THE CHURCH AND PROPHECTIC PREACHING
JARED S. RUNCK
Nervously, Reuben hurried to deliver the message to Moses. The luminous cloud of the Lord’s presence had descended and it was difficult to see in the Tabernacle courtyard. Finally, he spotted Moses and Joshua in front of the group of newly appointed elders, all with upraised hands and glowing faces, prophesying as the Spirit of the Lord came over them. Reuben quickened his pace. “Moses, Moses! My father sent me to tell you that Eldad and Medad, two of the elders you appointed who didn’t come to the ceremony, are prophesying in the camp!”
Moses started. “What?!” Joshua growled, “This is anarchy! Moses, stop them!” But Moses had a far-away look in his eyes. “No, no, Joshua; let them alone. They’ve done nothing wrong! Oh, that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (See Numbers 11:16-17; 24-28.)
Fast-forward several centuries. Israel has been devastated by a massive locust plague. God commands a fiery prophet named Joel to call the people to repentance.
Joel promises a bright future of restoration if they turn to the Lord. God will not only restore “the years that the locust has eaten” but will also transform the nation of Israel in the last days: “I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy” (Joel 2: 25, 28). Fast-forward a few centuries more. Jews from around the world have gathered to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Weeks. The city has just been shocked by the brutal execution of a rebel rabbi named Jesus and the rumor of His resurrection. On the Day of Pentecost, pilgrim worshipers gathered in the Temple courtyard suddenly hear a small group of Palestinian Jews begin to declare the wonderful works of God in the languages of their various homelands! As answer to their consternation, the leader of the band, a fisherman named Peter, declares, “This is that which was prophesied by Joel.’ (See Acts 2:17-21.)
Moses dreamed of it. Joel prophesied its coming. And Peter saw it happen. God has always desired that all of God’s people would “prophesy.”
The New “School of the Prophets”
The scriptural panorama offered above confirms that God has not simply called “prophets” within the church, but He has called the church to be a prophetic community within the world. The church is the new “school of the prophets”! If the church is a prophetic community, the church’s preaching should also be, at least in some sense, “prophetic.” For most of us, the term “prophetic preaching” probably conjures images of flipcharts and timelines and obscure references to original meanings in Hebrew and oft-conflicting analyses of current events. Is this really what it means to preach “prophetically”?
I have spent the majority of my ministry as a student of the Old Testament prophets.
The prophetic material comes from a time much like our own, a time where the people of God were locked in a life-or-death identity struggle with the surrounding cultures.
The role of the prophet in Israel was not just “event predictor” but also and perhaps more importantly “covenant enforcer.” A prophet’s knowledge of the future was mainly the product of his knowledge of the Law. Prophets could predict coming judgment because it was the logical-and promised- divine response to disobedience. (See Deuteronomy 27-28.)
The prophets were mainly concerned with God’s future actions as they impinged on the present. In fact, prophecies of judgment were spoken to turn people to repentance so the threatened punishment wouldn’t happen! (See Jeremiah 18:1.) Because they knew that God was coming to judge all nations, it was incumbent on Israel to follow the covenant lifestyle commanded by God, or face His wrath. Therefore, the prophets thundered against Israel’s desire to be like “other nations” and their lack of covenant observance.
Furthermore, the prophetic commitment to covenant also meant they were radically concerned with social justice as an expression of “worship” to God. (See Isaiah 1:12-17; 3:13-23.) Jeremiah’s Temple sermon makes it clear that Judah’s oppression of the poor and destitute turned their worship of God into idolatry! (See Jeremiah 7:1-15.) Much later, Jesus will take up a similar theme, arguing that our love for God is most obviously expressed in our love for others. (See Matthew 22:37-40; I John 4:20.)
New Rules from an Old School Thinking of the Old Testament prophets as “covenant enforcers” shifts the perception of what it means to preach “prophetically.”
First, prophetic preaching is about confrontation. Truth-the reality of who we are and who God is-is always confrontational; it demands a response; it must either be accepted or rejected and cannot be ignored. Yes, we are called to speak the truth in love, and, while it could be said that some preachers tell the truth without any love, is it really any better to speak love without truth? Do you correct one imbalance by creating another?
Second, prophetic preaching engages the culture with the Word of God. In a sense, “prophetic” preachers are students of both culture and Scripture. And, using
God’s Word as their analytical “lens,” they see through the trap- pings of culture to its spiritual essence. Prophetic preachers are not impressed by a culture’s glamour, only by its faithfulness to divine demands.
Third, prophetic preaching is dominated by a vision of the future. Prophetic preaching is compelled by a searing vision of God’s coming kingdom. What is coming is what “really matters,” not the trivial matters of the present.
Many would agree that Christian preaching is experiencing something of an “identity crisis'” at the turn of the twenty-first century. Much preaching has become a forum for the display of arcane interpretative arts or a cheap form of group therapy. What preaching desperately needs to be is a fresh encounter between the darkness of the human heart and the living light of God’s Word. May we faith- fully-and prophetically-:-proclaim this glorious truth!
Jared S. Runck serves as assistant professor of Old Testament and Theological Studies at Gateway College of Evangelism and as youth pastor at Pentecostal Church in Creve Coeur, Missouri, pastored by Ernest E. Dumaresq.