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8 Observations to Help Churches be a Prophetic Witness

The global community faces daunting issues in 2017.

Where does one go to hear God’s message to the people of his creation?

I have been reflecting on prophetic ministries that dare to speak for God about issues like hunger, disparity, racism, consumerism, violence and the mass migration of people. You could add other themes to my short list of urgent humanitarian problems.

My times of reflection and prayer have included daily readings from the book of the Hebrew prophet, Jeremiah.

I made several observations about the characteristics of the prophetic vocation of Jeremiah during a period in which his country was defeated and its leading citizens were taken into exile. These can help guide us in constructively addressing the challenges facing our world.

1. Prophets rely on a strong sense of God’s call.

As a young man, Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet to the nations. There was a deep spirituality that sustained his vocation.

He understood, at least in retrospect, that he would need to speak into the national life of Judah and surrounding empires and kingdoms.

Jeremiah’s vocation is portrayed with the verbs to destroy, to overthrow, to build up and to plant. I take that to mean that he was to address the destructive tendencies of his culture and to offer an alternative vision of God’s rule.

His call gave him the strength to speak and act.

2. Prophets speak about important issues in the name of God.

Jeremiah spoke about deep issues: National defense. Idolatry. The economic system. The social position of the most vulnerable – aliens, widows, orphans and slaves. False security. Violence. Civil religion. Fraudulent prophets. The environment.

That last theme may surprise you. But Jeremiah had a strong conviction, albeit pre-scientific, that human evil impacted creation.

Prophets do more than share opinions. They dare to speak in the name of God. They believe that words have power.

3. Prophets make use of symbolic actions.

On one occasion, Jeremiah purchases a pot or jug made of clay. He calls together some of the religious and civil leaders of Jerusalem. He smashes the jug in front of them and states, “Thus says the Lord, ‘I will break this people and this city'” (Jeremiah 19:11-12).

You may remember how he wore a yoke publicly and purchased land at the height of the crisis. Small, but meaningful, symbolic actions.

4. Prophets speak to diverse audiences in diverse places.

Jeremiah addressed people in general, religious leaders, prominent citizens and even the king. He spoke in the temple courts, in the streets and in the royal court.

The message was not massaged to be more palatable to the powerful (Jeremiah 22:13-16, for example).

5. Prophets tear down fraudulent ideologies.

Jeremiah had to deal with syncretism and the moral perversion of his own faith. He was particularly concerned to attack the religious ideology of national security associated with the temple. His words were tough.

6. Prophets speak for the poor and marginalized.

Jeremiah speaks on behalf of the vulnerable sectors of the population – the aliens, the widows and orphans, the victims of violence and injustice.

He knew that God delighted in steadfast love, justice and righteousness, while the royal court boasted about intelligence, power and wealth.

7. Prophets hold out the vision of a better future.

We celebrate Jeremiah’s promise of the new covenant each time we participate in the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper.

He had a vision for the renewal of his people. “I will restore health to you, your wounds I will heal” (Jeremiah 30:17).

He built up and planted as well as tearing down.

8. The prophetic vocation produces opposition and despair.

Jeremiah faced insults and threats. The confrontation with colleagues – other prophets – was intense and bitter.

He paid a personal price as he was accused of being disloyal to his country and his traditions.

I wonder if these observations would be useful for leaders and congregations that wish to bear a prophetic witness in our wounded world.

Gordon King serves as Canadian Baptist Ministries’ resource specialist and is the author of “Seed Falling on Good Soil: Rooting our Lives in the Parables of Jesus.” A version of this article first appeared on his website and is used with permission.