This Sunday I am preaching on a topic on which I have never preached, but I have firm and passionate convictions. The part of me the loves to declare the truth of Scripture is excited. The part of me that knows how controversial this can be is nervous.
Prophecy. What is it? Can Christians still prophesy today? If so, what does that look like?
Historically, this is a controversial topic in the church. You may ask, “What sane pastor would introduce yet another controversial topic in the midst of so much controversy already around masks and politics?” Clearly, I am asking myself the same question. This is a topic our church elders have hashed out together and not come to full agreement on regarding the minor details. Yet, we love and respect one another and have unity in the central truths of the gospel. So, as an expository preacher, we plow on through the book of 1 Thessalonians, and come to:
1 Thessalonians 5:19–22 ESV Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.
For some, this sermon may provoke more questions than it will answer. My view on this topic may come as a surprise to some, because this is not something our church has taught on or practiced in a public way. So in an attempt to further train the church to think clearly on these things I want to provide some resources to continue to learn more on the topic of prophecy.
What Do the Scriptures Say?
The canon of Scripture is our highest and inerrant authority for all things in life and godliness. We have everything we need in scripture for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3-4). We live in a day when it’s much easier to google topics and read or listen to the fruit of someone else’s study. But it’s vitally important to learn to study the scriptures for ourselves.
Study Romans 12:3-8. Study 1 Corinthians 12-14. Study 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21. Study Acts. Study Ephesians 2:20. How is prophecy understood? Is it viewed positively? Are there warnings about prophecy?
Before I send the reader on hyperlinked rabbit trails I want to say that it’s unfortunate that churches have divided over this topic. While I have passionate convictions on this topic, I do think Christians can disagree on what prophecy is today and remain friends and fellow members of the same church. The gospel is not at stake, unless someone starts claiming that God has revealed something to you that contradicts Scripture. Then we have an issue.
The Two Camps
When it comes to the miraculous and revelatory spiritual gifts, like prophecy, there are two camps and a spectrum of belief between them.
Cessationism: On one of the spectrum there are cessationists who believe that the miraculous and revelatory gifts have ceased after the founding of the church and with the death of the original apostles. Cessationstists don’t believe God is dead or inactive in our world. But usually they believe that we shouldn’t expect the miraculous, though we can pray for it. Rather, we should be content to see God in ordinary providence (and we should). The miraculous and revelatory gifts were for the intended purpose of founding the church in the first century (based on Ephesians 2:20), and then have faded away since then. Many godly men and women whom I respect and learn from fall in this camp. Here are a few solid articles on cessationism, and I’m sure you could find dozens more:
Continuationism: The other end of the spectrum is continuationists, who believe that all the spiritual gifts given to the early church are available to the body of Christ today to build up the church. Charismatics and Pentecostals are continuationists, but not all continuationists are charismatics and Pentacostals. I myself am a continuationist but there is much about the charismatic and pentecostal movement that I disagree with and don’t identify with. The main reason I believe all the spiritual gifts continue today is not because I’ve had radical charismatic experiences. Actually, most of my experience would lead me to believe that the miraculous gifts have largely faded away.
The principle reason I am a continuationist is that I believe Scripture teaches that prophecy and tongues will continue until we see the Lord Jesus face to face and we know fully. Now we know in part and prophecy in part. Some day we will know fully and be fully known by Christ (1 Corinthians 13:8-12). One argument against the continuation of prophecy is that Scripture is sufficient. To that, I say, “Amen, Scripture is sufficient for all things that pertain to life and godliness, and it’s Scripture that directs me desire to prophesy.” Prophecy today must be tested by scripture, prayer, and godly Christian community.
Here are a few solid articles on continuationism and a continuationist understanding of prophecy. My bias toward this view shows up in how many more articles I’m providing to support it.
Would I love to convince everyone in our church to believe in and pursue all the spiritual gifts? Yes. Do I think that is going to happen? Probably not. Am I okay with that? Yes.
We have a healthy understanding of the importance of theological triage among our elders. Our unity in love and agreement on core doctrines where the gospel is at stake is strong. All doctrine is important, but some is more central and “of first importance” than others (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). So I pray that we as a church family seek to study and discuss this together, the end result is greater unity and love.
That said, I do hope that teaching on prophecy increases our openness and anticipation of the Lord speaking to us prophetically. Onward we go, trusting the Lord Jesus!
1 Corinthians 14:1–3 ESV Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.