I have been concerned about the over emphasis of prophecy by some. I shouldn’t be surprised because I have come to learn that overemphasis of particular truths or views come in cycles and they do eventually run their course. Currently prophecy is one of those subjects. We definitely need some good sound teaching in this area.
First let me say that within the church, prophecy is a part of what we do. It’s not all of what we do, neither does it occupy the majority of what we do but it does have a place within the overall operation of God within his Church.
Now, let me say very precisely, I am not against prophecy. I have both prophesied and been prophesied to. Prophecy has been very encouraging to me especially at certain points in my life and really that is the purpose for the simple gift of prophecy within the Church.
Biblical prophecy in its simplest form is speaking to men to edification, exhortation, and comfort. Of course prophecy can also be coupled with the other gifts as is the case with those who are truly called to the office of the prophet. A prophet may have a word of wisdom which is to be spoken under the inspiration of the gift prophecy.
The gifts of the Spirit will oftentimes overlap. A believer may experience the gift of faith by which he will minister in the gifts of healing or the working of miracles.
Once while I was teaching a simple Bible class, I suddenly was empowered with boldness and spoke under such inspiration that one of the people present (later reported) how they had experienced healing. My speaking under the anointing that evening inspired their faith to act on what they had heard and God was glorified. This happened unbeknownst to me and was the result of my teaching the Word of God under the anointing.
Preaching or teaching under the anointing can often be coupled with the gifts to bring about the desired result of the Lord to answer the prayers of his people. Many times minister’s who are prayerfully prepared will speak by the gift of prophecy within the context of their preaching or teaching and sometimes they may not even know it until they hear reports of what God has done within the hearts of the hearer.
God did not put prophecy in the church to take the place of the preaching and teaching of his holy written word. There is far more in the New Testament about preaching and teaching the scriptures than there is about prophecy. Let me say it this way, the scriptures should be our main diet and the gifts a supplement to our diet. The gifts are very important but we must put God’s holy written word first.
This doesn’t mean we can’t have special meetings to teach on the subject of prophecy or the gifts of the Spirit so that folks can understand them from a scriptural standpoint. We should do this as with other Biblical subjects but the operation of the gifts of the Spirit are as the Spirit wills and not as we will.
It is my conviction that one thing which fuels much of the desire that folks have for prophesy is an intense desire to hear God’s voice. There is a subtle pitfall that needs to be avoided here. That pitfall is elevating personal prophecy above the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. Those who elevate prophecy out of proportion tend to value the words of a prophecy as infallible as the word of God. Yet prophesy should always be judged by the written Word of God.
The function of the simple gift of prophecy within the body of Christ is not for doctrinal purposes. The Scriptures are the rule for our doctrine.
The simple gift of prophecy is given for edification, exhortation, and comfort. One does not have to be a prophet to have the gift of prophecy. For example, Acts 21:9 tells us that Philip the evangelist had four daughters, who were virgins, which did prophesy. Acts 19 tells us that Paul laid his hands on certain disciples and the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
Yet, in the ministry of a prophet, the gift of prophecy is often coupled with other gifts such as the gift of the Word of Wisdom and/or the Word of Knowledge. For instance, in Acts 11 Agabus the prophet warned the church about a famine that was coming and in Acts 21 he confirmed that Paul was going to be bond in Jerusalem.
In neither incident did Agabus offer detailed guidance or doctrine because prophets were not set in the church to guide us or to to be our rule to live by. The Holy Spirit is our guide and the Word of God is our rule for living. Yet, Agabus did reveal certain facts that were known to God that one would not know simply from reading and/or studying scripture. The revelation of the coming famine allowed the church to prepare for it and the revelation of Paul being bond in Jerusalem was confirmation concerning the will of God.