Saturday, September 28, 2013

Nebuchadnezzar and the False Prophets

We could learn a lot from a pagan king.

Now, I don't mean that in a Willow Creek "let's ask wicked business and political folk how they do things and model our church after that" type of learning. I mean, there's an example in scripture where a pagan king gets something right, something that we in the American church all too often get wrong. I'm talking of course about King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon's dealings with false prophets in Daniel 2.

There were a whole bunch of magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, etc in Babylon, people who claimed to have supernatural powers, access to the divine, blah blah blah. They enjoyed a pretty good living and formal government sanction. But then one night, Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that was clearly of divine origin. He brought the dream to his supernatural specialists for an interpretation - and that's when their problems began.

Because it was such an important dream, Nebuchadnezzar wanted assurance that he could trust the interpretation. So he devised a simple test - the one who could tell him the dream was the one who could correctly interpret it. After all, he reasoned, if this dream is from a god, surely it would be a trivial matter for that god to reveal the same dream to his chosen interpreter. He put the challenge before his divine experts - and they didn't fail, they didn't even try.

Nebuchadnezzar drew the only logical conclusion. They were frauds. For years they had been collecting their money and putting on a little show, but now he really needed them. Now there was something truly significant that he desperately needed to understand, and they didn't even pretend like they could do anything about it. They were utterly worthless when it really mattered, so what good were they? Worse, this was the first time they could show their true divinely-granted power, and all they could show was that they didn't have any. They had been lying to him, and if there's one thing tyrants don't like, it's finding out they've been deceived. They were deceitful false prophets, claiming to speak the words of gods when they didn't, and he reasonably decided to kill every last one of them.

Of course, the story doesn't end there. The dream was not from merely a god, but from the actual God. And there was a true prophet in their midst, Daniel. God revealed the dream and its interpretation to Daniel, who proclaimed the very word of God to the pagan king. Nebuchadnezzar was a great king, but his kingdom would fall and others would rise in its place. But one day would come a kingdom established by God, which would crush all the kingdoms of this world. As John would record centuries later, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever." At the name of this Lord of lords, every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Amen.

But back to Nebuchadnezzar - what can we learn from his example, even though he was still a wicked unbeliever? He had no tolerance for deceivers who claimed divine power and divine words. Once it was clear they were charlatans, he decided to get rid of their poison. Why don't we?

The church is full of frauds who claim supernatural powers they don't have. False prophets who claim to speak for God when they don't. Charlatans who claim they can heal but can't. Wizards and magicians of all sorts who claim to be extra-special conduits of divine power, whose miracles elicit laughter rather than awe, whose divine words of wisdom are bad pop wisdom, whose prophecies which aren't outright false are less impressive than Ed Glosser, Trivial Psychic. Deceivers defaming the name of Christ with their wicked shenanigans.

Why do we put up with it? Why are we so much less discerning than a wicked king of olde? Once he knew they were deceivers, he went to get rid of them, through execution (the same punishment God ordered for false prophets in Israel). Once we know these charlatans for what they are, we should get rid of them through the New Covenant parallel - excommunication. Unless and until they repent, goodbye, and good riddance.

Does that seem too harsh? Suggest for me a more appropriate way to deal with those who say "Thus saith the Lord" when the Lord most certainly has not saith. Name a more suitable punishment for those who claim divine inspiration for advice that is worthless at best and destructive at worst. Tell me how best to handle those who mock the Spirit with wretched shows like this and this, or those who put on displays of 'power' accompanied by rank heresy, or those who claim a stream of divine revelation apart from scripture.

Really, I'm open to suggestions. Because a century or so of playing wait-and-see with a tumor doesn't seem to be slowing its growth.

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