30 June – 6 July 2019.
We live in a society where people are free to say whatever they like. And while free speech is a great blessing, it also brings with it a great danger. Out in the world free speech too often means that people, politicians, and leaders just say whatever they like regardless of whether it’s true or not. As a result people abuse the blessing of free speech to spread rumours, lies, and hatred.
But we face the same problem in the church. As Christians we all have the wonderful freedom to share our personal opinions about God. But that doesn’t mean all opinions about God are equally good or true. As a result we see some Christians in the church, on the street, and especially online saying all kinds of things about God, claiming to represent our faith or even speak for God, even though the things they say have no connection with the true revelation or will of God at all. This is a disastrous problem, one that destroys God’s reputation in the world, damages our faith, and causes many people to turn away from the gospel. This is a disastrous problem, but it’s not a new one.
This is precisely the situation that the prophet Ezekiel faced. In Ezekiel’s society there were also far too many people who had no real understanding of God but who nevertheless thought they could speak for God and represent God’s voice to the world – people Ezekiel called “false prophets”. Such people not only angered Ezekiel, scripture tells us they also angered God.
And God had good reason to be angry. Chapter 13 tells us how people were promoting hate and violence, blessing the wicked and persecuting the innocent, destroying lives, condemning others, spreading messages of hate, even hunting down and hurting others – and doing this all in God’s name! But of course those who spread a message of hate and violence are never truly speaking for the God of Love. Unsurprisingly, this situation pushes God into a furious and righteous rage, and in v. 19 he shouts out: “you lie to my people who love to listen to lies”, and “you bring shame on me among my people”! They destroy God’s name in the world, attacking the righteous and innocent, and claim to speak for God. But God clearly distances himself from their message of hate: “You have discouraged the righteous with your lies, not I” (v. 22).
It’s easy to understand God’s anger. But dealing with this problem is not so easy. For us today in a church with free speech is there any way to tell which voices in our community or online truly represent the truth of God? Let me offer two suggestions. First, professionalism is important. It’s the responsibility of those of us who are the professionally trained theologians of the church to keep watch over the teachings of the church and ensure they reflect God’s will. No one would be foolish enough to take medical advice from an anonymous person on Facebook; in the same way we should be just as cautious when it comes to faith issues, being careful to seek out the most professional opinions for our spiritual health rather than just listening to any opinion given in God’s name. Second, an easy rule we can always use is simply this: Could I really imagine the words others are saying being spoken by Jesus? If people claim to speak for God but the words they say are so deeply against Christ’s teachings and gospel, then that’s a clear warning sign that those words could never truly represent the real will of God. Applying this simple rule can help protect us from believing all kinds of hateful and violent speech spread in God’s name, and protect us from being fooled into thinking that such words could ever come from God.
Pastor Stephen Lakkis