Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Testament Prophecy Must Be Tested

Prophecy in the church is a controversial subject. It can be taken to two extremes: (1) as equal to Scripture, or (2) as non-existent in today's church.

The Nature of New Testament Prophecy.
There seems to be a biblical difference between prophets in the Old Testament, who spoke the very words of God (Scripture), and prophets in the New Testament, who speak what the Spirit brings to mind in human words that are not equal with Scripture. There remains the possibility of human error in the interpretation and application of the prophecies (no error on the part of the Holy Spirit!!), so the prophecies are to be tested against Scripture (1 Thess 5:19-21; 1 Cor 14:29). This is the position of Wayne Grudem on NT prophecy (Systematic Theology, p.1052).

John Piper agrees, describing NT prophecy in this helpful way:

Prophecy is “a Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained utterance that is rooted in a true revelation (1 Cor 14:30), but is fallible because the prophet’s perception of the revelation, and thinking about the revelation, and report of the revelation are all fallible. It is thus similar to the gift of teaching which is Spirit-prompted, Spirit-sustained, rooted in an infallible revelation (the Bible), and yet is fallible but very useful to the church.” John Piper (from the article, The New Testament Gift Of Prophecy)
While prophecy is not the same as teaching and preaching, it may be helpful to make a comparison as Piper has done. Preaching and teaching God's word is done by fallible men. Scripture is infallible, but men have the ability to "mess it up" by misapplying it, wrongly interpreting, mixing it with human error, or just wording a good thought all wrong. But this does not mean we throw out preaching, for it is biblical and useful for the building up of the church (Romans 16:25). Some would do away with prophecy because it is abused or wrongly practiced by others, or for the potential for error on the part of the one doing the prophesying. But to do so would be to cast aside a means of the church's edification.

Piper continues:
(Prophecy) “is a regulated message or report in human words usually made to the gathered believers based on a spontaneous, personal revelation from the Holy Spirit for the purpose of edification, encouragement, consolation, conviction or guidance but not necessarily free from a mixture of human error, and thus needing assessment on the basis of the apostolic (Biblical) teaching and mature spiritual wisdom.” 
Scripture instructs us to test prophecies:
  • Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 1 Corinthians 14:29, ESV
  • Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, ESV
Notice that quenching the Spirit is in the context of despising prophecies. This is one extreme. Perhaps in a gathering of the church the Lord brings something to your mind to share with the brothers and sisters for their upbuilding. But fear of getting it wrong, or that it may not be from the Lord keeps you from sharing it. Could this be quenching the Spirit? Fear of getting it wrong does not call for our keeping the word to ourself, but sharing it in a humble way. Perhaps we could say, "I think the Lord put something on my heart. I want to share it, and let's test it prayerfully and see what the church thinks."

Quenching the Spirit is one extreme, and the other is to not test the word. It is dangerous to think that everything that comes to our mind is from the Lord! It is pride that causes us to be offended that the church would test our 'prophecy' against God's word. As my friend Luke Geraty says, "Correction is not rejection."

May the church operate in humble freedom regarding prophecy. Let us cast aside fear and freely share with the church what God brings to our mind. But let us do so with humility, welcoming the testing of the word against Scripture and the mature wisdom of the corporate church.

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