What is the Gift of Prophecy?
Is it Still Alive in the Church Today?
By Rev. D. Earl Cripe, Ph.D.
I Cor 12:28 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.
The Importance of the Gift of Prophecy
St. Paul lists prophecy here as the second most important gift in the church. In Ephesians 4:11-16, he makes it clear that the prophets are needed in order to understand the deep things of the Word of God:
Eph 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
Eph 4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Eph 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
Eph 4:14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;
Eph 4:15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
Eph 4:16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
The prophets must confront the errors of subtle men who are lying in wait to deceive, and to keep the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ on the Biblical level.
Prophets Brought the Word of the Lord to the People
There are many things to say about the gift of prophecy, using the Scriptures as a source of comments. There were prophets in the Old Testament who brought the Word of the Lord to the people. Much of that body of prophecy had to do with the coming of the Messiah. In the Acts of the Apostles, there were prophets who predicted the famine in Jerusalem, and St. Paul’s imprisonment if he went back to Jerusalem from Ephesus. I have no desire to ignore or deny any of those Biblical statements. At the same time, the Old Testament is gone, and I know little or nothing about the gift of prophecy at large belonging to individuals who may be roaming the countryside.
There are several things that I do know, and those are the things on which I wish to focus. The first is that the primary gift of prophecy at all times was to bring the Word of the Lord to the people. The second is that the gift of prophecy, as described in I Corinthians 13, and in Ephesians, had to do with understanding the mysteries and the deep things of the Word of God. It also included the ability to make those profound truths simple and put them in words that everyone could understand. The Church of Jesus Christ has suffered greatly through the centuries because of the ignoring or the misusing of the gift of prophecy.
The Dispensational Argument
In the first instance, many Dispensationalists have bought into the notion that when the Canon of the Scriptures was complete, the gift of prophecy disappeared by design from the Church. This is a subject in itself. It is one that I have gone into on several occasions in teaching and writing. It would be digressive to do so now, and so I will move along by telling you that this view is simply wrong. The gift of prophecy functions in all eras of the Church, including ours, and it is desperately needed. The lack of this gift, or the recognition of it, has led to false doctrines and disorders of a serious nature.
The Truth-by-Experienced-and-Not-Revelation Heresy
In the second instance, many sound and fundamental Christians have been scared away from the gift of prophecy because of its tackiness and abuse in the world of Charismatic Humanism. To Charismatic Humanism, prophesying is supposed to be a sign of superior spirituality. As they interpret the gift, and the manifestation of prophecy, there is absolutely no way to discipline or control it. Everyone who wishes to attract attention is standing up to declare himself a prophet. It hardly needs to be said that this is a disastrously wrong and abusive treatment of that gift of the Holy Ghost that is identified as prophecy. Even so, there are some godly people left who recognize what is happening, and who have refused to concede the gift of prophecy to the crazies of the world religious humanism. We live in an age when good words, like queer, gay, and many other expressions that have been common to the language throughout the years, have been taken from us because they have been seized upon by demented people who have adopted them as mottos. The cowardice and refusal of the fundamental Church to maintain its fidelity to the gifts of the Holy Ghost, and to refuse to let these gifts be taken away by hijackers and highwaymen, is sad indeed.
The truth is that no gift of the Holy Ghost given to the Church at Pentecost has faded out, or is no longer appropriate. The problem does not lie in the gift itself, but in the distorted concept of what that gift means, and how it is to be used. The gift of languages is a case in point. This gift (which St. Paul used in practice more than anyone else) gave the apostles the ability to go into Gaul, Spain, Italy, Greece and other parts of the world and speak to people whose languages they did not know. It was never intended to be an uncontrolled exuding of emotion that was supposed to put one in contact with the extra-natural world of spirits.
The Main Purpose of Prophecy in the Church
The point here is that the gift of prophecy has to do with understanding the mysteries and the deep things of the word of God, and making them known to the church. It is about being able to discern the spirits which are motivating false teachers, calling into question their false doctrine, and putting a solid doctrinal foundation under the Church. This gift is ranked second in order of importance by St. Paul in I Corinthians 12:28, which re read earlier. If you wish to take the second most important gift of the Holy Ghost given by God to the Church and throw it out on some dispensational and fanciful ground, then I suppose you will have to do it; but do not wait for me to join you because I will not be coming along.
I Cor 13:2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
While people differ in what occupies their minds, and what is important to them, I believe it is the desire of every Christian leader to have a deep understanding of the Word of God. They want to know what these Messianic and prophetic mysteries of the Bible mean. They want to have knowledge so that they can pass it along to others. That deep understanding and the ability to put it into lucid and understandable words is the essence of how prophecy differs from preaching and teaching, and why every Christian leader is encouraged to seek for that gift.
I Cor 14:1 Follow after charity, and desire spiritual gifts, but rather that ye may prophesy.
It has not been St. Paul’s purpose to discourage Christian people from seeking after the best spiritual gifts. He has only wanted to make sure that the reason for seeking these gifts is a spiritual one. Following on the instruction that spiritual gifts are given by God for the purpose of serving the people of God, St. Paul tells the Church that the noblest and most useful gift to seek after is prophecy.
Is There a Legitimate and Current Gift of Prophecy?
We want to say a word about what the gift of prophecy is in the New Testament, and how it is used, because this is a confused subject that is most often mislabeled and misunderstood in fundamental Christianity.
A prophet is a divine speaker. He is one who has been given a message from God. In I Corinthians 13, we are told that prophecy has to do with understanding the mysteries of the Scripture (Eph 3:1-6), and the acquisition of godly knowledge.
The Bible has warned us that knowledge can puff us up, and that it is charity that edifies the people. In the letter of understanding, this might tend to indicate to some that knowledge is not a thing to seek after. That is simply not true, and those who are caught in that legalistic trap may want to read and study carefully Ephesians and Colossians. Knowledge can be the result of charity; in which case, it will be edifying to the people. Prophets are to be the ones who hold the office of public speaking in the assembly. That is because they have the best understanding, and the most benefit to pass along to the people.
The secret is the edifying of the people. Ephesians 4 says that God has placed prophets in the Church to straighten out false doctrine, and to reveal divine mysteries and knowledge to the Church that will result in mature growth. They are to seek out and to weed out subtle men and false teachers who are lying in wait for their opportunity to get up and deceive. Prophets have a God-given mandate of putting a firm foundation under the Church.
The ‘Baby and the Bathwater’ Thing Again
Without argument, the subject of prophets in the church, and the disorderly and undisciplined practice that has followed, has disgraced the office and the gift. Even so, we are frequently warned, in one form of words or another, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This, unfortunately, has happened with the gift of prophecy for the most part in the evangelical and fundamental church.
At no time in the history of the Church have the people been hurt more by the lack of good and properly authorized prophets than they are at this very moment. Everything under heaven — the damnable doctrine of Prosperity Preaching, Age of Reason theology, Christian Apologetics, Christian Zionism, the experientialism and emotionalism of Charismatic Humanism, the humanistic practices of the ‘purpose driven’ business model of the modern religious extravaganza, the Gnostic heresy of the Emergent Church movement, and so on — is being foisted on Christian people. That can happen because no one in the Church possesses the power and wisdom to stand up against these false teachers, expose their heresies, and silence them.
It was a sad day indeed when the conservative and fundamental church abandoned the gift of prophecy to the crazies of the world of Charismatic Humanism, and decided that we could get along just as well without it. As long as the earth stands, and the Church continues to be the Kingdom of God in this world, we need the gift of prophecy. We are paying a staggering price, both now and in the Day of Judgment, because of the neglect of the true use of this gift.
It matters little to God, to the Bible, and to the legitimate Church, that most religious leaders do not understand what the gift of prophecy is and how it is used. Part of the dogma of Orthodox Christianity is that the Bible is the only guide to the faith and practice of the Church. God cannot and will not be held responsible for the ignorance of His people. We will leave this discussion by declaring that prophecy is the gift that mature and godly people should seek after.