Monday, November 22, 2010
What is the Gift of Prophecy? (1)
Lately I've struggled with this question - as though the Lutheran and charismatic sides of my Christian faith were in hand-to-hand combat over it, leaving me steadfast in impasse; with no way to reconcile objective and subjective Christian experience. My questioning over the gift of prophecy revolves around a number of important issues for me which advice from well-meaning Christian friends has yet to resolve. These issues are:
If a prophetic word is not as reliable or steadfast as God's Word, why would the Holy Spirit choose to communicate this way. When I hear, "I felt that the Spirit said this", how can I be sure that it was God. Not just what sincere Christians want me to hear, what I would like to hear, or just the result of a half-digested scrap of beef (as Scrooge thought of the ghost of Jacob Marley in Dickens' "A Christmas Carol").
"Ah", I hear, "but you must test the word". Well, yes, I acknowledge the Apostle Paul says we must test everything. But if the gift of prophecy is what charismatics claim it is, even testing relies on a subjective experience. My spirit testifying with the Spirit that this is true; an inner revelation that the prophetic word and Scripture match up. Which leaves me looking back at my imperfect self.
Whereas God's Word always pulls me away from myself to his Word which is eternal and living (1 Peter 1:23), sweet to the taste (Psalm 119:103), and sharper than the sharpest two-edge sword (Hebrews 4:12). God's Word is where the external triumphs over the internal gnosticism of other world religions and cults.
2. Sola Scriptura
When prophetic words are being offered in place of the preaching of God's Word, there is cause for concern. At Winchester Vineyard Church, I have witnessed the erosion of Sola Scriptura in action. Where the Bible does not have supremacy above their prophetic speakers. While prophecy brings encouragement, the lack of a solid diet of Scripture cannot be very healthy to us as God's people, especially when question of discernment still exist for the congregation e.g. "is this prophetic word especially for me?" No such uncertainly exists when we hear God's Word, when law and gospel are rightly preached in their saving office.
3. The "prophetic office"
I remain convinced by Scripture that the Prophetic Office ceased with the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles who alone were speaking the very words of Scripture. There is no new revelation today except what we received 2000 years ago, from the revelation of Jesus Christ. In fact the Bible warns us about adding anything to this revelation (Rev 22: 18-19), which should give us pause before accepting the latest announcements off the prophetic hot lines in America. We should equally be concerned with the growing authority these self-appointed 'Prophets' in America have, especially when their prophetic calls are greeted with the same aplomb as Presidential speeches. Here also questions of trust and discernment arise: "have these words been properly tested?", "whose agenda does this service, God's kingdom or that leader's prophetic ministry and reputation?" The rise of the Kansas City Prophets, the New Apostolic Reformation, Cindy Jacobs, and others within the hyper-charismatic movement seem to me to be wrenching the attention of Christians away from God's Word. When Christians are increasingly relying on the latest prophetic word for guidance, our reliance on God's Word suffers - and maybe this is their intention. To shepherd us away from Scripture so their ministries can grow at the expense of the integrity of God's Word and the message of the gospel.