As a result of discussions I’ve had in the past few weeks, I have put a lot of thought into what it means for a church or group to have a “prophetic” voice (in a non-charismatic sense). Typically this is conceived as someone who challenges and goads the church into coming closer to the will of God. In this way, the modern Christian movement towards compassion, mercy and justice has an element of the prophetic because as we’ve seen in passage after passage in Isaiah, God’s heart is for the fatherless, the alien, and the widow, and so our heart should be with them as well.
But I don’t think this is the end of what it means to have a prophetic voice. There is an additional element to this calling, one that was characterized by the lives and ministries of the prophets of the Old Testament, and that was the counter-cultural dynamic. The prophets were not preaching to choirs, but to people who were murderously inhospitable and violently opposed to the Word of God. These people were completely unaware of their sinfulness, and would sometimes be so outraged by the prophets’ words that they would torture and kill those who told them they were in the wrong. That is how many people believe Isaiah died, that he was sawn in two by the king of Israel, Manasseh. So being prophetic does not just mean calling God’s people to come into God’s will, but also includes the willingness to do so in the face of persecution, and against the prevailing culture.
And this is what I find lacking in the modern church.
The modern evangelical church has passionately taken up the causes of poverty, human trafficking, social justice, and I am overjoyed at this development. But we must not forget that the causes of poverty, human trafficking, and social justice are now popular causes that no one in American, nor western, culture takes issue with in the least. So we should not rest on our laurels, content with our renewed focus on compassion and justice, for it takes very little courage to take up causes that are universally accepted and supported by all.
Instead, I wonder if the church still has the courage to stand up and publicly preach God’s Word on issues that are not supported by prevailing culture, issues that may earn them ridicule, censure, even persecution from the people around them. I see endless Facebook postings about ending global poverty and human trafficking, but none that relate to abortion, or promiscuity and sexuality. Yes, these issues are controversial and the Christian opinion is increasingly the minority and counter-cultural one, but this should not stop us from humbly, lovingly and firmly proclaiming what is right. We cannot abandon this calling to courageous counter-culturalism, for that is a major part of what it means to be prophetic, a calling that I believe the church is still called to fulfill.
And in this dichotomy, I see the past church and the present church: the past church, so outspoken and outlandish in their defense of morality, and the modern church, so compassionate and compliant with culture. The two are often in unspoken conflict with one another, when in reality, both desperately need to learn from and unify with each other in order to adequately take on the role of prophet to our broken world.