Three Important Ingredients That Affect the Church’s Prophetic Message
(You can listen to the Praying With The Eyes podcast, episode 30, which relates to this topic by clicking this link: PWTE Podcast Episode 030: Is the Church Losing Its Voice?)
As I sat down to write this blog about the voice of the Christian community in today’s world, the head of chaplains for the El Paso County sheriff’s office stopped by to see me. He thanked me for praying for the first responders in our county. Every Sunday we include prayers for the police, sheriff deputies, firefighters, or paramedics.
As he was about to leave he told me that the sheriff’s office had been given a cease and desist order by an organization that seeks freedom from religion. This cease and desist order is an attempt to stop all activities of the volunteer chaplains. This kind of activity is the new reality that confronts people who are attempting to follow Jesus.
Will these efforts effectively eliminate the Christian voice in society? No. God has promised that he will leave a remnant who follow him. Nothing will prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18).
Yet, where is the Christian voice in the public square today? Has it disappeared? Is there a prophetic voice that still speaks of Christ’s power in this fallen world?
I thought about these questions when I read a portion of Carlo Carretto’s book, The God Who Comes. Carretto was a Roman Catholic layman in Italy who was instrumental in Italy’s fight against fascism and communism. He later joined a small Roman Catholic order called The Little Order of Jesus. The strength of this order was both in the contemplative life and in Christian action.
I ran across Carretto’s thoughts in a daily devotional book for church leaders. The focus for the week was on the church for others. The devotional reading from Carretto’s book stated, “Defending life, witnessing light, living out love; these remain forever and for every occasion the divine background of prophecy; they are the specific duty of anyone who calls upon God, following Christ’s unmistakable example.”
This threefold emphasis on the church’s prophetic voice struck me. Could it be that the church is losing its voice because we’re not defending life, witnessing light, or living out love?
Living Out Love
Carretto writes, “An assembly where people do not love each other, where they accuse each other, where there is rancor or hatred, cannot call itself prophetic.” Those are tough words.
My brother-in-law, Pastor Steve Nickodemus, wrote a Praying With The Eyes daily devotion entitled, “Letter of Recommendation”. Quoting Paul from 2 Corinthians 3:2, he asks the question, “what are people reading on your heart?” We can ask the same question of the gathered community of God’s people. What are people reading on OUR heart?
How we treat each other proclaims what we believe about who God is and how he acts in our world. Paul writes to the Philippians;
“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
Philippians 2:3-4 English Standard Version
There is not much someone can say against a community that privately and publicly displays love for each other. The prophetic voice of the church speaks loudly when we care for each other.
Gossip, jealousy, and unresolved conflict will silence our voice in the world. It is difficult for people to believe that God is love when his children hate each other and maliciously attack each other’s character. It’s not that conflict should be absent in the church. What is most important is how we resolve our conflict.
Love for each other, even when it’s hard to love each other, is an amazing witness to the world of this God who is defined by love (1 John 4:8,16). We proclaim Jesus’ reconciliation when we work at reconciling with each other. We proclaim Jesus’ compassion when we spend time with the wounded souls of our fellowship. We proclaim Christ when forgiveness is a two way street; both when we ask for forgiveness and offer forgiveness to each other.
Carretto goes on to say that not only is our prophetic voice affected by our love for each other but also when we witness to the truth.
It’s been a year since the United States Supreme Court legalized gay marriage. Though I disagree with the court’s decision, I was more disappointed at the response of many Christians whose voice was one of judgment and condemnation. (Here is a link to the blog I wrote in response to this judgmental behavior, Thoughts On Being Judgmental).
Truth that does not hold Jesus Christ as the truth will quickly be viewed as condemnation. Just hours before his death Jesus told his disciples,
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:6 English Standard Version
There are other religions that have a moral code similar to that which is revealed in the Bible. What makes the Christian message unique is not our morality, but our proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified which is the truth that saves people.
When the church stops proclaiming the truth of Jesus, we lose our prophetic voice. Jesus Christ is the solution to our inability to keep God’s moral code. His saving work doesn’t change the truth of the Ten Commandments. It fulfills what we cannot. We proclaim the truth of God’s commands because of the truth of Jesus Christ.
Judgment belongs to God, not to mortals. The truth we proclaim is that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). This is our prophetic voice in the world.
Having established that the church’s voice in the world is affected by our love for each other and our witness to the light, Carretto moves to his third point. God calls the church to defend life.
I’m grateful that I belong to Christian community that believes in the sanctity of life from the moment of conception to the last breath of the elderly. I take seriously Genesis 2:7 where God breathed into Adam the breath of life.
Life belongs to God and his gift to humanity.
When I think of defending life I often think about people who live on the fringes of society, those who have been marginalized by others. In the book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, The elimination of the weak is the death of fellowship.” He goes on to say that service “should govern the Christian community.” This service is rooted in our justification in Christ.
God doesn’t eliminate the weak, he cherishes them. God constantly comes to the rescue of those people who are pushed to the sideline and he does so through his people. As the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses gave instruction that they were not to turn away the needy (Deuteronomy 15:7-11). They were to care for the fatherless and the widow (Deuteronomy 27:19). They were to execute justice for the sojourner (Deuteronomy 10:18).
The voice of the baptized is heard when we also care for those on the margins of life. We speak Christ’s word when we care for the needy, the orphan and widow, and the sojourner in our midst.
Is the Church Losing Its Voice?
It’s too simplistic to answer the question, is the church losing its voice, with a “yes” or “no” answer. The voice of the Christian community is being heard loudly in some places and not as loudly in others. There are communities in the world where love is being displayed, truth proclaimed and life celebrated and others where there is only a hint of these traits.
Here is what I believe: The church has little to no prophetic voice when we’re preaching the same thing and living the same way as the world. The problem doesn’t lie with society. The problem belongs to the baptized.
However, there is one thing we can be sure of, when God’s voice is heard, things happen.
Copyright Douglas P Brauner
Carlo Carretto is quoted from the book, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants. Upper Room Books, 1993