Friday, 3 January 2014

The gift of prophecy for today?

In my New Testament it says that we should desire spiritual gifts, especially the ability to prophesy. In the original it states:

διωκετε την αγαπην ζηλουτε δε τα πνευματικα μαλλον δε ινα προφητευητε

I would translate these words as:
Follow the way of love earnestly desiring spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
See I Corinthians 14:1.

If you read the passages on spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14, there is nothing in these verses to indicate in any way that these spiritual gifts had a shelf life of less than 100 years or a  few hundred years.
There is no teaching in the New Testament that explicitly says these gifts would die out or that they were time limited to the apostolic age. There is no indication that once all the New Testament writings were set in a canon and the apostles had passed away that then the spiritual gifts will no longer be available. I see no reason to believe that these gifts are not for today and should not be desired for the church and the greater glory of God. We certainly need these gifts. 

Some object to the gift of prophecy in contemporary times on the grounds that such prophecies are different from biblical prophecies as biblical prophecies are perfect, infallible and divine utterances.  It is claimed that modern prophecies are quite different from those mentioned in the New Testament and that there is no such thing as fallible prophecies. According to the cessationist view, we no longer need prophecy any more because we have a complete Bible and therefore we have all the necessary words and teaching to live the Christian life. This view would hold that we have no need of extra biblical utterances or words from God.

However, those who hold the cessationist view would concede that we should have preaching and teaching, and that we need to have clarification on certain difficult passages and help with interpretation and the meaning of the Scriptures.  Such preaching would never be regarded as infallible but it could be a means of God speaking directly and powerfully to individuals and congregations.  Some preachers have spoken in ways that have been prophetic and truly inspired, one might say God breathed.  Of course it is not to be construed as scripture or on a par with the Bible. Such preaching can contain the truth and be free from error. God's word is truth (John 17:17).

Now cessationists have a problem with contemporary prophecies because they are fallible and, it is argued, not the same as those in the Bible.  I would contend that some prophecies in the New Testament period were fallible because they needed to be weighed, as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 14:29.  Philip the evangelist  had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9).  When they spoke it was not infallible and not on a par with scripture.  Their prophecies were not always recorded, but in the case of Agabus, who had a prophetic ministry, only two prophecies are mentioned. Doctrine was not built on such utterances and the response to his last prophecy was not as many would have expected.  New Testament prophecies were inspired, direct words from God, and on some occasions were provisional and were of local relevance.  I see no reason why God should never inspire His servants to speak words that are provisional, edifying and providential; such utterances would not contain novel doctrines and messages that go beyond scriptural teaching.  They would be for edification, encouragement and exhortation. Prophecy is therefore very close to inspired preaching, which is fallible and needs to be evaluated in the light of biblical truth. Preachers under the anointing of the Holy Spirit could speak prophetically and could bring words of knowledge, or in the case of Agabus, a word in season that has a future dimension. Prophecy can be both telling forth the message of God and foretelling an event. Caution is needed here because sometimes a well meaning Christian may deliver a fallible, inaccurate and presumptuous word. It is dangerous when people build doctrines, make significant decisions and bring novel teaching based on visions, dreams, prophecies, and alleged "downloads from God". Discernment, the gift of discernment, is vitally important in today's church. 

  Most cessationists who hold to the faith once delivered to the saints, those in mainstream Christian denominations, would hold to the doctrine of the Trinity. Now we have arrived at a clear understanding of the Trinity, I would argue, through a prophetic process.  We cannot deny church history and historical theological developments.  The Lord has clearly spoken to the body of Christ, His church, words of wisdom and knowledge, and so we have the word Trinity (which is not found in the Bible anywhere) to explain the mystery of the Godhead. What we have established is that this truth of the Trinity is completely scriptural, faithful to the Bible, yet it has come through, I would argue, the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Those who formulated the Nicene Creed and the early orthodox creeds were prophetic. Their words, writings and witness were weighed and evaluated in the light of the Bible. Such creeds were explicitly revealing and clarifying what the Bible teaches implicitly.

Just because there have been bad prophecies, inaccurate predictions, abuses and counterfeit healings, it does not mean that we should rule out and forbid all such activities, all spiritual gifts.  Correct use and good ministry of these gifts should be the way forward.

It seems that those in the cessationist camp are not prepared to look at all the evidence.  They seem to be aguing as follows:

We have seen many swans.  They are white.  We have seen only white swans, so therefore all swans are white. If they are not always white then we would know about them and see them.

To many people this seems perfectly reasonable and correct.  But it is false! Completely and utterly false.
There are rare black swans and they can be seen at Leeds Castle in Kent, England.

The cessationists are arguing as follows.

We do not see any spiritual gifts.  We have never experienced prophecy, tongues and healing.  Therefore these spiritual gifts do not exist today.  If they existed then we would know about them and see them in our church.

While writing this post I originally made mistakes over prophecy the noun and prophesy the verb. Apologies for earlier errors.

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