Friday, April 11, 2008

Where There Is No Vision, The People Perish

This post comes courtesy of Pastor William M. Cwirla, from his blog Blogosphere Underground. Reproduced with permission.

The word “vision” made its reentry into the church from its sojourn in the business world via the Church Growth Movement in the 1980’s. Until then, “vision” was a poetic parallel for “prophetic utterance” or “oracle,” a direct revelation from God to a prophet. The Church Growth Movement, which took business and marketing methods and baptized them with Bible passages, found this gem in their gilt-edged leatherette King James Bible: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he (Proverbs 29:18). You can’t beat the book of Proverbs for catchy proof texts. Church leaders have been having visions ever since.

At first hearing, the idea seems to have legs, if not stand on them. People without a vision, presumably in the form of a "vision statement" crafted by "visionary leadership," will be without purpose and fail to achieve their goals. But that’s not what this proverb means or ever meant. Hebrew poetry rhymes with meaning in addition to sound. The parallel thought in this proverb is “but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” “Vision” is in parallel with “law” or better “Torah,” the teaching of God. This, of course, is never quoted, but hey, when you're proof texting, who cares about context?

The proverbial thought is this: A people with no prophetic vision do not keep Torah and so perish miserably. This has nothing to do with vision statements or visionary leaders; it has to do with repentance, faith, and the Word of God. The passage can only be co-opted from the King James. The other translations all agree that “vision” means “prophetic vision,” i.e. a Word of God given to by inspiration to a prophet to speak to the people, calling them to keep Torah.

Where there is no prophecy the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (RSV)

Where there is no prophetic vision the people cast off restraint, but blessed is he who keeps the law. (ESV)

Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law. (NIV)
And for those of you who didn’t fall asleep in Hebrew class, here it is straight up:

Any pastor or church leader with a “vision” had better be speaking the Word of God and calling people to repentance and faith, or else he is a false prophet and should be ignored. We’ll leave the stoning to death part to the old covenant.

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