Where are the courageous prophets?


Pastors in my religious tradition (Anglo southern Baptist) tend to be more priest than prophet — they mostly administer religious duties instead of confronting people in their sinfulness.

once was a pastor . We tend to preach against sins our members have tacitly agreed upon, but we often ignore the primary sins of those members — greed, pride, lust, and gluttony, as well as failure to care for the hungry, hurting, imprisoned, foreigners, and others of Jesus’ “least of these.” Not all of us, surely, but many. It is not easy to be both priest and prophet, and this is not the first time in Judeo-Christian history that the challenge has arisen.

John Calvin, in his commentary on Jeremiah, says the great Jewish prophet “was of the priestly order. Hence the prophetic office was more suitable to him than to many of the other prophets, such as Amos and Isaiah.”

Calvin notes that God took other prophets from the royal court and agriculture, and in doing this God “no doubt thus intended to cast a reflection on the idleness and sloth of the priests.”

. . . though all the priests were not prophets, yet they [the prophets] ought to have been taken from that order; for the priestly order was as it were the nursery of the prophets.

Ministry as “nursery of the prophets,” I love that phrase. That was not emphasized in my seminary master’s degree work, except by my ethics professor, Joe Trull (New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, at the time).

Calvin continues:

But when gross want of knowledge and ignorance prevailed among them, God chose his prophets from the other tribes, and thus exposed and condemned the priests. They ought, indeed, to have been the messengers of the God of hosts, so as to keep the law in their lips, that the people might seek it from their mouth, according to what is said by Malachi. (Malachi 2:7) But as they were dumb dogs, God transferred the honor of the prophetic office to others; but Jeremiah, as I have already stated, was a prophet as well as a priest.

I like what Os Guinness says about the prophetic call:

. . . the prophet is specially called to critique and challenge the people of God when they have forgotten or betrayed their original calling.

Thus Moses confronted the people of God over the golden calf, Elijah over the prophets of Baal, Jesus over legalism and hypocrisy, Martin Luther over the distortion of faith, and Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer over the idolatry of nationalism. Such prophetic critiques were often delivered with outrage, but they were not denials of the chosenness of those attacked. On the contrary, the purpose of prophetic critique is restoration, not dismissal. The prophets were specially called and their prophetic messages were special calls to bring God’s people back to the original calling from which they had fallen away.

The church seems to be in need of constant reformation. Sometimes things come to a head, and radical prophetic calls are required. But every week, we, the people gathered for worship, need to be challenged to allow God's reforming work to be done in our lives. We need our pastors, our priest/prophets to do this.

I commend our Baptist pastor/priests who also take up the mantle of prophet in challenging the sinfulness of the people who sit before them each week. I especially commend those who challenge “their” congregation with the sins they hold dear; those are the prophetic words we each need to hear.

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