Prophecy is a gift to the church, but spiritual gifts in the church and prophecy, in particular, don’t always have a good reputation. Explore 3 reasons why.
According to Ephesians 4:11-15, prophecy is a gift to the church and part of the expression of spiritual gifts in the church, through the 5-fold ministries.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up… (Ephesians 4:11-15)
In other words, prophecy should be expressed, nurtured and maintained through the leadership structures of every church.
One would, therefore, expect all churches to be alive to the possibilities of this gift and to form vibrant prophetic communities everywhere the church is found.
But that’s simply not the case.
To understand why that is, we have to appreciate some of the issues with prophecy and spiritual gifts in the church that brought us to this point.
From my perspective, I can see 3 main issues with prophecy in today’s church. In summary, some churches:
In this post, I’ll explore these issues in detail and I’ll explain why they are such a problem.
All bible verses in this post are quoted from the NIV, unless otherwise stated.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians sets apostles and prophets among a wider context of ministries and spiritual gifts in the church.
And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. (1 Corinthians 10:28)
I believe that God was intentional about the order of the ministries represented in these verses and in the Ephesians passage we read earlier:
First apostles, second prophets, third teachers.
Yes, there are slight variations in how that order it presented, but it still reveals God’s heart for his church.
This is not so that one ministry has hierarchical (human) authority or importance over the others. We clearly need all these gifts for a functioning, healthy church.
To my mind, apostles are to establish heaven’s government on the earth. They are to enable the right structures to be in place so that Holy Spirit can move effectively in a body of believers.
Prophets are to enable and empower both the apostle and the members of the congregation. Remember that prophecy is not purely about predicting the future, it’s also about exhorting people to know God and be obedient to his word.
And teachers are there to bring a measuring rod to proceedings: they help to confirm and affirm what the apostles and prophets are doing. For example, they help to bring discernment to the prophet so that we can have confidence that their prophecies are biblical and match up to God’s truth.
Everything else falls in to place through these first 3 gifts or offices. Without them, it is difficult to see how miracles, healings and other manifestations of spiritual gifts in the church can take place on a regular basis.
But that is the life we Christians have been called to.
My intention today is not to teach or critique the concepts of the 5 fold ministry or indeed, the use of spiritual gifts in the church. However, I do want to ask this question:
Why is it that prophecy is not accorded its true place in many churches today?
I realise that there are many arguments, particularly in the US church about whether spiritual gifts are still available for us in the modern church.
In that nation, it appears that the “dispensationalist” discussion is hotly debated. I have not come across quite the same heat about the subject in the UK.
However, I think that many of the arguments used to counter spiritual gifts in the church on both sides of the Atlantic are really founded in fear and ignorance.
Many of those arguments are dressed up in biblical exposition, but I believe them to be false.
Let’s take a closer look at the issues.
Why don’t our churches promote the gift of prophecy?
Firstly, I think that in some cases, we simply don’t understand what it is.
We don’t understand the purpose of prophecy or how it can be of benefit to the church and to individual believers.
This can be due to poor teaching about the role of spiritual gifts in church life and worship. If the leaders of a church have received such teaching, then they will pass it on to the next generation.
It may also be due to a lack of teaching. It may simply be that the leaders have never learnt to use the gift themselves – and you can’t pass on what you don’t know.
Either way results in ignorance and a failure to promote prophecy, alongside the other gifts.
And ignorance naturally leads on to fear and anxiety.
This takes me to my second point, which is that some of us have become fearful of prophecy and spiritual gifts in the church.
Unfortunately, this is sometimes for good reason, as we’ll find out next.
I have already touched on the first reason churches may be fearful of prophecy:
We don’t see the benefits because we lack experience in use of the gifts.
This position gives rise to all sorts of awkward questions:
If not answered effectively, these questions result in a culture of anxiety.
It often becomes easier for us to ignore it and hope it goes away.
This, sadly, is a big issue: people have been hurt in the past by incorrect or inaccurate prophecies.
Or they’ve been damaged by the right message given at the wrong time or with a judgmental attitude.
As Proverbs 18:21 has it, “the tongue has the power of life and death”.
Words have power, so they have the power both to bless and to curse.
It’s all too easy to curse when the intention is well-meaning if we are not fully connected to God’s love for others.
In his discussion of the end times, Jesus says that we will “hear of wars and rumours of wars” (Matthew 24:6).
Although he is speaking about a picture of the world at large, I feel that the church often mirrors the world in the small (unintentionally, of course).
So it is that we hear stories about other churches’ negative experiences of prophecy. We hear horror stories about judgmental prophetic people.
And the truly awful thing about those stories? Many of them are true.
These questions, concerns and fears are real and genuine, but they reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of God’s heart.
That misunderstanding may be held by those hearing the stories. More often, it’s in the hearts of those prophetic people on whom those tales of woe are based.
Such fears need to be addressed in a loving way and with true compassion if we are to overcome them and enable a new era of prophecy and prophetic gifting.
After all, we are talking about God’s church, his saints, who are described by him as the body of Christ himself and his bride.
Some churches simply aren’t aware of their ability to hear God’s voice.
In some cases, spiritual gifts in the church and prophecy are just too far outside the churchgoers’ frame of reference.
They have never experienced the gifts before, and so have no expectation based around them.
If they have never been taught about spiritual gifts, then what else would we expect?
But I believe there is an urgent need for teaching on this subject in wide swathes of Christ’s body. It’s not only the spiritual gifts and the prophetic gifts that are at stake.
While not everyone is a prophet and not everyone has the gift of prophecy, everyone is able to hear God’s voice for themselves.
If I don’t know I can hear God, then I won’t take the time to listen to him.
And if I don’t listen to him, then I can’t mirror Jesus’ own example.
What I mean is that Jesus himself said that he only did what he saw the Father doing.
So it follows that if I don’t hear God’s voice (in order to “see” what he is doing) then I won’t know whether I am following him or not.
At any given moment, I may be following God’s will and desires… but I may not.
The Bible obviously gives me his general direction, so I’m not left completely high and dry. But I’ll have very little clue as to whether I am being completely obedient in the everyday moments of my life.
There’s one final peril that can prevent people from hearing God and exercising the gift of prophecy. It’s that we can limit God solely to our quiet times.
Jesus only did what the Father did – all the time.
So he must have been listening all the time as well.
So if we assume that God only speaks during our quiet times, then we could be missing out on an amazing opportunity in the rest of the day.
Please understand: I’m not pointing the finger at any one group of Christians or believers. I do not have in my mind a specific denomination, the leadership of “that” church over there or even a particular individual.
I’m merely establishing the truth about how we can be with gifts of the spirit within our leadership structures (and in our personal lives).
My heart is for a sea change in the culture of the church. This is about a combination of leadership, teaching and attitudes, throughout the body of Christ.
How do we deal with these issues?
What I am advocating for is a deeper understanding of what prophecy is and what it can do for you and your church.
So stay tuned, because that’s what I’ll discuss in the next post!
Have you come across any of these attitudes in your church or in yourself?
How did that make you feel?
Let us know by leaving a comment below.
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