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:

1 Reliability

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.


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  2. Great article here Martin!

    I like what you have said about never losing focus on the primary & final authority of Scripture.

    Scripture has to be our plumbline for everything! Far too many are relying on prophecy as a replacement, or just making up their own thoughts based on experience, so good point!

    Would you say that the only way God / the Holy Spirit can lead or direct or communicate with us is through his word, because all other methods leave room for interpretation and therefore may not be as reliable?

    I'd also love to hear your thoughts on Paul's exhortation in 1 Corinthians 14 to 'eagerly desire the Spiritual gifts, especially prophecy'.

    He says 'I would like every one of you to speak in tongues, but I would rather have you prophesy' which suggests to me that he's not just speaking to apostles, or those with the gift of a prophet, but maybe to all of us, or possibly suggesting that prophecy is a biblical new testament concept.
    I guess this also depends on how / if you differentiate between being able to prophecy, having the gift of prophecy or being in the office of a prophet. And can we call get the gift or prophecy & can a normal Christian prophecy if they have not had the ‘gift of prophecy’

    I would lean towards all Christians having access to the ‘gift of prophecy’ based on Paul’s remarks, but few being in the office of a prophet. I would however question whether those who are recognized as prophets would be as accurate as those in the old testament, but I feel that it’s still a biblical concept to have them.

    When you say you are convinced from scripture that prophecy ceased with the old testament prophets, what scriptures are you drawing that from?

    Thanks for this article, it’s always so good to seek truth from Scripture. Please keep writing them!