Monday, May 20, 2013

Who Speaks for God?

Yesterday, May 19, was a day of celebration for Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians. It was Pentecost Sunday, a day commemorating the Holy Spirit coming upon the followers of Jesus on the traditional Jewish festival day known as Pentecost.
The events on Pentecost roughly 50 days after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ brought about what is sometimes called the birthday of the Christian Church. Yesterday I had the privilege of preaching in a local church, talking some about its birth.
The Hirao Baptist Church was started by missionaries Bob and Kay Culpepper in the 1950s. The church’s first meeting place was in the upstairs of the missionary residence where June and I, and our two older children, moved in 1968 after the Culpeppers had moved to another part of the city.
Then in its own building, Hirao became our church home from 1968 until 1980, when we helped start the Fukuoka International Church under the sponsorship of Hirao Church. It was a real joy to have the privilege of preaching there again yesterday—in the fine new facilities built several years ago at the same location as their first building.
Hirao Baptist Church, Fukuoka City, Japan
My text was 1 Corinthians 14:1-5a and my emphasis was upon “prophesying.” 1 Cor. 14:1 says, Pursue love and strive for the spiritual gifts, and especially that you may prophesy” (NRSV). In Eugene Peterson’s delightful Bible paraphrase known as “The Message,” this verse reads, Go after a life of love as if your life depended on it—because it does. Give yourselves to the gifts God gives you. Most of all, try to proclaim [God’s] truth.”
One of the main points of my message was that the thrust of that first Christian Pentecost was not the speaking in “tongues.” Rather, it was speaking/proclaiming God’s message. That is what needs to be emphasized now. And speaking/proclaiming God’s message is something that can and should be done by all Christian believers, not just by those who are pastors or missionaries.
Moreover, proclaiming God’s message is something that needs to be done by deeds as well as by words. Of course, for some groups, such as the Quakers and maybe many Mennonites, perhaps the emphasis needs to be on proclaiming God’s message by words as well as by deeds. (Long ago I heard of someone who said to a Quaker, “Why don’t you preach what you practice!”)
But who speaks for God? There are so many different voices all claiming to be speaking for God, how can we tell true “prophets” from false ones? This is no new problem. But it is still a problem, and it is a big problem.
The words of 1 Corinthians 14:3 are helpful here: “. . . the one who proclaims God’s message speaks to people and gives them help, encouragement, and comfort” (TEV). This is not the only guideline for discerning who speaks for God, but it is an important one.
Those who truly speak for God, proclaiming God’s truth, are those who speak words and do deeds that help, encourage, and comfort others—especially those who are hurting: the physically and spiritually needy, the exploited and discriminated against, and (among others) the victims of violence and the ravages of warfare.
Next month I will have the opportunity to speak at the dedication service of a new church building in Cambodia. Please pray that I may truly speak for God to people of that troubled country who have been hurting for such a long time and desperately need God’s word of help, encouragement, and comfort.


  1. Well put. Although my parents mission in life was focused on serving others, they found opening to tell the good news of Jesus Christ. However, heir brand of church (the one I was raised in) put the emphasis on the telling and knowing of Christ, and not the doing. That brand loved to quote Ephesians 2:8-9, but would not quote the next verse because it promoted salvation by works rather than faith. And although the epistle of St. James was considered canon, it was highly suspicious and rarely taught of read because of it emphasis on deeds of service.

    The balance of both must be maintained by the Church.

  2. Somehow this reminds me of a story from India I heard long ago in college. A boy went to class one day, and his teacher explained to him that he (the boy) was god. Then the boy was sent on his way. As the boy went through town, he met a elephant loaded with people coming the other direction. The people yelled for him to get out of the way, but the boy thought, if he were god, why should he get out of the way? Finally the elephant picked up the boy and tossed him aside. The boy was puzzled, so at their next meeting he told his teacher. His teacher replied, "Why did you not listen to the voices of god telling you to get out of the way?"

    In Christianity, we talk about seeing Christ in a child, or in a person in need. Yet we keep looking for a Pope, or a preacher, or a prophet to speak for God. Sometimes God speaks through a great authority, just like we expect. Yet, I suspect, most of the time God speaks through a most unexpected voice. Perhaps the one speaking does not even know how they are speaking. As we say, "Out of the mouths of babes." Or should it be, "Out of the gaffes of politicians?"

    In hindsight, we can see great spokesmen and women for God. Think of almost anything by Martin Luther King, Jr. The greatest challenge is not when simply speaking from the heart, but when confronting a call, even a challenge, to speak for God. This is exactly the situation Leroy describes above, as he is to go to speak at a church dedication. It is not, in the end, so much a question of how to figure out when the other person is speaking for God. Time usually clarifies that. The great challenge is when we find that we must rise to the task ourselves. When we, like the prophet Isaiah, must begin with the confession, "I am a man of unclean lips."

    Leroy, our prayers go with you.

  3. Craig, I do relish your eloquent and apropos insights and commentary.

  4. Craig, I fully agree with the sentiment expressed by 1sojourner, and I appreciate your prayers as I go to Cambodia next month. But before that, on May 26 I have a difficult speaking engagement here in Fukuoka (Japan), at the church June and I started in 1980. I need your prayers for that also.

  5. Dear Baptist/evangelical brothers and sisters in Christ,

    I ask you to consider these points:

    1. When God said that he would preserve his Word, what did he mean? Did he mean that he would preserve the original papyrus and parchment upon which his Word was written? If so, then his Word has disappeared as none of the original manuscripts remain.

    Did he mean that he would preserve his word in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek only? He would not preserve his Word when it was translated into all the other languages of the world?

    Or did God mean that he would preserve his Word…the message/the words…the Gospel: the free gift of salvation, and the true doctrines of the Christian Faith? Would God allow his Word/his message to mankind to be so polluted by translation errors that no translation, into any other language from the three original languages, continues to convey his true words?

    2. There is NO translation of the Bible, from the original ancient languages, into ANY language, ANYWHERE on earth, that translates the Bible as the Baptists/evangelicals believe it should be translated.

    No Bible translation on earth translates Acts 2:38 as, “Repent and believe in Jesus Christ every one of you and you will receive the Holy Ghost. Then be baptized as a public profession of your faith.”

    Why would God allow EVERY English translation of the Bible throughout history to be mistranslated or use such confusing language as to suggest that God forgives sins in Baptism? And not only all English translations, ALL translations of the Bible have retained these “mistranslations or confusing wording”.

    Do you honestly believe that God would allow his Word to be so polluted with translation errors that EVERY Bible in the world, if read in its simple, plain interpretation, would tell the people of the world that God forgives sins in water baptism??

    3. Why is there not one single piece of evidence from the early Christians that indicates that ANYONE in the 800-1,000 years after Christ believed that: Water baptism is ONLY a public profession of faith/act of obedience; sins are NOT forgiven in water baptism? Yes, you will find statements by these early Christians that salvation is by faith, but do Baptists and evangelicals really understand how a sinner obtains saving faith? THAT IS THE MILLION DOLLAR QUESTION, MY FRIENDS! Does the sinner produce faith by his own free will or does God provide faith and belief as a gift, and if God does provide faith and belief as a free gift, with no strings attached, WHEN exactly does God give it?

    4. Is it possible that: Baptist-like believers, at some point near or after 1,000 AD, were reading the Bible and came across verses that read “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” and “Call upon the name of the Lord and you will be saved” and established their doctrine of Salvation/Justification first, based on these and similar verses alone, and then, looked at the issue of water baptism, and since the idea that God forgives sins in water baptism didn’t seem to fit with the verses just mentioned, these early Baptists re-interpreted these verses to fit with their already established doctrine, instead of believing the “baptism verses” literally?

    Is it possible that BOTH groups of verses are literally correct?? If we believe God’s Word literally, he says that he saves/forgives sins when sinners believe/call AND when they are baptized? Why not believe that God can give the free gift of salvation in both situations: when a sinner hears the Gospel and believes and when a sinner is baptized?

    Should we re-interpret God’s plain, simple words just because they don’t seem to make sense to us?

    God bless you!

    Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals