Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Gift of Prophecy

We have been discussing the gift of prophecy in our theology class and a couple of students have raised questions about my approach to the topic. It seem to me that there are some major problems with the contemporary expression of "prophetic utterances," “words of wisdom” and “words of knowledge.” They open up the potential for spiritual abuse and should be approached very cautiously in my opinion. All we need to know has been recorded for us in the Bible. No extra-biblical “prophecy” can ever add to this revelation so why is there a need for these so-called ”prophetic utterances”? If we believe God has some words of counsel to pass on to a fellow believer we should approach them as brother or sister and share it in a natural way, without any high sounding “thus saith the Lord” which claims an authority for ourselves that we do not possess.

It is true that "prophecy," "the word of wisdom," and "the word of knowledge" are spiritual gifts referred to in the Bible. However, in the case of the latter two, there is no other information given to us to explain exactly what those gifts were and how they functioned. Why could the "word of wisdom" not simply be the impartation of wise advice to another believer and the "word of knowledge" something one believer knows and then passes on to another believer for their spiritual help? The typical Pentecostal practice smacks of clairvoyancy to me - "I feel that somebody on this side of the room is having marital problems" or "somebody over here has back pain." In any representative room there would be sure to be more than one person who fits such descriptions.

Prophetic utterances in the early church were given in the absence of a completed New Testament when the church needed to be guided by oral proclamation in a more authoritative way than is true today. I do not need to consult the word of a "prophet" today when I have the New Testament in front of me giving me everything I need to know for life and godliness, and godly pastors and teachers who open up the scriptures in the gathered church. Also we should remember the indwelling Holy Spirit who is our Teacher and Guide. Prophecy was given for the "edification, exhortation, and comfort of the church." I believe all of these things are met through anointed preaching which has the authority of scripture behind it, a more dependable authority than the authority of a "prophet's" personality or his or her limited human perspective.

I don't mean to call into question the "prophetic words" that may have guided any person but for every one that turns out well there is at least one other that does not. For example, some years ago, the pastor in the charismatic church I was attending was secretly engaged in sexual immorality in the counselling room with a series of women in the congregation. At this very time, a well-known Pentecostal pastor with a "prophetic" ministry (I won't disclose his name but if I did you would immediately recognise him) prophesied along these lines (from my memory). "My children I say unto you that this man, your pastor, is my anointed one. He is a good man and there have been rumours and innuendos about his conduct which must stop. Touch not my anointed for he is my chosen one..." etc. (you get the idea). He was "outed" a short time later when one of the women bravely came forward to blow the whistle on him. Now this "prophetic message" could not possibly have been from God. This man spoke not from God but from his own imagination. The Old Testament was very clear on what was to happen to those who said "thus saith the Lord" but really spoke from their own dreams. They were to be taken outside the camp and stoned to death! These days we approach it differently. We give them national prominence, television shows and huge salaries.

It seems to me a safer way to go is to allow God's gifts to flow through us in the ordinary ways of preaching, teaching, counselling and mentoring. This will yield all the guidance that modern day "prophecy" is supposed to bring, but without the attendant problems of claiming to speak infallibly and authoritatively from God things which turn out to be falsehoods. You may not agree with these thoughts but please do not think that they come from any disregard for the Scriptures or any questioning of the genuine ministry of the Holy Spirit. I am simply trying to follow the scriptural command to "test the spirits" and "prove all things."

15 comments:

Julie Shannon said...

Hi Glenn,
I have read your opinion on Prophecy, words of wisdom and words of knowledge and do agree that there are many "false prophets and apostles" wolves in sheeps clothing clothing etc out there. I was wondering however if we have the right to say that there is no need for prophecy when the new testament clearly speaks of such a gift. It also speaks of people with the gift of pastor, teacher etc. Why should prophecy get discounted and not the other gifts spoken off. Shouldn't we be consistent in our thinking and trust that God is bigger than our own experiences. I too have seen people misuse gifts. I daily pastor broken people that unfortunalety have scarres because of things such as this. As far a I know the Bible dosen't say prophecy from God has or will ever cease. It instead gives instruction to test all things. Isn't this the actual issue at hand. If more leaders in churches were walking closely with God and relying on Him for advise and guidance, prophetic words would be no threat. They would be checked against scripture, prayed over and either rejected or confirmed by the Holy Spirit. I feel that you are being rather general in your labelling of people that call themselves prophetic. While you have the absolute best intentions to protect us all you actually could be confusing people that may have this gift.

simplybreath said...

"the deadliest pharisiasm today is not hypocricy but unconscious unreality" |chambers|

simplybreath said...

"to see what is under one's nose is a constant struggle"
|Orwell|

Anonymous said...

Hi Glen,

I think that often we are too narrow in our conception of prophecy. Many actions of ministry are prophetic in nature. We can more easily recognise this when we remember that the majority of prophetic words in the Old Testament were not 'new revelation' but were calling Israel back to God and obedience to the law. Thus, rather than constantly seeking a 'new word' from the Lord, might we not practice prophecy by declaring Christ's crucifixion and resurrection in both word and deed? Surely in this declaration we are responding to the Spirit's beckoning and are accomplishing God's work.

Glen O'Brien said...

Please don't misunderstand what I am saying here. I am not questioning the biblical gift of prophecy. I am not a cessasionist who believes there are no more spiritual gifts operating today. I am not anti-Pentecostal; I am non-Pentecostal (there is an important difference). What I AM asking is whether the modern day practice is actually what the Bible is referring to. Please don't think I "don't believe the Bible" or that I'm "blaspheming the Holy Spirit." Nor am I writing as an outsider who doesn't understand about the gifts of the Spirit or what the charismatic movement teaches. I was converted in the early 80s in a charismatic church and for five years was right in the centre of a church involved in the exercise of tongues, prophecy, healing, words of knowledge etc. I left the movement on conscience grounds because of what I believed were glaring inconsistencies in doctrine and in practice. Nothing that I have observed in Pentecostal and charismatic churches since those days seems to have changed.
Julie challenges me by reminding me that we don't "have the right to say that there is no need for prophecy when the new testament clearly speaks of such a gift." Of course, I agree with that statement but that isn't actually what I'm doing. What I'm saying is that the charismatic understanding and practice of prophecy is not the same as the biblical gift. Prophecy is essentially a vocal utterance given under the inspiration of the Spirit (usually a forth-telling rather than a fore-teling though it may sometimes have a predictive element - on this point anonymous' comment above is very helpful). Anointed preaching would be one form (though certainly not the only form of prophecy). What I object to among Pentecostals is two things. 1) Insisting on speaking in the first person - "I say unto you my children..." This makes a claim to be on the same level as the prophets who spoke in biblical times and whose words were recorded as Holy Scripture. I do not accept that such utterances can be given that kind of canonical status. 2) Prophecies that speak specific direction into people's lives on the assumption that they represent God's will for that person. Here is where the danger of spiritual abuse is most acute. I do not deny that the Holy Spirit gives people gifts of vocal utterance for the building up of the church. But why can't they just take the form of words of exhortation from one believer to another? Since, according to the New Testament, all prophecies do have to be tested (some may be from God others may not be) why can they not come to us with humility on the part of the one who utters them instead of with an untenable note of divine authority? Just asking.

PS - simplybreath - all I can say is "Huh?"

Ross said...

I'm all for being cautious and discerning about this whole issue. The last word of knowledge I received sounded vague and generic to me, and seemed based on his observation of my demeanour at the service, rather than any special insight he may have had into my past.

God can and does heal, but when He does, it's to glorify Himself, and not to make someone look good. I don't like seeing people given false hope, as often occurs in high profile healing ministries.

julie said...

I totally agree Ross, I too feel hesitant when the glory appears to be directed at the high profile personality rather than God. Jesus didn't even advertise, people followed because of who he was. Lets hope true Godly Christians walking in the healing or prophetic ministry feel the same way.

simplybreath said...

lol, read them again... put on a pensive face haha

xxx said...

I am the ground beneath your feet
I move within the air
Trees...feel my power
As the morning sun kisses them softly
Water falls without fear of end
Ageing is timeless
Do you know me?

You live, as I surround you
I feel your persistence
Your trangressions can not tame me
As I allow your desires, your wants, your pressing needs
Do you know me?

My beauty is naturally eternal
Modest, no why should I be
For I am free
I am ...freedom
But again I ask
Do you know me?

Ludicrousity said...

I meant to post on this earlier, but didn't get around to it really... I tend to agree with Glen on the whole. I have seen far too often people use God as their authority adn say what they 'think' God is saying to them. It is open to all sorts of abuse and I tend to be quite paranoid about people using God in arguments, as there is no argument against God, and it, by necessity, negates anything the other person has to say. I am not saying that God never uses people to speak through, but as I general rule, I am very skeptical of it, and I have never experience real prophecy. Once again, I'm not saying it doesn't exist, but I think its' rare and something to be tested before being aceepted.

servant said...

Thanks for this Glen.... I've been trying to formulate my thoughts on the matter properly and you've managed to put into words how I wish to approach the topic.

Anonymous said...

Glen,

You make an interesting point. I believe that for the most part, people misunderstand the gift of prophecy and it is far more rare than most of us like to think. I am on this post because I struggle with the gift of prophecy. That's right, I said I struggle with it because I have it. It's not the kind of gift that you go screaming from the rooftops about if you have it. In fact, it is most times rather intimidating and scary. Believe me, if you can hear messages from God, you can hear the other side too. It's a very confusing gift and it causes you to lose a lot of sleep. It is physcially, emotionally, and spiritually exhausting. How would you like to hear voices in your sleep all night long? So what makes me different? I don't want anyone to know. I only reveal who I am and what my gift is to who God tells me and that takes many days of prayer and fasting to determine. Most prophecies are not an addition to the Word but are in fact a confirmation or encouragement or warning. Think about it. Most of what the prophets had to say in the old testament was a warning in reference to the written law. The gift of prophecy is not to add to the Word but to affirm it and that is how you know the difference in a false prophet and a real one. If the person truly has the gift of prophecy, they most likely won't reveal it. Like I said, it can be a downright scary gift to have. I have learned that I need a group of prayer warriors to protect me from the open spritual channel I have. It is very easy to become arrogant or self serving or even misguided. I sense alot of pain from people around me and it is not the glorious self edifying gift that you might imagine. It is a lonely and reclusive gift that requires a great deal of prayer and effort. For many years I hid from this gift like Jonah in the belly of a whale. It takes a great deal of courage to stop doing that. This blog is not long enough for me to even begin to describe what the experience is like. I'm not a fortune teller. I can't read minds and it doesn't work on command. It works when God reveals something. Am I for real? I'm considering leaving a hi six figure career in order to achieve a life that almost guarantees poverty and exhaustion. I just can't hide from God anymore.

Anonymous said...

I am the one who earlier mentioned having the gift of prophecy. I am providing a link to a web site that gives a very good description of what I experience. I hope it provides clarity. It is more burden than pleasure and I prefer to hide in the shadows with it to prevent me from becoming arrogant or personally edifying. Please pray for us and our protection and that we are constantly focused on the will of God. We do exist. It's not a glorious life. Most prophets never had a glorious lifestyle. It is instead a life of service. Like Jesus said, "the first will be last and the last will be first"

http://heatlight.wordpress.com/2007/07/24/earnestly-desire-spiritual-gifts-the-gift-of-prophecy-is-todays-church/

Anonymous said...

reading your comments carefully about the prophecy regarding a sinful pastor and a visiting pastor that gave a prophecy that appeared wrong.Have we ever been wrong when interpreting scripture when giving a sermon or sharing,even when we can back it up with other scripture.Often our philosophy,past knowledge and bias can cause us to be not quite right.This will always occur because none of us fully know all of what God is.However we strive to know.
So be careful not to hold unforgiveness because unforgiveness unresolved can and will alter our understanding of the nature of God.
It also holds us back in the past and our God wants us to live a life of revelation , abundance and freedom.
Yours in Christ,
Tony

Glen O'Brien said...

Thanks for posting a comment Tony. Sorry it took me a while to reply. I had a technical problem and have not blogged for months. Yes of course we have all often been wrong when interpretign, preaching etc. which is exactly why I would prefer people not to say "thus saith the Lord" but rather to make the more humble claim, "It seems to me that..." Thanks for your warning about unforgiveness. I don't think I do harbour any bitterness over this but I welcome the reminder.

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