Over the years, sometimes after teaching or preaching about figures we may wish to describe as ‘prophetic’ e.g. King, Jordan, Lester, Day…people have sometimes commented – but what are the big issues today – a question asked no doubt with the desire that ‘we’ the church may be prophetic today…
It is prophets who ‘see’ the big issues. Prophets such as those named before are people who made the issues they got involved in – ‘big’. That is they took what was often acceptable and common place and began to say and show – this is not the way things should be. They ‘saw’ the issues and made them ‘issues’ at a time when others simply accepted either that these were the ways things should be or that, however, unfortunate, these simply were the ways things are. If we cannot see the issues – it may be that we cannot be prophetic.
Prophets are usually concerned with bigger than Christian issues. Oh don’t get me wrong. They act very much out of Judeo-Christian convictions. Their focus, however, is often on issues that seek the ‘common good’ or good of those beyond themselves rather than acting to impose a Christian morality on personal behaviour. Some sort of theology that sees God’s sovereignty being over all of life and thus calling for Christian engagement in it is usually required of the prophet.
Prophets can be awkward. Prophetic action causes conflict within their Christian tradition as well as beyond it. They can be ‘prickly’ people against whom brushing up can be challenging. This does not mean all rude people are prophets – some are just rude. It means that prophets will often annoy and provoke through their commitment to the cause particularly if we like them we do not see it or do not accept their theological reading of how God functions in history or that the matter matters.
(As I type this I am aware that I often argue that churches should be engaging on matters at matter – one of the problems of doing that is that we cannot agree on matters that matter. I think that one clue is that probably matters).
Prophets belong to their Christian traditions and are products of them but often ‘rise’ above them in some way. OT prophets seem to have picked up themes that had been made minor in their tradition and played them as major. They were part of that tradition but they improvised in such a way that for some what they said was unrecognizable but was in fact nothing other than a different telling of the shared story. A particular approach to understanding the Scriptures often accompanies those who become prophets. For those mentioned above as for many others such includes placing considerable attention upon the Gospels, the Sermon and the Mount and Jesus as example as well as Lord.
Individuals rather than communities tend to be prophetic. Yes, there are examples of communities who together have acted in prophetic ways as described above. The nature of the prophetic it seems to me means that this is often difficult to enact and takes a particular sort of community with a depth of shared experience. This said they can also inspire communities to kill them or at least reject them – until of course the validity of the stance is universally recognised and they claim them then as their own.
Prophets are seldom self acclaimed. Prophets do not usually set out to be prophetic. They set out to right wrong and the recognition comes from others either in their rejection (troublemaker) or acclaim (prophet). We should not so much be seeking to be prophetic as doing what is right as those who are seeking to follow faithfully in the way of Jesus. Of course what that means and how one reads that will impact how one responds to the wider issues.
Of course as ever the proof of the pudding is in the acting…the big issues….oh I think that they are there…supporting any of them guarantees neither success or acclaim or agreement but I pitch in with a few in the British/European context: opposition to nuclear weapons as weapons of mass destruction, defence of human rights against national self interests, defence of freedom of speech including religious speech, a more human response to immigrants fleeing persecution…