about what’s going on in their lives, but how it makes them feel. So questions for us are not really about information; they’re more about intimacy. And we have such a strong desire for this intimacy that we can ask questions back to our children with the same frequency and intensity they once upon a time employed with us.

The badgered becomes the badgerer.

The same action – asking questions – is employed, but there is a different purpose behind it.

Now consider the fact that God, too, is a question asker. We see this happen many times in Scripture:

  • When Adam and Eve first sinned, God responded with a question: “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).
  • When Adam and Eve presented themselves, God asked Eve directly, “What is this you have done?” (Gen. 3:13).
  • When God responded to Job’s accusations, He used a series of questions beginning with, “Where were you when I…?” (Job 38:4).
  • When Jonah was angry that God did what Jonah feared He would – relent on His punishment of the Ninevites – God asked him twice: “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4).
  • When the people said Jesus was a prophet or a reincarnation of John the Baptist, He asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15).

The list could go on. In each case, God is asking a question. And because questions serve different purposes, depending on the occasion, we might wonder what God’s intent is in asking these questions

Well, we know first of all what His intent is not. We know that the question is not informational in nature because God already knows the answer. In fact, God actually knows the facts of every situation better than the people involved in the situation. And here we find one of the great purposes of God in His asking of questions.

God uses questions to force us to confront our own hearts. He questions us not because He needs to know and understand something about what’s going on, but because He wants us to know and understand the truth of what’s going on. Through questions, God forces us to turn our gaze on ourselves, our hearts, and our motivations. He makes us look deeply into ourselves, knowing that He already knows, and then own up to that which we have either been unable or unwilling to see previously.

As He did in the garden, God might ask us, “Where are you?” not because He doesn’t know, but because He wants us to bring into the light the fear and shame that keeps us in hiding.

Or as He did with Jonah, God might force us to confront our own bias and prejudice and bitterness so that we might, through His compassion and grace, actually move past it.

Or as Jesus did with the disciples, God might ask us again and again who He is not because He has forgotten, but because He wants us to form the discipline in ourselves of speaking the truth of His character to our doubts over and over again.

So God questions us. Not because He doesn’t know, but because He wants us to know. And when God asks us a question today, I wonder if we will be courageous enough to answer it. Because doing so will not mean calling up a new piece of information; doing so will mean confronting the truth about ourselves.