In the Roman Republic, successful generals at triumphs would have a slave standing next to them in their chariot whispering in their ear, “You are not a god; you are only a man.” The goal of this tradition, of course, was to remind generals who had been spectacularly successful that they were as human as the rest of the patricians and plebians in the audience around. If one is a controversial internet figure in the Church of God, one needs the reminder that “You are not a prophet; you are only a man.” This reminder is all the more necessary given the fact that it is extremely easy for someone to gain a following if they wish in this day and age simply by being an articulate defender of a point of view, and being a critic of the massive corruption that can be found in our institutions and organizations.
Let us make a few things very plain. Whatever God-given insights I have been given, I have received no divine call as a prophet, and I have no interest in lording it over anyone whatsoever. I’m not one of the 150 “two witnesses” out there, and I do not think I am disappointing anyone by saying that openly. I have no interest in developing a following of people who hangs on my every word–I simply enjoy the freedom that our culture allows to speak freely about what I think and read in the hopes that others will appreciate such modest contributions as I can provide, and that I can participate in a conversation with like-minded people about the questions of legitimacy and faith and truth that are so present in all aspects of our present evil world. I appreciate when this modest work that I post here becomes part of larger conversations about faith, politics, and culture, but at the same time, I’m only a human being, my talents balanced out by blind spots and quirks and weaknesses that are often pretty glaring and obvious. I’m also way too scatterbrained to be singularly obsessed with self-promotion or the systematic development of any kind of wedge doctrines that would give me a unique following in the rather crowded field of wannabe Diotrophes that litter the Church of God landscape.
I say this knowing the pitfalls of being a controversial Church of God figure who is occasionally a news source for people looking for something particularly shocking to read. I can think of a couple of other people who have had a similar sort of popularity (probably both more impressive than my own), both of whom seem to have cultivated a personal following and see themselves as a sort of prophets, with an embryonic church organization based around them with their own websites/blogs serving as an official organ. My own blog makes no such pretensions, but popularity and the respect of others can always go to our heads. We are all susceptible to pride and vanity and the international reach that a blog can give someone in this day and age, especially when it is written by someone who as a lay member is free from many of the political concerns that would constrain an ordained person who feels a greater loyalty to an organization (as should be the case). We have to be careful to let praise, to let popularity, and to let “relevance” not go to our heads, and to remember that we are still ordinary members warming a chair at a local congregation and hopefully serving our brethren and our larger communities, and not merely serving our own egos.
This world is full of self-appointed prophets. Anyone can see the state of this sorry world and realize a lot of things are seriously wrong, whether we look at problems like debt or corruption or immorality or the broken state of institutions and relationships from top to bottom in society. It is clear that mankind simply does not have the answers for our problems. It is also equally obvious that our societies as a whole are not interested in repentance, whether governed or governors, and simply wants to muddle through in the hope that more resources can be found to make things better in the future without drastic changes in behavior and conduct. But all too often profitless prophets are a part of the problem and not a part of the solution, whether it comes to seeking a personal following as some kind of expert, making rash and foolish predictions, and in failing to serve others and build up the broken institutions where we can have some effect in our families, communities, and local congregations, setting a positive example of love and service and outgoing concern to others. Any attention we get for our God-given insight (and God alone deserves credit for that) only puts greater attention on our example of behavior and conduct.
Can we live under the spotlight and show ourselves to be faithful (even if flawed) servants of God? If so, then our attention can serve for the good. If all we are doing is seeking self-promotion, this world and the people in it have such massive problems and concerns that we are doing no one any good, not even ourselves. After all, we all have to face our maker eventually, and if we have lived our lives for selfish gain and wasted the talents that God gave us for the purpose of service, we will have a lot to answer for, especially if we have been deluded and self-deceived enough to consider ourselves to be divinely inspired authorities for other people. We have enough to answer for with the sins and faults that we so easily fall prey to as human beings. If we add to these normal sins excessive vanity and pride and arrogance and blaspheme the name and reputation of our God by presuming ourselves to be prophets and apostles of God whom God has not sent, we only add to our offenses that we must answer for. I want no part of that, and no one else should either. It is a hard enough obligation to be a Christian; it is a far more serious obligation to be a leader, one that is impossible to fulfill in a godly fashion if we are power-hungry and seek such power for ourselves before we have proven ourselves to be capable servants of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We should focus on being servants first, and for a long time, and not take any offices for ourselves that we are not qualified for.