I’ve been thinking a lot about pastors who do prophecy updates. This is when pastors speak from the pulpit regarding current events of the day, such as the Syrian civil war, or a major earthquake, or the eclipses coming up, or Egypt’s coups, etc. The speak about this news from the pulpit during service and relate the news back to the bible.
Should pastors do this? Should they refrain from updating their parishioners on the news?? It is a difficult question. As with all hard questions (and easy ones too) let’s look at the bible first. The role of pastor is to include:
–Care to those whom he has been entrusted (1 Peter 5:2-3).
–A pastor is a shepherd of God’s flock who is to instruct, teach, and protect the people under his charge. In John 21:15-17, Jesus said to Peter, feed My sheep, tend My sheep, feed My sheep.
–Acts 6:4 those who lead the church are charged to give themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word.
–Acts 20:27 declare the whole counsel of God
–2 Timothy 4:2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
Though pastors have many duties as defined by the bible, teaching and preaching the word of God to the flock is number one. It is the major way they tend the sheep, and feed the sheep. They also protect the sheep from wolves, by guarding the congregation from false doctrine and the people who bring it. Feeding the lambs with the bread of life is uniquely given to elders/overseers.
Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Mark 13:31. The only enduring thing in this world are the words of Jesus, and shepherds are entrusted to pass them to the people, to explain, to use as encouragement and rebuke, for training in righteousness.
Prophecy is part of that general mandate. Too few pastors preach the prophetic passages or even mention them in passing. Somehow prophecy has gotten a bad reputation. This is likely because so many crazy people have set dates and brought shame onto Christianity by being a fringe element. Others are too shamefully gleeful at the wrath parts of judgment in prophecy and do not demonstrate the love of Christ by counterbalancing His wrath with talk of His grace and mercy. Or, many pastors don’t want the ‘taint’ that has besmirched prophecy in general to taint them, so they shy away. Oftentimes, it is also because seminaries do not teach pastoral students the importance of prophecy or preaching the prophetic passages, calling them unknowable, or controversial, and they ignore them altogether. Thus, new pastors don’t feel equipped to preach on them and they never do, even as they mature.
|Frontspiece to “America A Prophecy”
William Blake 1793
As for the sheep, us, many have gotten discouraged by the hype that too many eager pastors have promoted with prophecy. Or, they have picked up on the general taint and they frown meanly from the pews when or if a pastor preaches it.
Yet the bible says to preach the whole counsel of God. Preaching the prophetic is encouraging because it shows God’s sovereignty, His careful attention to detail, and His everlasting covenants. When was the last time you heard a good sermon from, say, Obadiah? I listened to Phil Johnson preach from Nahum last weekend, and I loved every minute of it.
However that said, there is a difference in preaching prophecy and preaching secular news. As an example, John MacArthur has been preaching for 46 years, 44 of them at one church. All of his sermons he’s preached since 1969 are online. I’ve listened to a healthy sampling of them from each decade, including the ones from 1969, from the 70s, and 80s and 90s and 00s and beyond. In a bare few, he mentions current events. For the most part, he simply does what the bible says, preach the word. The word is always fresh. When he expounds on it, I literally cannot detect which era the sermon is from. It is as fresh as if he delivered it today than when he did 45 years ago. It is all edifying.
I applaud and honor those pastors who occasionally relate something happening in the culture or the world to the bible. John MacArthur did this in 2012 when he preached two sermons pointedly on America’s downward slide into immorality. They were “sermons on the spiritual and moral decline being championed by our country’s leaders.” The introduction to that two-part series states,
“If you’ve followed John MacArthur’s teaching for any length of time, you know he rarely says much about politics, culture, or society. It’s not that he’s uninformed on those topics. It’s that they’re often an intrusion upon the teaching of God’s Word. Evangelical Christians are already too easily distracted from the Great Commission in order to engage in partisan politics.“
However, sometimes mixing the current news and the bible is called for. Dr MacArthur stated
“I’m not one to talk about politics as such, but I was essentially amazed that one of the historic parties here in the United States adopted the sins of Romans 1 as their platform. This is a new day in our country. Parties which used to differ on economics now differ dramatically on issues that invade the realm of God’s law and morality.”
Even at that, the bulk of those two sermons were mainly focused on the Word of God and not the news of culture. And the rest of his sermons are focused totally on the word of God.
In the few cases if a secular news event is mentioned in an older sermon I am listening to, it’s jarring. It dates the sermon and makes it seem old and creaky. It kind of ruins the whole thing. Tying news into preaching is a bad mix, kind of like the iron and clay toes in the statue of Nebuchadnezzar that will not stay together.
There are some pastors who choose to speak a prophecy update each week, or quarterly. I have more concerns about these. I truly thank these preachers for doing weekly prophecy updates, I know their heart is in the right place. I know they love the Lord. But to work news back into the bible and claim meaning from it regularly is a dangerous activity, in my opinion. When a pastor has committed to a weekly prophecy update that includes the news of the world, their attention is necessarily divided.
I believe pastors should walk a fine line when it comes to preaching the news. They spend time reading newspapers instead of reading the bible. Tying news articles to the word means we think we can see what the Lord is doing or that we know his ways. But His ways are far above our ways. The pulpit is for God’s word.
Pastors should be excited about His appearing though, and talk much of our new home based on what the bible says, and look forward to the era to come. But they throw ALL prophecy out with the bathwater and never mention that this earth isn’t our home! Instead of preaching news stories from the pulpit, they go too far in the other direction and never preach the bible’s prophetic passages, either.
As far as news goes, we have come to the prophetic brink so often since 2008 and then the Lord saw fit to retreat the world from the prophetic brink. Russia is rising, Middle East is inflamed, the world economy is tanking, Damascus is dying, Egypt is failing, we can see the prophetic indicators.
The pastor’s role is to preach the word in season and out, ALL of the word, and this is on them- when
|St Bernard preaching from a pulpit,
G. Martini, 1470
they do not preach prophecy passages from the bible they are not fulfilling the command to feed His sheep the whole counsel of God. But the word does not command shepherds to feed us news. So many pastors unwittingly get drawn away when they include secular news to their sermons from the pulpit. They start looking at the news and not expending their precious time on learning the word. Satan will take anything, even something good, and make it bad. If they feed us the word then we will understand and see the times. Jesus chastised the Pharisees for being able to tell the weather from signs but not His appearing from the fact of His appearing! (Mt 16:3). And Paul said –
“But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. 5For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. 6So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.” (1 Thess 5:4-5)
So the pastors preach the word, the whole word, and the Spirit illuminates the times for us.
It is a shame that so few are excited about His appearing. Paul mentioned it constantly! I talk about it a lot at church. I think He is coming soon. Not because the news indicates He is coming back soon but the bible says His return for His bride is imminent. It is something to get excited about! Not the news but simply the eagerness of going to our new home or the fact of His coming to get us. It is a sad thing that too few Christians look eagerly to that moment. If Paul and the early Christians did, how much closer is it today! Every NT book except Philemon mentions the prophetic future of our being raptured to Him and the new era. Christians who long for His appearing even earn a crown! And that is a shame, that so many brethren won’t share the joy of anticipation. I speak it from the bible, though, not from the news.
I do believe that the Lord is returning soon. I believe the rapture will be any day. I have believed this since I read it in the bible. The events today look to me like they are pointing to our last moments on earth under the Age of Grace. But, it’s been 7 years since I first thought that and it could be two years from now or another ten or I could die tomorrow and go to heaven anyway. We just don’t know. We look at the seasons and we look for His appearing and this should give us urgency to witness. But when I go to church I want to hear His word explained, there is no better way to spend time than hear the word. It is the only enduring thing on this earth.
What’s your opinion on the matter?