Pastor as prophet when God judges the earth

A lengthy discussion arose today during and after Sunday School regarding how much the pastor is a type of prophet and/or preaches prophetically. The specifics were regarding the judgments of God, particularly in declaring or mentioning God’s specific judgments for specific sins.

Before I lay my cards on the table, here are a few clusters of questions.

When death occurs in the world via storm, calamity, or otherwise “natural” means, should the pastor declare these to be judgments? Is the tornado a judgment? Is it a judgment on a particular town when it strikes? How much should we consider the question when it happens? Is it proper for someone to say that our town was judged by God, for reasons likely unknown, when that tornado hit? What about when something like a tornado hits the steeple of a church that just voted to ordains homosexuals? (see here: https://www1.cbn.com/ChurchWatch/archive/2009/08/24/tornado-hits-lutheran-convention-voting-on-homosexuality-again)

When things like 9/11 happen are we right to call them God’s judgment? His wrath? How specific can we be about why they happened? Is Pat Robertson right to say it happened specifically because of homosexuality? Are we ever given enough ground to say that? Are we allowed to prod the consciences of men to consider whether God is judging generations, countries, towns, for particular sins?

As we age and die, to what extent is our death the result of Adam or our own sin? Is it more or less clear if the death was caused by explicit sin (AIDS, drunken wreck, etc.)? Is it right to say that every death, not just in general but in the specific, is a direct judgment of God?

To what extent does the wrath of God play into this? Is the wrath of God every displayed against believers? Does Romans 13 imply that a believer, being judged by the civil magistrate, is but to death by the wrath of God? If David had been tried, found guilty, and stoned would that be the wrath of God? A judgment of God? Discipline of God?

Should we ask these sorts of questions when we experience calamity? The death of a child? The sudden illness? Cancer? Is the threat of mis-taking the Lord’s Supper a current threat to our health and life?

How did the apostles and church know that Ananias and Sapphira were put to death for their lying to the Holy Spirit? Did He reveal it directly to them or were they simply, by the Spirit’s help, discerning the truth of motives of God? Can we ever say something similar has happened?

That’s probably too long of a list to get started - but now you have the bulk of the arguments this morning. Those of you who know me might hazard a guess on which side of things I fall!

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Thanks for sharing and welcoming the discussion. I may over-simplify this, so please forgive me, if just doesn’t seem to complicated to my male socially awkward ears.

So let me deal first with the basics. Everyone dies, because everyone is subject to the curse of death which God proclaimed over Adam and Eve. He could have killed them immediately, and thus had no posterity, and we would then have no forefather from which we are otherwise their fruit. So is death punishment. Yes absolutely. That anyone has even a breath of life is more life than life deserved.

So when a seemingly moral man suffers a horrible death, was it God’s judgement, yes and no. It was his judgement all the way from the fall. And possibly no, because God is glorified in the life and death of his people. When a believer dies, it is simply not the same as when an unbeliever dies.

Now on a National, regional and local scale, when calamity strikes, and there is known sin, to deny that it’s God’s judgement is to say that he doesn’t care about the sin. When calamity strikes and there is no known sin, believers would have to accept the event as having been decreed by God, and that his judgement and mercies are always right. Those believers would desire not to vindicate their own innocence by saying it was undeserved or wasn’t specifically as a judgement on them. They would humble themselves and confess that there is much that they’ve done but shouldn’t have, and much left undone that they should have done.

As outside observers to calamity we must be very careful to walk the line and distinguish between the two and how we speak openly about it.

Dear Joe, few doctrines are more scandalous to the flock than the judgements of God. Couple that doctrine with God’s decrees and sovereignty for a conflagration among men and women who have lacked solid food for the mature their adult lives. So it’s very difficult to teach these things in any church today. To be truthful, I’ve mostly sniped and snipped and pea-shot at these truths through the years by rarely addressing them full-bore in a particular sermon throughout that sermon, but instead throwing out comments and quotes showing this truth regularly in sermons whose main thrust was otherwise.

Would I recommend this strategy? Uh, no. So why have I chosen it? Uh, three guesses.

But not always, and the most obvious exception was 9/11. Many of us preached this doctrine of God’s inbreaking judgments then who had rarely done so with similar focus and intensity prior to then. My own text at the special service that week was “the wrath of man shall praise Him.”

An awful lot of teaching, though, is pastoral care, and what pastor and elders would anoint a soul for healing (who had requested it) and pray for that soul without reading James, first, and following up the reading with the question, “Do you have any sins to confess?” Similar pastoral care to the sick and dying at bedside often calls for this same inquiry, and is someone really going to deny this is proper, which is to say Biblical, pastoral care?

On the other hand, preaching and pastoral care always must be the pastor’s own judgments of what diet is needed when and where, and those decisions are always very difficult in controversial matters because our conscience will accuse us of not being faithful to the truth due to our love of money and security, and our desire not to get fired, losing money and security, but also becoming the object of the condescension and pity among the other pastors of our synod or presbytery who are doing very well and have large wealthy churches and books and…

No matter what anyone says, the truth is clear. God sends sickness, death, storms, lightning, earthquakes, and bombs and wars on people, states, cities, and nations as particular specific judgments, and often for the pastors of those people groups not to warn this is what’s happening and call for repentance from the sins most obvious is unfaithfulness. How it’s to be done is a matter of pastoral sensitivity, but the fact of it is simple and clear. Read all our fathers in the faith before our decadent time concerning the plague, smallpox, wars, etc. and you will see them not only doing this, but simply taking it for granted. Sometimes you will find Calvin, Luther, Edwards, Cotton Mather actually spelling out this duty from Scripture.

At times I’ve written on this on Baylyblog, quoting some of these historic sources, but I’ll let it go for now and here. When we have these sorts of questions, though, and we’re new in the particular pastorate, we need much wisdom and love (for God and our flock) as we decide how to proceed. There is culpability on the part of sheep who should be on meat but are still on milk, but also on the part of the shepherd who forces meat down the gullet of woefully immature ewes and rams who should be capable of masticating it, but instead start gagging.

Sadly, I have failed in every way possible in my care for my flocks surrounding these matters. May God have mercy on us, dear brother. Love,

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I think it comes down to either denying God’s sovereignty and/or overplaying the unhelpful friends to Job.

I’ve struggled with this a lot lately. At the height of the pandemic, I was in a job where a state agency was requiring me to enter into residential settings with known COVID-19 cases among a vulnerable and compromised population.

The problem was even though I was a healthcare worker (health and safety) my employer refused to supply me with appropriate PPE and insisted it was my responsibility to merely practice basic hygiene (wash hands etc.). I provided studies about COVID transmission and protection and they wouldn’t listen. The fight got so bad I needed a lawyer to buttress against their threats and attacks, and I started suffering from serious anxiety and panic attacks.

Of course I had two major concerns, one that I would be the cause of transmission to a vulnerable population resulting in death, which would be biblical negligence, and two that I would bring it home to my family, my high risk wife, my newborn and my two toddlers. It seems that my first

One of my pastors who observed my failing condition under the stress counseled me that I needed to obey my employer, enter the facilities without the proper protection and trust God with the outcome. I was shocked and couldn’t imagine why I was being told to not samar my garden. I refused his counsel in the most respectful way I could manage.

Several weeks later, he was meeting with me under the pretense of a Matthew 18 process. We met several times over several weeks, before calamity stuck for him. I won’t go into the details but let’s just say there was an tragic and accidental death in his garden. I have struggled to not play the prophet or that bad friend, and to remember God’s sovereignty, but I am also wondering how much he would have struggled if the calamity befell my family after telling me that I just needed to trust God, as if my responsibilities were somehow mitigated by God’s sovereignty.

We have since left the church. It heart breaking. But I couldn’t trust them any longer.

P.s.
among the population I was charged with to protect, 22.28% tested positive and 3.94% of those cases resulted in death. That’s gross negligence.

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I recommend Pastor James Brown’s article here

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Here are some links:

http://baylyblog.com/blog/2007/01/katrina-indian-ocean-tsunami-and-wrath-god

http://baylyblog.com/blog/2009/08/why-gods-blessings-not-his-judgments
(see the comment section too on this one)

http://baylyblog.com/blog/2011/09/wrath-man-shall-praise-you

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This is the meat of it. I’m absolutely persuaded that if a pastor and elder team is not seeking to interpret God’s hand NOW then there isn’t much point talking about God’s hand THEN. I can’t fathom worshiping a God who is not the same yesterday, today, and forever.

A confession in talking about these things - I have used JI Packer’s Knowing God to do all the heavy hitting up front. He puts the topic out there and lays groundwork. My job has been to point and say “I think he’s right.” Wise? Maybe. Cowardly? Probably. [Edited: Yes] But then again it’s not just my sheep who need help to do what is right.

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Another Scripture that comes to mind in this regard: John 9:1ff. I absolutely get the point about the need to preach the Judgement of God, but if our generation has failed in not preaching this, I wonder if past generations made the reverse error of explaining the bad things which happen as God’s particular judgement on a situation when, to coin a phrase, more was involved. Cf Job’s Comforters.

I get after my wife when she makes a hypothetical confession like this. I tell her she is not allowed to live with a guilty conscience - she can own the action as sin or own it as an act of faith, but she needs to have the courage to decide which it was and proceed accordingly. So, away with your hypothetical confessions, brother. :slight_smile:

Love,

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Fixed it…

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Discretion is the better part of valor. Love,

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Is this a theme you develop more in your book on elders?

This has been the hardest part of my attempting to bring reform to my family and church. Richard Baxter’s warning that it’s not that the sheep cannot bear it, it’s that we as pastors will not bear the reproach for doing godly ministry is one I find continually haunting. And yet, knowing my own disposition, I can be a purist (theological pedant?), driving the sheep more than they’re able to bear rather than gently leading them. I’m constantly unsure whether I’m sinning by not being faithful to God’s word through too much care for what the sheep can bear or sinning in foolish zeal for reformation.

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To Aaron -
Yes, and it’s trickier when, in a single congregation, you have: the mature, who will manage the meat; the less-than-mature, who can manage meat but are far happier with the preaching equivalent of junk food; and then the weaker sheep, who can’t manage any meat at all. In that instance, whatever you do will earn someone’s reproach.

No, dear brother, and I don’t know how you will ever resolve your self-questioning since it seems to be to be necessary to those striving to be faithful. Ross also points out the mixture in the same congregation, and that too is a challenge. What we do develop in Elders Reformed is the necessity of the elders not taking over the choice of feed mixture from their shepherd by thinking they are better able to lead the sheep’s growth and health; that this is ground zero of the pastor/shepherd’s responsibility and if he can’t be trusted to do his own deciding about preaching, he should be fired rather than to take away this responsibility. I hope you will read it, but keep in mind it’s a pastor teaching elders how to be faithful in their work—not the pastor’s work. Love,