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From Summer 2011 Issue

A Deluge Of Priests, But where Have All The Prophets Gone?

“Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets!” (Numbers 11: 29)

Such were the words of Moses to Joshua in the Old Testament. Yes, as in those days, so surely today there is an urgent need for the people of God to fulfil a truly prophetic role! But first of all let me make it clear that such a role is no more confined to foretelling things of the future than is it in speaking a humanly unrecognisable gibberish. The prophets of old were far more concerned about decadent problems of their day, the need to address them, and if they didn’t then the repercussions such immoral practices would have for the future. Such prophets – once the Spirit of God came upon them – felt compelled to ‘speak out’ against that which oppressed the weakest and most vulnerable of their time. Indeed, as the truth so often offends the mind of the offender, then prophets became the victims of persecution. First, they were often sarcastically laughed at; then they were horrendously hounded, and last of all – if not stoned before hand! – frequently victorious in conquering their enemies by making them their friends.

Yes, such ‘stirrers of the people’ were quite a contrast to the more refined and less revolutionary life style of their contemporary priests. The latter – as quite a contrast – were more guilty of not only pandering to corrupt practices by those of influence, but they were also frequently willing to give a veneer of religious respectability to perpetrators of selfishness and greed. And, indeed, such priestly pandering to those of questionable practices in influential places has not been confined to those of a biblical era. We need go no further than consider traditional English Vicars of late Victorian times, who would kowtow to the crooked squire in his cushioned pew while confining his denunciations to the likes of a village lass made pregnant by the squire’s son!

For a similar example of such priestly hypocrisy and a wish to avoid fulfilling a prophetic role at all costs, I’m reminded of a mining disaster that occurred in a village called Silkstone which I passed through regularly. A deluge which occurred in the village swamped down in to a sloping mine shaft entrance resulting in a colossal amount of children being drowned. Consequently, the Anglican priest of the church and parish had a voluntary collection taken from the folk of the parish so as to erect a monument in their memory. He obviously didn’t wish to blame the proprietor of the mine – who had his own plush pew complete with a fireplace within the church itself! So what did he do? Well, he had an inscription chiselled out on the monument erected in the churchyard for the victims of the disaster. Rather than in any way offend the squire, or criticize the appalling dangers extant in the mine, these are amongst the words he had inscribed: ‘a sudden and an unexpected visitation of the Lord occurred’. Yes, rather than put any blame on the squire who had children as young as seven literally slaving away in his mine, the Rector ascribed the unexpected flooding of the colliery to an act of God. Well, how convenient!

But then, are priests and pastors, in a more subtle and refined sense, any better today? I speak for myself when I say that as a previous Congregational minister where the senior chapel deacon was managing director of a massive mill which employed most men in the village, that what I spoke out so forcefully against was never the working conditions but the evils of drunkenness; which could result in lethargy at work and occasional absenteeism. Yes, I was fulfilling a prophetic as well as a pastoral role but I knew full well that my own ‘bread and butter’ was safe and I was commended too by the leading light of that affluent place of worship. Well, shame on me!

In all honesty, I have since become much bolder, and once established within past Anglican livings of ones own, have frequently ‘rocked the boat’ and sometimes paid for it dearly. But then we’re not called upon to be men pleasers but rather pleasers of God! What troubles me, as an octogenarian ‘burning the midnight oil in swatting for ones finals’ is that I haven’t always stirred up certain issues enough. Yes, due to fear of being unpopular within ‘respectable’ circles. Yet one needs to realise that Christ was not crucified because He consoled, comforted and brought healing to so many. Indeed, for such things He was no doubt well appreciated. He was denounced because they said ‘ “He stirreth up the people” Yes, and especially the religious hierarchy of His day! It was for this that He ended up with a cross on His back.

Well of what relevance is the above to us? I would simply say that we who seek to serve Him must never choose a comfortable cushion in preference to a cruel cross. We are called upon to deny ourselves, take up a cross and follow Him, and this is always a voluntary choice. We may have many ‘thorns in the flesh’ thrust upon us, but the cross is something to be voluntarily taken up. Indeed, I say all this because as Christians (whether Laity or Clergy) we’re called upon to be - as were the first disciples - “the salt of the earth”. And though salt in such a metaphor is a great ‘spicer up’ of what was previously a bland form of existence, the same ingredient when first applied can smart exceedingly. So likewise, can proclaiming Christianity to an unregenerate soul. One, so frequently needs to be broken before being made anew.

We all need to be deeply aware of the danger of so bathing in a holy huddle of encircled believers, looking inwards with joy, as to ignore the command to go out and be ‘the salt’ within an outside world of dishonesty and constant corruption. Indeed, may it never be said justifiably of your Church or of mine; as was said of a gathering of prim and pious poker-faced, Bible bashers elsewhere: ‘They are so heavenly minded as to be no earthly use!’ There is undoubtedly time needed to get ones spiritual batteries recharged through indulging in prayer, praise, testimony – and possibly hallelujahs! - but if it ends there, then we still prove to be just shallow bashers of noisy gongs with no dinner to follow.

Yes, the fact is that we are called to be prophets for Jesus. Something of which today’s church appears to have a grave shortage. As these ‘stirrers of the people’ varied in biblical times, so they will vary today. Not all have the same prophetic gifts but those true to their calling will be behind many a worthy cause; but God grant that they will not be so behind it as to be out of sight! For myself, I wasn’t able to merely sing choruses for Jesus, once made aware of covered up cracks in a nuclear plant up in Scotland where I lived. To the annoyance of a local priest who supported nuclear, simply as it brought financial benefit and employment to his parish, I simply had to speak out prophetically. Yes, and when I saw cows confined in sheds and heartlessly abused as if they were milk machines then I had to ‘rock the boat’ with a ‘thus saith the Lord!’ form of righteous indignation.

Indeed, I’ll say no more about myself. I simply know that where there is injustice of any kind then it is the prime responsibility of the Christian to be in the vanguard of speaking out for today’s equivalents to “the weak, the vulnerable, the widow, the orphan and the stranger” of biblical times. Such uncalled for objections and words of protest may result in a heavy cross, but today’s secular society needs Christians who will rock the boat for Jesus and say ‘enough is enough’. So may we all be saved then from any form of timidity that – heaven forbid - would seek to make us traitors to our precious Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Those true prophets of old were as bold as a lion. May we prove likewise!

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