The biblical calling of what is known as the prophet or seer is faces contradictory challenges in the contemporary Church. Some, because of their spiritual and doctrinal persuasion, say the ministry is no longer existent or necessary since we have the Bible. Others believe that the ministry of the prophet is vital to healthy Christian faith. Still others suggest that both views are correct. So the mix of understanding can cause huge controversy between otherwise agreeable believers.
In staying true to the context of scripture, the fact is that of all of the callings of ministry mentioned in the Bible, the ministry of the prophet has the greatest track record for biblical frequency. Accordingly, the functions and references to the prophets, seers and prophecy, outnumber the references pertaining to pastors, apostles, teachers and evangelists. Furthermore, if you consider that Ephesians 4:7-11 seems to list what are known as the “5-fold ministry callings”, prophets have to be fundamentally important to the Church and ministry callings. So why would I want to bring this up at this time?
For a number of years now, I’ve been observing a disconcerting development of unusual philosophies, unwisely managed practices and troubling attitudes concerning those who claim they understand what it means to be prophetic. Furthermore, those who practice what they believe to be prophetic is becoming more and more a concern, as I have observed a very non-biblical, irresponsible approach to all that pertains to the gift and manifestations. Sadly, there is a wide difference of opinion on the matter, much of which, from what I can discern as questionable, concerning spiritual authenticity. I know that daring to say so would anger those who defend such, yet, I believe there needs to be some sort of clarification and accountability in the management and testing of these things lest the practice grow increasingly off.
In saying these things, I think it’s important to make a clear distinction as to what is the difference between being “prophetic” and being a prophet. Therefore, let me offer the following explanation to bring some balance to the matter and hopefully encourage people to practice that which is biblically sound along with being spiritually dynamic.
In the Old Testament, only a rare individual was privileged to have the presence of the Holy Spirit. Prophets, priests and kings all experienced the power of the Spirit according to the calling and purposes of God for their times. Furthermore, since the vast majority of the people could not hear God for themselves, and what’s more, no one was born again, it was necessary that a representative for God would speak to the people when the situation required it. Additionally, the message of the prophets was almost always emphatic on one point, that being; the people must lay aside their idols and return to God faithfully. There of course were the assorted prophetic words concerning nations, destinies and matters God wanted to address, however, the prophets of the Old Testament continually called the people back to faith. But remember, no one was born again, and what’s more, only a few had the Holy Spirit. Consequently, they needed someone to speak to them in God’s behalf. That, however, changed at the onset of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on every believer.
The New Testament condition of the individual is entirely different than the Old Testament. For one, Jesus stated that when the Holy Spirit came, the Spirit would guide them into all truth. This is a radical statement! No longer would the individual have the need to have someone tell them what God wanted to say. They could hear for themselves. This is especially significant because Jesus stated that it was expedient that He should go to be with the Father, so the Holy Spirit would come and empower them, reuniting their hearts with God and restoring what had been lost in the Garden of Eden at the fall. (John 16:7) But think on this. If Jesus’ death was fundamentally necessary so that the Holy Spirit could come to indwell and baptize the saints, and each believer could hear from God personally, then why would the Old Testament prophetic gift be necessary any longer? The train of thought would then have to be that if a born again soul seeks to pursue personal prophecy from a supposed prophet to hear what God desires for him or her to do, it is equal to dishonoring what Jesus did on the cross. His death made the way so each individual could hear God for him and herself! We need to understand how precious this gift of the Holy Spirit is! You can hear God for yourself, unlike the Old Testament people who couldn’t and needed someone to tell them what God was saying. So then, why would the ministry of the prophet still be included in the list of ministry gifts that Paul and others wrote about?
Well, for one, the New Testament ministry of the prophet and prophecy is in actuality a new breed of calling very different in motivation, though at times similar in operation to the ministry of the Old Testament.
Eph 4:7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. 8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 9(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15 But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. KJV
Take a look at Ephesians 4:7-16, and especially verse 8-10. These verses describe the process of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension to heaven, concluding with the granting of ministry gifts of unusual nature to the people of faith. These gifts were granted at the conclusion of Old Testament conditions and as part of New Testament empowering. Therefore, to generalize the New Testament Christ-given prophetic calling, ministry and functions, as being the same as the Old Testament prophets, is dangerous and error. The prophetic gift Jesus granted to the Church is not the same as the Old Testament because of the change of the recipients of the gifts and the affects of the New Birth. To therefore then ignore this truth throws the believer back under Old Testament practice where the voice of the Lord cannot be heard by the many, and constructs an unhealthy spiritual co-dependence on a supposed anointed individual. God help us! So what does a New Testament individual need to consider when it comes to understanding these things.
There are essentially 5 categories and degrees of what could be called “prophetic” identified in the New Testament and consistent with biblical doctrine.
Rom 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 5 For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. 8 So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. KJV
Number One- Comparatively, an Old Testament person needed to be able to hear God, but couldn’t generally without a go-between- such as a prophet or seer, while the New Testament born again individual has been granted the Spirit and can hear God personally. The best definition of the first prophetic category in the New Testament is what Paul identified and urged as being spiritually minded! Every saint needs to be “prophetic” in the sense of hearing God! Otherwise, Jesus’ purpose in departing to be with the Father, and the promised outpouring of the Spirit is pointless. I could spend years discussing the different angles of of what this means and how to mature in this. It is so important.
Number Two- The second category of what’s related to the subject of what’s prophetic is the grace gift of prophecy as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:10 and so forth. This aspect of the prophetic is desperately needing clarification and instruction as well. I would encourage you to investigate the verses that speak of prophecy in the New Testament.
Rom. 12:3 For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. 4 For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: 5 So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. 6 Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; 7 Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; 8 Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness.
Number Three- In Romans 12, Paul also wrote of a grace of prophecy directly linked to how one lives and according to one’s measure of faith. Quite a wide variety of authors have commented on this, with some of them saying that these graces are connected to how one perceives insight and is motivated in life. Even so, this I believe can be identified as a significant factor of God’s grace given individuals through the New Birth. But let’s be clear about this. Unbelievers do not possess this grace. It is given at the time of the New Birth.
Number Four- The fourth category of the prophetic is found in the list of ministry offices, or positions, in the writings of 1 Corinthians 12:28-20. Paul noted the office of the prophet, after the office of the apostle, as significant and different from the gift of prophecy mentioned earlier on in the chapter. The people of the New Testament were people who valued and understood New Birth principles that included the revelation that the Holy Spirit was given without partiality to both genders. Because of that, the term, prophetess is not used as an official title for the gifting after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, except in the reference to the woman in Revelation who called herself a prophetess. I believe that it is important to also mention that though this office of prophet is a vital ministry and calling, it is distinct from the gift of the prophet cited in Ephesians 4:7-10.
Number Five- The fifth category of the prophetic ministry is found in Ephesians 4, as already has been mentioned. It is unique because the type of grace gift attributed to it is not the same as what is listed in 1 Corinthians 12:28-30. The Greek word, “DOMA” translated as the word "gifts", is referring to a type of gift that opens up, or is for another gift. Therefore, practically speaking, it’s like a key that opens up the prophetic and spiritual minded hearts of the Church at large.
Each of these categories are vital for the Church, although not given to every believer. Nonetheless, as people attempt to grow in spiritual mindedness, prophecy, prophetic motivation and the callings of the prophets, problems will occur.
I have become quite upset as of late observing the frequency with which believers cast stones and blame those people they judge at fault, when someone makes a mistake or mismanages the things of the Spirit. What’s more, is that in doing so, the growth that needs to occur in the Body of Christ in the gifts is either stunted or misinterpreted. Please let us remember that people miss it. I understand that this can be very disarming, but if we continue to frame the concept of the prophet based on Old Testament principle and requirement, we miss the purpose of what God wants to accomplish in each and every one of us by His Spirit. I also don’t appreciate the growing problem of spiritual experimentation that comes in the name of wanting to minister the word of the Lord without considering the damage that can occur when a word is incorrect, and without a point of accountability for those words. Heaven knows we all make mistakes. But let’s grow up and learn that one wrong word can damage a heart for many years. Therefore, lets learn to test what we deem prophetic without feeling insulted if correction needs to be made so we can be more accurate.
I’ve listed for you what I believe offers a biblical summary of the New Testament categories of being prophetic. However, before I close I want to include one more list. As I mentioned, there is a tendency for blame casting and accusation concerning people who make mistakes in prophecy. In the Old Testament framework for the prophets, certain parameters for responsibility were required. In some cases a wrong prophecy could result in severe penalty and even death, though not always so, as in the case of Isaiah’s two prophecies to Hezekiah. Hezekiah’s prayer changed the matter, and therefore, the prophecy had to change accordingly. Nonetheless, false prophets were a serious problem in the Old Testament and will continue to be even to the time of the Second Coming of the Lord. Let me however make a distinction here in the following list.
The Old Testament identifies several types of false prophets. Most of these can cross over into the New Testament manifestations because they describe certain types of people with ungodly motivations.
There are three types of false prophets.
1. There were prophets of other gods such as Baal.
2. There were also conscious imposters, or people who knew they were not called of God as a prophet, but intentionally prophesied, though in error and for various reasons.
3. Finally, there were sincere, but deceived individuals who genuinely believed they had a word from the Lord, but did not.
These types of prophets still exist. Therefore, we must be very careful not to assume that just because someone's prophecy is inaccurate, it may not mean that he or she is necessarily a false prophet. Let me explain.
There is also another grouping of people who may genuinely be prophetic, and yet, may have not matured in the gifting. They are, therefore, what I believe should be identified and recognized as "Immature prophets" or "Prophets in Training". This group could easily include a vast majority of people who want to develop in the prophetic, but who simply have not grown up enough to hit the mark. They’re very much like the young prophets in training described in the Old Testament. Moreover, because of the sense of liberty New Testament believers feel, sometimes zeal combined with immaturity takes precedence over wisdom and love.
No matter which type of prophet you may encounter, or what you feel called to, let’s grow up and take responsibility for the words and actions we declare are from God so that we don’t create a spiritual catastrophe and damage others without care for their future! God is not reckless or unloving and neither should we be. It is not a coincidence that before Paul wrote extensively about prophecy and tongues, he emphasized love! That must be our basis for all we do, especially when it comes to being prophetic!