Reclaiming My Charismatic Roots – Prophecy
I am looking for a way to embrace the solid Biblical tradition of the past, while all the while pushing forward into what it might look like for the Church today. I am not willing to neglect the realities of the gifts nor am I willing to elevate them into a place the ought not be.
In preaching this series on Spiritual Gifts, I wanted to stay as faithful as I can to the Scriptures. In the past there has been a lot of liberties that have been taken by some in their teaching on the Spiritual Gifts. Admittedly, I have taught on certain gifts from a more experiential perspective and have really used the Scriptures as a launching pad into speculation. Although I am not willing to say that all experience is invalid in developing my thoughts on these specific gifts; I am willing to say that I want to lay clear Scriptural boundaries and then allow those experiences that exist within those boundaries to inform my thoughts.
Within the Charismatic/Pentacostal movement there seems to be an emphasis on the gift of tongues. Although many of them will downplay this emphasis, but by simply asking which gift is most practiced in these movements, it seems that tongues is one of the primary gifts. I have heard some justify this emphasis on the gift of tongues as, “it is the gateway gift to all other Spiritual Gifts,” like a gateway drug. I’ve also heard some say, “it’s the easiest of all gifts to learn,” which gifts are given and not necessarily LEARNED, but that’s a whole other discussion.
It seems that when the Scriptures teach on the Spiritual gifts that the gift of prophecy seem to be the gift that takes a more prominent role in the life of the church. I do acknowledge that this prominent role of the gift of prophecy could be due to the situation in the various churches. However, in Paul’s discussion of the Spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 14, he seems to emphasize the gift of prophecy over the gift of tongues (at least without interpretation).
Purse love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. – 1 Corinthians 14:1
Do not despise prophecies, but test everything. – 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21
The gift of prophecy seems to be a gift that was expected to be practiced during the gathering of the saints. It was to be a normal part of the church life. Throughout 1 Corinthians 14, Paul seems to give a pragmatic reasoning behind why the gift of prophecy is to be part of the church life. Ultimately, it seems as if it is the most edifying or beneficial to the overall health of the church. Although the reason is practical, it does not mean that the gift of prophecy is MORE valuable (in the sense of worth) than all other gifts. This goes back to Paul’s discussion the different parts of the body in 1 Corinthians 12. What Paul does seem to suggest is that the gift of prophecy is an important part of the church life and should not be ignored or neglected.
I’m going to steal Dr. Walt Russell’s definition of the gift of prophecy:
Prophecy: (dfn.) The ability to transmit spontaneous, Spirit-given, intelligible messages, usually spoken in the gathered church, for the edification, encouragement, and consolation of the people (1 Cor 14:3). Prophets likely equip the saints (Eph 4:11-12) by calling the Church back to biblical values and appropriate emphases that insure the Body’s wisest and most fruitful ministry.
A question loom in the back of my mind as I write this. If this gift is so prominent in the early church, why is it not as prominent in the modern church? I have several theories on this:
- Like all other gifts, the gift of prophesy is given by the Spirit of God to whom He sovereignly pleases. This is out of the control of the ministry expert (the pastor). To not be in control is not the easiest thing for pastors to swallow.
- The gift of prophesy fits a high view of the priesthood of all believers and not the modern Professional/Laity distinctions of many churches. In the professional/laity distinction there are people who do ministry (the professionals) and those who receive ministry (the laity). The gift of prophecy makes not distinction because God makes not distinction, rather all are believers are ministers and have the capacity to minister.
- Fear. This can go several ways. Fear of something NOT being from God and destroying lives. Fear of something BEING from God and revealing some hidden-ness.
I taught a Bible Study on the gift of prophecy in the young adult small group a couple of weeks ago and I preached on it last week. On this journey of reclaiming my charismatic roots I’m convinced that prophecy ought to be a regular part of our gathering. Paul writes,
What then brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. – 1 Corinthians 14:26
We’re pretty good at having hymns and lessons at the church but not so good on the revelation and tongues/interpretation part. The imperative in this verse is that when the believers gather they ought to have a hymn, a lesson, a REVELATION, a tongue or an interpretation. This imperative assumes that Paul expected these elements to part of the the gathering.
Incorporating this gift of prophecy as part of the gathering
- Teach on it! One of the things I’ve have to continually do is to teach on the gift and encourage my community to see this gift as a norm.
- Create space for it! I try to cut out some space and time during the gathering where we intentionally going into a time of prayer where we “listen” to the voice of God (I’ll explain this later). During this time I usually encourage the group to share any thoughts, Bible verses, general impressions, and feelings that they might have with the rest of the group.
- Give people a way out! One of the emphasis that I have during this time is that when a person shares they preface what they are about to say with, “I don’t know if this is from God or not but…..” This leaves room for correction and leaves room for people to make mistakes. This is definitely better than a person saying, “THUS SAITH THE LORD…” and be totally off. By at least giving a humble preface, they open what they are about to share to the discernment of the community, which is Biblical.
- Create a culture of naturally supernatural! People don’t have to go into some crazy trance to give a prophetic word. It is important to not over-hype the experience but encourage it as a natural part of the church life.
Hearing the Voice of God
By “hearing the voice of God” I mean receiving an Spirit led word, encouragement, timely Scripture, or impression that is meant for the edification of the Body of Christ. Hearing the voice of God is does not always mean that an audible voice from the heavens speaks to you. Although it can be, but for the most part hearing the voice of God refers to simply receiving a Spirit inspired message for others.
So now the question is how? Here are some of my suggestions. Most of these are from my experience so take it with a grain of salt:
- Know the Bible – Awhile ago I had breakfast with an old friend. As we were talking she mentioned that she had read my blog and that it didn’t sound like me. She was used to reading my snail mail letters from back when we were in High School. She had gotten use to the way I used to write in those letters. But I’ve grown up, and along with me growing up, my blog grew up. Unlike me, God is unchanging and the way He sounds in the Scriptures is the way He sounds today. What I mean by that is, if you get to know the Bible and you’ll begin to be able to distinguish what sounds like its from God and what is not from God. The more you know His written word, you’ll know His voice today
- Memorize Scriptures – One of the ways that God speaks really clearly to me is through memorized Scriptures that pop up in my head at a right time for a specific situation. Last Sunday, one of the youth in the service had a word about not worrying about school but to focus on God but even before he spoke out that word the verse, “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you” popped up into my head. This helped me confirm what this youth was sharing.
- Shuddup and listen – We have to realize that God is a communicating God. All creation testifies to Him. God is constantly communicating something about himself. When you take a breath of air, that is God communicating of His mercy and grace to you. You don’t deserve it, but He gives it. It is really important that we take time throughout our day to just intentionally listen. Listening in this case does not exclusively mean listening audibly. It means to be in a posture of noticing God.
- Take a step of Faith – When you’re praying for someone or during prayer times if you feel like you received a word from God take a step of faith and share it. Leave it up to the community to discern. Over time, through confirmations and affirmations, you’ll be able to discern the voice of God through the community.
- Be naturally supernatural – It’s only weird if you make it weird so don’t make it weird.
At the end of the day, if the word you share with someone is encouraging/edifying and Biblical, you’re on pretty safe ground. The heart of the gift of prophecy is to encourage and edify. If you are speaking words of encouragement over the congregation and even if it’s not directly from God you might be actively using the gift of encouragement. The goal here is not to despise prophecy, but to embrace it.