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By SIAM BHAYROONE of the main things, which sets us at CWM apart from some other "discernment" or "watchmen" publications, is our belief in the perpetuation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit throughout the church age. More specifically, we seek to practise according to the stipulations of scripture such gifts as speaking in tongues and prophecy.
We are grieved to see these gifts abused and counterfeited in many "Christian" circles, but this does not cause us to condemn the true manifestation of them.
One of the questions frequently asked by those who equate contending for the faith with attacking spiritual gifts is: "If you believe in the perpetuation of prophecy throughout the church age, how can you believe in the sufficiency of scripture?"
This is a very good question I sincerely hope that I do not misrepresent those who ask it in this article. The above question is a summary of several such queries from diverse places and situations, conversations and correspondence, with many people who themselves would hold different views. The aim of this article is to answer the specific problem which these people have in common the apparent contradiction between prophecy (continued revelation) and sufficiency (everything we require as believers is contained in scripture which cannot be added to).
The very real concern, which such people have is that in seeking to practise prophecy, we are either adding to scripture or saying that we somehow need more than that which scripture provides.
As I said before, this is a very good question. Those of us who are pentecostal or charismatic should be prepared to answer it and if we cannot, perhaps we have misunderstood the nature of prophecy and should rethink our current practice. We will examine three things in this article:
1 - What is a prophet?
2 - Scripture and prophecy.
3 - Prophecy and sufficiency.
What is a prophet?This is simply a matter of etymology what does the word prophet mean? In the Hebrew bible, the word for prophet is a passive nominal form derived from the Semitic root to call (this root is attested across the Semitic languages from Akkadian through to Ethiopic). Thus a prophet is one who is called one who has a vocation. This came to be used specifically in reference to the one who would announce the oracles of God, but the reason for this was that he had been called into this ministry he had a vocation prophecy.
In the Greek New Testament, the word for prophecy or a prophet is composed of two elements: the pro, which means before or in front of, and the verb to speak. Thus the prophet is one who speaks before or in front of a gathered assembly. In the purely secular sense, anybody who stands up and speaks to a crowd is, strictly speaking, prophesying. But it develops the specific meaning of standing in front of a gathering and proclaiming the word of God.
Thus we can combine the two definitions to conclude that a prophet is one who is called vocationally to speak the word of God before a gathering of hearers.
Scripture and ProphecyThis can be well illustrated by considering the ministry of Elijah, one who certainly satisfies the definition of what a prophet is. In 1 Kings 17:1, Elijah stands before Ahab and delivers this oracle:
"As the LORD God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word."
This is a good example of prophecy. It is spoken to God's people, it is a message of judgement, it points clearly to the LORD God and it came to pass all good prophetic elements, which themselves could be the subject of separate articles. But the point, which concerns us here, is this:
Where did Elijah get this from?Did he dream it? Did it come from a quiet inner voice? Was he transported into heaven to receive it from the LORD Himself?
No the answer is quite obvious. Elijah read his bible he knew the Word of God. Deuteronomy 11:13-17 makes it very clear that the penalty for idolatry is drought. Elijah was proclaiming God's Word (Deut. 11:17) before Ahab. The only additional element was that the rain would commence "according to my (i.e. Elijah's) word." Elijah gives this word in 1 Kings 18:41 after the conditions for restoration had been fulfilled the people proclaimed their allegiance to the LORD and slew the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:39-40).
[There is of course a crucial difference between Elijah's prophecy and its modern manifestation. Elijah's prophecy went on to become part of scripture, whereas today the canon of scripture is complete and cannot be added to. Scripture judges what is offered as a prophetic revelation prophecy does not judge scripture.]
The relationship between scripture and prophecy is clear: prophecy is founded upon scripture as the only revelation of God's Word. The public proclamation of God's Word, with its application for our present situation, is the cornerstone of prophecy. Upon this cornerstone are several additional elements rebuke, call to repentance, announcement of impending punishment, promise of comfort to the faithful etc. But these are all built upon the principle that what is proclaimed is founded upon scripture.
Whilst the foundation is scripture, the details for the fulfilment within the unique situation the prophecy is given will obviously vary. Put simply, a city-based church in the industrialised world will not share the same agricultural base as ancient Israel so the threat of drought may not be so relevant as far as the imminence of the threat is concerned.
Once again, scripture is sufficient in every situation however unique. The test of the prophecy, in regard to specifics, is in its fulfilment, whilst the general non-specific content is measured against the rod of scripture.
Thus there are three scenarios:
1. The prophet speaks and encourages the assembly to disobey God's Word.
The prophet is false and must be expelled Deuteronomy 13:1-5. (Obviously, in our dispensation, we do not stone them).
2. The prophet speaks according to God's Word, but the specifics are proved wrong.
The speaker has been guilty of presumption. In the Old Testament, such a prophet would have been executed for presumption Deut. 18:20-22. In our dispensation, the fiercest penalty is excommunication, if the guilty one refuses to repent. If the person repents, then he should be encouraged to practise alternative gifts.
There is need for discernment in this situation. 1 Corinthians 14:29-32 makes it clear that prophecy in the church is a corporate act and the other prophets listening should judge. If the content is according to scripture, the hearers have been edified, even if the specifics are proved wrong. (It may take a lot of time to ascertain this.) It is just that the speaker, whilst knowing God's Word, is not a prophet. He should not prophesy anymore.
3. The prophet speaks according to God's Word, and the specifics are fulfilled.
The prophet is true and the ministry of the prophet is confirmed.
Prophecy is the revelation of God's word/will in our present situation. This revelation will have a scriptural foundation but the problem remains as to how to test the specifics. The proof of the pudding is certainly in the proverbial eating if the specifics are fulfilled, the word is true. This of course raises certain practical questions.
What if somebody prophesies that there will be an earthquake in New Zealand on a certain day? Obviously, the church can await the fulfilment to assess whether the prophecy is true. No earthquake = false prophecy. But does the prophet fall into category 1 or 2 above?
The key here is DOCTRINE. Through Moses, the LORD commanded the Israelites that even if a sign predicted by a prophet comes to pass, they should still judge his doctrine Deut. 13:1-3. The same is true today. The sign does not prove the prophet. The sign can only prove the prophecy.
Prophecy and sufficiency
Scripture is sufficient none of us disputes this. Consider this example: A local church wants to know whether to expand its existing building. Is it God's will? Scripture certainly provides principles to help: a wise man will only start the work if there is sufficient funds to complete it (Luke 14:28-29) etc. But does the LORD want this church to expand their building or plant another assembly elsewhere? This is when the prophets come forward and speak God's will. The prophecy is confirmed by the fulfilment of whatever sign is promised.
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Appeared in Issue 7 February 2000
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