There are many misconceptions about prophecy in the world today. A couple of which I would like to quickly address. First of all prophecy, culturally and occasionally among believers, is thought to tell the future. But this is only partially true. Prophecy may give insight into the future or occasionally declare a future outcome. However, declaring future outcomes is not its primary purpose. Its primary role is to speak what God is saying. To prophesy is to speak what God is speaking. In scripture we will find that the prophetic books rarely foretell events. Instead, they speak what God is doing or declaring concerning the events around them. In doing so they often speak of God’s plan of redemption. This is why they often speak about Jesus, the coming kingdom, the second coming and many other such things close to God’s heart.
Another problem in the western Church is the tendency to see prophecy like a science experiment. It is felt under this view, that any pre knowledge, personality, or individuality that makes its way into a word contaminate it. In other words, there is a belief that we ourselves are a contamination of Gods word. I do not think that this is accurate at all. It would be much better to say we are a container intended to carry Gods word. It is easy in this sense to allow contamination into the words God may give us. But these contaminants are most often in the shape of fear, jealousy, pride, etc. Knowing someone does not limit our ability to hear clearly from God what he is saying about them. It enhances it. It gives us the ability to know where to start listening to what the Spirit is saying. It is a rare and wonderful event indeed when God gives a word for someone unknown to us. Amongst the many prophetic writings, events, and people in the bible, rarely is a prophetic word given to someone unknown to the prophet. Nathan knew David, Moses knew the Isrealites, Ezekiel knew Judah. God is present and at work in our knowledge and understanding. We tend to want to separate prophetic words into their own category, like some sort of special download from the Holy Spirit. But they are not. Prophetic words are a continuation of the conversations we hold with God in prayer. They are an extension of our relationship with Him. An overflowing of His presence in our lives.
Most seasoned and respectable pastors and teachers who denied that prophetic gifts, apostolic gifts, and tongues are for today, have as part of their goal the need to protect the church from those who would usurp authority. In this they are undoubtedly right. There was a moment in time when Jesus was on earth, when he trained Apostles personally, when the spirit was poured out in a special way that will not be repeated. It is in these actions, and in many more previous times in the Bible that the boundary markers for the church were set. As believers now, all of our giftings operate within the boundaries set by the Church in the first century. Until Christ comes again, those boundaries are not to be moved even one inch. When the spirit gives words, or healing, or tongues, it is always within the boundaries set in the New Testament. The Spirit is no less at work now. But the boundaries are set, and no man or woman has the right to move them.
I think it is also important that we understand that those who believe the prophetic and apostolic were for a time past, believe very much that the Spirit is at work today. In the love we have for one another, and in the fruits of the spirit, the Spirit is present each and every day. The Holy Spirit is at work when addiction gives way to self control, when outbursts of wrath give way to peace. The Holy Spirit is at work in every believer’s life, calling them to wholeness. The Holy Spirit is at work in the unity of the body of Christ. The Spirit is at work when people of all different backgrounds, races, and nations can sit together and share a meal. I would agree with our brothers and sisters, that these are the primary roles of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit produces whole people and a whole Church.
So what is the role of tongues, and of the prophetic? They are expressions of the spirit producing whole people and a whole Church. When individuals pray in tongues, along with their other daily prayers, they are being transformed. It is an expression of God’s love given to his people. It is not primarily a sign of his presence in our lives, but rather, it is primarily a gift given for the maturing of His saints. Yea One expression among many, that is intended to lead to wholeness. The prophetic is much the same. Its primary role is to produce wholeness in the church. We are never to approach prophecy as proof of his presence, or as a sign of our authority. Its role is simply to speak what God is speaking, which will inevitably produce wholeness in the Church. It is important to remember once more that there are many ways that God produces wholeness in His Church, and prophecy is only one of them. One expression among many of his love and grace.
I occasionally hear people talk about tongues, or prophecy, as signs of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We see there is some truth to this, when we look at Acts. However, I think it is misleading to believe that the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a one time event. I have had my life radically shifted by the work of the Spirit many times. He has done great things for me, he has broken addiction, spoken peace to rage, he has met me in places I do not have words to express, and all of these events involved a special filling of the Holy Spirit. Some of those events happened in a moment, and some were stretched out over years. I remember the spirits presence when I was in pre school and telling one of my friends about Jesus. I remember many times when I sensed the quickening, and the indwelling of the spirit. The Spirit’s work in our lives is a lifelong journey. Often beginning even before we accept Jesus as our savior, God’w work in our lives making us whole, continues even after out bodily death.
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