BEING PROPHETIC? By Rev. Dr. Allyn Ricketts
What does it mean to be prophetic? What does it mean for the church to speak to our culture? In the recent United Methodist Reporter two articles appeared which, looking at them side by side, raised some questions I needed to think about. Allow me to think out loud for a moment.
If I understand correctly it seems the historic sense of speaking prophetically meant to apply Scripture to the culture. That is, to speak God’s word to the culture, or for that matter the church, even if that made people uncomfortable (maybe especially if it made people uncomfortable). But that does not always seem to be the way I hear the word being used today. Sometimes being prophetic seems to mean no more than people saying what makes them feel good about themselves. “I stood up for my cause and it may make no difference; it may even make things worse, but I feel good for speaking out.” But if the only authority we stand on is ourselves, in what sense is that prophetic? Have we nothing to offer the world except our own preferences and opinions?
The ‘prophetic’ also seems to be used in the sense of taking on whatever the current ‘cutting edge’ social or political position is in the culture and getting behind that view in opposition to the rest of the culture. This certainly feels prophetic since we are taking on most of the culture and challenging others to join us. But it seems we never find ourselves challenging the ‘cutting edge’ with God’s word. We seem to accept whatever the ‘cutting edge’ tells us. Should not this part of our culture fall under the challenge of God’s word also?
What caused this rethinking of being prophetic included an article on interfaith marriage and, in the same issue of the UM Reporter an article on a protest concerning immigration. The first article on interfaith marriage was uplifting. It makes us feel good about ourselves to hear how people have learned to get along in difficult circumstances. But there was not one mention of the repeated and dramatic warnings of the Hebrew prophets concerning marrying outside the faith. Not a hint could be found of the New Testament warning about being unequally yoked; a passage that specifically by its language connects itself to the yoked image of Genesis 2:24 and the marriage relationship.
Now we do find references to Scripture in the article about the immigration protest in Phoenix. The protest may have been perfectly proper; I am an old protestor and find no fault in civil disobedience. I know nothing about the sheriff in Phoenix and his actions may be entirely worthy of opposition. But in the issue of immigration to just causally quote verses from the Old Testament that speak about ‘aliens’ seems to be over simplistic for political purposes and not the least bit prophetic. In beginning to work on this (I am open to help) it seems that in Genesis 12 and Deut. 14 there is a clear distinction made between ‘aliens’ or ‘sojourners’ and those who are called ‘foreigners.’ The “gerim” or sojourners are the most frequently referred to and seem to be those who come into the culture and function under its laws. The “nokri” or ‘foreigners’ as the word is usually translated seem to be those who are not willing to abide by the laws. This group is seen as wicked (Proverbs 5:15ff) and for this group debt was not to be forgiven (Deut. 15:3), no authority was to be given (Deut. 17:10) and prayers were lifted up for their conversion (I Kings 8:41ff). If this distinction is in any way valid (and if it is not then it might also be said that the Old Testament has nothing to say about illegal immigration) then in what way are we being prophetic to ignore this as we speak to our culture?
In the last two notes I have written on this web site I talked about the authority of Scripture. If we actually have a clear word from God then to be prophetic would be to apply that word to the culture, not our private causes, not the leading thought of the culture itself, but God’s word. A prophet would say “Thus saith the Lord” and not just buy into what the cultural elite are saying. Just thinking out loud.