Thursday, October 9, 2014

Signs and Wonders: Deuteronomy 13

In Summary: Signs and wonders, wonders and signs. What shall we do with them all? This question raises its head in the modern day, but it goes all the way back into Deuteronomy 13.

Actually, it goes back further, but there’s an important context to grasp here. God has shown His approval of Moses through signs and wonders. Further, these accompanied Aaron as High Priest and Joshua as successor to Moses.

But we also saw in the Exodus narrative that the magicians of Egypt were able to do some miraculous acts as well. What is the difference? After all, if God is all-powerful, then are not any signs and wonders an attestation to His approval?

In Focus: The people of Israel at this point in the story have seen a lot, but they are about to cross over into the Promised Land. The Word of God that Moses will give them holds the guidance for their society.

But what if someone comes along and pushes them to consider other gods? It is one thing, of course, for someone to spout obvious nonsense and have no power to back it up. That person will readily be ignored, and perhaps given a great deal of opportunity to change his ways.

The real threat is from the one who pops up and does a miracle or two, who nails a prophecy just right, and then says “See! God said we should pitch this Torah and party like it’s 1999!” (BC, in Mesopotamia). This threat will not be so easy to counter.

The test of this prophet, or dreamer, is to be whether or not his instructions pass the test of fidelity to the existing words of YHWH, the One True God. That is the pass/fail, even if this prophet calls the next eclipse, flood, or football result. He is a false prophet, not false in foretelling but false in truth telling, a far weightier matter. His power is being allowed by God, but he himself is not honoring God in his actions (See Balaam in Numbers or Caiaphas in John!)

The remainder of the chapter wraps up the results for both the false prophet and those who fall to his ideas. Execution. It is that simple, for a land with unified religion and state sees apostasy as treason.

In Practice:
For certain, this is not our appropriate response. We rightly and joyously live in a land with a separation between church and state, though there is much debate about how that fleshes out. Fortunately we do not see apostasy and treason lined up together in America. (I would add a “yet,” pending our complete shift to secularism as the official religion, but that would make me a ‘nutter’ in some views.)

Why do we not execute the false prophet merely on religious grounds? Because Jesus died for the false prophet as well as for you and I, and so we do not pursue death for spiritual sin. I would argue, but will not develop, that the Christian response to any sin is not execution, though the State may construct and command that response. That’s for another day.

Just because there is no execution for false prophecy does not mean there should be no consequences. Let us take the false prophets of today and consider their lives.

We enable their lives. We buy their books, watch their shows, attend their conferences. We even legitimize their falsehoods by inviting the false prophet to debate rather than rebuke.

What signs and wonders do we fall for?

Many of my Baptist brethren would argue that we do not fall for false healings or future-telling, as we are far smarter than our charismatic brethren who do fall for these. Yet we have our own signs and wonders that we fall for in the “practical” department.

After all, how long has it taken us to realize that the wonder of filling a church in an unchurched area does not mean a person is a qualified preacher? Much less qualified to inspire and draw followers across Baptist-land?

Or we fall for the sign of “he won the election,” be it the business meeting or the Annual Meeting, and say that we must follow. Even if the guidance is away from a trust in the Word of God, a commitment in following the Lord Jesus Christ.

This was the apostasy that Moses warned about in Deuteronomy 13. That the people who should serve the Lord are convinced to follow their feelings of inspiration instead of the inspired Word of God.

While we ought not execute the false prophet, we must stop enabling him as well. Just because he looks good and sounds good does not mean his preaching is not death. Stop buying the books. Stop going to the conferences, realizing that the “bathwater” is so toxic that no “baby” can survive it.

Whether a coalition or a network or even a convention endorses someone is not the test of their fidelity. Whether or not they sound good, or fill a room, or even if they prophesy accurately, it does not matter. The Word of God is the Word of God, and there is but one Mark, John, Luke, Paul, or Matthew who has written inspired Scripture.

Cut them off. Do it now, before it is too late.

In Nerdiness: Heavy enough without nerdiness, but here goes:

I have read a few times that the likely birth of many “religious” power groups has been the accurate foretelling of weather events. For example, nailing the rising of the Nile to flood stage or “blacking out the Sun” because a priest-wannabe knew the eclipse was coming.

In short, science. Being a step ahead in science but masking the process led to power over others. What do we do about that?

Learn science. Learn it well. And push for as much transparency as possible about not just the results, but the methods and models to get there.

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