Thursday, January 8, 2015

Prophets or not? Deuteronomy 18

In Summary: When you set up a national religion, you have to give thought to the succeeding generations. After all, there is always the hope and intention that your religion will carry on. This is the case whether you are dealing with true religion, mistaken religion, or cruising out with deliberately false religion.

When that religion is started up with miraculous events, it increases your troubles. After all, not everyone was a witness to those moments. What happens when someone else claims to have seen a burning bush or turned a staff into a snake and back? All they might have would be…a stick. The same signs that Moses said sent him out in the first place could easily be picked up by someone else.

You need a filter, a test that ensures your next generation leader is not pulling you away from the truths of yesterday. Keep in mind, we are dealing with the truths that we held yesterday. Truth is unchanging—opinions may shift but truth endures. For example, it is a truth that there is a God. That is, if there is a God, God existed yesterday, today, and exists forever, because the nature of “God” is eternal and everlasting.

(You might argue that I think it’s a truth, but by nature I would suggest most claims of existence/non-existence of deity are claims of truth.)

It is an opinion that God prefers music with guitar to music with accordion. Those are differences of opinion, and not of truth. The opinions of a religion may change as the years go by without altering the fundamental truth of the idea. Christianity is no different: truth is unchanging.

What, then, do you do when someone posits a change to the fundamental truth?

In Focus: Looking at Deuteronomy, we see this: God tells the people that He will provide prophets to speak on His behalf (Deuteronomy 18:15, 18:18) from among the people. These prophets will make plain the words of the Lord God, and He will provide signs to attest the words.

The thrust here is that the signs will be accurate predictions of future events. The words of the prophets are to be tested against the accuracy of their predictions. Any prophet who misses a prediction is to be counted a false prophet.

Oh, and in case one of them lucks up and hits one right? Deuteronomy 18:20 makes clear that the prophets must speak only in the name of the One True God. If he is advising switching gods, then he’s a false prophet.

In Practice: What does this look like for us?

First, I am not persuaded by arguments that there are modern-day prophets like the prophets of the Old Covenant. Hebrews 1 reads like God spoke finally through His Son. With this assumption, we’re not looking at prophets as much as religious teachers and leaders. Which brings us back to the question: what does this look like for us?

The first component is this: there will be some people who will speak presumptuously in the name of the Lord. We must be aware of the risk that these will be present and will not immediately stick out to us as false prophets. Some of them will be quite persuasive.

The second component is the content of the message. Does it hold true with what God has already said? Does it pretend a secret knowledge? Note that the test of fulfillment appears to be a longevity test: quick changes would have been unlikely. There is also a necessary clarity in the expression. The prophet who hedges and fluffs—or nuances too much—would never be testable. Those whose words cannot be tested should be ignored.

This includes those who try to subtly play both sides of an issue without actually expressing the truth. Scripture is quite absolute on many things. In those areas, we may be as certain as the text is. There is waffle room when the text is not clear, but more time should be spent on what we have clearly anyway.

(For example, Scripture is far more clear about love expressed through sacrifice in marriage than it is about who does dishes. Yet we have far more written, it seems today, about who should do the dishes. Why is that?)

Additionally, any messenger who proclaims truth contrary to the revelation of God should be discarded. Whether he does so out of incompetence or willful evil does not matter. He should be discarded as a messenger. If it’s incompetence, then allow a new opportunity when competence is gained. If willful evil, that’s another matter.

All in all, we must be cautious about who we let stand as a messenger from God. Scripture in Deuteronomy 18, as well as in the New Testament, is clear that messengers are to be tested in both word and deed. Are your favorite messengers known well enough to you to be tested?

That’s a challenge in the Internet era. You can find folks that sound great on the Web, but are they what they claim to be? How do you know?

In Nerdiness:  Check the first couple of paragraphs, about Levites and relocation. They were to be fed and supported by the people they served as teachers of God’s word. They were also to stay put in their appointed place.

Unless they wanted to move to the central sanctuary. But a Levite that made the change was not to be better fed than his fellow Levites at the central sanctuary. In other words, there were to be no kick-backs to pull a Levite from the towns into the central area.

If we pay ministers now partly based on the concept of the Levites, then what does this say about how compensation is handled? Or about how compensation of denominational workers is handled?

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