Several decades ago a Bible teacher shared the following ideas.
He said: if you instruct a congregation from the New Testament epistles, you will develop a body characterized by spiritual warmth and devotion.
But if you wish them to also have a clear sense of biblical morality, and be ready to take a fearless stand when necessary — introduce the congregation to the Old Testament prophets.
I reflect on this as a pastor because I spent most of my adult life, before retirement, as a pastor — a shepherd of God’s people. My first three assignments were over local churches. Then for 19 years I was a general overseer who attempted to continue to work pastorally, largely in a New Testament way of thinking.
At the same time, I have been aware for years that the church needs an Old Testament prophetic influence: spokesmen who are clear-sighted about the moral disorder in the world, the consequences, and who offer the hope of redemption. These prophets were greatly needed in Old Testament times, and they are needed today.
Consider the Old Testament prophet, Amos. He was originally a shepherd who lived in Judah south of Bethlehem (Amos 7:14,15). He traveled into Israel, the northern kingdom, where he saw unrestrained affluence – choice lambs for dining, ivory inlaid beds for sleeping, finely-made musical instruments for entertainment (Amos 6:4,5). The self-indulgence behind these conditions was being openly flaunted. God called Amos to speak prophetically to this state of affairs.
In response he cried out to the North: “You trample on the poor” (Amos 5:11). In their self-indulgence they had smothered their compassion for the needy. Also, affluence and greed had dimmed their commitment to justice: “You hate the one who reproves in court / and despise him who tells the truth” (Amos 5:10). They scorned the call to distinguish right from wrong.
The words of Amos were strong but he spoke them with compassion. At the same time that he courageously named the Northern Kingdom’s sins, he prayed earnestly to God to spare his errant people from judgment. “I cried out, ‘Sovereign Lord, forgive! How can Jacob survive? He is so small!’” (Amos 7:2).
Prophets like Amos come to mind when I watch the morning news. It is saturated with reports of the abuse of power, unanswered complaints of injustice against the powerless, an epidemic of lying in high places, and massive cover-ups.
Political systems, and society as a whole, surely need the voice of the prophets. And, the church today does too! Even as Christians, we may become too easily comfortable with corruption in high places. We are at risk of going too readily with majority opinions brought to us in the form of pollsters’ statistics, rather than in the strength of God’s timeless laws.
It’s not as though what’s in the Old Testament should stay in the Old Testament, or that the rigor of the prophets belongs only to a bygone era. Consider above all else that the Lord Jesus was deeply versed in the words of the prophets, and is referred to as a prophet. He was speaking to the disciples of his time and ours when he said:
“You are the light of the world; a city on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). It’s as though he was saying to us, as a company of believers, that you must live my message, give my message, and you must shine into the world’s moral darkness with moral clarity.