Were the Prophets Radical Reformers?
Preparing for The Reign of Christ: Two Days before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Luke 1:68-79
Old Testament: Jeremiah 22:1-17
Epistle: 1 Peter 1:3-9
Psalter: Psalm 46
Old Testament: Zechariah 11:1-17
Epistle: 1 Peter 1:3-9
Holy God, our refuge and strength, you have redeemed your scattered children, gathering them from all the corners of the earth through your firstborn, the Christ, in whom all things are held together. Make of us a just and righteous people, worthy by grace to inherit with him the kingdom of light and peace where he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For if you will indeed obey this word, then through the gates of this house shall enter kings who sit on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses—they, their servants, and their people. But if you will not heed these words, I swear by myself, says the Lord, that this house shall become a desolation.
And many nations will pass by this city, and all of them will say one to another, “Why has the Lord dealt in this way with that great city?” And they will answer, “Because they abandoned the covenant of the Lord their God and worshiped other gods and served them.” (Jeremiah 22:4-5, 8-9).
Christians today tend to view prophets as radical reformers offering something new. In fact, in the modern West we have tended to create an antithesis between the Law and the Prophets in the Old Testament—the Law was about conserving what was whereas the prophets were about moving into new ways into the future. We see this with Walter Rauschenbusch and the social gospel, as one example.
But when one looks at the New Testament, such an antithesis is absent. Jesus is portrayed as having come to fulfill both the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17; Luke 24:27), and the Protestant Reformed reading of Paul's understanding of grace as from the prophets in opposition to the law has been decisively discredited.
The Old Testament prophets were not reformers in the sense that they were calling the people to something new beyond the law, but they were calling Israel back to the law and covenant faithfulness. Scot McKnight in commenting on Aaron Chalmer's book, Interpreting the Prophets, writes the following, notes two major themes in the prophet literature of the Old Testament:
1. Sinai and the establishment of a covenant between the Lord and the Israelite people, and 2. Zion and the establishment of a covenant between the Lord and David (and his descendants).
Scot then quotes Chalmers,
The importance of the Sinai Covenant traditions for the prophets is easy to see. The prophets are not essentially radicals or innovators; instead, they are better characterized as traditionalists and conservatives who are responsible for calling Israel back to their covenantal obligations to the Lord. In fact, Fee and Stuart (2003: 184) refer to the prophets as ‘covenant enforcement mediators’, highlighting the fact that the demands they make and the judgements they announce closely follow the stipulations and curses of the Sinai Covenant (72).
Most equate prophets with radicals and innovators and change-agents, but rather the prophet is a traditionalist calling God’s people to be faithful to the covenant.
PRAYER: Almighty God, You rescue us from our enemies, that we may serve you without fear. Strengthen us, that we may share in the inheritance of the saints in your kingdom of light. Amen.
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In some places, yes; but you have to look for it.
Is the Western Church a prophetic voice in our time?