From Chapter 1, Prophetic Voice.
A prophet must be called by God. The initiative in making a prophet always rests with him. It is not a ministry that anyone can take up. Only a false prophet dares to take up this ministry for himself. The true prophetic ministry always begins with a call from God.
Isaiah had a very dramatic call (Isaiah 6:1-8). He needed this to sustain him through a difficult and disappointing ministry.
Jeremiah's calling came in a specific word from God when he was quite young (Jer 1:4-10).
Amos was going about his business when he received his call. He was not from a prophetic family and did not expect or desire a prophetic ministry. Prophetic ambition can be dangerous. (Amos 7:12-16).
Calling from God is essential for every Christian ministry. Acting without calling is presumption. Calling is particularly important for the prophetic ministry. The prophet who is not called is self-appointed and self-appointed prophets are very dangerous.
The proof that a prophet has been called is the fact that his words are effective and fulfilled. A good example of this is Samuel.
All of Israel knew that Samuel was a prophet, because the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground (1 Samuel 3:19,20).
Calling comes from God, but it will also be confirmed and encouraged by other Christians. A calling that is not recognised by other Christians is often self-appointed and not a true calling.
Call is confirmed by preparation. Those whom God calls are also prepared by God. There is often a long time gap between God's calling and entry into ministry. This calls for patience. Preparation may take a lot longer than we expect, but God's standards are high.
Those with a prophetic calling must be prepared to pay the price. It is not just at the end, but all throughout in a special experience in humiliation and self-deprivation, which is uniquely known to prophets (Art Katz The Heart of a Prophet).
Young prophets should be careful about sharing the words of confirmation that the Lord has given about their calling to the prophetic ministry. Most people will see this as boasting. They should only share these words with those who are close and who will understand them. The Lord gives these words to encourage the prophet, not to authenticate their ministry.
Prophetic people should avoid saying, "I am a Prophet", as it makes them sound arrogant. If you are a prophet, God will authenticate your ministry by fulfilling your words, as he did with Samuel (1 Sam 3).. It is better to wait and let the people say, "He is a prophet", because they see your words are witnessed and fulfilled by the Holy Spirit.
Everyone can Prophecy
The cross and resurrection brought another major change. On the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on everyone who believed. This changed everything, because every Christian can now hear the Holy Spirit speak. We no longer need a special group of people to tell us what God is saying. This shrinks the role of the prophets, because I do not need a prophet to tell me where to find my donkeys (1 Sam 10:2). If I need guidance about what to do, I should be able to hear the voice of the Spirit myself.
The other effect of the outpouring of the Spirit is that every Christian can prophesy. Peter explained this on the day of Pentecost.
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy (Acts 2:17).
This general ability to prophesy manifests in the gift of prophecy (1 Cor 12:10). With prophecy becoming more prevalent and widespread, the risk of poor quality prophecy is increased. This is why Paul gave clear guidance to the Corinthians about how this gift can be managed in a way that minimises harm. 1 Corinthians 14 is not a re-definition of the role of the prophet as some writers have claimed. Rather, it provides guidelines on how prophecy should be managed in a situation where everyone, including young people, can prophesy. Paul suggests that people should take turns in prophesying to keep the process orderly. He also encourages the church to test all prophecies, and discard those that are faulty (1 Thes 5:19-22).
Paul's letters focus on testing prophecies, not testing people. There is no test that has to be met before someone can exercise the gift of prophecy, because this gift is available to everyone. On the other hand, because the gift is so open, it is necessary to test every prophetic word spoken to sort the chaff from the wheat.
Gift of Prophecy and the Ministry of the Prophet
The gift of prophecy is for edification and encouragement to build up the church (1 Cor 14:3). It is not for admonition and correction. That responsibility is kept for the prophets, because it is harder to speak challenging words without being harsh or proud.
It takes humility to know the difference between prophecy and exhortation. Exhortation is not prophecy (Mario Murillo - Prophecy).
Prophets are subject to a tough character test, because they are in a role that can do great harm, if they are insecure or weak. Jesus said that we would know the true prophets by the fruit of their service in their church. It takes time for fruit to emerge (Matt 7:15-20).
Every church will need admonition and correction from time to time. Therefore, every church should have at least one person who is recognized and established in this role. These prophets must not be constrained to comfort prophecies by 1 Corinthians 14:3. They must be free to say whatever God wants said to the church, with the only constraint being to speak the truth in love.
The gift of prophecy in the church is given by the Spirit for the encouragement and edification of believers. It is a gift that is available to all believers and any believer can experience it. In fact we are told that we should all earnestly seek the gift of prophecy (1 Cor 14:1,3). However, not everyone who prophesies is a prophet.
The ministry of the prophet is an eldership ministry and a calling from God. A prophet is an elder called to speak the word of God, as spokesperson. Whereas the gift of prophecy can be given to any believer as the Spirit wills, the ministry of the prophet is a calling.
In practice, there will be a continuum of gifting. Some people will give an occasional prophecy (this is where most prophets begin). Others may prophesy more frequently. Some people who are appointed as elders may be just beginning in the prophetic. Others elders may have developed into a fuller prophetic ministry. The main goal is for all Christians to develop into their calling. We should not constrain people by trying to put precise labels on them. They should be free to be what God wants them to be.
The gift of prophecy has brought blessing to the church, but much of the prophecy that is given is too tame. Paul said:
If an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you" (1 Cor 14:24-25).
Prophecy with this power is rare in the church. Jeremiah said that the word of the Lord is like fire, or like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces (Jer 23:29). The church will only experience powerful prophesying, when prophets are given their proper place in the church.
The restoration of the prophetic ministry is essential for the vitality of the church. Whereas the gift of prophecy can be given to any believer as the Spirit wills, the ministry of the prophet is a calling on a person's life. The church urgently needs this ministry.
Prophets in the Church
Most prophets will function in the context of the church. A prophet is just an elder who sees things in black and white. They will ask the tough questions and challenge church members with besetting sins. A prophet is really an elder, who has a passion for truth and righteousness.
Each church should be led by a team of elders (Acts 14:23). The minimum number of elders would be three or four. They should work together by submitting to each other (Acts 13:1). The elders will be linked together by their commitment to each other. The relationships between them are the strength of the church.
Paul describes the role of elders in his letter to the Ephesians. Their role is to build up the body of Christ to maturity. There are four different functions that are necessary for this to happen.
He gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God (Eph 4:11-13).
Building up the body of Christ is the responsibility of elders, so these gifts are different tasks that elders do. An elder can be an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, or a pastor-teacher. Each elder will fulfil one of these functions, according to the gifts that Christ has given. All of these ministries should be represented in the church eldership. One of these elders will be a prophet. One will be an evangelist. Several will be pastor-teachers.
Prophets, evangelists and pastors are elders with different giftings. Having all these ministries present in the eldership gives balance to the church. Without this balance, the church will not grow to maturity and unity. The prophet will provide vision for the church and keep it on the right track by ensuring that there is an emphasis on holiness. A prophet is really an elder who challenges the church and gives vision
The prophetic ministry is a fundamental aspect of the eldership. Without a prophet, a church will be weak in vision and at risk of sinfulness. The reason we have so many immature and weak churches is that prophets are missing from their leadership. Likewise, without an evangelist the church will not grow.
The main reason that the prophetic ministry is not functioning in the modern church is that most churches are led by a pastor-leader, so most prophets have had to become pastors to find a place of ministry. This is not a solution, because the church operates best when elders are functioning in their true ministry and not trying to be something they are not.
All of the ascension ministries of leadership are needed for a church to grow to maturity. The prophetic ministry must be part of the foundation of the church. Without a prophet, a church will be prone to sin. A strong church needs the righteousness that only comes when prophets are present. The modern church has millions of pastors, but only a few prophets. This serious imbalance has severely weakened the body of Christ.
Every church needs at least one assured prophet. Sometimes it can be difficult to test a prophecy, because the message given is rather general. The prophecy may be biblically correct, but it may not be what God is actually saying at the time. It is more fruitful to test prophets. They can be watched over a period of time to see if their lives bear fruit. Jesus said that good fruit is the best test of a prophet.
A false prophet will become obvious through the damage that follows their ministry (Matt 7:15-20). Every church needs a prophet, who is known to have a true ministry, and can be relied upon to speak the word of the Lord when it is needed.
Many of the spiritual gifts required can be manifested in other church members, but the ascension gifts must be manifested in the eldership of a church. One person cannot exercise all these ministries. A church needs all the gifts of eldership, especially prophets.
Apostles and Prophets
The church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. A building with a faulty foundation will eventually collapse.
An apostle is an elder sent out to establish a new church. The Greek word "apostlos" literally means one who is sent. It is applied to a messenger who is sent on a mission. In the New Testament, it is used to describe a person who is sent out to establish a new church. When starting a new church, apostles will normally move into the next neighbourhood or village. They will go where the Spirit is moving, so hearing God's voice will be important in knowing where to go.
An apostle should always be accompanied by a prophet. Barnabas (Acts 4:36) and Silas (Acts 15:32) were prophets who accompanied Paul. When Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement, Paul was not prepared to go out until he had found another prophet (Silas) to go with him.
An apostolic team should also include an evangelist. Timothy (2 Tim 4:5) and Mark were evangelists who accompanied Paul. The evangelist would have specific responsibility for sharing the gospel.
The most experienced prophet should be sent out with the apostle, because starting the new church is the most demanding task. Good prophetic insight must be part of the church from the beginning, so it will be built on a foundation of righteousness and holiness. Every new work must be based on a clear vision. When a prophet is absent from the apostolic team, a new work often struggles, because it is built on inadequate or confused vision.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit (Eph 2:19-22).
The apostle and the prophet complement each other. So every church must be "built on the foundation of apostles and prophets". The apostle will use their pastoral experience to draw a group of believers together and build then into a unit. The prophet will impart vision and zeal into the new church, by encouraging the apostle and watching over the church to see that it is built according to God's plan.
Three important benefits come when a prophet and apostle work together.
The prophet gives vision and direction.
The prophet challenges the apostle if they take a wrong turn or go in the wrong direction.
The prophet protects the people from the apostle.
Apostles can be dangerous. Most of the people around them have been blessed by them or discipled by them, so they tend to look up to the apostle. This means that an apostle is often surrounded by "Yes men", not because they are devious, but because they love and respect the apostle. An apostle needs someone bold enough to challenge them if they are mistaken. That task will usually fall to a prophet. Nathan took this role for David. Barnabas did it for Paul.
When a prophet colludes with the apostle to attack some of their people, life in the church gets dangerous. A prophet that starts firing the apostle's bullets becomes a pet prophet. This is a risk that all prophets should guard against.
No Prophetic Heroes
We must avoid the common error of making the ministry of the "prophet" too big. This happens when we model the prophetic ministry on the Old Testament. The problem is that these men were called to the role of Prophet to the Nation (described in the next chapter). To fulfil this calling they stood apart from the priests and kings. Only a few heroes had the necessary anointing of the Spirit.
The New Testament has not changed the role of the prophet, but it has changed the place where they function. A prophet is still a spokesperson for God, but the context in which they function has changed. Instead of standing apart, prophets should be an integral part of their church.
Since the coming of the Spirit, a person does not need to be an Elijah or Jeremiah to be a prophet or a spokesperson for God. In the same way a Christian does not need to be a Billy Graham to be an evangelist. A prophet is just an elder who fulfils the prophetic role in the leadership of the church.
In the Old Testament, the prophetic ministry was limited to a few heroes. With the coming of the Spirit, this calling will be much more widespread. Prophets should be everywhere. The intensity of their gifting may not always be as strong as Elijah or Jeremiah, but their prophetic ministry is just as valid. Every church should have a prophet.
Most prophets will begin by giving prophecies for individuals in their church. Personal prophecy is mostly for encouragement to build up their faith. The gift of prophecy is for strengthening, encouragement and comfort and to build up the body of Christ (1 Cor 14:3).
Personal prophecy will often be quite vague. However, Christians should not be living their lives in detailed obedience to the prophetic, so it does not matter if the words are fuzzy. We should be walking in obedience to the leading of the Holy Spirit and just getting confirmation, illumination or encouragement from personal prophecies. Therefore, these prophetic words do not need to be absolutely precise. Most personal prophecies convey a standard message.
God is pleased with you.
Keep on doing what you are doing.
God has a million ways of saying these words, but each one is perfect for the person who receives it. The important thing is that the word of prophecy is accompanied by the Holy Spirit moving in the heart of the hearer, so that the encouragement digs deep down into their soul and changes their attitude to life.
Some people are full of encouragement. They are great to be around. People with a pastoral calling should be bursting with encouragement, so they need to be fluent in the gift of prophecy. The irony is that regular anointing in the gift of prophecy may be a sign of a pastoral calling and not a sign of a prophetic calling.
Sometimes a warning will be needed. If a Christian is going the wrong way, they are unlikely to be turned round by the gift of prophecy. A warning is more likely received, if it comes from a trusted elder or friend with a prophetic gifting (Gal 6:1). David accepted correction from Nathan, because Nathan was his friend and a proven prophet (2 Sam 12).
Prophecy to the Church
A problem occurs when a person who is fluent with the gift of prophecy and experienced with personal prophecy moves up to the role of bringing prophecy to a church. If a church is growing in obedience to the Holy Spirit, it will be filled with such a buzz that it does need much encouragement. If a church is wandering away from the true path, it will need correction. An example of this is the seven letters to the churches in Revelation 2,3.
I remember an incident when a prophetic word was spoken during the meeting of a church and all who were present fell on their knees and wept. We need to see more of this type of prophecy.
The problem is that most prophecies to churches are brought by pastors who are skilled in bringing encouragement to people through personal prophecy. These pastoral people carry over the same method and standard, so they proclaim encouragement to the church, but they struggle to bring a word of correction.
The widespread acceptance of the prophetic ministry that emerged out of the Charismatic Renewal during the 1970s was a huge step forward for the church, but there is still a long way to go. An emphasis on quantity was okay while the gifting was re-emerging, but now that it is well established, we should be focussing more on quality.
Daniel and his mates did not just make a splash on Jewish bulletin boards, their insight and ability were recognised by a tough anti-god king.
The king talked with them, and he found none equal to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah; so they entered the king's service. In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom (Dan 1:19-20).
Daniel was recognised by worldly leaders as being ten times as wise as the other wise men of that time. That is why he got to serve three different kings in two world empires.
The Christian prophetic ministry should be aspiring to a similar level of excellence. Where are the Christian prophets who are recognised by the world as being ten times as discerning as other commentators? If we do not become complacent about the quality of prophecy, that level of gifting could emerge.
God has much more to give than we have seen so far. In the future, we will see much more tactical and strategic guidance coming from clear prophetic voices. The Old Testament prophets did not just predict calamities. They gave wise advise to local and national leaders (2 Chron 20:13-30). They also revealed God's long-term plans and strategy and what people should be doing to participate with God in work. Moses was a great prophet. He announced God's plan and timing for establishing people in the promised land. He also explained what Israel must do to enter into the land.
We have the fullness of the Holy Spirit, whereas in Old Testament times, the activity of the Holy Spirit was intermittent. Therefore, Christian prophets should be much more effective than the Old Testament prophets. We have a long way to go to achieve this. We must not be satisfied with what we have now, but press in to receive all that God has for us through the prophetic ministry.
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