In my church tribe, the Churches of Christ, you won’t here much talk about present day church prophets. I’m not sure why but it seems rather strange considering that throughout scripture God has raised up prophets to speak to his people. In fact the largest section of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible is the “Prophets”. While the New Testament has more to say about the past prophets of Israel than prophets in the church, the New Testament clearly understands that God is still raising up prophets from among his people (cf. 1 Cor 12.28-29; Eph 4.11).
While I do know that there are some Christian traditions who recognizes the role of prophets among then, it seems as though this is more of an exception to the norm. Of course, just because churches don’t name prophets among them, does not mean that they are without them.
If prophets do indeed exist, as I am inclined to believe, who are they? The answer to that question depends on what is meant by “prophet.” I used to think that prophets did nothing but tell the future. While they certainly make statements about the future, they do so much more.
A major aspect of the prophet’s task is to call God’s people to return which actually makes the prophet more “traditionalists than innovators” (Willimon, Preaching the Eighth Century Prophets, 18). This assumes that God’s people have strayed from their own calling and are in need of repentance. Thus, the task of the prophet involves telling the truth…sometimes, perhaps most of the time, an unwanted truth.
However, this truth telling which prophets are called to is not to be confused with sounding off on some hobby-horse tangent. Instead, the truth telling ministry of the prophet is to bring about an alternative community with a counter conscious to the dominant culture of the day (Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 2d ed., 3). While this may involve candid speech that rebukes, it is done so from a redemptive perspective.
Here I am thinking about preaching, whether on a street corner and in the worship assembly, that speaks abusively in order to vent a personal frustration or use the laters natural disaster to pronounce doom and gloom. This is not being a prophet, it is just being any number of things…cantankerous, disparaging, a boisterous cynic, and perhaps even a misanthrope.
So where are these prophets of God among us? I suppose they are right where they have always been and that we just need to recognize them. That is, we need an expectation of hearing their voice among us as we listen to them.
Stay tuned for a few more posts this week about the subject of prophets and prophesy. Thanks for reading!