America needs a prophet today. Pastors, teachers, and evangelists abound, but prophets have always been rare and are now almost extinct.
The prophet does not fit into any of the neat little categories of the clergy. He defies regimentation and cannot be catalogued. Barclay says: “The settled ministry began to resent the intrusion of these wandering prophets who often disturbed their congregations.” They still do. The prophet is anathema to the Establishment in any day or generation. An Elijah on Carmel, an Amos in Bethel, a Savonarola in Florence upsets the status quo. He is not welcome to the councils of the powers-that-be in state or church. He is not a guest in Herod’s palace but a prisoner in Herod’s jail. He is not photographed with dignitaries nor invited to address the Sons and Daughters of I Will Arise. He is smilingly dismissed as “controversial” by the smooth diplomats of the ecclesiastical machine who rest at ease in Zion.
The prophet is usually a gaunt specimen, a man of the wilderness, given to solitude rather than to sociability. He is not a back-slapping politician, regaling the brethren with jokes late at night in a restaurant after church. He is too grieved for the affliction of Joseph to hobnob with the false prophets of Amaziah’s school of Bethel. He is not at home in this world; he is completely out of step with progress and somewhat angry at the age in which he lives. He is called a calamity howler because he discerns the designs of the devil going about as a mock angel and is not ignorant of the subtle trickery of the advance agents of Antichrist. He distinguishes the Rider of the White horse in Revelation 6 from the Rider of the White Horse in Revelation 19. He is the bitter foe of all who are trying to legislate a counterfeit millennium under religious auspices by making political projects look like moral issues.
The prophet is a lonely character in this world, sponsored by no foundation, paid from the coffers of no main office. He reports to no headquarters but heaven, has no retirement benefits. “Priests retire but prophets never.” He appears on no boards or committees, and if he shows up on a “program” he is usually shunted very cleverly into a minor spot, perhaps a “devotional,” where he has little chance of creating much disturbance. He is usually smart enough, however, to decline such invitations because he abhors being a puppet on anybody’s string. He has no ax to grind and craves no man’s bishopric. He has long since laid reputation and future on the altar of dedication to a prophetic ministry and is immune to both praise or blame. He knows that no prophet can ever be popular in his own day, and that he will be without honor in his own country and in his own house. The next generation may build a monument to him, and all medals will be awarded posthumously.
He will be on better terms with heaven than with earth, like Elijah who stood first before God and therefore needed not to bow and scrape before Ahab. The prophet pays a price, but it is worth it to walk into any pulpit beholden to no man. He owes no political debts to anyone for pulling wires to get him to a top seat in the synagogue. While other speakers worry about making good and putting it over, the prophet is concerned only with delivering God’s message regardless of consequences.
Of course the prophet has his temptations and perils. He may glory in his uniqueness and take pride in his peculiarities. His bold manner may be a defense mechanism to hide real cowardice within, and his austerity may be rationalized into a virtue when under the juniper with Elijah and fancy himself to be the Surviving Saint when seven thousand others have not bowed to Baal. The devil may use these possibilities to keep a conscientious, true prophet silent for fear he will succumb to these evils, thus committing the greater sin of quenching the Spirit within him.
The prophet must needs have the heart of a child and the hide of a rhinoceros. His problem is how to toughen his hide without hardening his heart. That combination can be achieved only by the grace of God. He is beset by loneliness and threatened by self-pity, that distemper that struck even the rugged Elijah. He is hated by all descendants of Herod, Jezebel, and the Pharisees. The place that should appreciate him most often criticizes him “for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem” (Luke 13:33).
There are those who think that there is no place for a prophet in this dispensation. Naturally Ahab wants no Elijah troubling. Of course Amaziah in his posh chaplaincy at the royal court does not relish an uncouth Amos in town. Who would expect Herods living in adultery to appreciate a John the Baptist? What Queen Mary wouldn’t fear the prayers of a John Knox? The prophet is essentially a soloist, not an accompanist, and in this day of the Organization Man an individual is resented if he is unwilling to get lost in the mob. It is quite natural, therefore, that those who today are trying to level all the mountains into one plain and reduce humanity into one faceless mass in preparation for Antichrist, should hate prophets who refuse to lie down before the steam roller. Nothing is so irritating to the prevailing order as an odd number who cannot be bribed or bullied into conformity.
The prophet is the product of no school. The gift is conferred by no presbytery, and no synod of church dignitaries can unfrock him. His credentials come from a higher court and bear no stamp or seal of mortal man. To God he stands or falls. If he disobeys orders, as one of his kind did long ago to eat bread with a lying prophet after declining the invitation of a king, there awaits him a lion in the way of the sad epitaph, “Alas, my brother!” He must beware of the peril of weariness; three prophets of Scripture were at their worst resting in the shade after a tiresome ordeal. Elijah, that unnamed prophet of Jeroboam’s day, and poor Jonah have set us a sad example. One under a juniper, another under an oak, and the third under a gourd vine warn us that Shady Rest is a bad place for exhausted prophets. Nathanael fared better under his fig tree and Zaccheus up a sycamore!
There has never been a dearth of candidates for lush pastorates and “strategic” spots in the Establishment; but there has never been a rush to wear the prophet’s mantle. The inducements are few, the hours are long, and the fringe benefits are not in line with the modern scale in the professions. But the eyes of the Lord still run to and fro throughout the whole earth looking for some Isaiah who has seen God in His holiness, himself in his uncleanness, and the land in its wickedness, and who with lips touched by a live coal from the altar is read to say, “Here am I; send me.”
There are several ways of silencing prophets. Some are stilled by persecution. John the Baptist’s head is not brought in on a platter these days, but the same result is achieved with more finesse. Promotion will also put a quietus on modern Elijahs. Some have been exalted to high seats in the synagogue and have never been heard from since. Some say they have changed their convictions because the “climate” has changed. Certainly the intellectual, moral, and theological climates have changed, but convictions should not be governed by climate but by conscience enlightened by Scripture and the Holy Spirit.
A. C. Dixon was a great preacher who pastored Moody Church and Spurgeon’s Tabernacle. He said:
“Every preacher is, or ought to be, a prophet of God who preaches as God bids him without regard to results. When he becomes conscious of the fact that he is a leader in his church or denomination, he has reached a crisis in his ministry. Shall he be a prophet of God or a leader of men? If he decides only to be a prophet insofar as he can without losing his leadership, he becomes a diplomat and ceases to be a prophet at all. If he decides to maintain his leadership at all costs he may easily fall to the level of a politician who pulls the wires to gain or hold a position.” He who would prophesy or speak forth the message of God is careful of none of these things but only that he shall speak the message that God gives him, even though he be in a lonesome minority.
Diplomats and politicians abound in the world of religion. America needs a prophet today.
The prophet Ezekiel took a stand in his day against prophets, priests, princes, and people (22:23-31). The prophets had become profiteers. The priests had secularized their holy calling and made no distinction between right and wrong. The princes, the rulers, sought only personal gain. The corruption had sunk down among the people. God sought for a man to stand in the gap, but there was none. All of these conditions exist today. False prophets bid Ahab go up to Ramoth-gilead. The priests, the religious establishment, put no difference between the holy and the profane. The princes do not lead the people under the guidance of God. Government is ordained of God and its officials are His ministers, but today they savor more of politics than piety. The people are corrupt and their voice is not the voice of God. In a day of moral decadence through all strata of our society, God looks for a prophet to stand in the gap. Naturally, he will not be popular with any of these groups. It was so with our Lord. The religious system of His day was His worst enemy. He called Herod a fox. The people heard Him gladly at first but finally stood to cry “Crucify Him!” If He Who is Prophet, Priest, and Prince fared no better than that, what can we expect?
Evidently the prophet, the true prophet, is a “fifth wheel” in addition to the four wheels of the modern machine. He certainly is not a priest nor one of the regular clergy. He is not a politician and fills no office. Nor is he one of the common run of humanity. He is an Elijah lined up with neither priests nor prophets, with neither Ahab nor the multitude.
I do not anticipate a landslide of volunteers for the prophetic ministry. On occasion a pastor, teacher, or evangelist may give a prophetic message but a full-time prophet is another matter. He might start as a pastor, but what congregation would listen to a prophet Sunday by Sunday today? He might begin as a seminary professor, but he would soon be pressured out by a board that found him too angular to fit into the smooth design. He cannot call himself a prophet; that conjures up mental pictures of a long-haired ascetic with robe and sandals and staff. He may have to take his Bible to a cabin in the woods and venture forth to preach as God opens doors, and he may have to open the door and preach outdoors! He may have none of the “musts” required for pulpit success today, striking personality, formal education, and wide travel, but he will have what too few preachers do have today, hours upon hours in prayer and solitude with his Bible and a fresh word from God. He will be a voice in the wilderness. We have the wilderness; God give us a Voice!