The contemporary church is suffering famine for the hearing of the words of God, but one that is a self-inflicted wound.
Over the decades, I have heard credible men of God warn of a coming day when the Church will experience a “famine for the word of God.” At first, I took this to refer to a coming time when the Bible itself would be suppressed even in western-style democracies, the result of efforts by governmental authorities to persecute the faith.
And the church has known persecution of that sort over the last twenty centuries, and almost certainly it will experience such dark times again before the coming of Jesus at the end of the age.
But these more recent prophetic voices often cited a passage in Amos to validate their prediction – “The days are coming when I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of Yahweh” – (Amos 8:11).
I take this prediction seriously, though upon careful examination, basing it on the passage from Amos is a bit precarious. In context, that prophecy was given to the kingdom of Israel and not to the church, and the New Testament nowhere reapplies it to the church or any expected future event.
Moreover, in Amos, the “word of Yahweh” does not refer to the Hebrew Bible, but instead to the “words” of Yahweh spoken through His prophets. As God withdrew His hand from the nation, so, also, His prophets became few and far between.
But whether intentional or applicable to our times or not, the “famine” predicted in Amos is now the reality in the church, and in ways that are quite faithful to the original passage. This “famine” for His word has become all too real.
No, I do not mean we are now seeing the governments of the United States, the United Kingdom, or Australia burning Bibles and throwing pastors in the slammer.
In Amos, it was Yahweh himself who withdrew His spoken word, and not any action taken by the Assyrians against Israel.
And this is the situation today. Yes, there are genuine prophets, but to find one and hear a true word from the Lord you must slog your way through the vast swamp of deceivers, deceptions and pure silliness that has inundated far too many churches, and the saint who engages in the attempt without proper discernment will almost certainly be bamboozled by one of the myriads of false prophets that dominate popular Christianity.
But the far more insidious “famine” is the ignorance of Scripture that prevails in too many churches. Many believers do not know what the Bible says or how to study it, leaving them open to deceivers with their “doctrines of demons.” And too many pastors and teachers have failed to teach the Word to their flocks, and perhaps worse, some of them are themselves biblically ignorant.
And many “prophetic” leaders steer Christians away from reliance on the Bible. Instead of adhering to clear teachings from it, saints are directed to pursue highly subjective personal experiences and “revelation” from the “spirit realm,” whatever that is.
Why study the Bible when you can receive new “revelations” and “downloads” through “heavenly portals” via dreams, visions, and angelic visitations, or by deciphering numbers and dates or adding a thus saith the Lord” to whatever pops into your head? Of course, supernatural “signs” and ascents to the “third heaven” are a lot more fun than sitting through a one-hour class on the book of Matthew or Hebrews.
The problem today is NOT the suppression of the Bible by government agencies or social media. Yes, one day we may see many governments burning Bibles, but that is not happening now, at least, not in places like Canada, the United States, or Australia.
And the present “famine” is a tragedy of our own making, a self-inflicted wound. It seems we prefer pursuing exciting experiences, “signs and wonders,” and ear-tickling “words” from the Facebook “prophets” over our spending time learning what the Bible actually says in black-and-white and committing ourselves to follow what we find in it no matter what.
If you organize a class free of charge at your home or church on water baptism or the Lord’s supper, a handful of people might attend.
But if you sponsor a seminar at the local conference center on how to “move in the prophetic” or find your personal “destiny,” you can charge exorbitant fees and still pack the house.
And while the New Testament does not quote or allude to the passage in Amos, it certainly anticipates some of what we see today. Did not Jesus warn us that “many false prophets” would come and “deceive many,” that deceivers and grifters would target the very “elect,” liars who would even point to “signs and wonders” to validate their deceptions?
And so, today, just as the Apostle warned, many believers no longer “endure sound doctrine; instead, having itching ears, they have heaped to themselves teachers after their own lusts, and turned aside their ears from the truth, and turn aside instead to fables.”
To the Thessalonians, Paul described the “mystery of lawlessness” that is working actively to prepare the way for the “man of lawless,” a malevolent figure linked to the final “apostasy,” a deceiver who will use “signs and wonders” to deceive those who refuse to “welcome the love of the truth.”
FOLLOW THE WORD
We often cite the passage in Deuteronomy that warned Israel that any prophet whose prediction did not come to pass did not speak for the Lord.
But the same book also declares that even if the prophecy of the prophet or the “dreamer of dreams” does come to pass, even if his word is validated by supernatural “signs or wonders,” if he tells us to “worship and serve other gods that we have not known” we must NOT heed his words.
And that is precisely what so-called “prophets and apostles” who instruct Christians to engage in divination are doing today – (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).
Fortunately, Paul left us instructions for how we may avoid deception and apostasy, and especially the plots of the coming “man of lawlessness,” namely, by “holding fast the traditions that you received from me.” And that apostolic tradition has been preserved for us in the pages of the New Testament.
I am not opposed to the supernatural and the miraculous. God has certainly given many spiritual gifts to the church. But when it comes to knowing His will or discerning good from evil, I will take what I find in Scripture over anything and everything else the first time, last time, every time.
I do not doubt that hard times and persecution will come. Indeed, Christians in many parts of the world already live under persecution. But that is even more reason to learn and cling to the Word of God now while we still can.
When dark days do come, it will be the principles from the Bible that will see us through them, and if we do not take advantage of the opportunity we have now, it will be too late when the darkness descends upon us.
Paul never said the final “apostasy” may not come, but that it will come, and its arrival will be a sign that the “Day of Yahweh” is imminent.