Prophesy in the Church Age

In 1 Corinthians 14:1 we are exhorted, “Eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially prophesy.” It is interesting that of all the gifts, this one is the least understood, accepted and practiced in the church today. Many Christians are bound by a cessationist view of certain spiritual gifts, including prophesy. This is a stronghold of demonic thinking in the church. This is exactly the type of stronghold that Paul is referring to when he talks about strongholds in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5. He defines these strongholds as arguments and pretensions that set themselves up against the knowledge of God.Those that teach that tongues and prophesy ceased at the end of the Apostolic age, based upon an erroneous interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8, are still “seeing through a glass darkly.” If the “perfect” has already come in the form of scripture, then what have we to look forward to? The purpose of 1Corintians chapters 12-14 is to provide divine guidance for the use of spiritual gifts in the church. One of the tests of divine inspiration is that the instruction is timeless. If the gifts were to cease in less than a century after Paul’s death, then why would the church bishops accept his writings as scripture hundreds of years after the Apostolic age ended?

What we need is relationship with the One who created us in His image. This relationship must include His manifest presence, which is more than words on a page. Books have been written to argue whether or not tongues and prophesy have ceased, so I won’t write another one. Suffice it to say that the world needs a prophetic witness to find God today.

The prophetic gift is probably one of the least understood of all the gifts. John Wimber taught that the gift of prophesy is available to all believers and is an anointing for the situation distinct from the office of prophet.  In the church today, one does not have to be a prophet to exercise the gift of prophesy and exercising the gift does not make one a prophet. Wayne Grudem, in his book The Gift of Prophesy In The New Testament And Today, gives as an example the prophetic ministry of Agabus to Paul in Acts, where his prophetic pronouncement was incorrect in a number of details and in his counsel of application. He refers to Agabus’ prophetic pronouncement in Acts 21:10-11, that the Jews would deliver Paul into the hands of the Gentiles. We see from Acts 2 1:27-35 that the details of his prediction were inaccurate. Grudem points out that by Old Testament standards, Agabus would have been condemned as a false prophet. Yet, Agabus is clearly recognized in more than one scripture reference as a prophet. Many, who believe in this gift, understand and practice it in an Old Testament fashion. The gift of prophesy in the New Testament has a distinct practice and function. Grudem points out that the Old Testament prophets who wrote scripture spoke the very words of God, as did the New Testament Apostles. He claims that New Testament prophesy has a different function and standard of practice. He teaches that in the church age, exercising of the gift of prophesy was never intended to be held up to a standard of infallibility.

Holding New Testament prophesy to a standard of inerrancy has resulted in much prophesy being judged as false and consequently discouraging the exercise of the gift. Because of its abuse, improper administration and misapplication, often resulting in serious damage, church leaders have squelched the practice of prophesy. Here again, this demonstrates a lack of faith in God manifested by a need to control His church.

Some, especially cessationists, have reinterpreted the gift of prophesy to mean only the speaking forth of God’s word in the form of canonized scripture. This wouldn’t seem like much of a spiritual gift, since anyone who is able to read could exercise it. On the contrary, the gift of prophesy involves telling forth God’s heart, His intentions and desires, etc., in the form of the “rhema” or living, active word of God appropriate for the time, person and place. In 1 Corinthians 14:25 Paul refers to an unbeliever coming under conviction when the secrets of his heart have been laid bare by a prophetic word. John Wimber explained the evangelistic exercise of this gift in his book Power Evangelism. He tells the story of receiving a revelation, in the form of what appeared like a tattoo on the forehead of a man he encountered on an airplane. God revealed to him that the man was involved in the sin of adultery. God used this revelation about a stranger to convict the man and John led him to Christ.

John Wesley wrote in his Journal: “Wed., Aug. 15, 1750- By reflecting on an odd book which I had read in this journey, The General Delusion of Christians with Regard to Prophecy , I was fully convinced of what I had once suspected: … That the grand reason why the miraculous gifts were so withdrawn, was not only that faith and holiness were well-nigh lost, but that dry formal, orthodox men began even then to ridicule whatever gifts they had not themselves, and to decry them all as either madness or imposture.”

When Christians begin hearing God, receiving revelation and responding obediently to the Holy Spirit, we will arouse the world’s attention. Then, when we preach the gospel it will be with great power and credibility.

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