Bishops: The head leaders in a church.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 October
BISHOP 'bɪʃ.əp noun. A senior member of the Christian clergy. Usually in charge of multiple churches, like a district or diocese; usually empowered to appoint other clergy.
2. A chess piece. Each player gets two, and they only move diagonally; one on white squares, and one on black.
[Episcopal ə'pɪs.kə.pəl adjective.]

When Paul wrote to Timothy and Titus about church leaders, one particular word he used was ἐπίσκοπον/epískopon, “supervisor.” The King James Version translates this word as “overseer” Ac 20.28 KJV and “bishop.” 1Pe 2.25 KJV We actually got the latter word “bishop” from epískopon; you just have to drop the -on ending and swap the epí- for bi-, and soften the k sound. Language evolves like that.

Every church has supervisors of one form or another. But not all of ’em use the word “bishop” for them; not all of ’em are comfortable with that word, ’cause they think of it as a Catholic thing. So they use other words, like “pastor” or “minister” or “overseer” or “superintendent” or “president.” Varies from church to church.

Now, some of the reason people don’t wanna use “bishop” to translate epískopon is because of what “bishop” means nowadays: A person who supervises multiple churches, or multiple campuses of a really big church. (Although some pastors just want a more important-sounding title, so they use “bishop” regardless. Watch out for those guys. But back to my point.) They figure Paul was writing about the head leader in one particular church, so to their minds epíksopon means “pastor,” and that’s how they interpret it.

And they’re right. It is equivalent to what we mean by “pastor”—the person who supervises and shepherds a flock of Christians. Like Jesus. 1Pe 2.25 But you gotta remember in the first century, churches met in homes, and frequently and necessarily multiple homes. The person supervising one group, quickly found himself supervising multiple groups. Multiple campuses of the same church. Like bishops do nowadays. And over time, when churches moved into church buildings, bishops would be in charge of the church for the whole city, but they weren’t able to be in multiple places at once to run the services. So each individual service had a presbyter (who became what we now call “priests”) run things. Again, kinda like multi-campus churches today.

But we don’t have to call the head leader a bishop. Doesn’t matter what you call them: Pastor (senior pastor, head pastor, lead pastor, teaching pastor, pastor emeritus), priest, vicar, minister, reverend, apostle, prophet, chairman, president, senior elder, chief deacon. Wherever the buck stops, that’s who Paul meant. That’s your bishop.

For the sake of churches which get nervous about that title, I’ll just say “supervisor” from here on out.

Presbyters: The grownups who run a church.

by K.W. Leslie, 20 October
PRESBYTER 'prɛz.bə.dər, 'prɛs.bə.dər noun. An elder in a Christian church.
2. The formal title of a minister or priest, in certain Christian denominations.
[Presbyteral prɛz'bə.dər.əl adjective, presbyterial prɛz.bə'tɪ.ri.əl adjective, presbyterian prɛz.bə'tɪ.ri.ən adjective.]

You likely know the word presbyterian because there are presbyterian churches, and a few presbyterian denominations. The word’s in their names. Y’might not know what it means: It indicates these particular churches aren’t run by the head pastor, nor run from afar by a bishop, nor are they a democracy where all the members get a vote. They’re run by a limited number of qualified mature Christians. They’re run by elders.

The New Testament word which we translate “elder” is πρεσβύτερος/presvýteros, and in the Latin bible this became presbyter. So yeah, it’s a Latin word. Still means “elder.”

The ancient church was run by elders for a few centuries, but it gradually evolved into something more hierarchical: Presbyters became the priests who run the church services; bishops were the supervisors who oversaw all the churches in town; archbishops oversaw all the bishops in the province; patriarchs oversaw all the bishops in the country. Western churches got it into their heads their patriarch oversaw all the bishops in the world, including other patriarchs… and that’s one of the ways the Roman Catholic Church grew distant and distinct from the Orthodox Church, causing the universal church to officially split in 1054. But both those churches still think of presbyter and priest as the same thing—and an elder as something entirely different.

After the Protestant movement began, churches still largely ran the same way, with archbishops and bishops and priests. But once the Church of Scotland went Protestant, they started to rethink the whole church leadership idea. Top-down leadership wasn’t working for them… and not everybody in the church was spiritually mature enough to responsibly vote for things. So who should lead? Their solution, which they’re pretty sure comes from bible: Elders.

Titus 1.5-9 ESV
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

True, lots of Christians like to make a distinction between elder and overseer (Greek ἐπίσκοπον/epískopon, “supervisor”; KJV “bishop”) as two different titles and offices in a church. But the way Paul of Tarsus phrased it to Titus of Crete, he treated the terms as interchangeable. Elders supervise. (And there’s still a little bit of hierarchy: Titus was to appoint these elders, and supervise them. Whether you’re fine with hierarchical churches or not, every Christian answers to every other Christian, y’know.)

How presbyterian churches oughta work, is presbyters get selected from the congregation: Somebody in leadership recognizes you’re mature enough to be included in the leadership, and invites you to join in. And now you’re contributing to how the church is run. You have a say. Your voice gets heard. And the presbyters actually do run stuff.

Yeah, the church has a head pastor, because somebody needs to be the executive around there, but the pastor doesn’t run everything; the presbyters do. The pastor doesn’t do all the work—and no church’s pastor should do all the work!—but presbyters do. And the pastor doesn’t decide everything, like the church’s mission statement or policies or goals or faith statement: Presbyters do.

How presbyterian churches actually do work, varies.

Elders: The grownups in the church.

by K.W. Leslie, 19 October
ELDER 'ɛld.ər adjective. Of a greater or advanced age.
2. [noun] A person of greater or advanced age.
3. [noun] A spiritually mature Christian, usually consulted as part of a church’s leadership, often entrusted with ministerial or priestly responsibility.
[Eldership 'ɛl.dər.ʃɪp noun.]

After Jesus was raptured, his church had to continue without him physically here. Which was fine, ’cause he’d already trained apprentices, and designated 12 of them as apostles. One was dead, so the other 11 picked a replacement Ac 1.26 and went back to 12. (It’s God’s favorite number, y’see.)

Running the church with only 12 leaders quickly became a problem, because the church immediately surged by 3,000 people, Ac 2.41 and soon after another two or five thousand; Ac 4.4 it’s debatable. In any event that’s a lot of people to train to follow Jesus; the food ministry alone was chaos, with accusations of prejudice against Greek-speakers. Ac 6.1 The apostles recognized they needed more leaders, and told the people to select their ministers based on their honesty, wisdom, and spirituality. Ac 6.3 In other words their spiritual maturity.

When Paul of Tarsus wrote to Timothy of Lystra about 20 years later, the apostle reminded the youngish bishop that spiritual maturity was still a requirement for leadership. Y’don’t just pick leaders because they’re friendly, popular, magnetic, and entertaining. (Or because they’re family!) You pick them because they’re fruity; because they’ve been letting the Holy Spirit develop their character and make ’em like Jesus. Only christlike people should lead and run Christ Jesus’s churches; nobody else is appropriate.

And arguably only people with Christ’s traits should run anything. Businesses, organizations, charities, campaigns; only they should be considered for public office. No I’m not saying only Christians should hold public offices; not only is that not constitutional, but it ignores the fact non-Christians can often be just as patient, thoughtful, gracious, kind, and self-controlled as any Christian. (More than many Christians, sometimes.) My point is the grownups need to be in charge. That’s especially true in Christ’s churches, but oughta be true everywhere.

The Christianese term for grownup is elder, which comes from the New Testament’s word πρεσβύτερος/presvýteros, “elder.” It’s where we also get our Christianese word presbyterian, “elder-run,” meaning a church run by elders, instead of by voting members or solely by the head pastor. Yeah, “elder” makes it sound like the church is being run by its old people (and yeah, such churches totally exist). But when the apostles who wrote the New Testament discussed a presvýteros, they meant the longtime, devout, spiritually senior Christians. The folks they could legitimately trust to give sound advice about following Jesus. The folks we should be able to trust.

Deliver us from evil.

by K.W. Leslie, 15 October

Matthew 6.13.

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus has us pray not to be led to temptation—properly, not put to the test, whether such tests tempt us or not. Instead, in contrast, we should pray we be delivered from evil.

Matthew 6.13 KJV
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.

The original text is ἀλλὰ ῥῦσαι ἡμᾶς ἀπὸ τοῦ πονηροῦ/allá rýsë imás apó tu ponirú, “but rescue us from the evil.”

Now. The Greek τοῦ/tu is what grammarians call a determiner, although I’m pretty sure your English teachers called it a definite article, ’cause that’s what English determiners usually do: This noun is a particular noun. When you refer to “the bus,” you don’t mean a bus, any ol’ generic interchangeable bus; you mean the bus, this bus, a specific bus, a definite bus.

So when people translate tu ponirú, they assume the Greek determiner is a definite article: Jesus is saying, “Rescue us from the evil.” Not evil in general; not all the evil we’ll come across in life. No no no. This is a definite evil. It’s the evil. You gotta personify it.

Enoch.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 October

In seminary a fellow student told me about the worst sermon he’d ever heard. It was based on this verse:

Genesis 5.24 KJV
And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him.

The preacher began with this verse, paused, and continued, “And lemme tell you what Enoch was not: Enoch was not faithless! Enoch was not afraid! Enoch was not weak!” And so on. The preacher listed all sorts of things Enoch presumably was not.

Based on what? Well, here’s the entirety of what the bible has on חֲנ֥וֹךְ/Khenókh, whom we know as Enoch ben Jared. (Not Enoch ben Cain; Ge 4.17 that’s a different guy.)

Genesis 5.18-24 NRSV
18 When Jared had lived one hundred sixty-two years he became the father of Enoch. 19 Jared lived after the birth of Enoch eight hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 20 Thus all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty-two years; and he died.
21 When Enoch had lived sixty-five years, he became the father of Methuselah. 22 Enoch walked with God after the birth of Methuselah three hundred years, and had other sons and daughters. 23 Thus all the days of Enoch were three hundred sixty-five years. 24 Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him.

His name gets dropped in two genealogies. 1Ch 1.2, Lk 3.36 Jesus ben Sirach refers to him twice in his apocryphal book. Si 44.16, 49.14 NRSV Then:

Hebrews 11.5-6 NRSV
5 By faith Enoch was taken so that he did not experience death; and “he was not found, because God had taken him.” Ge 5.24 For it was attested before he was taken away that “he had pleased God.” Si 44.16 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would approach him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
 
Jude 1.14-15 NRSV
14 It was also about these that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “See, the Lord is coming with ten thousands of his holy ones, 15 to execute judgment on all, and to convict everyone of all the deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

Jude refers to 1 Enoch, another apocryphal book, which claims to have Enoch’s prophecies in it. The saying “Enoch walked with God” Ge 5.24 shows Enoch and the LORD had an interactive relationship, so likely Enoch did prophesy from time to time. Still, the reason 1 Enoch isn’t in the bible—isn’t even in Orthodox and Catholic bibles—is because it’s profoundly unlikely Enoch wrote it.

Anyway. As you can see, there’s very little about Enoch in the bible altogether, which means there’s not a lot we can say Enoch was, much less was not. I mean he mighta been weak and afraid, though Hebrews makes it clear he certainly had to have had faith.

Let’s dig into the little we have.

Why are people nontheist? No, it’s not bad Christians.

by K.W. Leslie, 13 October

Nontheists are people who live their lives with zero concern for God. They don’t believe he even exists, or doubt his existence enough to act as if he’s not. They won’t always call themselves atheists or agnostics, ’cause those guys tend to be antichrists and jerks: They’re not anti-religious. They’re simply not religious.

Why are people nontheist? Simple: It’s how they were raised. They had nontheist parents. Like my dad: My grandparents never outright said they didn’t believe in God, but nothing they did ever indicated any belief, and that’s what they passed along to their kids. My aunts and uncle went other routes, but Dad decided upon atheism.

Now what about people who weren’t raised nontheist? Well, Brennan Manning, a former Franciscan priest who became a popular author and public speaker, had a theory that’s become very widely accepted among Evangelical Christians.

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians, who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door, and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

Kevin Max reads the quote before the song “What If I Stumble?” off DC Talk’s bestselling 1995 album Jesus Freak. A lot of Evangelicals listened to that album, heard the idea, thought it brilliant, and spread it far and wide. We still claim it’s true: People become nontheist because Christians suck. So stop sucking! Quit being such jerks and love your neighbor! Be compassionate, be loving, be kind, and win people to Jesus by actually being like Jesus!

And yeah, I’ve known various ex-Christians who quit Christianity because their fellow Christians were awful to them. Like gay kids whose parents drove them away (and called it “tough love”—like they’re gonna shun the gayness out of them). Like kids who dared question their legalistic parents, and the parents decided it made ’em apostate, and the kids actually became apostate. Such ex-Christians aren’t necessarily nontheist: Many do believe in God, but they no longer identify as Christian, so they’re pagan. But they might not be pagan had they experienced God’s love through God’s supposed people.

So yeah, maybe the greatest single cause of paganism today, is Christians who don’t properly demonstrate Jesus’s love. Like all humans, pagans are looking for love and acceptance, and if they don’t get it from Christians, they’ll seek and find it elsewhere.

But nontheists?—people who don’t believe in God altogether?—meh.

I’d recommend we stop swallowing Manning and DC Talk’s idea whole, and actually talk to some nontheists. You’ll find out really quickly their objection actually isn’t Christians behaving badly. (Though it certainly doesn’t help!) They don’t believe in God because they don’t find the God-idea reasonable.

Happy Halloween. Bought your candy yet?

by K.W. Leslie, 12 October

For more than a decade I’ve ranted about the ridiculous Evangelical practice of shunning Halloween. I call it ridiculous ’cause it really is: It’s a fear-based, irrational, misinformed, slander-filled rejection of a holiday… which actually turns out to be a legitimate part of the Christian calendar.

No I’m not kidding. It’s our holiday. Christians invented Halloween.


A perfect opportunity to show Christlike generosity—and give the best candy ever. But too many of us make a serious point of being grouchy, fear-addled spoilsports. Image swiped from a mommy blog.

No it sure doesn’t look like Christians’ original intent. That’s because we let the pagans take it over. By “pagans” I mean non-Christians.

No I don’t mean the capital-P Pagans, the nature religions which date from the 1960s, but who claim they revived ancient pre-Christian religions. Pretty sure the ancient religions didn’t believe their gods were only symbolic archetypes of natural forces; they believed in literal otherworldly beings. And had a lot of ethnic and sexual boundaries as part of their identity. Modern Pagans decidedly got rid of the sexism… and some of ’em added the racism. So there’s that. But whatever: Most neo-Pagans don’t do Halloween, and recognize it was never their holiday. Just about every ancient culture held a harvest celebration round the time of the autumnal equinox—last month, back on 22 September. One of the Irish Pagan festivals would be Samhain 'saʊ.ən, a contraction of sam fuin/“summer’s end.” Totally unrelated to Halloween. It’s as if you claimed the closer-together St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day are related.

Every so often, one of the dumber neo-Pagans will insist Christians swiped Halloween from them, and Christianized it. Which is rubbish. Yet despite the total lack of historical evidence, many a gullible reporter swallows the neo-Pagans’ claims whole, and repeats ’em every year. They’ve been doing it for so long, people actually try to debunk me by quoting 15-year-old newsblogs. Which were poorly researched and incorrect then, and just as wrong now.

And neither neo-Pagan nor Christian holidays involve a celebration of creepy horror movie themes.

When pagans believe they’re Christian.

by K.W. Leslie, 08 October

In the United States, roughly seven out of 10 people believe they’re Christian. I live in California, where it’s six of 10. (I’m not just pulling these numbers out of my bum; the national stats and state stats are from the 2019 Pew Forum study.)

Which matches my experience. Whenever I share Jesus with strangers, about two out of three tell me they’re Christian already. They don’t necessarily go to church; that’s another issue. But they do figure they’re Christian. For all sorts of reasons:

  • Personal experiences with Jesus. Even personal appearances.
  • Said the sinner’s prayer once.
  • They’re a regular at their church. (How regular varies. Many figure twice a year counts.)
  • Got baptized.
  • Raised Christian, or their family’s Christian.
  • They consider themselves spiritual. And when they contemplate spiritual matters, Jesus is in the mix somewhere.

Now, let’s explode that last definition: They’re “spiritual,” by which they nearly always mean they believe in the supernatural, and have happy thoughts about it. And Jesus is included in their spirituality. But once we analyze their spiritual beliefs, we’ll find what they really believe looks more like this:

  • There’s a God. Jesus is his son (but not God though, nor God’s only son) and the holy spirit (note the lowercase) is God’s power (but not God though).
  • God loves everybody and wants us to be nice to one another.
  • Death means we go to heaven, and probably watch over the living somehow.
  • Organized religion is unnecessary, and just confuses things.

Basically it’s what pagans typically believe. Of course there are exceptions, but generally that’s it. It’s the belief system of popular culture. It’s not Christianity. These folks aren’t Christians; they’re Christianists.

They’re a subcategory I call incognito pagans. They honestly think they’re Christian, because that’s how popular culture loosely defines Christianity. They believe Jesus is a good guy; they like him; they have their weddings and funerals at churches; if you deny Jesus it’ll actually offend them. If their kids decide to become Muslim or Hindu (or tell ’em they’re gay) suddenly they get super Christian—usually to the surprise of their kids.

But no they’re not. They have no Holy Spirit within them. That’s why they produce none of his fruit. As far as their knowledge about Christ is concerned, they couldn’t tell a Jesus quote from a Benjamin Franklin proverb. They’re saved, they reckon; so why bother to learn about their Savior? That’s for clergy to worry about. Theologians. Academics and experts. Meanwhile they have bigger things to worry about.

Well speaking as one of these experts, no they’re not Christian. Our religion has to have a living and active relationship with Christ Jesus at its core, and they don’t have that. At all. So they’re pagan.

Which they don’t realize—and totally object to, when you call ’em on it. (It’s the one area of knowledge they refuse to concede to the clergy and experts.) Tell ’em they’re not Christian, and they’ll loudly insist they are so: “Who are you to tell me I’m no Christian?” Doesn’t matter if you’re a pastor, professor, bishop, or pope: Suddenly they get to define what “Christian” means. And it’s not based on fruit, nor orthodoxy, nor even Christ Jesus and the scriptures. It’s based on their best judgment.

Which is simply more proof they’re pagans. Christians recognize we don’t define what a Christian is: Jesus does. That’s why we look for fruit and orthodoxy. Simple combo. Heretics let the orthodoxy slide, and hypocrites and cultists let the fruit slide. The rest of us realize we can’t just claim the title without the faith and works: We gotta actually follow Jesus. Pagans don’t realize this, and think all it takes to be Christian, is they gotta name it and claim it.

As a result, there are a lot of the people showing up on surveys as “Christian” who aren’t really. It’s only how they self-identify. Not how Christ identifies those who are truly his.

“Money is the root of all evil.”

by K.W. Leslie, 07 October

1 Timothy 6.10.

This is rather well-known out-of-context scripture. So well known in fact, your average Christian already knows it’s taken out of context, and many a pagan likewise knows better. It’s the common proverb “Money is the root of all evil,” and it’s a misquote of something Paul wrote to Timothy:

1 Timothy 6.10 KJV
For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

It’s the love of money. Not money itself. Money is morally neutral. But loving money—especially when people love it more than God, their neighbors, their own lives and health and reputation and integrity—certainly produces evil.

Now yeah, many a Christian (especially when they’re really kinda Mammonist) read the King James Version and balk: “All evil? I don’t think every evil in the world is based on the love of money. I can think of a few evils which had nothing to do with money. Like adultery; that’s more about loving nooky.” So as a result we got other translations of the bible which don’t say all.

1 Timothy 6.10 NKJV
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

But notice the words “kind of” have to be in gray (or, in other editions, in italics) because they have to be added to the text. ’Cause the original Greek has ῥίζα γὰρ πάντων τῶν κακῶν ἐστιν ἡ φιλαργυρία/rhídza gar pánton ton kakón estin i filaryiría, “For the root of all the evil is money-love.”

So no, Paul didn’t say money-love is the root of many kinds of evil. He flat-out wrote it’s the root of all the evil.

But hold up: Neither did he say money-love is the root of all evil. It’s the root of all the evil. All which evil?

Um… all the evil he was just writing about in the previous verse. Which you probably didn’t read, ’cause we just pulled this verse straight out of its context. In context, you’ll see Paul was writing about people who wanna be rich—and the root of all their evil, is the love of money. Not the root of humanity’s evil. He didn’t write this verse to be universally applied to everybody. (Not even if you add the words “all kinds” to make it sound like it’s universally applicable. Bad translators! No doughnut for you.)

1 Timothy 6.9-10 KJV
9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

The pursuit of Mammon, the worship of Mammon, trips people into all sorts of failings and compromises and corruptions. And the root of all this evil is the love of Mammon. It’s not safe to love money!

Back to the bad interpretations, and bad bible translations. Poke around and you’ll find a lot of translations have compromised this verse by making it read, “all kinds of evil”—as if not every failing of a Mammonist stems from money-worship. Bible Gateway has a bigger list.

AMPLIFIED. For the love of money [that is, the greedy desire for it and the willingness to gain it unethically] is a root of all sorts of evil…
CSV, NRSV. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…
ESV. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.
GOOD NEWS. For the love of money is a source of all kinds of evil.
ISV, NIV, WEB For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.
NASB. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil…
NLT For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.

It blurs Paul’s obvious intent in writing what he did to Timothy. All so we don’t leap to the conclusion—based on an out-of-context reading of the verse—that every evil in humanity stems from money. Of course not every evil does. The serpent didn’t tempt Eve with the fruit’s cash value! But that’s not even what the verse is about.

“Prophets” who only share encouraging words.

by K.W. Leslie, 06 October

There’s a rather loaded word we Christians use on a frequent basis: “Word.” It refers to Jesus. It can also refer to the bible, either as a whole, or to specific statements of God in the scriptures. It can refer to the gospel, Mt 13.19 the “good word.” It can refer to any message or lesson, really: A Sunday school class, a sermon, or a prayer where the petitioner slipped a lesson into it, passive-aggressive or not.

Or it can just be a short, positive saying. An “encouraging word.” A T-shirt slogan, easily short enough for text messages and Twitter.

All my life I’ve heard these little sayings. Had a pastor who’d like to start each Sunday morning service with one of them: “Church, I have a word for you.” Then he’d share it. Might be a popular saying; might be a clever saying; might be a bible verse. Might expound on it a little, but it’d take him no more than 30 seconds, ’cause he was gonna pray, and then we were gonna sing. “Church, be excellent to each other, and party on, dudes.” It’d be short.

Christians like to encourage each other with such things. We’ll make memes of them and scatter them all over the internet. We teach ’em to newbies and children. Most are good, and consistent with the scriptures. Some are bunk. But I tend to call them generic Christian truth. Stuff like:

  • Jesus loves you. (This I know, for the bible tells me so.)
  • Be of good cheer!
  • God considers you valuable. You’re not irrelevant.
  • It’s the Father’s good pleasure to give you his kingdom.
  • Jesus is the way, truth, and life.
  • Heaven is real, and someday you get to see it.
  • God wants to help, so don’t forget to pray.
  • Stop fixating on the world’s chaos. It’s passing away.
  • Jesus is returning!

And so on. We put ’em on T-shirts and bumper stickers, put ’em into Christian pop songs, and use ’em to encourage one another. Anybody can do it.

And it takes no prophetic ability whatsoever. The Holy Spirit doesn’t have to tell me, “Hey, go tell that stranger I love her.” You already know God loves her; you can tell her without any prompting from him. We can tell anyone, at any time, “Hey, God loves you!” ’Cause it’s true.

Although sometimes the Spirit does have to give us a little kick in the pants. But that little kick doesn’t count as prophecy; it’s not always because these strangers have to hear God loves them. Yeah, sometimes they do… but a lot of times the Spirit gives us that kick because we suck at encouraging others. So if you ever thought to yourself, “Why’d the Spirit make me go say something to that stranger? He looked so unimpressed”—it’s not because that person needed to hear anything, but because the Spirit’s teaching you to obey. Good Christian. Keep it up.

But let’s get off that tangent and get to those Christians who specialize in sharing generic Christian truths… and think it’s their prophetic ministry.

Yeah. There are such creatures. I know plenty. And I’m not knocking the encouragement! Christians need to encourage one another; probably more than we already do.

The catch is these people think what they’re doing is prophetic, and it’s really not. Like I said, encouragement takes no prophetic ability whatsoever. You don’t need to personally hear God say, “Tell this person these words” before you can share a generic Christian truth with ’em. Plenty of cessationists, who are dead certain God doesn’t talk to people anymore, tweet encouragement at one another. (As they should: Since they think God abandoned us, they especially need the encouragement!) You can slap a bumper sticker on your car, park it, and leave it there… and it’ll encourage every Christian who sees it, including the one who finally tows your car away. And you won’t have done anything more.

But you know how some people would really like to become prophets, and are willing to call anything prophetic if it means they’re prophets. So yeah, they’ll consider encouraging words to be “prophecies.” Even though they’re not. Even when they misinterpret scripture (“God knows the plans he has for you!”) or aren’t even scriptural at all (“Everything happens for a reason!”). You know, stuff the Holy Spirit doesn’t do.