The Gift of Prophecy

The primary function of miracles is to point to God. Sure, they do good things to people, because God is Good, but the essence of a miracle is the violation of the Laws of Nature, and only God can do that. We humans prefer to believe that we are our own gods, that we don't need any supernatural deity to tell us what to do, and if we are stubborn enough in that belief, then the function of miracles is thwarted as it was in some towns where Jesus walked, and certainly in our post-Christian America.

God can do anything He wants to, any time He wants to -- that's a large part of what it means to be God -- but there are times in history when God is doing a big Salvation Thing to rescue us dumb humans from our ignorance and slavery to sin (or Egyptians, as the case may be), so miracles are an excellent way to point to the particular Person God chose to do that. The first time that was Moses, and he -- or rather He -- destroyed the economy of the greatest nation in the whole world. God can do that. God alone can do that, but we need miracles to prove it was God and not natural causes. The second time stuff like that came down Big Time was in the ministry of Jesus. Some miracles spilled over onto his Disciples, to establish that they knew what they were doing, but not many miracles were needed for that. Pretty soon they stopped happening.

Once in a while you might get some miracle in some far-away place, where people need a proof that this is God at work, but mostly they don't happen. Especially not here and now in post-Christian America. The Establishment of Religion in the USA in the last 50 years holds that there is no such thing as God, or if there is a god, he has no power to do anything more than make a few deluded devotees behave in goofy ways. If a miracle did happen, nobody would believe it, so what's the point? God does not seem to be in the habit of "casting His pearls before swine." So you won't see nor hear of real, verifiable miracles.

But God can do anything He wants to do, except lie -- but He wouldn't want to lie, because lying is wicked and God is Good -- and God never told us that miracles were done with (see my blog post "Cessationism" a couple years ago).

Prophecy is one of those miracle gifts listed in the Apostle Paul's first letter to Corinth. But it has the remarkable quality that an ordinary person cannot tell if it's miraculous or just an ordinary person making something up -- unless what the person is saying is patently false, because God cannot lie. The Gift of Tongues is almost as hard to distinguish between miracle and fraud, except when somebody is hearing them who knows the language being spoken. That happens, but not very often. Most of what passes for Tongues in present times, when it is analyzed scientifically, it turns out to be babbling, not real speach, which if it has real things to say, is not repetitive like Contemporary Christian "7/11" songs ("seven words repeated eleven times").

The apparent cessation of miracles at the end of the Apostolic era was noticed by the later Church Fathers with some appreciation. The problem is, if God is giving miraculous gifts to ordinary people, then those people have evident authority directly from God, and not through the church leadership; they cannot be controlled. It's a matter of control and power, exactly like when the Disciples were arguing (in front of Jesus!) about their own rank and power, and Jesus told them in no uncertain terms, more than once, not to do things that way. Church leaders are in a position of power, and they know it, and they like that power. That's even more true in today's Protestant churches, where anybody who can speak persuasively can get himself hired as senior Pastor of a large church, with all those people to tell what to do. If he's really good, he can build that church from nothing. That's power. Elsewhere (see "Personality & Biblical Values") I discussed the obsession of church leaders over power.

So theologically, there are two different meanings for "prophecy." In the Bible, it always and only means speaking the direct and exact words of God with no intermediation (as explained in my blog post four years ago). In Cessationist churches, some pastors like to embellish their authority in the church by claiming the word means "forth-telling" and that is what preachers do. And they believe it, even though it has no Biblical support. People believe many things about the Bible that they only heard, but cannot actually find there (because it's not there). "Jesus loves me, this I know / For the Bible tells me so," cannot be found in the Bible. I looked. Both definitions of "prophecy" confer power over other people on the practitioners: you get to tell people what to do, and they are obligated to do it. What a rush!

Anyway, this young lady tells me that she has the gift of prophecy, and that she is now in a church where she can use that gift. She pointedly did not tell me what church that was, but I can know a great deal about it nonetheless. She did not even tell me which definition of "prophecy" she was using, but that too can be inferred, albeit with less certainty. I do know the church she left behind, it was the church where the pastor was a Cessationist, and about which I blogged from time to time. So maybe her gift of prophecy is nothing more than being allowed to preach (the former church denomination also does not allow women preachers), but I think we can discount that.

Most churches that tell young women that they have the gift of prophecy and encourage them to believe and act on it are charismatic in theology. She did say her church is in Springfield MO, which is the world headquarters of the Assemblies of God. There are a number of large AG churches there, and AG denominational theology has always insisted on Continuationism (the doctrine that the gifts in 1Corinthians are still active in churches today), so her new church is most likely AG or similar charismatic. Why not Presbyterian or Methodist? Although they tend to be Cessationist, they do allow women preachers (the non-Biblical definition of "prophecy"), but organized church denominations generally require formal training for their preachers, and this young lady's formal education stopped at high school. So if she believes she has the gift of prophecy, she most likely means the Biblical definition, and her church is a charismatic church in the heart of AG country.

God has several things to say about qualifying prophets, because it's such a critical ministry. I think the most significant of them is what Jeremiah said to the (false) prophet Hananiah son of Azzur, who was promising to "break the yoke of the king of Babylon," and bring everything back to Israel in two years. Jeremiah needed the people to know that this affirming prophecy was bogus, that the people were going to be exiled to Babylon for 70 years, so they might as well get comfortable there, that God could hear their prayers also in Babylon (and not only in Jerusalem). So he tells them, "the prophets in the past prophesied war, disaster and plague; if a prophet tells you something affirming, you can't know he's telling you the truth unless it happens." The people in the church want to tell you nice things, they want you to come back and put money in the offering plate. The true prophets of God say horrible things, disagreeable things. Jeremiah didn't want to be that kind of prophet. That's how you know he was authentic. Feelers, young women in the churches, want to be saying affirming things, so people will affirm them back. People who do that probably are not true prophets of God. God Himself said so. God does from time to time have positive things to say, but test it. If it doesn't happen, it was a lie, don't believe anything they have to say. God also said that (by Moses).

Whether she actually has that gift or not, is not my place to say. God can do anything He wants to, and sometimes He confounds our expectations. But as I said at the beginning, miracles do not happen in our culture as often as the charismatics want to believe. Furthermore, because prophecy is a control thing, and because so many in the churches (and elsewhere) want control over other people -- this young lady is clearly one of them, even (so I was told) as a child -- I'm inclined to think that if you want that Gift, and if you are proud to have it, you probably don't. But that's only my opinion, which I'll happily and eagerly change when so instructed by Scripture or a true Prophet of God (and I can tell ;-) Yes, I know about 1Cor.14:5, but in her case it should be understood in the context of verses 20 and 34 in the same chapter. So I say "probably."

Tom Pittman
Rev. 2018 August 13