Do you believe in prophets? I am not talking about the Old Testament kind. I am not talking about Nostradamus either. Do you believe that God still communicates to his people today through modern prophecy? This is the question I have been asked to consider on this post.
Traditionally those of us in Churches of Christ have taught that the need for prophecy is over. Our proof text is found in 1st Corinthians 13:8-12. Our understanding of this text focuses on defining what is the “perfection” that is to come as stated in verse 10. For here, Paul clearly states “when perfection comes” and “imperfection disappears” that prophecies (among other supernatural gifts of God’s Spirit) will “cease”. Paul further indicates in verses eleven and twelve that this “perfection” would also help us mature and see much more “fully” the ways of God.
Some have identified “perfection” as love itself or as Christ himself- these definitions seem inadequate for love was already attainable and Christ had already come. Others have identified “perfection” as the coming millennium where Christ will reign and all will be peacefully perfect- this attempt at defining “perfection” is at least more consistent since this has not (or will ever?) occur and would allow for the continuation of the supernatural spiritual gifts.
Our (the Churches of Christ) definition of “perfection” identifies it as the written word of God or God’s complete and “once delivered” message to man recorded in written form. In other words, our Bibles. This idea flows from the fact that in the early Christian community all revelation began as verbal communication- Peter preached; Paul taught- and shared God’s inspired message orally. The first churches had no written New Covenant truth and therefore needed the presence of the Spirit’s supernatural gifts to verify their authenticity as a true people of God. As the oral word of God was recorded and as apostles like Paul wrote inspired letters to churches and as these were collected and used throughout all Christian churches- the need for the gifts like prophecy eventually subsided. Christians began to learn about God’s will more fully through the written revelation than they could through the reflected truth revealed in the gifts.
But how does this explanation still hold up?- that is the question.
If it does not and gifts such as prophecy still exist today, then that would open up a major can of theological worms- Who are the prophets? What is their message? How can we trust it? Why haven’t I or someone at my church been given this gift?- are just a few questions that come to my mind.
One thing is for sure- God can speak to us any way he chooses, but here is the deal- for me anyway- if God does still communicate in prophecy I could not see him revealing something new or different or withholding it from a portion of his people. And if that is true then what place and purpose would prophecy hold?
“But where there are prophecies…”- there will be questions!