Speaking God’s word to a rebellious church

Jesus with sword, rebellious church

Jesus with a sword. 14th-century fresco, Monastery of the Ascension, Kosovo

Does it require courage for a man of God to speak to the people of God?

It shouldn’t, but sometimes it does. God’s chosen people have consistently rebelled against God’s chosen leaders and messengers. They started against Moses. The rebellious church today continues in the same vein.

God called Ezekiel as prophet to the sons of Israel and told him not to be afraid of their looks or words.

And that’s after Ezekiel had seen four creatures that had four faces apiece. After it dawned on him that God himself appeared to him with them. People can be scarier than the weirdest supernatural visions. 

Ezekiel’s call

Ezekiel and the elders. rebellious church

Ezekiel and the elders

This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice of one speaking.

Then He said to me: Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you! When He spoke to me, the Spirit entered me and set me on my feet. Then I heard Him speaking to me.

And He said to me: Son of man, I send you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me. They and their fathers have transgressed against Me even to this very day. And as for the impudent and obstinate children, I am sending you to them.

And you shall say to them, “Thus says the Lord God.” As for them, whether they listen or not (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.

And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with you, and you dwell among scorpions. Do not be afraid of their words or be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. You shall speak My words to them, whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious. Ezekiel 1:28b-2:7, MEV

Ezekiel’s countrymen

Bull idol. rebellious church

Bull idol

Long prophetic tradition predicted the eventual destruction of Jerusalem because of the people’s idolatry and other evils. False prophets arose to contradict them and promise unbroken prosperity and success.

Priests performed the prescribed Levitical sacrifices regularly and scrupulously. On a ceremonial level, temple worship was probably exemplary. But God has never been impressed with religious ceremony.

Nearly everyone in Israel worshiped other gods. The rich systematically oppressed the poor. God considers such behaviors rebellious.

Most of Jerusalem’s citizens must have known little of Scripture, and possibly cared less. They considered themselves good people. They took umbrage when God’s prophets suggested otherwise. Does that sound familiar?

Sometime before the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, they deported King Jehoiachin and ten thousand others (including Ezekiel) to Babylon.

These exiles included all of Jerusalem’s elite. In Babylon, they behaved much as they had in Jerusalem. If anything, idolatrous Babylon encouraged even more idolatry. God’s prophets would have to continue to proclaim his message of judgment until Jerusalem finally fell. A gaggle of false prophets continued to stir up false hopes.

No one wanted to hear the message of judgment.

Yet God insisted that Ezekiel continue to speak out. He had to endure Israel’s’ sarcasm, threats, and hatred. No wonder he needed courage to keep speaking.

The missing gospel in the modern rebellious church

Gay rights parade. rebellious church

Gay rights parade, supported by the rebellious church

Does the church as a whole preach the gospel anymore?

The gospel is the good news of salvation from sin based on God’s actions and not ours. And based on God’s standards, not ours. If salvation sounds too much like glib Christianese, think “salvage.”

Jesus spoke of the outer darkness, where there will we wailing and gnashing of teeth. He talked about the hell of fire.

In Greek, hell is gehenna, the name of the place where Jerusalem took its sewage and trash. Sanitation required that they burn all that dung from time to time.

Salvage means removal from the dump and being remade to serve God’s purpose.

But much of the church preaches universalism. The brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God is a stirring slogan, but entirely unbiblical. According to this teaching, there is no hell.  God is love, after all. But what does salvation or justification mean if sin has no penalty? What, for that matter, does sin mean?

The libertine church proclaims the message, “You can join our church, and we’ll make you comfortable with whatever you do.” Like the Corinthian church that thought they were being so loving and accepting of a member who had an affair with his step-mother, libertines don’t recognize God as the source of moral standards.

Try talking about sin to people who deny it. “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” they scream, judgmentally. “We believe in a loving God,” they proclaim with no discernable trace of love in their voice or on their face.

But churches don’t have to deny the reality of sin to fall off the rails.

Men arguing. rebellious churchThe legalistic church proclaims the message, “You can join our church, but you’ll have to do things our way.” They mistake their standards for God’s standards.

Disagree with any part of their teaching, and they’ll tell you you’re going straight to hell.

The lapsed church proclaims the message, “You can join our church, and we won’t try to get you to swallow any of that supernatural mumbo jumbo.”

Try to talk about the virgin birth or Jesus’ actual death and resurrection, they’ll snicker that you must have left your brain on a shelf.

The luxuriating church proclaims the message, “You can join our church, and we’ll show you divine healing, divine prosperity and all kinds of goodies for yourself.” Then they define prosperity as driving a Cadillac instead of a Chevy.

Criticize such a narrow focus, and they’ll tell you that you have no faith.

God told Ezekiel to speak only his word. With so many messages within the church that depart from the gospel, speaking accurately what God says can be difficult. And because it’s not what our carnal nature wants to hear, it can take courage to continue to speak prophetically to the church when it wanders away from the gospel.

Fortunately, God told Ezekiel to keep speaking even if no one listened. Never has God made any of his people responsible for the outcome of their ministry. Believers need only speak up. God himself moves upon the hearts of the people who will actually hear.

If you understand the gospel, don’t be afraid to take a stand for it. Be strong and courageous in the face of a rebellious church.

Photo credits:
Jesus with a sword. Public domain from Mystagogy Resource Center
Ezekiel and the elders.
Public Domain Clipart Collection #14, Breadsite
Bull idol. Source unknown
Gay rights parade. Some rights reserved by Guillaume Paumier.
Men arguing. Some rights reserved by o5com (Link to Flickr no longer works)

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