Assorted

Help wanted: Prophets

Our leaders, and neighbors, need to hear God’s Word from us

****

God’s Word cuts. We acknowledge that is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12). It may even be that it’s because we know it can have such strong and contrasting reactions that we don’t often hear God’s Word directly referenced or quoted, even by Christians, in our work places, the mainstream media, our legislatures and courts, or other places in the public square.

Ready reasons come to mind for our silence. “I’m just a grandma / just a laborer / just a teen / just a _______ [fill in the blank].” Or, “I’m not gifted with words.” When it comes to speaking God’s Word to the world, we might like to leave this job to our pastors, missionaries, or maybe people who get paid to bring a Christian perspective to our secular leaders. Another common hurdle is our concern of throwing the pearl of the Gospel before the secular swine, resulting in a mess we would rather avoid.

Nothing new under the sun

So God’s Word is generally excluded from the public square, and not by governmental dictate, but by Christians’ own reluctance to speak it.

What might happen if we decided again to speak God’s Word out loud, in public discussion and debate? Well, we can’t control how our neighbors will respond to God’s Word, but we can have a hand in determining whether they are even exposed to it.

Two remarkable Old Testament stories illustrate this well, and serve as good lessons for today. They feature two kings of Judah who lived shortly before the kingdom was conquered and the people exiled to Babylon.

A king with ears to hear

The first king, Josiah, assumed the throne at age 8. According to 2 Kings 23:25,

“Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the LORD with all his heart and with all his soul and with all his might, according to all the Law of Moses, nor did any like him arise after him.”

When we think of righteous kings, David and Solomon often come to mind. But neither compared with Josiah.

When Josiah was 18, he made orders to make repairs to the temple. Then something strange happened. Apparently when renovating the temple, Hilkiah the high priest found the Book of the Law. He proceeded to give it to the king’s secretary, who passed it on to the king with these rather uninspiring words “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” I call this strange because it suggests that the Book of the Law was lost and forgotten – even by the high priest and in the temple! What does it say of the spiritual health of the covenant nation of Judah when the Book of the Law is forgotten? There may have be a form of spirituality in the land, but clearly there was little faithfulness.

When Josiah heard the words of the law, it struck him to the heart. He immediately tore his cloths and asked the priest, and others, to inquire of the LORD, recognizing that he and the people had not been faithful. After hearing God’s response of judgment and grace, Josiah demonstrated true leadership. He gathered all the people together and “he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD” (2 Kings 23:2). He then covenanted before the LORD, “and all the people joined in the covenant” (23:3).

These were not just words and good intentions. In the following weeks, Josiah proceeded to reform the entire nation. He destroyed the idols, broke down the houses of the cult prostitutes, eradicated child sacrifices, and went from place to place removing the high places and shrines. After this he commanded the people to celebrate the Passover, “for no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel or the of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah (23:22).

Based on what we know of Josiah, it seems he stayed faithful in his leadership till he died in battle.

A king who loved darkness rather than the Light

As was so often the case with the kings of Israel and Judah, a faithful father did not at all mean a faithful son. Josiah had a son named Jehoiakim, who became king after his younger brother Jehoahaz’s very short three-month reign ended in captivity. Jehoiakim had no use for God’s Law or his father’s reforms. Rabbinical literature describes him as a very evil man, guilty of much incest, murder, and adultery.

But for those familiar with the Bible, most of us will better know Jehoiakim as the king who burned God’s Word, as recounted by the prophet Jeremiah.

God instructed Jeremiah to write down all the words that He had told him. He added “It may be that the house of Judah will hear all the disaster that I intend to do to them, so that every one may turn from his evil way, and that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin” (Jeremiah 36:3). Through his scribe Baruch, Jeremiah wrote all the words down on a scroll. Since he was banned from going to the temple, Jeremiah had Baruch go there instead, and he read God’s Word to the people. Word made its way to the government officials, and Baruch was ordered to take his scroll and read it to them. God’s Word filled them with fear and they decided “we must report all these words to the king” (36:16).

Eventually king Jehoiakim had the scroll read to him. When he would hear three or four columns “the king would cut them off with a knife and throw them in the fire in the fire pot, until the entire scroll was consumed in the fire” (36:23). Unlike his father Josiah’s response to the finding of the law, Jehoiakim was not fearful or repentant. Rather he ordered that Baruch and Jeremiah be captured.

God’s word still cuts

Repentance and reform, or fire and persecution. Two kings, two generations, and two very different responses to God’s Word. Both kings responded with conviction. But the conviction went in two very different directions.

Western society today likes to be nice. We are known for wanting to avoid controversy. Christians aren’t immune to these societal trends. We generally don’t like to rock the boat of culture. And citing Scripture tends to do just that. It is one thing to quote the Bible at a Bible study or in the privacy of our home. It is another to bring it to our civil leaders, our business associates, or community friends.

The temptation we all face is to avoid using Scripture in public discourse. Out of a desire to reach a secular and pluralist audience, we stick to language that doesn’t turn people off. There are indeed times when it is appropriate to communicate biblical truth in a way that our neighbors will listen. If we don’t know who our readers or listeners are, there can be wisdom in not triggering them before our point is made. For example, a hardened atheist or jaded ex-Christian may read our letter to the editor, see a reference to Scripture, and immediately stop reading. If it is possible to communicate the same truth without directly quoting Scripture, there may be wisdom in doing so.

There are also times when we simply are not the gate-keepers of communication. If we know that those gate-keepers will not allow their publication to become a forum to communicate Scripture, there again may be wisdom in putting that Scripture into our own words. For example, when staff from the organization I work for contribute articles to large secular newspapers for publishing, we have learned that Scripture may not be welcomed. If we want to still get published, we have to show some creativity. But that said, we may be surprised by a new generation that is far more open to considering a faith-based perspective than their baby-boomer parents.

Whether it is through direct quotations, or by means of rephrasing it to be appropriate for the context, the bottom line is that the communication of Scripture is not only still acceptable, it is absolutely necessary. We know that hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit through the Word. And it is our job to communicate that Scripture. Lord’s Day 12 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks what it means that we are called Christians. We confess that it means we carry the three-fold office of Christ: Prophet, Priest, and King. That means that every Christian is called to “confess His Name.” Prophets carry the words of God to those who need to hear it. This country is full of people who need to hear God’s truth. This isn’t a job we can pass off. It is an integral part of the job description of every Christian.

We don’t know whether the person we speak to will respond like Josiah or Jehoiakim. But changing hearts is not our job. It is God’s. God calls us to be His agents. We really are modern-day prophets.

None of us can do this well in our own strength. Let us constantly pray to “set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth, keep watch over the door of my lips” (Psalm 141:3)! We can also ask God to open our eyes to see opportunities to testify to Him, and embolden us to seize those opportunities while we still have them.

As with many difficult things, the best way to learn is by simply trying, and not giving up. Let’s encourage each other to shine the light of God’s Word across our nation.

Mark Penninga is the executive director of ARPA Canada. 

——-

SIDEBAR: Citing Scripture doesn’t give us immunity: Two cautions

Although we need God’s Word shared, it is also important to remember that the way we share it should reflect the grace and truth that Christ exemplified. There are two common and related mistakes to avoid.

First, simply because we quote Scripture does not mean that we are in the right. The Pharisees knew Scripture well, and quoted it endlessly. But they lost perspective and didn’t recognize God Incarnate, right in front of them. If we are wrong, or simply misguided, adding a Bible text doesn’t change that. In fact, it can reflect very poorly on Christ Himself.

Second, even if we are communicating truth, if it doesn’t come alongside grace it isn’t faithfully representing Christ. Christ never communicated truth without grace, just as He never communicated grace without truth. We humans naturally don’t do that. Some of us tend to want to always get to the truth of the matter. And people get hurt in the process. Others emphasize grace, and compromise truth in the process. There are no shortage of examples of Christians who throw out Bible texts in their letters and meetings, while showing little love and grace to those who they are addressing. We need to realize that the person we are speaking with likely does not share our belief about the authority of God’s Word, nor do they understand its context. And this will be compounded if we never actually meet (e.g. if our communication is written).

Put ourselves in the shoes of our readers. What happens when we hear a Muslim referencing the Koran and urging the West to submit to Mohammed? Not only do we disagree, we end up not listening to anything else they say. We write them off. So it is so important that our communication makes it clear that we too have to measure up, and we too struggle and fail when trying to do so. God’s Word is for us as much as it is for the people we are addressing. Truth without grace and love is a clanging gong. This world doesn’t need more noise.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Carl

    April 15, 2018 at 5:20 pm

    What is the best way to discuss topics like abortion with secular folks – should we use biblical language such as sanctity of life, or perhaps something they understand better, such as pre-born human rights (which some Christian pro-life activists do)? In other words, if Biblical language is foreign and not understood by the public, should it still be used, or is it better to use secular language like that used above which they may understand? If secular language is used, is this the better part of wisdom and communication, or is it perhaps cowardice or a wrongheaded desire to be non-confrontational?

    • Reformed Perspective

      April 16, 2018 at 11:02 am

      That’s a great question, that can be examined a couple of different ways.

      First, let’s look it from the perspective of PURPOSE. What is our purpose here on Earth? The Westminster Shorter Catechism’s most famous response tells us that our purpose is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. It would follow then that we are to talk about Him with anyone and everyone we meet – a big part of glorifying Him would involve bringing Him up whenever we can.

      But as you note Christian pro-lifers don’t always talk about the unborn using explicitly Christian language. There is a good reason they don’t that we can understand by way of a fireman analogy. If a Christian fireman arrives on the scene of a burning building with people trapped inside, should he take time to tell those people about Christ, or should he do what he can to get them out? To ask the question is to answer it; clearly his role here is to rescue, not evangelize. When it comes to the matter of abortion, lives are also at stake, and in a sidewalk counseling situation there may only be time to tell a single mom that it is indeed a child and that we are willing to help if only she will change her mind. In the limited time we have it may make better sense to say this than to say anything about God.

      However, we need to properly understand just what this fireman analogy shows. It is an explanation for why, in an emergency situation in which time is limited, we might not spell out the full argument for the unborn’s worth and value – we might not get down to the only firm foundation for truth: God. But we shouldn’t think this a justification for never laying out that full argument. That is, in fact, what is missing in the public discussion about the unborn – we are missing the Christian explanation for where our worth comes from, and how it has nothing to do with size, location, or ability, but is instead found in being created in God’s Image. It is to our shame that it isn’t so much that the public has rejected God’s truth about the unborn as that they’ve never heard it. The world doesn’t even have an explanation for equality, for worth, that stands up to questioning. If we were only to get the discussion going, God could be glorified indeed!

      So the best way to talk about topics like abortion and the unborn is as a God-loving, unapologetic Christian. We should lay out the full argument when we can, but when we can’t, still seek to do so as a public Christian. If we do that then, even when a fire or whatever other situation doesn’t allow us to say all we’d like to, people can see our resolve, or our generosity, or our courage, and know Who to give credit for it. That gives God the glory.

      Second, when it comes to the best way to talk to secular folks about abortion we can also look at this from the perspective of TACTICS. We still want to give God the glory, so we are still going to speak as a public, gratefully-adopted Christian son or daughter of God, but tactically it might make sense in many circumstances to begin with questioning the secular status quo before offering up the Christian alternative. The reason being, Christianity is the subject of ridicule in the secular realm. We understand that, and can anticipate the hostile response we may well receive. But…our position is true. And the secular position is standing on a foundation of sand. Knowing that, confident in that, we might take some time first to point out how the secular position fails – we can demolish their argument (2 Cor. 10:5) with pointed questions – before sharing God’s truth. That can involve any number of approaches, including the use of “secular” presentations such as the video below, which question/attack a particular part of the lie that the unborn are not precious human beings.

      But, of course, we mustn’t let this tactical approach become a justification for attacking secular lies while infinitely delaying a presentation of God’s Truth. The point in starting with a demolition of the secular position first is not to avoid talking about God, but instead to make the best, most compelling presentation of God’s Truth possible!

      For more on how questions can be a big part defending God’s Truth, there is no better book than Greg Koukl’s Tactics (which we review here).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Most Popular

Our mission is "To promote a Biblically Reformed perspective in all spheres of life by equipping and encouraging Christians to think, speak, and act in a manner consistent with their confession."

Sign up for the weekly RP Roundup

Get the week's posts delivered to your email inbox. Sign up, and if you don't get a quick confirmation, check your spam folder.
* = required field

powered by MailChimp!

Follow Us

Copyright © 2016 Reformed Perspective Magazine | Site by Soapbox Studios

To Top