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At a church that I was once a member we were regularly hearing prophecy from folks who claimed the Gift of the prophetic.  There were even "classes" to train others in this Gift (as if one can earn that Gift.)  I have always had a problem with modern day prophets.  My questions have always been these:

  • Does the gift of prophecy, as given in the Bible, even exist today?
  • If someone were a true prophet, how would we know it?  Some prophecies in the Bible took decades and some are not yet even fulfilled.  And even the blind squirrel finds a nut on occaision.
  • How can we tell if what we are hearing is truly from the Lord?  We are told to judge the prophetic utterance.  But does the Bible give any clue about what criteria we are to use?.
  • How much weight should a church give to a prophetic utterance?  My former church's elders still, I understand, study the prophetic utterances of congregants with a zeal that I wish that they had applied to the Bible.  They give equal weight to those prophecies and the Bible. Is this correct?
  • Is there a theology of the prophetic utterance?  Are there hard and fast rules of what a proper phophecy should contain?

I always found it interesting that none of these "prophets" in my former church ever attached "Thus sayeth The Lord" to their utterances. 

 

 

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Jim -

You might find it interesting that I and another member of Theologica, Marv, started a blog earlier this year called To Be Continued. Our main focus is to put forth a solid biblical, theological and historical case for continuationism (or the continuation of all spiritual gifts). So we have varying articles not just on prophecy, but miracles and healings, tongues, hearing God, exegesis of certain passages, reviews of certain books-resources, etc. And there will be more to come in the coming months, as the blog has only been going since February of this year. Anyways, I thought you might be interested.

As for some of your statements:

At a church that I was once a member we were regularly hearing prophecy from folks who claimed the Gift of the prophetic. There were even "classes" to train others in this Gift (as if one can earn that Gift.)

Why not provide training on hearing God and speaking forth prophecy? We provide training and equipping in understanding the Scripture, theology, pastoral ministry, evangelism, etc, etc. Why not for prophecy? There are many who lack a biblical understanding of this gift. Let's provide training, as well as share our stories of being used in such. One of the best ways to help people understand the things of God is to share how we have walked through certain things and have been used in varying ways.

* Does the gift of prophecy, as given in the Bible, even exist today?

Well, based upon the blog I mentioned above, I think you know my answer to this. :)

* If someone were a true prophet, how would we know it? Some prophecies in the Bible took decades and some are not yet even fulfilled. And even the blind squirrel finds a nut on occasion.

I think there are general things that can be helpful in determining if one truly has a prophetic gift. But let me also undergird this with the reality that prophets (and all of God's people) are called into relationship with the body of Christ. So I will not let anyone speak forth a prophecy in our congregation that is not in relationship with the local church and its leadership. One can think they are greatly spiritual and a great prophet, but there is no such thing as a lone-ranger prophet, or lone-ranger Christian. Such is out of the context of the new covenant body of Christ (or even out of the context of God's desired in the whole of the Bible).

Thus, those who have a prophetic gift and are in relationship with the church and its leaders will be recognised by the leaders as well as the people. A family recognises who functions in which role in that family. The same is to be true in the family of God.

* How can we tell if what we are hearing is truly from the Lord? We are told to judge the prophetic utterance. But does the Bible give any clue about what criteria we are to use?.

Though we do not have a 7-step instruction manual on every topic of our life of faith (for that might easily strip away at the faith aspect of it all), we can discern general helpful pointers given to us to help discern the voice of God - Scripture, our spouse (if we are married and they are a believer), church leadership, the body of Christ (both current and the historical body) and the peace of God. Of course, we could think of a few others. I share more in this article.

* How much weight should a church give to a prophetic utterance? My former church's elders still, I understand, study the prophetic utterances of congregants with a zeal that I wish that they had applied to the Bible. They give equal weight to those prophecies and the Bible. Is this correct?

Maybe those elders are going quite overboard. But, though that is a bit overboard, there are prophecies that have been spoken to me over my life that I have recorded in my journal and have reminded myself of them over the course of my walk to stir my faith. I, even now, think of what was spoken to me and prophesied when I was appointed an elder in our congregation. As Paul said to Timothy - in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience (1 Tim 1:18-19). And these prophecies didn't even get recorded in Scripture. Must have been pretty important to recall those prophecies.

* Is there a theology of the prophetic utterance? Are there hard and fast rules of what a proper prophecy should contain?

I think there is a foundational 'theology' to lay from the Scripture, as well as from teaching from those wise men and women used in this gift for quite a time (as we would do with the shepherd-pastor ministry, teaching ministry, evangelistic ministry, etc). But again, there is no 7-step manual to everything, though we sometimes wish it were that easy. We have provided teaching and training on this gift with our church and churches. I did some recent teaching in our church, and wrote some articles, on prophecy - part 1 and part 2. These are very basic intro teachings.

I always found it interesting that none of these "prophets" in my former church ever attached "Thus sayeth The Lord" to their utterances.

I didn't know we had to speak in King James English for something to be a true prophetic message?
I wasn't saying that they have to speak in KJV English. Rather, I never heard one of the local prophets say clearly "this is what God says". The closest I can recall was one guy who would say "I think that God is saying..." or sometimes he would say "it appears that God is saying...". I can't recall any of them declaring with specificity that something is a prophecy from God. Most of the prophecies were vague and clouded in symbolism or were kind of nebulous in some other way. But that isn't what prophets such as Ezekiel or Jeremiah wrote. Even when there was great symbolism, it was further explained.

One other thing that I forgot to mention in my original post: All of the great OT prophets really took the prevailing church structure to task--ripping, as it were, the authorities of the church and calling them out in quite specific terms for their failures before God. They would even declare leadership sinful. But you just don't see that, at least I haven't been aware of it, in modern prophecy.
Jim

I wasn't saying that they have to speak in KJV English. Rather, I never heard one of the local prophets say clearly "this is what God says". The closest I can recall was one guy who would say "I think that God is saying..." or sometimes he would say "it appears that God is saying...". I can't recall any of them declaring with specificity that something is a prophecy from God. Most of the prophecies were vague and clouded in symbolism or were kind of nebulous in some other way. But that isn't what prophets such as Ezekiel or Jeremiah wrote. Even when there was great symbolism, it was further explained.

Ah, I understand now. Well, some would teach that the best way to start is not by starting out with, 'This is what the Lord says....' But start out with, 'I believe the Lord is saying....' It simply helps as we grow in move more towards a confident faith that we are hearing and discerning the voice of the Lord. I share more about communicating prophecy in this article.

One other thing that I forgot to mention in my original post: All of the great OT prophets really took the prevailing church structure to task--ripping, as it were, the authorities of the church and calling them out in quite specific terms for their failures before God. They would even declare leadership sinful. But you just don't see that, at least I haven't been aware of it, in modern prophecy.

I think one of the things we have to recognise is that prophecy is now to be centred in Christ and the new covenant, and not the Old Testament prophet. While it was the beginning framework, the Great Prophet, Christ, has come and there have been some shifts in the nature and function of prophecy within the new covenant context. I share more here.
But why wouldn't the modern prophets speak with the specificity of God? The OT prophets were very specific aobut what and when. Why would God change that and have the modern prophets speak in very nebulous terms, so nebulous that a person can't even be sure about what is being prophesied? You'd think that if God wanted something said, even to just one person, that He'd be very specific.

As far as NT prophecy being a new and revised form of prophecy, if all believers now have the Holy Spirit within them, then why does God need to speak through a prophet? This is a question that has bugged me for some time.
Jim -

But why wouldn't the modern prophets speak with the specificity of God? The OT prophets were very specific aobut what and when. Why would God change that and have the modern prophets speak in very nebulous terms, so nebulous that a person can't even be sure about what is being prophesied? You'd think that if God wanted something said, even to just one person, that He'd be very specific.

Yes, I think prophets will speak with clarity. I guess I should have clarified. I am a proponent of all God's people prophesying, since the Spirit of prophecy has been given to all God's people (another article to consider). Peter, quoting Joel, says that the fruit of the outpouring of the Spirit on all God's people would be prophecy (Acts 2:17-18). Not to mention that Paul says for us all to earnestly desire spiritual gifts, especially that we may prophesy. I think we can all speak forth prophetically. But for one who is younger in the faith or not specifically used in this gift on a regular basis, there is a 'learning curve', if you will.

As far as NT prophecy being a new and revised form of prophecy, if all believers now have the Holy Spirit within them, then why does God need to speak through a prophet? This is a question that has bugged me for some time.

This sounds like a good question, or defence against the necessity of prophecy. But let me ask this - if we all have the Spirit, why do we need teachers or shepherds specifically? Well, we know we need them. There was a guy named Jesus who was the great Prophet of all time. What he did was only the beginning (see Acts 1:1). There was more to accomplish through his Spirit-empowered people, the church. So why not be utilised in all that Jesus was utilised in? Jesus is prophet, the Holy Spirit is prophetic. Would it not make sense that this gift be a continuing reality in the life of the body that claims Jesus as their head and the Spirit as the continuing presence of Christ within the body?
The modern understanding for the prophetic gift is less involved in discerning future events and much more in exhorting people to be understanding and discerning of how to be now as we await the return of the Messiah. It's given as both teaching and exhortation in a soundly biblical context. I don't think there's a special training for someone to do this; it's mostly a calling and the development of this would be right in line with what would take place in Bible school, college or seminary in addition to with the continual need to be in the Word according to what Paul commanded Timothy.
I'd say even in the OT prophecy was not first and foremost about 'predicting' future events. Of course it has that element, even in the new covenant (as we see with the likes of an Agabus in Acts 11). But prophecy first and foremost always speaks into the present. And, from my study of the whole of the biblical text, though teaching and exhortation can have a prophetic 'edge' (if you'll allow me to use that phrase), the Scripture definitely distinguishes between prophecy, teaching, exhortation and other such verbal utterances. They are distinct.

I guess one could be trained in Bible school or seminary for prophecy. But I think we all recognise that, just as a shepherd or a teacher or an evangelist does not necessarily have to attend such to be equipped, neither does one for the prophetic gift. But no doubt they can be helpful.

And, yes, I would say the Holy Spirit finds much room to utter prophecy through people who are grounded in that which we are already certain is God's word.
Personally, I think there were sign gifts given to the Apostles to validate their message. And I think whose served a great purpose. But I don't see them all continued to this day. I think there *is* a gift of prophesy around today, but I don't believe it to be the same idea as what prophets used to do in the Bible. We got into that on this topic. Prophesy today seems to be more of a general thing that anyone can do. Same word, different meaning. The same has happened with "tongues". What one mostly sees in the groups that preach a continuation of the sign gifts are these verbal things, redefined, that are not the big miraculous signs like what the Apostles, OT Prophets, and Christ did. You just don't have a guy in your local church with the gift of miraculous healing or bringing folks back from the dead or speaking to strangers in their native language that he's never studied. Instead, you have things that are, in all honesty, fairly easy to fake.

Your comment in the OP about taking classes to learn these gifts struck a cord with me. I have relatives that went to a weekend seminar that taught people how to do healings. I really don't think spiritual gifts come with a certificate of completion after a $75 seminar fee. :) Of course this was the same church that I attended one time where I saw parents teaching their kids to raise their hands when they sang. There are plenty of things the church is to teach. But the church and those teachings are not the source of spiritual gifts or worship.

One other comment before I stop being so disagreeable. :) On the recent topic on prophesy then and now, I related a story about getting a prophetic word. No training was required for it. :) If I give you something, you don't have to earn it, train for it, or purchase it. It's a gift. What I experienced in Africa was a "gift of a prophesy" as it where. Didn't make me a prophet in my eyes. It is something that God still has the ability to do today...but I don't believe it is something we see in the sense of an spiritual ability that certain people possess. The description of prophesy we see in 1 Corinthians 14:3 *is* something that we see today though and *is* something that people can learn. I see it as being a layman's version of preaching classes combined with some classes on discernment and basic theology so that they don't just blindly accept some proclamation without testing it and holding on to the good. Lots of people fail to apply 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 to the process. Instead, being told that Joe is a prophet or has the gift of prophesy, they are more likely to apply a genetic fallacy to it and just blindly accept it.

The interesting thing about my Africa story is a response that it received. I've heard that kind of response frequently. It appears as if many believe that the further from the established church you get, the more likely you are to have God work in signs and wonders. So maybe, instead of asking if sign gifts still exist in the church, a better question might be do they exist outside the influence of the church to draw people to it. I'm much more inclined to agree with the idea of "God gave us a sign out on the mission field that brought people to Himself" than "God made me a prophet or healer for/in the church".

Daniel

Daniel -

Some general comments in regards to your comment:

1) Were healings and miracles only 'signs'? I think if we take the Warfiled foundational stone that that is what they are for and that alone, we will be reducing what Scripture teaches about them. Check out 1 Cor 12:7 (Paul is talking to the church of Corinth). Read Acts - these things took place both inside and outside the church gathering.

2) Weren't others besides OT prophets, Jesus and the apostles used in these?

3) You just don't have a guy in your local church with the gift of miraculous healing or bringing folks back from the dead or speaking to strangers in their native language that he's never studied. Instead, you have things that are, in all honesty, fairly easy to fake. I'm not so sure that is inherently how it works, per se - the 'guy' in your local church who is THE tongues guy or that person over there who is THE healer guy. I do know some who are used regularly in it, but they aren't THE guy. And interesting one can only fake something that can actually happen.

4) Ok, charging a fee on some of this might seem weird. But let's ask this, as I did earlier - why is it ok to pay to be trained as a pastor or to pay to do an evangelism course, but not on how to grow with gifts of the Spirit? We have wise men and women train us in certain aspects and ministries, why not with gifts of the Spirit? And if we bless them for their time with a financial gift, that's ok, right?

5) On this 'normative' thing, remember the book of Acts records about 30 years. Were these 'amazing' things happening every moment? No. But they were happening via the Spirit-empowered church. If they aren't happening every day (though God is not so much thinking about 24-hour time periods), it's ok. It didn't happen then that way either. Of course, I could argue that now that we have 1 billion plus Christians in the world today, they could be actively taking place on a more frequent basis.
Just to be clear, I too believe that the Gifts are for today. I pray in tongues and I've had a word of knowledge here and there that I'm pretty sure came from God and not me. But when it comes to the prophetic I have some issues in that much of what I've heard from modern day prophets doesn't seem to either square with Scripture or even make much sense. I can't say that I've ever heard any modern prophet say something and declare directly that it is from God. Perhaps such folks are out there and I've just never seen them. (I've also encountered folks who will put more faith in a prophetic utterance than they will what they read in the Bible. I can think of a couple folks in my former church who keep detailed notes on prophecy from friends and such, but really can't discuss the Bible outside of generalities.)

You see, my heart burns for the REAL prophetic utterance. When I discerned that I didn't have the prophetic gift was when I thought that I had a message for the church and the gal who spoke before me had the exact opposite message. So, I didn't speak. One of us was wrong and it was easier for me to say that I was the one since she was the type who went to a lot of conferences and such. But what about those folks who won't fess up and admit that they are not prophetic? I long to encounter a person who is without question or hesitation a real modern day prophet, a person who without an ounce of doubt is always prophesying in the name of God, whose prophecies have never failed the test of time, the prophet who, for lack of a better way of putting it, you can make book on. I want to encounter the prophet who is the living embodiment of the OT prophet. But so far I haven't met that sort of prophet. If I read the Elijah List it is almost cause for laughter there is so much hedging and reaching.

The othe rthing is that I wish there was as much training on judging prophecy as there was on how to be prophetic. Recently the folks hereabouts had one of the "Extreme Prophetic" (whatever that is) folks in for a conference. There was all sorts of excitement before and after the thing about what this person would say and do supposedly in the name of the Lord. But who judged what this person said? Other than this person's own testimony, by what terms are we to judge their claim to the prophetic? "But you should have seen what God did there! It was awesome!" I'm sure that it was. But did God really do it? How would you know? Some of these folks really get offended when you question them like that. But all I want to know was that it was really from God and not a fake. Is that so wrong? Some folks even go so far as to question my love of the Lord because I don't immediately fall down in the presence of someone who claims to be a prophet.

As I said, I really long to see a real prophet. I long to see the miraculous happen right before my eyes. Call me Thomas if you want. But I don't want to be deceived by the Deceiver.
Jim -

Just to be clear, I too believe that the Gifts are for today. I pray in tongues and I've had a word of knowledge here and there that I'm pretty sure came from God and not me. But when it comes to the prophetic I have some issues in that much of what I've heard from modern day prophets doesn't seem to either square with Scripture or even make much sense. I can't say that I've ever heard any modern prophet say something and declare directly that it is from God. Perhaps such folks are out there and I've just never seen them. (I've also encountered folks who will put more faith in a prophetic utterance than they will what they read in the Bible. I can think of a couple folks in my former church who keep detailed notes on prophecy from friends and such, but really can't discuss the Bible outside of generalities.)

I am glad you are a continuationist. As I have said many times here and to my church - Misuse and abuse should never lead to no use, it should lead to biblical and healthy use. Also, just because someone doesn't begin their statement with, 'This is what the Lord says....,' it does not necessarily mean it isn't from Him. Many a prophets spoke prophecies without the preface. There is nothing holy about prophetic prefaces. The word of the Lord will come as a two-edged sword regardless.

Modern prophets are out there, I have relationships with such people who have been used powerfully in my own life and in the life of our churches. I think a lot of our questions come from the reality that we now have a whole Spirit-empowered body, not just a select few. So we have to walk this out better in covenant relational accountability. But, for many, this is far from their idea of church. But it was definitely on the mind of the crucified Christ.

I long to encounter a person who is without question or hesitation a real modern day prophet, a person who without an ounce of doubt is always prophesying in the name of God, whose prophecies have never failed the test of time, the prophet who, for lack of a better way of putting it, you can make book on. I want to encounter the prophet who is the living embodiment of the OT prophet. But so far I haven't met that sort of prophet. If I read the Elijah List it is almost cause for laughter there is so much hedging and reaching.

I understand what you mean, but let me remind you that we shouldn't want anything solely OT. Something better has come in Christ and the new covenant.

The other thing is that I wish there was as much training on judging prophecy as there was on how to be prophetic. Recently the folks hereabouts had one of the "Extreme Prophetic" (whatever that is) folks in for a conference. There was all sorts of excitement before and after the thing about what this person would say and do supposedly in the name of the Lord. But who judged what this person said? Other than this person's own testimony, by what terms are we to judge their claim to the prophetic? "But you should have seen what God did there! It was awesome!" I'm sure that it was. But did God really do it? How would you know? Some of these folks really get offended when you question them like that. But all I want to know was that it was really from God and not a fake. Is that so wrong? Some folks even go so far as to question my love of the Lord because I don't immediately fall down in the presence of someone who claims to be a prophet.

We always provide training on weighing and discerning prophecy. Don't know what to say about other groups.

As I said, I really long to see a real prophet. I long to see the miraculous happen right before my eyes. Call me Thomas if you want. But I don't want to be deceived by the Deceiver.

I understand and I am with you.
Call me a "conditional continuationist". Or perhaps a "thomasonian continuationist". Just because someone says that they have a particular gift doesn't automatically mean that they have it. BTW, in my old church the term "cessationist" was considered a perjorative. Cessationists were never spoken of kindly. I pretty much had to keep my doubts to myself lest I be considered one of "them".

You mention that you always provide training on weighing and discerning prophecy. Congrats! You are one of the very, very few that I have heard about. Indeed, many of the national conferences on the prophetic have zero such sessions. (The same can be said about spiritual gift conferences. You never see any devoted to the gift of administrations, or mercy, or giving.) That is a shame as I believe that so many people end up being deceived, intentionally or otherwise, because no one has told them that ALL prophecy must be judged. Or if they know how to judge prophecy, no one has ever told them how to do it. Again, when I was in a charismatic church, there was never any training on the subject and it was never preached on.

You mention that you have real prophets in your midst. Would you follow their direction without question and without fail? If what they said might mean the total collapse of your church would you follow them regardless? In other words, do modern prophets ALWAYS speak the 100% inerrant truth? Or are they right sometimes and sometimes they aren't, basically a roll of the dice? If it is the latter, I don't see anything prophetic about that.

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