False prophets were among God's people in the past, as false teachers will be among you. - 2 Peter 2:1
These few and simple words from the apostle Peter mark an incredible shift in the history of God's story among His people. Peter is writing in a time when the young church is starting to take root, when people are figuring out anew what this new world of God means - a world in which God Himself can become flesh, live, die, and walk out of the grave for the salvation of His people. He's writing to a people who have seen, or at least heard about, what God has done. And he makes this contrast:
Where you have always been plagued by false prophets, you will now struggle against false teachers.
It raises the question: have prophets been replaced?
We all kind of like the idea of a prophet, and there are plenty of them out there. Or rather, plenty of persons claiming to be. I think most of them fall into the idea of the prosperity gospel, and I come into contact with them mostly through friends who post their schtick on Facebook. Well-known names, too; not just off-beat crackpots. People who want to tell you what God is going to do in your life. How He's going to bring you through this. How He's going to restore your fortunes. How today's troubles become tomorrow's triumphs if you just trust in the God who is coming.
And that's something, I guess, to a people longing for hope. It sounds like something, anyway. That's why it's so easy to get sucked into. It definitely sounds like something. We all like the idea that God is coming.
But you want to know the greater truth?
God has already come.
This is where the teachers come in. Teachers speak from facts, not visions. They rely on the concrete evidence, not the faintest hopes. They embrace the past and the present, not waiting on the future. When you ask a teacher what God would say about your life today, they aren't likely to tell you what God is going to do tomorrow; they're going to remind you what He's already done. And, of course, what He's already doing.
That's why this verse from Peter strikes me so hard. In a post-resurrection world, isn't this the most valuable instruction we have? The prophets always told people how to live in light of what God was going to do. But teachers...teachers help people understand how to live in light of what God has already done. And if we're looking at a world in which Jesus has already come, lived, died, and lived again, isn't this the most practical thing? Isn't this what it's all about?
There's nothing to tell me about what God is going to do; indeed, He has already done it. The role of the prophet - the real prophet - in today's church is no more. Now, we must listen to our teachers.
Oh, we have a few ways around this. The first is to look forward to the second coming, the culmination of this whole redemptive thing God is doing. And some would say that it's important to have prophets to tell us all about this, to help us prepare for this glorious moment. I think that's only probably half-truth, if that. How is one to prepare for the second coming if one is not first taught life in the first coming? Why are we always looking ahead to the next thing God is going to do when He's already done the greatest thing? It's doomsday, and it hasn't been working for us. It's simply not a helpful theology.
Not to mention, of course, that what God will do in that day, God has already done. It may be the final day, but it's a day not unlike this one in which light has already beaten darkness, good has already trumped bad, God wins. Modern-day prophets spend so much of their time telling you about the coming day when God wins that it's far too easy to forget this very important truth: God has already won. That's what teachers are for.
The second way we get around our no longer needing prophets is that we've tried to morph the definition of what prophecy means. It's not, we say, a teaching of what God is going to do. No, it's just, uhm, uh...a speaking of His truth. Yeah, yeah. That's it. Except...that's what teachers do. Teachers speak truth. So what we're really doing here is renaming our teachers as prophets, for likely no other reason than that it kind of sounds holier. Right?
I love the comparisons Peter draws in this verse between prophets and teachers. I love how he subtly includes this one little sentence that marks this dramatic shift in man's relationship with God, without losing sight of the fact that the problems are bound to be the same. A false prophet spent his life trying to make people either afraid of God or far too comfortable with Him; false teachers now do the same.
But the lesson, between the lines, here is clear: one has still replaced the other. We live in a world that doesn't need prophets any more. We live in a world in which there's no place for them. Because everything that God is going to do, He has already done. It's over. It's done. It is finished. He said so Himself. What we need now are teachers, persons who have invested themselves in the truth of God and the promise of the present and what is really real. It's not that light is about to triumph over darkness; it already has. It's not that good is about to defeat bad; it has. It's not that God is about to win; He's won. It's over.
Beware the false teachers who would say anything different.
And beware the prophets who would say anything less.