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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Admonishing the Preacher

I had an interesting dialogue last week with a roomful of about 200 Ugandan and Kenyan pastors (I was speaking at a conference in Tororo, Uganda). They wanted to talk about pastors who are less than sincere, who don't do a very good job of walking the talk, or who seem to be ignorant of God's Word.

Two days later, I was sitting at Entebbe airport and struck up a conversation with a guy from Pennsylvania (he was there to adopt a five year old boy) who observed that, "there seems to be broad awareness of God in this country (Uganda) but there is great ignorance about who God really is." It had been his first trip to the country, but his observation wasn't lost on me. I've heard others say that, "Africa's Christian faith is a mile wide, but only an inch deep."

So this past weekend, I am reading in the book of Malachi. And chapter two of that book really speaks to the same issue. But I was struck by the irony of how it could have been describing priests in the Old Testament, pastors in present-day Africa ... or pastors in America or other western countries. There was little difference! And more sobering was what God had to say about the subject (through His prophet, Malachi). Let's take a look at that.

Malachi 2:1-9 says, "And now this admonition is for you, O priests. If you do not listen, and if you do not set your heart to honor my name," says the Lord Almighty, "I will send a curse upon you, and I will curse your blessings. ... Because of you I will rebuke your descendants ... And you will know that I have sent you this admonition so that my covenant with Levi may continue," says the Lord Almighty.

My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin. For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, and from his mouth men should seek instruction - because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty.

But you have turned fro the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi," says the Lord Almighty. So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law."

So here's the thing we can take from this. Priests were chosen from the tribe of Levi. At the time only Levites could be priests. But today's pastors (in any country) are modern-day equivalents of Old Testament Levites. I believe the character and nature of God as reflected in the Old Testament are still valid today --- since we know that God never changes. So it would seem that God feels the same about today's Christian pastors who don't walk the talk.

Today's Christian pastors are to honor the same type of covenant that God made with the Levites. They can't be afraid to confront sin and other worldly behavior out of fear that they'll tick off the parishioners who will leave ... and take their tithes with them.

But I suspect that is exactly the problem we have now. There are pastors all over the world who are sinners themselves (of course). But instead of being a model for their parishioners - courageously repenting from and confronting sin - they quietly confess their own sins to God (maybe) and largely leave the sins of their congregation alone.

Note in Malachi 2:5, where God says of Levi, "... this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name." Do today's pastors really stand in awe of God's name?

Note in Malachi 2:6, where God says of Levi, "True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He ... turned many from sin." Could this be said of today's Christian pastors? How many have today's pastors turned from sin?

If ever there were a call for today's Christian pastors to stand up, stand out and courageously preach truth, confront sin, rebuke the rebellious and disobedient and stand in awe of God's name --- it is easily found throughout Scripture. We don't need a conference to talk about it. We just need to do it.

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