Firstly, I want to state that I am not a prophet, though I have prophesied by God’s grace. I come from a strong heritage of Welsh Apostolic / Pentecostal life, which had its roots in the Revival of 1904, and was the only movement to be directly born out of it. Because of God’s grace in saving me, I now speak on these issues, not as the final word, but as one who has been blessed and privileged to have witnessed some remarkable prophetic moments and vessels in my 31 years of life.
There is much debate about the role of prophets and prophecy in the Church today. Some argue that prophets & prophecy are confined to the time of the Old Testament and early church years; others say that whilst prophecy can continue, the role of the New Testament prophet does not. And to add to that, among those who believe in the present day prophet, there is debate as to what exactly he is and does.
Firstly, we need to clarify a number of key issues in this debate. Then God willing, next issue, we will look at some examples in history of prophets and prophecy that in my opinion touch something of the genuine manifestation of such gifts and graces.
There are two key areas for me that capture the heart of what we all need to consider:
1. The Role of the Prophet.
Ephesians 3: 5. This scripture contains Paul’s understanding of the role of the Apostle & Prophet. Paul states that the ‘mystery of Christ… has now been revealed by the Spirit…’ by these two ministries. To him, these ministries were to partner in a foundational role in New Testament ministry. He doesn’t say that the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles were like a foundation to the Church, although of course there is truth to that. Rather, he is expressing the prophet’s present functioning in the New Testament Church, in which they were bringing a present ministry of the revelation of Jesus Christ that was unknown in previous generations! (The OT prophet could not do that!) The Apostle & Prophet were instruments now & together in NT revelation, during the early church years.
So New Testament prophets were and are vital to the ministry of revelation to the Church, of which the essence is Christ. For Paul and the early apostles, the written ministry they brought was eventually recognized to be of an infallible nature. Note however, that the NT prophets words are rarely recorded. We only have small glimpses in Acts, and in the prophecy spoken to the seven churches in Revelation. However, we do know one thing – the prophets in the NT played a foundational role, and worked in team ministry with the apostolic leader. This brought a powerful two-edged sword of ministry, both by revelatory preaching / teaching and through the revelation given in prophetic utterance.
Also, from this scripture, as well as Ephesians 2: 19 – 20, we can see something deeper regarding the prophets partnership with an apostle. It is not only foundational historically but functionally. We know from Acts that Paul (an apostle) & Silas (a prophet), as well as others, ministered on Paul’s Apostolic missionary team. This is vital today in an age where so called prophets are lone-rangers, spewing out words left, right and center, many of which are shallow, unjudged and dangerous, and a far-cry from a revelatory foundational-type ministry.
The concept of the Prophet as a foundational ministry was not new to the early Jewish Church. We read in Zechariah 4 of the prophetic word coming through Zechariah the prophet to Joshua the high priest & Zerubbabel. They were called to begin the building of the temple, to lay its foundations with shouts of ‘grace!’ We then turn to Ezra 5, where the historic account of this is given. There it mentions that Haggai & Zechariah, both prophets, were to accompany the builders of the House of God. In other words, both ministries were foundational in the rebuilding of the temple, one as wall-builders, the other as watchmen. Here we see the Old Testament type of what was to be in the New Testament, Apostle & Prophet working together in the building of the new people of God.
Then we go to the New Testament, in Matthew 21 – 24, Jesus comes to predict the rejection of Himself as the cornerstone, and yet promises the destruction of the physical – literal temple, and the construction of a more glorious spiritual temple. He is the chief apostle and prophet who laid a foundation for a new temple! Can you see what is taking place here? It is with this background in the OT & Gospels that Paul can speak of himself as a ‘wise master-builder’ in 1 Corinthians 3: 10 – 17, who lays a foundation of Jesus Christ, in the planting of new Churches. But what of the role of the watchman – the prophet? He too, with the Apostolic ministry can bring forth the mind of the Spirit in regard to this building ministry, as is so wonderfully demonstrated in Acts 16: 6 – 10, where the ‘Spirit of Jesus’ led them in Apostolic mission and building. Most commentators agree that the role of the prophet would have been key in this account.
Because of time, we cannot go into all of the issues involved in the present debates about the prophet, but I hope the above at least can get us started in beginning to see the issue with clarity. From this we can learn that a ‘go alone prophet’ is not good, nor biblical. Secondly, that whilst God primarily spoke through the Prophet in the OT, He now in the last days has spoken by His Son (Hebrews 1), who in turn has graced the Church not only with one ministry as the prophets of old, but the five-fold ministry (Ephesians 4: 11 & 1 Corinthians 12). They all in their own unique way manifest the revelation and ministry of Jesus Christ to and through His people.
Another thing to note is that OT Prophets prophesied predominantly to a physical nation/s – Israel and the Gentiles. In that mix were those obedient to God, and those rebellious. We have to believe that early church prophets were similar in many ways to the OT characters for them to have been recognized as such. They probably would have had a certain style of conveying the word. The tones of the word, and the substance of the heart of God being expressed would had been familiar to the Jewish disciples. They were men who forth-told, and foretold, and all utterance was born in the heart of God. However, it is evident Scripturally that the emphasis of ministry in the OT went from the lone prophet speaking to a king & nation, to a NT expression of a 5-fold ministry ministering in plurality to a redeemed/ fulfillment body of people. The body of Christ then in AD 60 & now in 2008 is a people of a promise fulfilled. Therefore, whilst God can and does still bring words of chastisement, correction and warning to His NT people at times (we need it!) – the nature of the word now carries the revelation of the mystery of Christ and His heart. Whereas in times before, the OT word pointed ahead in small ways, and came with condemnation at times, in the NT it was no longer primarily a prophetic word of judgment to an unbelieving nation but of revelation to a fulfillment people who related to their Head. In the OT the prophet spoke to kings both good & bad for warning of judgment, instruction and rebuke. Today, our King is Jesus. It is no longer a word to a king but from our King. So therefore whilst there are some characteristic traits which carry through from OT to NT, there are some significantly unique dynamics to the ministry & the revelation NOW revealed! In that word now, we can receive chastisement (See Revelation 3) or warning of God’s severe dealings at times, but as sons! As when the writers of the Epistles gleaned from OT scripture to bring instruction to the NT people, so too the prophets probably ministered through much of the terminology of the OT prophets. However, there was a new dynamic. The prophets now, were in and for the Body of Christ, with other ministries for the maturing of the saints for service, and to bring the body to the full stature of Christ. (Ephesians 4: 13 & 15) We must remember to keep this balance and tension in our thinking regarding prophecy.
2. The Essence & Nature of Prophecy.
For me there are two key verses that capture what prophecy in fact is, both in Biblical times, and today. Firstly, there is the verse in Revelation 19: 10, which states that, ‘the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.’ In other words, all the prophetic utterance found in the book of Revelation, which came through John to the Church is at the heart – Christocentric (Christ centered)! So then prophecy is not the idea of men; it is not speculative words of things to come (although prediction can come by the Spirit as with Agabus & the famine); it is not impersonal. Rather in its purest sense, it is the Word of the Lord – Himself, by the Spirit to the Church, and thus NT prophets, like the OT ones, would have conveyed it as such. However, today it is not infallible, nor can it be added to Scripture, rather it brings out the treasures of truth written within Scripture. Now remember that prophecy must be judged in the light of Scripture because it comes through imperfect channels, but in its purest essence before coming through the channel, it is out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus to His people. Therefore, we can know how to judge a word when it carries this undeniable mark – the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ and all He has given us in Scripture. The prophetic channel, in keeping this plumb-line of ‘Christ testifying revelation’, can begin to mine the depths of prophecy and bring out treasures of the Kingdom through the prophetic word. They can be words that exhort, instruct, edify, and even through seasoned ministry – direct, so as long as they carry the undeniable mark of God’s character and truth, as revealed in His Son and in Scripture. Once delivered audibly, it then must be judged and agreed by those around that God has spoken. If it is judged to be so, we can act on it with faith!
Prophetic revelation then is a mine of precious stone, that can help the builders of God’s house in that foundational ministry, and in a more general way to encourage the people of God and lead them into greater things in the advancing of the Kingdom.
Secondly, the nature of prophecy is important. How do we know when we are to prophesy, how to prophesy and what to prophesy? Again, there is much to say, which I will say another time, but for me the key text is in 2 Peter 1: 21. Genuine prophecy never has and never should originate in the will of men. It is born of God, by the Holy Spirit in the deep places of a man. Peter says that prophets of God were men carried along by the Holy Spirit. I like the description of prophecy given by a powerful servant of God, D. P. Williams, who came out of the Welsh Revival in 1904 and was used in pioneering an Apostolic movement with powerful prophetic ministries in those he labored with. He says:
‘The prophetic word must be born in the bowels of Mercy, and the affections moved in the operation of the gift. This background of Divine character is most essential to the making of a channel, as there is possibility for the operation of the gift to be on the surface, and remain in shallow waters, or to keep the gift in a babyhood stage, without spiritual development.’
Some practical advice here. The first time I ever prophesied was when I was around 10 years old. I had seen powerful ministry of this kind from a babe, yet how did I know how to prophesy? I simply asked my mother, and she said these words, ‘just wait, be patient, you’ll know when you are to prophesy.’ So simple! And yet she had not tried to cajole me into something that might, or could be it. No! I was to wait for the genuine burning and bubbling of God from deep within! And that is my advice, which I believe to be rooted in the Word, and learnt from genuine experience of seeing powerful, deep and Christ revealing prophets and prophecy in my lifetime. Not to mention hearing of those who over the last 100 years in Wales have continued to bring that foundational ministry of the Prophet with the Apostle in Church planting and building. They too have led other members to be used in the gift of prophecy to the edifying of the Body for service.
Prophecy can come through many ways and means, however let the plumb-line of Peter’s words hold us on course for a genuine manifestation. It takes patience, waiting, depth of seeking, a pure heart and a genuine experience for the prophetic word to come forth. We can have prophetic preaching but also we should see as in both OT & NT prophets, that Spirit infused Word spoken to the people of God, direct from the moving of the Spirit deep within. This is why prophets prophesied in the first person, such was the immediacy of revelation and deep feeling of the Holy Spirit within. Peter says, they were ‘carried along…’ by the Holy Spirit. I am looking for such a manifestation today – genuine, untainted, powerful, and unmistakably God!
A final thought then on all the ‘prophetic talk’ today. For me the above principles are key to judging words, and knowing the authentic among our gatherings. (There is more to say, but time and space doesn’t permit.) But another thing worth considering is what brings about such mixed teaching / understanding about this ministry. One of my feelings is that it is only God Himself who can birth a genuine prophetic vessel, ‘as the Spirit wills,’ says Paul to Corinth. I have noted that the genuine prophetic ministries that I have heard of or witnessed in part, were all born in the fires of genuine revival! Could it be then, that many today are grasping after things or claiming things for themselves that have not been born in a supernatural move of God! I realize that God can and will raise up such vessels in His Church in all seasons, and yet it seems that the understanding of the depth of them is only realized by those come through fire, learn through fire, are hardened by fire and then bring a ministry of fire. They then pass on a baton of truth and understanding to their spiritual sons. The fire tests each man’s work, and purges the worthless! Next issue, I will be looking at these issues in the history of the Apostolic movement that was birthed in the Welsh Revival of 1904, and also the early years of the Latter Rain, which was indirectly influenced by the Welsh movement, but later became something uglier than it initially was.
May God cause this new generation to touch such things and not be satisfied with any less!
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