Due to cultural identities and animistic believes prevailing in an Africa context, there seems to be an influx of Prophets and teachers that display all kinds of weird miracles and predictions. The qualification necessary to become an authoritative speaker appears to be Prophetic expressions to convince and convert a following that can contribute to the man of God. We hear a lot about alignment, and the man of God is the means to God’s favor and blessing. Often Prophets promise that they have a unique audience with God, and via them, the ordinary man can live without any fear of the future. It is not an exaggeration when we see people pouring millions into the coffers of these supposed ‘men of god.’ Baptist Union Pastor Donald Bridge writes;

 “The Illuminist constantly finds that ‘God tells him’ to do things… Illuminists are often very sincere, very dedicated, and possessed of a commitment to obey God that shames more cautious Christians. Nevertheless, they are treading a dangerous path. Their ancestors have trodden it before, and always with disastrous results in the long run. Inner feelings and special promptings are by their very nature subjective. The Bible provides our objective guide.”[1]

Biblically, Paul the Apostle summed up three portions of “gifts” or “impartations”.

  • First, there is the Manifestation 1 Corinthians 12
  • Second, there are the Motivational Gifts in Romans 12;
  • Third, there are Ministry Gifts in Ephesians 4.

We should also know that there are differences in how the Bible accentuates the Office of a Prophet and the gift of Prophecy. For the sake of time, we will look at Biblical Prophecy. Let’s first start off by giving a definition of Biblical Prophecy.

 Introduction:

The word ”prophet” comes from the Greek prophetes, from pro (”before” or ”for”) and phemi (”to speak”). The prophet is thus the one who speaks before in the sense of proclaim or the one who speaks for, i.e., in the name of (God). In the OT there are three terms for the prophet: roeh, nabi, and hozeh. By inspiration God speaks to the nabi, who must transmit exactly what he receives. The mode of inspiration is verbal. The Bible depicts the mechanism of inspiration as the act by which God puts words (verba) in the mouth of the sacred writers. Inspiration does not suppress individuality. It is the miracle of ‘theopneustia’ (2Tim.3:16) that the Prophet communicates his thoughts to men, God uses men of different culture, character, and status in order that his word might be accessible to all men. 

Details of Old Testament Prophecy:

The prophecies of the writing prophets of the Old Testament may be divided into three main groups:

(1) Prophecies concerning the internal destiny of Israel. These declare the judgment of God on the unbelief and iniquities of the people but promise restoration after the testing period of the exile.

(2) Messianic prophecies. The point to the coming Redeemer of Israel and the world.

(3) Eschatological prophecies. These refer to the last days when the kingdom of God will be set up on earth.

Details of New Testament Prophecy:

Theologian Wayne Grudem describes the Gift of Prophecy as;

 “reporting something that God spontaneously brings to mind… prophecy today is merely human words reporting what God had brought to mind, while the prophecies that were written down in the Old Testament were men speaking God’s words to report what God had brought to mind.”

 I do not think that Grudem’s definition gives more clarity but rather creates quite a difficulty. If a man of God is describing what God has brought to mind in their own words, it cannot be less authoritative because man articulated God’s words. When we look at the mechanism of Prophecy, we note that God desires to speak with precision and clarity, without any possibility of ambiguity of what he said. The Gospels resemble this reality; God has spoken via different men accounting for the same facts in other terms.  Manfred Weippert, according to whom;

 “prophecy is present when a person (a) through a cognitive experience (a vision, an auditory experience, an audio-visual appearance, a dream or the like) becomes the subject of the revelation of a deity, or several deities and, in addition, (b) is conscious of being commissioned by the deity or deities in question to convey the revelation in a verbal form (as a ‘prophecy’ or a ‘prophetic speech’), or through nonverbal communicative acts (‘symbolic acts’), to a third party who constitutes the actual addressee of the message.”

Another point to note is that when we reflect on biblical Prophecy in the New Testament we recognize:

(a) Prophecies already fulfilled. 

(b) Prophecies in process of fulfillment. 

New Testament guidance, therefore, was of more than one kind. It included revelatory words given for the improvement, encouragement, consolation, and general benefit of the Christian community (1 Cor. 14:3-4). But it also included another dimension, related directly to a special work of the Spirit upon the Prophet by which the Spirit revealed a word from the risen and exalted Christ (cf. John 16:12-14; Rev. 1:10 with 4:1-2a). This part of the Prophet’s ministry was the result of a direct revelation of an aspect of the divine mind hitherto unknown until the New Testament Canon was established (Eph. 3:5; Rev. 10:7; 22:6). Like Old Testament prophecy, this new prophetic message was an immediate communication of God’s (Christ’s) word to his people through human lips (cf. Rev. 16:15; 22:7; see also Rev. 2-3). Subsequent guidance should then be reported under the gift of knowledge and the gift of wisdom for individual edification and guidance (1 Cor.12:8).

 Should we believe in modern guidance?

There seems to be quite a confusion about what is deemed a “thus saithe the Lord” Prophecy, and an impression where God gives guidance. God still guides, but God does not give new revelation. Charles Spurgeon relates an incident where God revealed to Him what a young man had done. He wrote that;

he suddenly broke off from his [sermon] subject, and pointing in a certain direction, said, “Young man, those gloves you are wearing have not been paid for: you have stolen them from your employer.” At the close of the service, a young man, looking very pale and greatly agitated, came to the room which was used as a vestry and begged for a private interview with Spurgeon. On being admitted, he placed a pair of gloves upon the table, and tearfully said, “It’s the first time I have robbed my master, and I will never do it again. You won’t expose me, sir, will you? It would kill my mother if she heard that I had become a thief.”[2]

It is important to note that Spurgeon did not endeavour to call himself a Prophet since that event. Even though he did affirm what he called “impressions of the Holy Spirit” Spurgeon explains that;

“There are occasionally impressions of the Holy Spirit which guide men where no other guidance could have answered the end. I have been the subject of such impressions myself and have seen very singular results therefrom.”[3]

God can clearly reveal and work as He will (1 Cor.12:11) even to convince the sinner of the secrecy of his sin to draw Him to the Cross of Christ (1 Cor.14:24-25). I agree with Spurgeon that these ‘impressions’ are not Prophecy. Prophecy is given as Jon Bloom says for;

“Holy Spirit-inspired, authoritative, infallible, Scripture-equivalent revelation — the kind of revelation all evangelicals agree ceased at the close of the apostolic age.”[4]

How do we judge modern guidance?

Many people rely upon God to guide them daily, this is what the Saints should expect (Prov.3:6, 16:3, 19:21). God’s guidance is not spooky, or mysterious, or even disjointed, neither is God schizophrenic. God will also not violate his own constitutes as it is laid out in His word (revealed will).   

(1) The Bible is the infallible measure by which we judge the content of the message given.

Harold Horton writes that any word;

“that is not according to the Word, or does not fall within the Scripture definition, is at once to be pronounced as worthless or mischievous, and repudiated without fear.”

Watch out for Prophets that brings for new revelations. They won’t predict “new truths” about end times and their words will not conflict with or go outside the bounds of scripture. Revelation 22:18 says,

“If anyone adds anything to what is written here, God will add to that person the plagues described in this book.”

If what they speak is truly from the Lord, it will come true 100% to the letter. Jeremiah the Prophet said;

“So, a prophet who predicts peace must carry the burden of proof. Only when his predictions come true can it be known that he is really from the LORD.” (28:9).

Their prophetic words should be evaluated. If what they speak is truly from the Lord, it will come true to the letter.

(2) Learn to Discern.

The Believer is equipped by God to “discern” what the spokesperson is saying (1 Cor.12:3, 1 John 4:1-6) and should judge with a solemn discernment and a Biblically informed understanding (1 Cor.14:29). Donald Gee writes;

“We believe that every true child of God who is walking in the light will have some form of ‘witness’ within regarding truth and error.”

Now we know that it is not mere ‘good sense’ but rather a witness affirming what God has lid out in his Word. It cannot be based on a subjective feeling but should be measured by the consistent revelation of God’s Word. Jeremiah beautifully shows how the believer should discern the will of God when he declares;

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”[5]

People believe too easily in the words of an assumed man of God without weighing their predictions against the Biblical imperatives.

(3) Look at the character of the one speaking under the inspiration of God.

Jesus clearly said to be weary of those who come as angels of light but inside they are ravenous wolfs (Mat.7:15-16). An early Christian instruction book the Didache says;

“not everyone that speaks in the Spirit is a prophet, only those who live in the way of the Lord. Thus, it is by their conduct that you can tell false prophets from true… Even if a prophet teaches the truth, if he does not do what he teaches, is a false prophet. However, if a prophet that has been approved and found true, and lives out the cosmic mystery of the Church, does not teach you to do all that he does himself, you should not judge such a prophet. His judgment must be left to God, for the prophets in the past also did such things. If anyone says in the Spirit, “Give me silver”, or asks for anything else, do not listen to him.[6]

It is not only those that have their hearts filled with avarice that can predict money out of your bank account but also those that are filled with pride. Ask yourself, what is the man of God’s attitude towards those he can get nothing from. Does he speak to give himself some identity or prestige? Are there signs of hubris, or pride? Fake men of God quickly lose their allure when we see their intentions and deceit.

(4) Look at the content of the message given.

What is being said, is it focussed on the will of Christ or the will of man? Is it in line with the will of God and the holy constitutes he laid out in His word? God will never contradict Himself. Ask yourself, how will this prophet benefit if I receive his words? One of my mentors, Pastor Mark Hodgetts told us a story in seminary that I am reminded off. A man got up in a Church meeting and started speaking as if from the Lord. He said;

“Dark days are coming saith the Lord, so dark that even I the Lord am afraid.”

We laugh about these types of supposed revelation, but I can recall counselling session after session where people have made investments based on the words of a Prophet or a feeling of a man of god. Reformed Minister Reverend J. Bonda wrote;

“Does the prophecy bring you to the subject of Jesus and the worship of Him as our Conqueror and King? False prophecies are always given at the expense of Jesus Christ and the rejection of His Lordship overall.”

Watch out for Prophets that are overly concerned with your benefit and ultimately theirs. Ask yourself, is there an unhealthy preoccupation of self and egotistic self-interests! Wayne Grudem warns us to note that;

“subjective personal guidance is not a primary function of New Testament prophecy.”

(5) Remember, just because it is impressive, does not mean it is God.

We are so easily amused! Whenever someone throws out a supernatural claim or says that the Lord has said, we believe them. Remember P.T. Barnum’s most famous words.

“There’s a sucker born every minute”.[7]

Reverend J. E. van der Brink shows that some “prophecy” can come from the intuition of a man. Now we do recognise that there could be an impression as a result of the Holy Spirit. But some of the so-called manifestations I have observed cannot be attributed to the work of God. Just because it is impressive does not mean it is God and just because someone says “thus saith the Lord”. We need to be Bereans (Acts 17:11) searching what the Word of God says and not be lazy to hear a fallible man announce a new blessing over us. In fact, one signet of Old Testament Prophecy was not to validate, affirm, or even invigorate the listener. But it was to rebuke, reveal sin, and call the individual back to the heart of God! Please also notice that in Acts 16:16-17 we see a woman prophesying accurately that: Paul and Barnabas were servants of God; the Christian God is “the Most-High God”; and their message accurately proclaimed, “the way of salvation.” Acts explains that she had a “spirit of divination” and did not prophecy by the Holy Spirit. What should be concerning is that everything she said was right, yet Paul wisely recognised she was a false medium. A lot of what counts for God speaking could be demonic, and we should therefore be serious to receive guidance from God’s Word.

(6) Use common sense.

Assemblies of God minister Donald Gee writes;

“[There are] grave problems raised by the habit of giving and receiving personal “messages” of guidance through the gifts of the Spirit… The Bible gives place for such direction from the Holy Spirit… But it must be kept in proportion.  An examination of the Scriptures will show us that as a matter of fact the early Christians did not continually receive such voices from heaven. In most cases they made their decisions by the use of what we often call “sanctified common-sense” and lived quite normal lives. Many of our errors where spiritual gifts are concerned arise when we want the extraordinary and exceptional to be made the frequent and habitual. Let all who develop excessive desire for “messages” through the gifts take warning from the wreckage of past generations as well as of contemporaries…. The Holy Scriptures are a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.”

Does god still give Divine Revelation?

No, God already gave His emphatic will and words through our Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2) What I see as the Prophetic in some of these Churches should be classed as the gift of Wisdom and Knowledge. I agree that the Holy Spirit can give promptings and guidance, but I think the NT indicates that the Prophets prophesied until John the Baptist as the ‘terminus ad quem’ (Matt.11:13). The author of Hebrews also mentions that God has spoken (past tense) (Heb.1:1), and Paul affirms that Prophecy will end (1Cor.13:8). I agree with Chadwick Haygood that;

“we will not earnestly desire to imitate Old Testament prophets. This command is not for a select few but is a command for all. The expression of the gift of Prophecy will not result in an authoritative message like Old Testament prophecy. Instead, Prophecy in the New Testament, which is to be desired by all, is to be weighed and carefully examined by the more authoritative Word of God.”

Current guidance is not the same quality as Old Testament Prophecy, which was given to establish the Word and will of God globally, where New Testament guidance can give advice to individuals. It is unanimously agreed upon that the quality and intention of Old Testament prophecy is not what we see in the New Testament.      

Does god still guide and move supernaturally?

Yes, the Holy Spirit is still guiding, teaching, correcting, and gifting (John 14:26). Wayne Grudem highlights another danger,

“Many cessationists (i.e., people who don’t believe in miraculous gifts such as prophecy today) are skeptical of any element of subjectivity in the realm of guidance. This is the opposite mistake. The people who make this objection are often the ones who need this subjective process most in their own Christian lives. This gift requires waiting on the Lord, listening to Him, hearing His prompting in our hearts. For Christians who are completely evangelical, doctrinally sound, intellectual, “objective” believers, probably what is needed most is the strong balancing influence of a more vital “subjective” relationship with the Lord in everyday life.  And these people are also the ones who have the least likelihood of being led into error, for they already place great emphasis on solid grounding in the Word of God.” [8]      

We cannot judge any gift by its abuse, we rather need to look at the Biblical imperatives that merit what has been said.

Must we desire Prophecy above all else?

When Paul mentioned that we should desire the gift of Prophecy above all (1 Cor.14:1), I think he is speaking about his immediate context to the imminent community.

“Because all the gifts were still active when that corporate command was written,”

writes John MacArthur. I do believe in the leading of the Holy Spirit, but not a subsequent revelation that would be deemed canonical. I affirm that the Holy Spirit can speak and guide, as we see throughout the book of Acts. Still, when I look at modern-day Prophets, they vest themselves with the title because they can know things about people (forensic Prophecy) and predict the future (foretelling). That being said, they do this very poorly. They seem to practice ‘cold reading,’ which is a trick that you can follow prodding the individual by asking a few questions and suggesting a very broad solution so their ‘prophecy’ cannot fail. God’s Spirit can lead though and even guide individuals who are His. Does it mean that it is always ‘prophetic’ in nature? I do not think so. I think a lot of what is deemed to be Prophecy is simply the gift of Wisdom and knowledge on display. Hope this blessed you,

Selah,

Pastor Rudolph.

 

Sources: 

[1] Signs and Wonders today, Pg.183.

[2] C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography, Volume 2: The Full Harvest 1860-1892, Pg.60.

[3] C.H. Spurgeon, A Well-Ordered Life, Pg.368)

[4] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/should-you-earnestly-desire-to-prophesy

[5] Jeremiah 17:7-9.

[6] https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/study/module/didache

[7] https://medium.com/skeptikai/the-real-story-behind-the-quote-theres-a-sucker-born-every-minute-1db9a7220d34

[8] The Kingdom and the Power, Pg.84-86.