Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Prophets of Vain Hope

Every time I read a passage like Jer. 23:16-17, I tremble a little bit:
    Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD. They say continually to those who despise the word of the LORD, "It shall be well with you"; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, "No disaster shall come upon you."'
Elsewhere the Lord indicates with sobering clarity what such "prophets" can expect in return from Him.

Eugene Peterson articulated the image of today's American evangelical pastor best when he called him "the chaplain of the culture." The pastor is the man who presides over your marriage, visits you when you're sick, preaches comforting sermons, and calls you when your mother dies. None of these things are wrong and all of them are useful, but they are also all harmless.

The Bible has no such category for any leader of God's people. The prophet who refuses to confront sin (and thus, the sinners who commit it) faces the same judgment as the one who himself sins. "Confrontational"- is this a word that you associate with "pastor"?

I suspect that it is not. Perhaps it is because we are too concerned with church growth to confront sinners. Perhaps it is because the ultimate value of the American religion is tolerance. Perhaps, more simply, it is just so personally difficult to tell someone that he is wrong.

Whatever the reason, pastors need to read and re-read passages like the one above and remind ourselves that our job description is not to make sure that people are in the seats on Sundays- it is to lead them into deeper relationship with the one and only Lord and God. That Lord hates sin because he loves his people, and he will not stand idly by while you or I let them go on with their idolatry as if it didn't matter.

The non-confrontational pastor is the modern day prophet of vain hope. Vanity. Uselessness. Futility. These are words that I pray will never be associated with my ministry. Will it be associated with yours?