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malcolm chamberlain

musings about the emerging church, mission and contemporary culture...

God is at large, intimately involved in his world in ways that the church is maybe just waking up to!

will the real prophets please stand up (or not)...

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I was involved in a discussion last night about the prophetic ministry and the role of prophecy in the church. I must admit to being slightly uncomfortable with the way that the term 'prophecy' is often banded around to describe what is often at best simply a reminder of Biblical assurances (and yes, I'm very happy to regard this as God speaking, but why do we feel the need to add weight to it by calling it 'prophecy'?), and is at worse self-indulgent or even a justification for the abuse of power! While I'm on the 'admitting' stuff here, I must also admit to being slightly uncomfortable with my own discomfort (and perhaps cynicism) in this, given my charismatic roots!

So, as is advisable when you feel uncomfortable with something, I did a bit of reflecting on this! Here's what I'm thinking (for what it's worth)...
  1. I sincerely believe that the ever-involved God is constantly communicating with us (though not always in words, which carry their own set of linguistic and cultural limitations).
  2. I sincerely believe that the Spirit of God wants to help us to switch off the mute (if you like technological analogies) so that we can hear God more clearly in our day to day lives.
  3. I get this from Jesus' teaching about being the good shepherd and his sheep listening to his voice (John 10:15). In order to listen, we need to get to know his voice and that requires a certain amount of risk taking and a safe space to make suggestions of what you think God might be saying.
  4. However, I also think that this is not the same as prophecy! It strikes me that prophecy as a revelation from God is usually unsettling, challenging and unwanted, rather than an 'encouragement from the Lord'. On the whole, the people of Israel in the Old Testament didn't really like their prophets and did their utmost to shut them up. They certainly didn't feel 'encouraged' by them!
So what, if any, is the role of prophecy today? I have to admit (they often come in threes!) that I get a bit cynical when I see someone labelled as 'prophet whoever' - not because I don't think there are prophets around today but because I think that most of them (in true biblical fashion) don't really know that they are prophets and are not all that keen on wearing the 'official prophet' badge. They don't regard their prophetic ministry (if they see it as that at all) as something to get them noticed and recognised, but as something they simply must do - compelled by God and their missional instincts and passions.

The Church in the West is being shaken up by these contemporary 'prophets' and it's much needed! In the Old Testament tradition God usually sent prophets to the people of Israel when they had become inward looking, complacent and/or abusive; in short, when they had lost sight of their calling to be a light to the Gentiles. The Church in the West has become so complacent in its privileged position (Christendom) that it failed to realise for a very long time that it no longer held that privileged position! Society moved on as the Church continued to pat itself on the back and utter 'encouragements from the Lord' as to what a good job we were all doing!

The contemporary prophets, some of them involved in what is being labelled (why do we love to do that so much?!) the Emerging Church, are challenging the Church in the West to wake up and smell the coffee - to get real, come down from the ecclesiastical ivory towers and pulpits beyond contradiction or challenge, and to get stuck into the stuff of the Kingdom that is all around us. Fortunately for us, God doesn't need prophets to remind him of where he should be and what he should be doing, so, if we want to find him again we need to heed the call of these people to lay down our churchyness and even some of our arrogant 'certainties', and join in with the missio dei. Now that, I'm happy to believe, may just be a prophetic call - uncomfortable but exciting!

Just a thought!...

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posted by Malcolm Chamberlain, 10:55 AM


Great post!

commented by Blogger Steve Lancaster, 1:11 PM  

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