The Gift of Prophecy, Part 1

Paul Dean
Paul Dean

I hear more and more talk about the gift of prophecy and how it serves a major function in authentic church life. We’re told that we’ll experience life in the Spirit in a greater way, and the church will more effectively build itself up in love. If that’s true, then that’s what I want. Yet, I wonder if Christians aren’t satisfied with biblical life in the Spirit consisting of heartfelt worship regardless of our emotional state, dealing with sin at the heart level, and engaging in plain ole encouragement of one another, among other things. I wonder if Christians are conditioned to want something more -- to seek the experience. We’re trained that way, especially in America, and we’re taught that way by an increasing number of pastors and pseudo church leaders.

What is Prophecy?

What is the gift of prophecy? Biblically, prophecy is direct revelation from God. That’s it’s main feature. The bible is filled with prophets declaring, “Thus saith the Lord.” They had a word from God, and it was one-hundred percent accurate. And yes, while prophecy may be primarily described as forth-telling the word they had from God, it often had an element of foretelling the future. If the prophet declared anything contrary to Scripture already given, or made a prediction that did not come true, he was to be put to death (Deut. 13; 18).

Charismatic View

Today, there are other views of prophecy. Of course, if they contradict the Scriptures, they’re false views. Broadly speaking, there’s the Charismatic view. Those holding this position assert they receive direct revelation from God, yet often that revelation contradicts Scripture. They might predict a financial windfall for someone, or a healing, but more often than not these things fail to come to pass. Many predict that Christ is coming again in a particular time-frame, something the bible clearly tells us no one knows. Further, they redefine the gift of tongues, a gift that also involves direct revelation from God. Tongues is just an old King James era word for known languages as defined in Acts 2. Charismatics claim the gift of tongues is an unintelligible heavenly language. When spoken to others it is prophetic. They also claim tongues is a private prayer language. Neither of these claims is biblical. The notion the gift of tongues refers to a heavenly or private prayer language flows from misinterpretations of certain verses in 1 Corinthians 13 and 14.

Matt Chandler's View

Another view that’s gaining popularity is that put forth by Matt Chandler and others. It really falls into the Charismatic view, but has slight differences. He illustrated on one occasion by asking an audience to imagine he had a dream. By way of summary, in this dream he saw a pirate ship; it had a number of canons that were firing; a shark was chasing it; and a number of other things happened. He then asked the audience to imagine that this dream was a word from God that he was to give to a friend. Chandler said you don’t really know what the dream means, you might get some of it wrong, but nevertheless, you must go to your friend, and tell him about the dream. You don’t try to interpret it by surmising that Jesus is the shark for example. You simply go in obedience with the prophetic word. You might ask, “Does that mean anything to you?” It might not, he said. Even so, you'll be experiencing more of the Spirit, and those who engage this way will be edifying one another.

The major problem with this view is two-fold. First, prophecy is not defined in the bible this way. If you don’t know whether the word came from God, whether you got it right, or even what it means, then it’s not biblical prophecy. Second, we’re not told in the bible to use the gift this way: taking dreams or impressions that make no sense to anyone and dispensing them to others. Christianity is not built upon random, nonsensical notions that pass through our heads. It’s built on truth. That’s one reason Paul says God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).

The Gift of Exhortation

The church edifies itself in love by speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 3). Why not merely engage in the simple practice of encouraging one another with the Scriptures? For some, apparently, it’s not exciting enough.

Of course, there are other views of prophecy. And, there is the main question: is the gift of prophecy in operation today? We’ll turn to those issues in Part 2.

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Originally published May 22, 2020.