PROPHETS AND PROPHECY IN TODAY'S CHURCH
By Rev. Jim and Carolyn Murphy
PART ONE - PROPHECY
Webster's dictionary 1 defines prophecy as “in [the] New Testament, [the] gift of speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit; predictions of the future under the influence of divine guidance; [the] act or practice of a prophet. Any prediction. Something prophesied or predicted. Specifically, the divinely inspired utterance or utterances of a prophet; a book of prophecies.”
In its simplest form one may define prophecy as God speaking to people. What do today's Christians think of when someone mentions “prophecy”? In most traditional Bible-believing denominations the answer would be the prophecy books of the Bible, or preaching.
In Pentecostal or Charismatic circles, we think of a person speaking out during a church service or time of worship in a loud voice. This prophetic message, if it is valid, is a message from God. Those present are emotionally and/or spiritually moved. There is an ambient awareness that God has spoken at that hour to the hearers of the prophetic message.
The gift of prophecy is one of the nine gifts of the
Holy Spirit found in Paul's writings in I Corinthians, chapter 12. The
Apostle Peter also explained the operation of this gift:
The gift operates today when the Holy Spirit moves on an obedient person who, under the prompting of the Spirit, speaks forth God's word.
Prophecy may be spoken, and often is, by one who is not a called prophet. Just because someone prophesies does not mean that he or she is a prophet. It simply means that the Holy Spirit has used that individual as a vessel to speak God's word. Any Christian, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, may operate the gift of prophecy. There is a definite distinction between the prophet and one who occasionally operates the gift of prophecy. A person may learn to operate the gift of prophecy in a very short time. It takes years to develop a prophet.
Webster's dictionary defines “prophet” as a person who speaks for God or a god, or as though under divine guidance. 2 I amplify this definition in Part II of this book. But for the moment, let's briefly define what a prophet is . . . and is not. A prophet is a man or woman who is called by God to be His spokesperson. The prophet is one sent by God to speak the word of the Lord to an individual or group of people (most often a church). A seasoned and mature prophet moves in the office of the prophet. He or she is a God-called, God-trained individual whom the Lord, by His Holy Spirit, has shaped and molded into His servant. The prophet will certainly operate the gift of prophecy. But the office or call of the prophet goes well beyond delivering an occasional word of prophecy.
There are many examples of prophecy found in
Scripture. In the book of Acts we find the prophet Agabus speaking to
Paul in Caesarea on his way to Jerusalem:
In II Chronicles we find another excellent example
of prophecy. King Jehoshaphat was taken by surprise when three alien
armies prepared to attack Jerusalem. He had only a small force of
soldiers in Jerusalem. He assembled the people at the Temple, humbled
himself, and petitioned the Lord on behalf of Jerusalem. In his cry to
the Lord he said:
All the men of Judah, with their wives and children and little ones, stood there before the Lord.
Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendent of Asaph, as he stood in the assembly.
Lord will give you, O Judah and Jerusalem. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Go out to face them tomorrow, and the Lord will be with you.'” (II Chr 20:12-17 NIV).
Another interesting and dramatic example of prophecy
is found in Jeremiah. Jeremiah had prophesied that Jerusalem and Judah
would serve Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, for seventy years. To
illustrate this slavery God had told Jeremiah to put on a heavy wooden
yoke. A false prophet named Hananiah rose up and prophesied peace
the prophet Hananiah had broken the yoke off the neck of the prophet
Jeremiah, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “Go and tell Hananiah,
`This is what the Lord says: You have broken a wooden yoke, but in its
place you will get a yoke of iron. This is what the Lord Almighty, the
God of Israel,
says: I will put an iron yoke on the necks of all these nations to make
them serve Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and they will serve him. I
give him control over the wild animals.'”
prophet Jeremiah said to Hananiah the prophet, “Listen, Hananiah! The
Lord has not sent you, yet you have persuaded this nation to trust in
Therefore, this is what the Lord says: `I am about to remove you from the face of the earth. This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebellion against the Lord.'”
In the seventh
month of that same year, Hananiah the prophet died. (Jer 28:10-17 NIV).
The above are but a few illustrative examples of the dozens of prophetic utterances from Scripture.
Of course, there are many entire books in the Bible which are considered prophetic because either the writer was a prophet and/or the book is prophetic in nature. The following books are widely considered to be books of prophecy:Old Testament:
Isaiah Jeremiah Lamentations
Ezekiel Daniel Hosea
Joel Amos Obadiah
Jonah Michah Nahum
Habakkuk Zephaniah Haggai
It is my belief and my experience that God continues to give His people direction, encouragement, rebuke, and so on, through prophecies and by using called prophets in His church.
A number of years ago I was serving the Lord in Chicago as the director of the telephone counseling center for Pat Robertson's “700 Club” television program on the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). One day the Lord spoke to me that He was transferring me to CBN's headquarters and promoting me to the position of National Counseling Director. God communicated this “fact” to me by speaking a clear, complete sentence into my mind. There was no audible voice. I knew God had spoken to me, but I kept the matter to myself.
A few days later I attended a Full Gospel
Businessmen's Regional Conference in St. Louis. A prophet whom I had
known for years was ministering at the meeting. Although I had not seen
him nor spoken with him for several years, as soon as I entered the
room he walked directly to me and began to prophesy. As well as I can
remember these are the words spoken to me:
The word that prophet spoke to me was exactly in line with what the Lord had already told me. Within ten days I received a telephone call asking me to move to CBN's headquarters. Everything came to pass exactly as the prophet had said.
To give another example, I once heard an
international speaker tell of a prophecy he heard in a church in London
one Sunday morning during World War II. During the worship service a
person stood and gave forth this brief, bold prophecy:
“Thus says the Lord. You are to leave this building at once!”
Wisely the pastor heard and obeyed the prophecy. He immediately caused everyone to leave the building. Moments after the building was vacated a German rocket landed directly on the building completely destroying it!
Yes, God does continue to use prophecy and prophets to guide His church. I believe the Lord wants us to be open but discerning about this aspect of His moving. But there are many pitfalls in the use of the gift of prophecy as we will see in the next chapter.____________________
1. Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, Second College Edition, David B. Guralnik, Editor in Chief; William Collins + World Publishing Co., Inc. 2080 West 117th Street, Cleveland, Ohio 44111.