On the proper use of the prophetic voice
January 22, 2013 Leave a comment
The voice of the prophet is found throughout the Bible. In denouncing idolatries and social injustices the prophets have proclaimed the righteousness of God throughout the centuries. In our modern era we, too, have had prophets. The best of those prophets – Martin Luther King Jr. and Desmond Tutu, for example – have made it clear that injustice and oppression affect the oppressors as well as the oppressed, the sinners as well as the sinned against. Thus, in proclaiming God’s justice in regards to race, poverty, and war these prophets have named the actions of people – people who are often confessing Christians – as sinful without denying them their professed identity in Christ. They have embodied the Evangelical phrase that Christains are called “to hate the sin and not the sinner.” Indeed, they have withheld any judgment upon the status of any individual’s faith while insisting that all confessed Christians live up to their highest ideals and the example and teachings of Jesus.
In the interest of recognizing that God is God and we are not, this is the proper use of the prophetic voice. To go any farther is to flirt with playing God.
Of course, Christian history is full of divisions and schisms based on people employing the prophetic voice in exactly the way in which I am describing as negative. It is my conviction that much of the evil done in the world in the name of the Christian faith could have been prevented if this rule, to prophesy against idolatry and injustice but to avoid judgment upon the faith of idolaters and the unjust, had been followed.
The Church must never lose the prophet’s voice, but it must never allow itself to speak with the voice of God. Indeed, this has been one of the greatest temptations Christians in every generation have faced. May we have the theological humility to do otherwise.