“But Where there are Prophecies…”

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!

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23 Responses to “But Where there are Prophecies…”

  1. TCS says:

    just a quick comment to get the ball rolling…I have always thought that proof text…well the idea that perfection equals the cannon was pretty pathetic. In fact I think it flys in the face of many other passages of scripture. It seems to be a work around to deny any action by God other than through scripture. Fitting in with the “Spirit only works through the Word” crowd.

    As for prophetic messages…I would assume you have delivered some. But to say that they would have to be to ALL of his people is not consistent with the OT. there were prophets in captivity and with those left behind that delivered messages from God at the same time to different groups of God’s people.

    Ok everybody. Fire away.

  2. SteveLavin says:

    OK, I admit it. I was the one who made this topic request of Danny. (Danny, thanks for braving these waters!) Anyway, I did so because this topic came up in our Sunday morning bible class and, to my surprise, there was more support for modern day prophecies than I had expected – at least given my CoC heritage. I know many of the people who visit Danny’s blog are well-studied, thoughtful Christians and I wanted as many of your opinions as I could gather.

    I guess the biggest questions for me (and I have several smaller ones) have to do specifically with prophecy and speaking in tongues. These two gifts seem have the most support in Christianity today, but they (as I understand them being practiced today) are also the most subjective in their confirmation. For example, I know of no confirmed cases of two interpreters hearing the same message, given in tongues, who can go to different rooms and ‘interpret’ the same message with the same meaning. As I understand it, typically someone speaks and someone else interprets with the remainder of the crowd accepting the words on face value. The same type of subjective interpretation can be applied to prophecies.

    I do not discount that God and His Spirit can work in people’s lives today. Like TCS, I believe we (CoC) have often been too quick to say that the “Spirit only works through the Word” but for me I am still a long way from saying that God still speaks through prophets today.

    If some among us are willing to accept modern day prophecies, then I also wonder if these gifts should not be measured by the same standards that less subjective gifts might be measured. For example, the gift of miraculous healing (the paralytic suddenly walking or the dead being raised) seems to have ended long ago.

    Which leads to a series of questions: Why would the subjective gifts remain and the verifiable gifts have ended? Did they? Is this new acceptance of some gifts a larger part of our society’s moving toward a more ‘feeling’ rather than ‘analytical’ mindset? Am I just a cynical product of my tradition and its teachings? Am I missing something?

    In the past I have been involved in classes that fostered an atmosphere that almost dared someone from questioning that miraculous gifts ended with the completion of the NT. I also recently sensed an atmosphere where I was almost dared to question the existence of modern day prophecy. I appreciate a blog where ideas are welcome and comments are the product of thoughtful reflection. I would love other thoughts!

  3. dannydodd says:

    Thanks Tommy for getting us started and Steve for confessing ownership of this idea. Now I can blame you! lol

    First I will address Tommy’s statements. Yes, I do preach “prophecy” each week, but it is prophecy that has already been revealed. As far as I know I have not uncovered some new extra-biblical truth or revelation.

    As to the revelation of prophecy being avaliable to all of God’s people- you are right to mention some of the OT prophets – they did share prophecy specific to their situations but their overall message was consistent with the rest of God’s revealed message. In other words, no vital truth was withheld from anyone.

    I share some of the same concerns Steve mentioned about the subjective nature of all of the gifts as they are explained and demonstrated today.

    But I do not think the Spirit is limited to the written word. The written word testifies otherwise. We are His temple and he works within us- how?

    That is what this post is all about! 🙂

  4. Nothing to do with this blog, but that’s a good photo of you Danny on the cover of the Christian Chronicle today.

  5. Otis says:

    I am happy that we have the three that remain. (faith, hope, and love) Whatever perfection is, and I think the word of God stands as good as chance as any, we who are imperfect still have a long way to go.
    Although, there are times my preaching could use some direct spiritual influence. Ha! Have a great day.

  6. mkjergaard says:

    Great post Danny. I too have always had trouble with “the perfect = the completed word” view. There are other ways to “prove” that tongues have ceased (if that is the goal).

    I believe that prophecy exists today in the form of “forthtelling” rather than “foretelling”. I hope that doesn’t sound too simplistic. It seems to me that the NT gift of prophecy was similar to that of the gift of knowledge (they were able to preach/teach/foretell/explain things that were beyond their natural abilities — it was divine inspiration).

    But we preachers prophecy today. Old timers used to call it “unction” or “the anointing” (yes, we CofCers shy away from that kind of language generally). But haven’t you had the experience of saying things that you had no idea of ever saying in a sermon? The Holy Spirit brings thoughts, applications, and words to our minds that the people need to hear (of course, he can bring these to our minds in the study as well — this is not a plea to abandon the study and simply “let the Spirit lead”).

    I believe that God gives me insight to preach and teach His word effectively. It is a spiritual gift (Romans 12:6-ff; 1 Peter 4:10-11). However, I do not believe that anyone alive today has the same prophetic ability/authority that the apostles had in NT times.

    I hope that makes sense. These are just thoughts off the top of my head, not a doctoral dissertation; so if I sound like a nutburger kook, don’t hold it against me.

  7. preacherman says:

    Danny,
    Excellent post brother.
    You put it together so well.
    Amern!
    I hope you have a blessed day! 🙂

  8. dannydodd says:

    Thanks Tammie- and your comments are always appreciated Otis- as well as the kind words from preacherman.

    Mike, you are making perfect sense to me. I like your take on this. It is balanced and very reasonable to me. I would never call you a nutburger kook! lol

  9. SteveLavin says:

    I am with mkjergaard. I know I have said, and written things, that were beyond my own thoughts and reasoning and felt amazed by this experience. I came away from these rare moments feeling the Spirit of God. (Now I am a nutburger!) But that is a far cry from a claim to be an ‘inspired’ writer in the NT cannon sort of way. I also have never felt that I was in the presence of a modern day prophet.

    I have to confess my surprise at the direction my class took on Sunday. I was really not prepared for it. I also know that I live not too far from Edward Fudge and I have to wonder if his beliefs/experiences have had an influence on this subject in my area.

    Maybe I am really reaching but, based on what I witnessed, it would not surprise me to see a growing trend towards these beliefs in the CoC. At any rate, I definately sense a move away from intellectual study, among the CoC, and a move toward subjective feelings. Danny, you are the church trend guy. Is this the new trend?

  10. dannydodd says:

    Steve, that is a trend in general called post-modernism- and yes, it is being felt in the good ole CoC.

  11. me again. I would say that ‘trend’ if it is one has more to do with mysticism than post modernism. And that ‘pendulum swing’ is maybe good, but of course can go too far. Many, I think, could use a good dose of mystery in their lives. Faith being not the opposite of doubt but the opposite of certainty. If we are certain it doesn’t require faith.

    I want to be clear, I am not advocating that any ‘word’ from God to you would ever equal scripture nor if it was from God would it contradict scripture. I would think that should be your first test. What I am advocating is as mkjergaard said and also that I do believe that God is alive and speaks. Jesus said in Jn 10 that his sheep would recognize his voice. We are promised the spirit to counsel and guide us. I don’t think that is meant to be a rare moment. I think it is meant to be a daily walk.

    Tounges are something that I have never seen. (well I don’t think I have) But that doesn’t mean they don’t happen. I really don’t encounter that and don’t feel the need to deny them. We might (I don’t) deny demonic activity. But if you ask missionaries in 3rd world countries and they certainly believe. I say that, because, just because we don’t experience something doesn’t mean it has been done away with.

    I haven’t gone back and read the passage in question, but I believe Paul’s point (at least in part) is that tounges aren’t some super gift anyway, but to have the gift of prophecy is to edify and that is always worthwhile.

  12. dannydodd says:

    Contextually our text is smack in the middle of a major body of teaching on worship and the use of the supernatural spiritual gifts.

    How the Corinthians had approached the gifts was how they had approached everything else- childishly- and they had used them not for the edifying and unifying of the body, but to stroke their own egos and send their worship into confusion. Paul would have none of that.

    So he shares the purposes of the gifts (12:1-11); reminds them again of the importance of unity and of one another in the body (12:12-30); defines love as compared to the gifs and encourages them to desire it (love) more than the supernatural gifts (12:31-13:23); gives practical guidance on how to use the gifts (14:1-25); and concludes by encouraging them to move their worship away from the chaos it was (because of the misuse of the gifts) into a more proper framework in which God could be properly glorified. (14:26-40)

    In this text he gives very clear instructions on how to use the gifts- including tongues- which on the occasions I have seen tongues used (TV and in person) have not been followed.

    Tongues were a “sign, not for believers, but for unbelievers” and required an interpreter to be present before they could be used (also indicating that the person gifted with tongues had comeplete control over when and how they used the gift)- else no one would be able to understand the revelation given through the tongues- and what would then be the point? It was not the ability to just speak some unknown language which tongues delivered- it was the meaning or message which the interpreter brought too. Paul said don’t do one without the other. “But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue” he said.

    Concerning prophets he said, “Two or three prophets should speak and the others should carefully weigh what is said.” If a revelation came to one sitting down as the other spoke, the one recieving the revelation would be given the floor. The gift of prophecy according to Paul was shared so that “everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” It was not a private thing. It was a gift for which the entire church should benefit. And like with tongues Paul teaches, “The spirits of the prophets are subject to the control of the prophets.” So for the Corinthians to try to excuse their chaotic, out-of-control worship as “not being able to help it” was pure bunk to Paul.

    Now having waded through all of this textual stuff- if any gifts do exist today- it would seem to me that they would be subject to this teaching- and in my limited experience and from what I have seen when people have claimed to exercise a surpernatural spiritual gift- this teaching has been ignored.

    And if they do exist- and this goes back to one of my original questions in the post- why aren’t they in my church? If they could be in the Corinthian church with all their immaturity, division, and immorality- why not mine? Surely we have as much “faith” here as they had then.

  13. (Not trying to argue…just interested in this.)well, are they a product of “faith”? If they do exist today, is the amount of faith the thing that produces them? My question is what if they DO exist in our respective churches…would we / the powers that be, ALLOW them?

    I have never been in any group other than a small group, where everyone came with something to share, a scripture, a song, a ‘word’ from God. And that was only because everyone was told to be prepared.

    Maybe we don’t experience them because we are not willing to believe them anyway? Not saying one way or the other, just wondering out loud.

  14. dannydodd says:

    Good questions Tommy.

    Anyone have the answers?

  15. lesjr says:

    Tammie, don’t fill his big head anymore than it has to be…

    Uncle Hootie is online…

    All my friends are nutburger kooks, Mike. Aren’t you glad about that?

    Seriously, the normal coc approach to when perfection comes is far from perfect, pardon the pun. It doesn’t make sense. Do I have the answers? Not a chance–however, I read a book about 6 or 7 years agao that shocked me–Suprised by the Power of the Spirit.

    Its a good read.

    How much did you bribe BobbyR to put your mug on the front cover?

  16. lesjr says:

    Dang Danny. I shut your discussion down.

  17. dannydodd says:

    Yea Les, whenever the “dang” word appears- that is what happens! lol

    You were supposed to answerr Tommy’s questions- that is what we are waiting for.

    And as for my pic on the cover of the CC- I call it it shock journalism!

  18. benoverby says:

    This is something I’ve thought very little about, so you have to excuse my shallowness on the issue. It seems to me that in a world of non-literate people, no printing press, an certainly no “text” that resembles our New Testament, someone had to do a bit of teaching, making revelation by way of prophecy necessary. But the prophets were themselves subject to the prophets. Whatever was uttered had to be teased out and tested and fell under the scrutiny of a questioning audience (remember the noble bereans).

    And so, if there are prophets today, there’s still an obligation to test and tease out their words; and given that we do all have a fuller revelation, prophets would seemed marginalized as “over-kill.”

    Ben

  19. dannydodd says:

    It looks as if Ben brought our discussion to a conclusion with some well-made points.

    Steve, I hope this little look at this topic was helpful to you.

  20. Danny says:

    In McGuiggan’s commentary on I Cor. he takes a different tack on c. 13. One that, it seems to me, has a lot of possibility. Basically, he proposes that the “maturity/perfection” in mind is the conduct of the Corinthian church. That when mature behavior begins then their immature usage of the gifts will cease. This would be a better fit to the context than the traditional rendering. However, it would still leave the chapter’s earlier statement “miracles will cease” as needing an “endpoint.”
    I wish I knew more about the gift of prophecy in the NT and how it operated in practice. Maybe that would solve some of our questions. There are times I know the Holy Spirit was active in my preaching because “looking back” at the sermon, situation, etc… the whole event was so far beyond my abiblities at the time. Was this somehow related to prophecy? Exactly where does a “natural” influence of the Holy Spirit upon a sermon become supernatural? Is there a distinction?
    I am sure I have only stirred the waters more… and brought very little clarity. I really appreciate the topic/question. It is worth considering.
    One thing I have learned, in response to Steve’s note above about trends. In an increasing measure, particularly among youth, they do not care about an explanation until they see credible actions, or experience something that seems genuine. Only then are they interested in the explanation/doctrinal basis. You already sense this in young adults, it is even more pronounced in teens. It is changing the way we have to teach everything from apologetics, to becoming a Christian, to missions, etc… Hopefully God will give us some special “prophets” to lead us… whoever they are.
    Danny

  21. dannydodd says:

    Just when I tought the discussion had ran its course, Danny, adds some very good perspective.

    McGuiggan’s take does make sense contextually, but like you admit, Danny, it does not answer all the questions.

  22. Edward Fudge says:

    For a biblical case supporting the grace-gift (charisma) of prophecy today, as well as a look at its purpose, proper use and sometimes abuse, I invite you to consider my gracEmail series beginning with http://www.EdwardFudge.com/gracemails/prophecy_Christian_series1.html and the links thereafter.

    For links to chains of gracEmails on 75 important and often-provocative subjects, I invite you to my home page at http://www.EdwardFudge.com/home.html .

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