I will admit I can find it somewhat pretentious to talk about the prophetic. I think it comes from the experience of preachers claiming to be prophetic, having prophecies or claiming a title of Prophet and making bold claims that God is speaking to them about specific issues of the future. Frequently these claims are broad brushstroke type claims that really say very little and come across a bit like a horoscope… “there is a dark cloud on the horizon but if you keep moving forward you will see the light beyond the cloud…”. About 20 years ago I heard someone prophecy that there would be a Christian revival in the UK and it was going to begin in Bangor, Wales. Since then church attendance has continued to decline and I’ve heard the same prophecy repeatedly but with a different starting point for the ‘revival’ or ‘renewal’, the most recent I’ve heard is from Reading.
As the images of the Notre Dame cathedral fire in April hit he news cycle and social media feeds, images of the gold cross in amongst the debris and ashes were shared with quotes suggesting God was speaking. Of course what God was saying was usually positive “my light shines in the darkness” or “I will rise from the ashes”. A post asking how people couldn’t believe in God when the gold cross was left undamaged and glistening in the sunlight was met with the science that the melting point of gold is much higher than that of wood. I giggled. As the image of the golden cross did the social media rounds few Christian’s asked if the prophecy was about God burning down the old places of worship that had become idols and actually forgotten about God. We don’t really like prophecy if it is negative towards the church and yet biblical prophecy was frequently chastising the people of God.
My frustration with so much of the so-called prophetic is that it is always so damn positive.
The role of the biblical prophet was to point the people of God back to the ways of God. Rarely was the message obviously positive or something that would be well received in the first instance. Take the Prophet Hosea for example, he exclaims (Hosea 4:1):
‘Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel;
for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or loyalty,
and no knowledge of God in the land.’
The prophet speaks of the ways in which the people of God have turned from God and rejected him, however, the prophet also speaks of the possibilities for reconciliation, justice and a returning to the ways of God. Rather than a mystic futuristic announcement frequently the prophets spoke of justice. If the church is to be prophetic it means standing out from the popular culture, highlighting injustice and raising awareness and action for creating a more just society.
Joseph Campbell (The Inner Reaches of Outer Space: Metaphor as Myth and as Religion, (Novato, CA: New World Library, 1986, 2002), p.101.) writes,
‘So the artist, functioning in this “proper” way, is the true seer and prophet of his century, the justifier of life and as such, of course, a revolutionary far more fundamental in his penetration of the social mask of his day than any fanatic idealist spilling blood over the pavement in the name simply of another unnatural mask.’
It has been suggested that the artist Banksy is a modern day prophet. His art challenges social, financial and political institutions and imbalance of power, with particular reference to Western democracy and capitalism.
For the best part of two weeks in April London became the epicentre of a series of peaceful protests and civil disobedience, designed to bring attention to the issue of climate breakdown and ecological collapse. Whether or not we agree with the methods, Extinction Rebellion disrupted the status quo to raise awareness and to get attention for the cause they believe in; their actions were prophetic. A few Christian’s from Christian Climate Action (CCA) joined the protests or acts of civil disobedience but the Church on the whole was largely silent.
It is my contention that the church should be at the forefront of changing the narrative and challenging unjust systems. Rather than following the crowd or jumping onto someone else’s bandwagon the Church should be a prophetic voice. Actions speak louder than words so the church must be prophetic activists. The church should be at the forefront of challenging the injustices in the world. Instead of making excuses and appealing for special treatment so as not to have to adapt buildings to make them more accessible the church should be leading the way in disability rights, inclusion and involvement. Rather than putting financial considerations ahead of environmental needs or just trade the church should consider the impact of our actions on both our near and global neighbours. Rather than debating whether women can preach and take lead roles in ministry the church should be at the forefront of the gender equity, paying an equal wage (or stipend) and challenging chauvinism. Rather than 11am on a Sunday morning being the most racially segregated time of the week (we have black churches, white churches, Asian churches, and so on) it should be the most ethically diverse. If we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:7-15) we should expect a worshipping community that includes those “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne” (Revelation 7:9-12). Rather than ostracising those who identify as LGBTQIA+ the church should be leading as a people of welcome and inclusion.
The prophetic church empowers the disempowered, speaks to the places of power and acts with integrity and humility for and with those who are powerless, because these are the ways of God.