Prophets and Scribes

I recently read the book Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (more thoughts on it to come soon). I thought it an excellent read and it gave me plenty of food for thought. The inspiration for this post came from the following quotation:

“The article was very interesting. It was in Ladies’ Home journal, an old issue Glory found in her father’s study and brought over for me to look at. There was a note on it. Show Ames. But it ended up at the bottom of a stack of things, I guess, because it’s from 1948. The article is called “God and the American People,” and it says 95 percent of us say we believe in God. But our religion doesn’t meet the writer’s standards, not at all. To his mind, all those people in all those churches are the scribes and the Pharisees. He seems to me to be a bit of a scribe himself, scorning and rebuking the way he does. How do you tell a scribe from a prophet, which is what he clearly takes himself to be? The prophets love the people they chastise, a thing this writer does not appear to me to do.” – Gilead, 142.

Jesus Cleansing the Temple: from

A prophet loves. A scribe does not. This makes a huge difference. I know when I critique my local church I like to think I do so as a prophet. I have the answers that would solve all the church’s problems…if they would simply listen to me. But too often I end up as the scribe. Too often I want to fix the church, not because I love it, but because I want it to be better so that it can serve me better so that I can be known as the one with the bright ideas so that…the list goes on.

Yet the sad truth remains that the more I act as the scribe, the less likely it is that the church will change. We all want to be prophets. But how many of us love the people and the place that we want to change? Disillusionment is easy. Love is hard. Love in the face of disillusionment is even harder. Yet, if we want to help the church and be a part of it, love is our calling.

Jesus showed us the example at the end of John. When Peter has betrayed him three times quite recently and Jesus has every right to remain disillusioned he gives him the threefold forgiving command, “feed my sheep.” Jesus does not correct the beginning of the church out of anger or bitterness or disillusionment but out of love. It worked then, I believe it works now.

If we want to change the church, we do not just have to “be the change we want to see.” We also have to love the church as it is. Now. Unchanged. Broken. Because Jesus loves his church, even when its broken, and it is him that we follow.

What are your thoughts? What does it look like to love the local church? Why else should we love the church?


3 thoughts on “Prophets and Scribes

  1. Great post! I also find myself finding a hard balance between prophet and scribe. Maybe that is why prophets were specifically anointed by God. Mankind can force temporary change, but God initiates eternal change.

    Thanks for sharing..

    btw.. How’s your summer? when do you take off for Europe?

  2. This is off topic but I am interested in hearing your thoughts…

    Do you believe prophets exist in modern times?

    My definition of a prophet being: Someone who clearly hears the word of God (either through visions, a still small voice, dreams, or even an audible voice) for the benefit of encouragement or instruction to the Church.

  3. I like this distinction. You might consider expanding it even more. Jonah was not terribly fond of the Ninevites. Might it be that prophets keep calling people back to covenant and relationship with God — while scribes call them back to Law? Might our criticism of the church often focus too much on what we want to change rather than Who we want to draw near to? At root, of course, is still a Law/love dichotomy. Helpful post from you. Thanks.

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