Wednesday, 12 October 2016

The Gift of Prophecy Today Is No Threat and Very Important

In 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, in his discussion of spiritual gifts, the apostle Paul tells the church in Corinth: 
8 For to one is given a word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another a word of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healings by the one Spirit, 10 and to another workings of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another distinguishing between spirits, to another kinds of languages, and to another interpretation of languages.’ 
‘Languages’ here refers to what is commonly known as speaking in tongues.

One of the gifts Paul refers to in this passage is prophecy.  And it is this gift that I would like to concentrate on in this article. 

At the present time, an increasing number of Christians worldwide are accepting that prophecy, and the other gifts Paul mentions, continue to be available today, and that God wants us to seek them from Him. 

However, there are still more than a few who deny this.  They claim that God stopped using prophecy and the other gifts around the time that the New Testament was completed.

Those who say this often argue that if the gift of prophecy were still available it would threaten the supremacy of the Bible.  They also often claim that there is no need for prophecy now that we have the New Testament.

I am convinced that prophecy is very much a gift that God wants to be used today.  And in what follows I will give what I believe are good answers to these objections.  Then I will give some testimony of how I have seen God use the gift of prophecy.

Prophecy today is no threat to the supremacy of the Bible

As I have noted, one of the reasons why some Christians deny that we should seek the gift of prophecy today is because they think that if prophesying existed, it would threaten the supremacy of Scripture.

There is a big misunderstanding here.  Prophecy today is a kind of revelation that exists on a far, far lower level than biblical revelation.  It is communication, subordinate to Scripture and never contradicting it, by which God guides individual Christians or churches in their everyday walk with Him.

It is true that in the early church some of the prophecies were much more important.  At that time, God spoke some things through prophets that He designed to end up in the Bible.  But today God never gives revelation in prophecy that is remotely on a par with the authority of biblical revelation.

It is worth noting that even in the first century there must have been many other prophecies from God that are not recorded in Scripture.  For example, 1 Corinthians 14:26-33 implies that prophecies would normally have been given when the Corinthian church met together.  And the vast majority of these – probably all of them – do not appear in the New Testament. 

Prophecy today is the same sort of thing as this.  No genuine prophecies today even come close to threatening the supremacy of the Bible.

The usefulness of prophecy

The other argument I want to answer concerns the usefulness of prophecy today.  Those who deny that God is still using this gift often claim that there is no need for the gift of prophecy now that we have the New Testament.

There is another huge mistake here.  The New Testament gives us crucial, general principles about how we should live.  But it should be obvious that in the course of our Christian lives, we encounter numerous situations, sometimes complex ones, in which only reading the Bible will not give us full insight into how we should act.  And when important decisions are involved, we need other direction from God. 

For example, take the following situations:

(1) A Christian man is wondering whether to take a job he has been offered or to keep the one he has.  Despite praying and asking advice, he finds that the pros and cons are evenly balanced. 

(2) A Christian couple are very unsure whether they should move to a different town or continue to live where they are.  And, again, the pros and cons seem to cancel each other out. 

(3) A church is considering doing some evangelism.  An opportunity opens up for them to do some outreach to older people.  And another opportunity arises for them to reach out to teenagers.  But they feel that they cannot manage both.  So they have to choose.

I could give a multitude of similar examples.  For individual Christians, Christian families and churches, situations will often arise where reading the Bible doesn’t give enough insight to know what the will of God is.  The Bible is not designed to give us direct and specific information about how to decide in situations like these.  Instead, it gives us general principles about how to live and what to do.

It should be an undeniable fact, then, that Christians and churches often have to choose between various courses of action that seem to fit equally well with the Bible.  And some of these decisions are very big ones.  What is more, it makes sense to think that God is almost never neutral about big decisions we make.  Almost always He will want us to take one course of action instead of other alternatives.

So Christians and churches often find themselves in situations where they need to be able to hear God speaking to them about what He specifically wants them to do. 

There are some who will readily accept this, but who still argue against prophecy today.  They say that God is able to speak to us in other ways than by prophecy, and so there is no need to seek the gift of prophecy.

This argument is completely misguided.  Of course God can and does give specific insight to Christians other than through prophecy.  But it is wrong to think in terms of either-or here.  It should be both-and.  Prophecy is one major way in which God gives insight to Christians.  And this should be allowed to take its place alongside other ways He speaks.

I should also note that the most common way in which I have seen the gift of prophecy used is to cite Scripture itself!  Either a prophet gives a word to a person or church that a particular passage of the Bible is especially relevant to a situation they are facing.  Or a prophet says that a certain passage applies in a special way to a Christian’s life.  I will give one example of this below.

We must also bear in mind that no Christian knows the Bible perfectly.  And young Christians often don’t know it at all well.  Those cessationists who say that we have no need of prophecy now that we have the Bible often seem almost to assume that we all know the Bible perfectly.  But we don’t.  And prophecy – whether a quotation from Scripture or something else – helps to fill in our gaps in knowledge.  That a loving God would choose to act in this way should not be a surprise.

In conclusion, then, the idea that we should not seek to prophesy because we have the Bible is completely mistaken.  It is far too simplistic.

My own experiences

On many occasions I have seen God build up my faith by using the gift of prophecy.  And I want to say something about my experiences here.

Although I would like to be able to prophesy myself, I haven’t yet been able to do this.  But I have benefited from the prophetic ministry of others.  I have heard numerous Christians give prophecies that I am sure, or in some cases fairly sure, were from God.

Some prophecies that I have experienced are rather personal in nature.  I don’t intend to share those.  Others have not yet been fulfilled.  And I don’t want to talk about them either.  But that still leaves a few that I feel comfortable sharing.

For some reason, in the last 20 years or so I have not had much contact with Christians or churches who were using the gift of prophecy.  And during this time there have been only a few occasions on which someone has prophesied to me.  None of these examples is really something I want to share here. 

In the first 10 years I was a Christian, however, I experienced a lot of prophecy, from several prophets.  And during that time I had a close, older Christian friend who had an especially strong prophetic gift.  All of the following prophecies are ones that he gave me:

Learning New Testament Greek

In 1989 my friend, whom I had only recently met, prophesied to me that God wanted me to learn New Testament Greek.  I had never considered doing this previously.  Nor was my friend just giving me advice that he thought might be useful.  He was telling me what he believed God was saying to him prophetically.

After the prophecy, I began to pray about whether this prophetic word was from God or not.  And little by little He showed me that it was. 

The result is that I spent more than twenty years of academic or semi-academic work based in large part around New Testament Greek.  And during that whole time everything about this work seemed right for me.  I am sure that the prophecy was from God. 

It should be clear that this prophecy, which related only to my own personal circumstances, in no way threatened the supremacy of Scripture.  And I received direction from it that I think it would have been impossible for me to have gained from the Bible alone.

Travelling to China

In 1991 my friend prophesied that I should go to a city, Urumqi, in north-west China, to meet an old Christian man and learn from him.  This came out of the blue.  I had never heard of Urumqi and I had had no intention of going to China

I should also point out that this came out of the blue for my friend too.  He had never heard of Urumqi either.  Nor had he ever been to China or did he have any contacts there.

Anyway, after I was given this prophecy, I started praying about this, asking God to show me if it was from Him.

A few months later I happened to meet a Chinese Christian couple in Scotland.  Bearing in mind the prophecy, I asked them if they knew of anyone who lived in Urumqi.  They told me that they knew of just one person, an old Christian pastor! 

Between the time of the prophecy and meeting this Christian couple I can’t remember if I asked anyone else if they knew of anyone in Urumqi.  But if I did, it was only a very few people.  I say this in case someone might suspect that I had been asking dozens of people, so that by probability I might have been more likely to meet someone who knew an old man in Urumqi.  That wasn’t the case.

Over the next few months after meeting the Chinese couple God directed me to a Christian organisation that was sending a party to Urumqi.  I also had no money for my trip, and I saw Him meet my financial needs to go there.  To cut a long story short, in the summer of 1992 I went to Urumqi and I met the pastor, Huang Qingzhi.

By the time I got to Urumqi many months had passed since the prophecy was first given to me.  And I had seen the hand of God guide and help me in various ways.  So I no longer had any doubt that this prophecy was from God.   

Because the prophecy had said that I would learn from the man I met, I was wondering what I was going to learn from this old saint.  I expected that he might say something concrete that was valuable for me to know, or something like that.

I spent about an hour talking to him through a bilingual fellow Christian.  However, it was not what he said that I remember so much as the moral fruit in his life.  He was one of the few people I have ever met who seemed to be utterly humble, incapable of any pride.  He was also very peaceful.  And He spoke without bitterness of spending seven years in prison for his faith during China’s ‘Cultural Revolution’.  Most importantly, he gave a strong impression of his life being for one purpose, to follow Jesus. 

I often think of that old pastor and make it my goal to imitate the moral fruit that I saw in his life.  I am sure that God led me on this trip to the other side of the world.  He used it to show me the importance of dedication to Himself and humility.  And He also used it to strengthen my faith by meeting all my needs, financial and otherwise, along the way.  This whole adventure was started by means of a prophecy given to me. 

Again, it should be clear that this prophecy was no threat to the supremacy of Scripture.  What is more, it would surely have been impossible for me to have received God’s leading to go on this trip to China simply by reading the Bible.

Freedom from oppression

I remember a time many years ago when I was being counselled by my friend.  Sitting there in the room, I was suffering from strong demonic oppression with the demon pressing on my mind with confusing thoughts.  I really was feeling terrible.

My friend then prophesied, ‘You need to forgive someone.’  I immediately knew who I needed to forgive, although previously I had not been properly aware that the low-level feelings of bitterness I held towards the person in question were something that God was particularly concerned about.

Anyway, then and there I chose to forgive that person.  And I believe I could sense God helping me to do so.  The feelings of bitterness left and have never returned.  Importantly too, as soon as I forgave, the demonic oppression lifted as well and I had peace of mind. 

The prophecy on this occasion helped me to turn away from the sin of unforgiveness.  It also brought me blessing and relief. 

I should note too that my friend had no idea that I felt any bitterness towards anyone about anything.  He didn’t give me advice that he thought might help my situation.  He gave me a prophecy from God.  And it produced good fruit.

Once again, it should be clear that this prophecy in no way threatened the supremacy of the Bible.  It is true that in this case it didn’t give me information that I couldn’t have gained from Scripture itself.  After all, the Bible teaches us plainly enough to forgive people.  Nevertheless, for some reason I had lost sight of this to a certain extent.  And the prophecy on this occasion helped me to put biblical teaching into practice.

Growing in holiness

I can remember phoning my friend and telling him that I was struggling spiritually.  I didn’t give any details, but he got a piece of writing that he had near to hand and read it to me prophetically.  It ran as follows: 
‘You have been trying too hard and it has upset you.  Be still and know that He is God and that His power is flowing into you.’  
This hit the nail of my problem right on the head.  I had indeed been trying in my own strength to do things for God.  And the words of the prophecy helped me. 

I should stress for the benefit of those who might doubt whether this was a genuine prophecy, that for me to have felt the way I did on that day was unusual.  It is therefore not the case that my friend could have guessed from knowing me what the problem was.  I have no doubt that God spoke directly to me through this prophecy.

Again, it should be clear that a prophecy of this kind in no way challenges the supremacy of Scripture.  And even though the insight in the prophecy is something that can be found in the Bible, it still helped me to live out biblical principles.  It also encouraged me.

Summing up

It should be clear that none of the examples of prophecy that I have mentioned even remotely threatened the supremacy of the Bible.  Some were used to help me live out biblical teaching better than I was doing.  And others gave me specific direction for what God wanted me to do that I couldn’t have gained from reading the Bible itself.  As I look back at these prophecies, everything about them seems right.  I am sure that they were all from Jesus.

As well as the few examples I have referred to, I have also experienced many other prophecies from various prophets that have also been very helpful for me.  God has used prophecy to keep me away from sin, encourage me and lead me in a number of ways.

Final thoughts

There are many Christians like myself who have experienced the blessing and benefit of the gift of prophecy.  This is a powerful gift that God is giving and using today for His glory and for the good of people.

Those who claim that God doesn’t speak in this way today are making a very serious mistake.  And they are also missing out on something wonderful. 

In 1 Corinthians 14:1 Paul tells the church in Corinth: 
‘Pursue love, and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.’ 
This is a command that is for every Christian alive today as much as it was for those in Corinth in the mid first century.

Let all of us, then, who are following Jesus as Lord, be faithful in heeding what the Spirit says in this verse of Scripture.  We dare not disobey it.

So how can we practically obey this command?  Well, we can all pray that God would give us the gift of prophecy.  And for some of us, it may be good to seek out people who are experienced in gifts of the Spirit, those we feel we can trust, to ask for their help and guidance.  The more of us who can use spiritual gifts, including the gift of prophecy, the stronger God’s church is bound to become.

For more on this issue, see my longer article:

And see also: