An odd and unscriptural exclusion
The Bible says prophecy is meant to exhort and comfort God’s people (1 Corinthians chapter 14, verse 3). It seems odd then that many churches now ignore and exclude the gift meant for its own strengthening and guidance.
At this point, many may protest my stance. After all, isn’t preaching essentially prophesying? Doesn’t every church have a preacher? Doesn’t that mean every church prophesies?
Despite this increasingly popular idea, preaching is not prophesying, at least not always. Preaching can be prophetic and vice versa, but this doesn’t mean they’re always the same.
The Bible distinguishes between the two gifts. If prophecy were preaching, New Testament writers would’ve replaced the word ‘prophecy’ with ‘preaching’, but both words are used, along with ‘pastor’ and ‘prophet’ to differentiate between the gifts’ offices.
New Testament teaching on prophecy’s use in the church is based on the meaning of three Greek words: ‘Propheteia’ (prophecy, prophesy, prophesying, prophecies), ‘Propheteuo’ (prophesy, prophesying), and ‘Prophetes’ (prophet). ‘Prophet’ means an inspired speaker who foretells events. ‘Prophecies’ and ‘prophesying’ mean to predict or foretell events through discovery, and to speak under inspiration.
The Holy Spirit is the one who gives prophetic revelation to Christians.
What is prophecy?
A common argument against predictive prophecy is based on the ‘speaking under inspiration’ part of the Greek word definitions for prophecy and its variations. No form of the word, however, comes without the meaning to foretell or predict. The inspiration described must therefore primarily refer to the Holy Spirit’s imparting future revelation to a believer.
There’s no doubt that a preacher can be an inspired speaker, and preaching directly inspired by the Holy Spirit, but the reverse may also be true. Not all speakers’ teachings are inspired or done under direct inspiration. Preachers would be the first to admit this reality.
Unlike preaching, prophesying (if true prophesying) is always something of inspiration, because it is itself inspired speaking, prediction, and instruction. Preaching may involve personal opinion and interpretation but prophecy is delivered directly via the Holy Spirit: “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter chapter 1, verse 21).
This doesn’t make prophecy infallible or as inspired as the Bible’s writers, as the canon of scripture is complete and finished. The book of Revelation specifically warns against any addition (Revelation chapter 22 verses 18-19). It also doesn’t mean that prophecy outside of scripture is error-free or as authoritative as the Bible.
God’s servants are human beings so their knowledge and understanding is limited: “For we know in part and prophesy in part…” (1 Corinthians chapter 13, verse 9). Prophets today receive a message or revelation from God by inspiration, but these prophecies are not the final word from God and cannot be placed on the same level as the Bible. All prophesying must be tested by the Bible to see whether it can be accepted.
Other issues sometimes surround prophecy which isn’t a part of scripture. At times, prophets who claim to be prophets, simply aren’t. The same goes for prophecies touted as inspired, but are instead products of people’s imaginations and hearts (Jeremiah chapter 23, verse 16, Ezekiel chapter 13, verse 2).
A subtle and dangerous rejection
Prophecy must be tested and judged by believers, but the Bible says the church should guard against despising it (1 Thessalonians chapter 5, verse 20). To despise something implies having a strong emotional dislike toward that thing, and thus hold it in very low regard. The end result is something being shunned or entirely rejected.
Unfortunately, this is what many churches have accomplished by ignoring and explaining prophecy away. Prophesy is rarely allowed during meetings, prophets are barred from speaking, and prophetic warnings ignored. This is a dangerous rejection because God uses prophecy to discipline and encourage His people.
Prophecy prepares Christians to fight the good fight of faith and best respond to future trials and blessings. It shakes us from spiritual sleep, secures our faith in Jesus, and turns us back to Him. Above all, it ensures nothing will tear us from God, including our own weaknesses.
To reject prophecy is dangerous, as it essentially denies the Lord’s speaking by His Holy Spirit and chosen servants, and therefore denies the Lord Himself. Christians should be able to recognise Jesus’ voice and so accept it. If we don’t, Jesus himself implied that it’s doubtful whether we’re his sheep (John chapter 10, verse 27) because His sheep should be able to recognise His voice.
Prophecy’s great benefits
The church needn’t be fearful of prophecy. If prophesying is done decently and in order, with common sense and the aim to exhort and edify, and has biblical foundation, then it should be given as much place in church as preaching or any other spiritual gift (the New Testament church even seemed to prioritise prophesying (1 Corinthians 14:31)).
The result will be spiritually encouraged and challenged individuals who, knowing the future and who holds it, will be assured of their election and inspired to give their all for Christ and others.”
Tim’s home is on the Gold Coast in Queensland. He has a Graduate Associate of Theology degree and taught in Christian Education for over six years. He enjoys Christian writing, the beach, and spending time with family and friends.
Tim Price’s previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-price.html