PROPHETS AND PROPHECY IN TODAY'S CHURCH
By Rev. Jim and Carolyn Murphy
PART ONE - PROPHECY
We end this part of the book by addressing the
frequently controversial issue of personal prophecy.
Examples of personal prophecy are readily found in
There are numerous examples of personal prophecy in
the Old Testament. To mention just a few, Elisha gave a personal
prophecy to the Shunamite woman telling her that she would have a son
(II Kings 4:16), “a prophet” gave God's word to King Ahab that he would
defeat the army of Ben-Hadad (I Ki 20:13-30), and the prophet Samuel
spoke God's word to Eli declaring the end of his family line because of
the sin of his sons. (I Sam 2,3).
Personal prophetic words to individuals continued to
be recorded in the New Testament. The prophet Agabus gave Paul a
personal prophecy in which he was warned of the consequences of going
to Jerusalem. (Acts 21:10-11). While the prophets and teachers in the
church at Antioch were fasting and worshiping the Lord, they received a
prophetic word to set apart Barnabas and Saul (Paul) for the work to
which they had been called. (Acts 13:1-3).
I believe that God continues to give His people
personal prophetic words today. In fact, I have received them myself
and have been present when others have received them. By personal
prophecy, I am referring to those occasions when one person gives a
prophetic word to another person as an individual.
I knew a woman in the late 1980's whose Christian
daughter was scheduled to leave home to go to a secular university. The
woman was inwardly deeply troubled about the effect such an environment
may have had on her daughter. In fact, the burden grew and grew to a
point of inward stress as well as much prayer over the matter.
One evening the woman was at a friend's home where
several Christians were gathered for fellowship. One of the people
present that evening was a prophetess from another city. During the
course of the evening the troubled woman entered the room where the
prophetess was sitting. The prophetess locked her gaze on the troubled
woman and began to exclaim over and over, “Everything is going to be
alright! Everything is going to be alright! Everything is going to be
alright!” She told the troubled woman she didn't have the exact setting
into which she was speaking but she believed God wanted to reassure
her. And He did. He did it through this personal prophetic word.
God had sent His word to lift this woman's burden.
And, everything was alright. The daughter found delightful spiritual
fellowship among Christians on the university campus and grew stronger
in her faith while she was there! Yes, there is a valid place for good,
sound, biblically based, personal prophecy in today's church.
Yet there are great abuses in the realm of personal
prophecy. A mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit occurred in the United
States in 1948. This move included the forceful use of prophetic gifts.
However, the move very quickly diminished and fell into great disfavor
among many Christian leaders of that day. Why? With the low level of
understanding of prophecy in the church, people were awe struck when a
prophecy came forth. It seemed that anything and everything prophesied
was accepted as the literal word of God. And, of course, the “prophet”
invariably said, “Thus saith the Lord” to authenticate the words spoken.
The problem was that not all of the prophecies of
that day were of the Lord. Some were of the devil--many were of the
flesh. Those who tried to stop or control such prophecies were branded
as “jealous” or “unspiritual,” thereby rendering their warnings useless.
Here is an example of the false prophecies of that
day. One brother with whom I spoke actually heard this prophecy given
to a new believer who had a history of marital problems. It went
something like this:
How unscriptural! How false! How audacious! Yet it
was believed and accepted by the man to whom it was given! Why? First,
he didn't know Scripture. Second, he didn't know how to judge prophecy.
Third, he refused the counsel of the elders. And fourth, it told him
something he wanted to hear.
This is but one example. Prophecies of every sort
imaginable were dispatched to destroy lives and churches. Some so
called prophecies left a wake of chaos. Of course, many such prophecies
were successfully refuted and did not accomplish the demonic purpose
intended. But great damage was done.
I have already made clear that personal prophecy is
not wrong in and of itself. There are times when God unquestionably
directs His word to one certain individual.
But the major problem with personal prophecy
is that the safeguards covered in chapter four are often set aside.
There are too many instances in which the person prophesying and/or the
recipient do not understand that there are three sources of
prophecy--God, human, and demonic. And, even if they understand the
three sources, very often they do not have the discernment to
distinguish the source of a particular utterance comes.
Try as we may, there is no way to stop the
occurrence of personal prophecy. It is going to happen. But what we can
do is to be informed and teach people about its dangers. Personal
prophecy is usually not given in public church settings. Here are the
most common settings in which personal prophecy occurs.
Whenever Christians are gathered in private homes
for prayer, worship, Bible study, or fellowship, there is an
opportunity for personal prophecy to occur. In fact, there may be a
virtual “welcome” sign hung out for personal prophecy!
The gathering of Christians in small groups or
prayer meetings provides another open setting in which personal
prophecy may freely occur.
In the western world the telephone is the greatest
tool ever invented for the facilitation of personal prophecy! The
telephone rings, someone answers it, and there is the voice of the
“prophet” saying, “I have a word from the Lord for you.”
When a prophecy is received in a home, a small
group, or over the telephone as genuine, the safeguards provided by the
spiritually mature in the church may be eliminated. It is precisely
because of this relative lack of oversight that false prophets are
often drawn to these private settings to prophecy.
I am not blaming anyone for wanting to hear from
God, but, as I have already said, it seems to me that seeking out
someone to prophesy God's word over you is a spiritual shortcut. The
proper way for a maturing Christian to hear from God is to spend time
in His presence by developing a lifestyle of regular prayer and daily
Bible study. Many are not willing to pay that price--they want to “hear
from God” without that discipline or a change in their lifestyle.
Remember that extremely important spiritual
If one seeks the supernatural, he will surely find it. But whose supernatural, God's or Satan's? If one seeks the one true God, who is supernatural, then all else falls into its proper place. Therefore, I never seek a personal prophetic word. If God chooses to give me a prophetic word, I praise Him for it! I will accept it. But the prophetic word, especially in the area of personal prophecy, needs to be His prerogative, not mine.
There is another, more public setting, which can
facilitate personal prophecy. This setting is the “prophetic
conference,” “presbyters meeting,” or seminar specializing in prophecy.
These conferences are very popular in America today. As I see it, such
gatherings draw three kinds of people. 1) Those who want a word from
the Lord, 2) those who want to deliver words from the Lord, and 3)
those who want to learn how to prophesy. It is easy to see how such
gatherings become the seed bed of private prophecy!
I have grave reservations about such conferences. It
has been my observation that these meetings tend to be characterized by
a high degree of subjectivity. Emotions run high with very little
follow-up on the validity of prophetic words. A second problem I have
with them is that, in my experience, the teaching is very poorly
substantiated by Scripture. It is not enough to simply use some
examples of prophetic words from Old Testament prophets and then
encourage whoever is present, and who believes he or she is being “led
by the Holy Spirit”, to begin to prophesy. Without proper safeguards
those attending can leave thinking they have indeed entered into a
prophetic call on the basis of that one conference experience.
Let me deal briefly with the argument I have heard
in support of these conferences. It is based on Paul's writings in I
Corinthians 14:31 which states, “For you can all prophesy in turn so
that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” (NIV). This verse is
often used for the proposition that every believer is to seek the
prophetic gifts, including the public gifts. I reject this argument.
The entire context of this 1 Corinthians 14:31
passage is Paul's teaching the church at Corinth to be orderly in their
services. In context, I believe Paul is addressing those who are
already moving in the gift of prophecy and he is simply attempting to
put some order into their meetings. His emphasis is not on "all" but on
"in turn." I do not believe that this section of Scripture can be used
to justify the premise that every single Christian is to seek the gifts
of prophecy or to become a prophet.
As we see in Part II of this book, God calls His
prophets, we don't choose to be one. I also believe that God calls
certain people to operate the prophetic gifts. It is simply not
available to every single believer.
However, I have already said in chapter six that we
are all to learn to use the tools the Lord has for us in order to grow
in our calling. Thus, I do very much believe in well taught, very
scripturally based teaching seminars that are geared toward those who
genuinely believe that God has called them to move in the prophetic
gifts. If the seminar is well taught, it will become clear to the
participants whether or not they are called to a prophetic ministry. At
least one of the objectives of such a seminar should be to help those
attending determine even if they are called. Then those who are called
should continue to learn to use the tools to fulfill the call.
Since there is no reasonable way to prevent personal
prophecy from occurring, nor indeed do we want to stop its valid use,
we must have safeguards to protect the unwary from spurious prophecy.
Every Christian would benefit from knowing and applying the following
If a personal prophecy is received in private, or
out of the hearing of spiritually mature believers, the essence of the
prophecy must be told to the spiritual mothers or fathers in the
church. If there is anything wrong with the prophecy, their years of
maturity and discernment will detect it.
Listen carefully to their reaction to the prophecy,
and most of all, abide by their counsel regarding the prophecy. I
cannot overemphasize the importance of relying on the wisdom and
maturity of such people whom God has placed in His church.
Any time a personal prophecy is received, privately
or publicly, it is imperative that you seek confirmation from the Lord.
A word of caution here regarding how to seek God's confirmation.
Do not ask God to confirm the prophecy by having
thus and so happen. You are then 1) confining God to your terms, and 2)
opening the door for Satanic influence. Yes, I know Gideon used the
fleece to test God's word to him, but Gideon didn't have the Holy
Spirit living within him. Since Jesus' resurrection, if one is born
again, the very Spirit of God lives within him! We do not need to nor
should we resort to our personal tests as a means of confirming God's
How then should we seek God's confirmation? We
should simply ask God to confirm the word--in His way and in His time.
And then we need to be alert to His confirming hand. This gives God the
freedom to speak to us as He wills. It has been my experience that the
Lord is always faithful to show us whether or not a prophetic word was
from Him. God is not in the business of hiding His will from us!
Here is an absolute which I have already stated but
is worth stating again:
If any prophecy, either in whole or part,
contradicts Scripture in any manner, it is to be flatly rejected.
Period. Now, back to the prophecy I spoke of early in this chapter
telling the man to leave his wife. Did that violate Scripture? Yes!
Thus, it should have been rejected immediately.
If these three simple guidelines are applied to all
prophecies, the possibility of our being led astray by false prophecy
is greatly reduced. Listen carefully to the counsel of the spiritually
mature, ask God to confirm prophetic words, and make sure every part of
the prophecy is in line with Scripture. I refer the reader again to the
charts on judging prophecy, Figures 4-2 and 4-3, of chapter four.