I’ve been listening to the prophets lately (again), this week in Jeremiah. In chapter 29 we hear about a conflict between Jeremiah and another man Shemaiah (According to wikipedia Hebrew: שמעיה SheMa`YaH “God Heard”) the Nehelamite. Jeremiah has this to say:
‘This is what the Lord says about Shemaiah the Nehelamite: Because Shemaiah has prophesied to you, even though I did not send him, and has persuaded you to trust in lies, this is what the Lord says: I will surely punish Shemaiah the Nehelamite and his descendants. He will have no one left among this people, nor will he see the good things I will do for my people, declares the Lord, because he has preached rebellion against me.’ (29:31-32)
There are a number of similar passages scattered throughout the prophets and other parts of the Old Testament, where prophets are in disagreement. We know from our perspective that Jeremiah was right, but did Shemaiah know? Did he know that the message that he had was not from the Lord? That the Lord would in fact send the people into exile for a long, long time? That he was was preaching rebellion? The answer doesn’t seem obvious. Certainly today there are many times when the issues seem muddied and unclear. It seems hard to know who really is preaching and teaching the truth. A few issues are clear, but many others are not.
A personal example. I believe that I have an important message concerning the way that science, intellectual integrity and Christian faith are compatible. I am convinced that there are things that I am called, trained, and gifted to do that most others are not. Of course quite a few Christians out there will say I’m the false prophet misleading the people of God. How am I to know that I am right and called by God to make a difference? Shemaiah or Jeremiah?
And there are other areas where a similar set of questions arise.
There was an interesting series of comments on a recent post of Scot’s Anne Graham Lotz, Jimmy Carter, and It’s Time. One woman who grew up in a complementarian church, but is now in seminary and feeling out her gifts commented in a way that shows the tension, the difficulty we often have knowing where we stand.
I still wrestle with fear that I am “out of my place”. I still feel guilt at times, as though I am doing something wrong. I would still be terrified to stand in a pulpit. Complementarians would assure me that this voice is the Spirit’s, but I am not so sure.
This one leads to a personal example as well. As a woman, not in or contemplating professional ministry, this comment (the whole thing, not just the bit I’ve clipped) really struck a chord. I still wrestle at times with whether I could actually be called to teach, to have a ministry in a church context in a university town despite feeling that as a professor and a Christian I need to get involved and have an impact, that I have something unique to offer. Is the more or less complete lack of support from the pastors a sign that I’m wrong … or that they are wrong? Is it just “not my place?” And to get back to the first example, how are they to know if I have a true message, a valuable perspective, or not?
Another commenter suggested in response to the first “And complementarians will say that you’re giving in to the culture while in fact, they’re the ones who reflect the sinful culture.” But how we are to know whether it is the complementarian or egalitarian perspective which is now (or has been) reflecting a sinful culture?
And a separate exchange really nailed it.
I am a 37 year missionary; both my husband and I preach. … The real issue is not what these men think, the real question is what does God want. I know He uses me and many other women as they yield themselves to His voice.
I am not saying you are wrong, but how do you know that?
How does she know what? That Satan is at work stroking men’s egos or that God has called and uses her?
How she knows how God wants to use her. (We already know about the egos of men)
The same way men know how God wants to use them.
Is your question about gender or about how any of us can know what God wants us to do?
It is in fact about how we can know what God wants, but focused on this issue. … Not to mention, just in regards to our everyday walk we need to be careful how we answer that/how we make our decisions.
Well, nailed the question, not the answer. The answer is much harder. And it isn’t restricted to this issue alone. There are so many positions proclaimed with authority and with little humility. Humility seldom attracts the attention or followers, while a bold provocative message does. But the growth of a following is not a reliable indication of the truth of a message. The growth of a church is often not a result of the movement of the Spirit, but of human psychology and sociology. This is important … success as measured in the eyes of the world (and too often the church), numbers, power, followers, charisma, is not a reliable indicator of the faithfulness or lack of faithfulness in any message.
How do we know if we are standing in the sandals of Shemaiah or of Jeremiah?
How do we know whether another is following in the footsteps of Shemaiah or Jeremiah?
I have some thoughts – but would like first to open the discussion focused on this issue. How can we know? I posed the same kind of question in a slightly different fashion in an earlier post Following Aslan, this may jog some thoughts as well.
If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail[at]att.net.
If you would like to comment please see Did Shemaiah Know? on Jesus Creed.