The prophetic ministry is one area of gifting in the church that is controversial yet worth investigating in greater depth. From Moses to Paul, the prophetic gift was something that they wished all God’s people had. That being said, the gift of the prophetic much less that of the function of a prophet has led to a wide range of responses in the church. On one hand you have those that deny outright that such a gift even functions within the Body of Christ today. On the other hand, you have those calling for a restoration of the prophet and the prophetic that is taken to extremes with to much emphasis on prophetic words over the living Word.
Rev 19:10 states, ‘The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” Yet all too often, the spirit of prophecy overlooks Jesus for the personal, strategic or big word that makes us feel better without pointing us to Jesus or encouraging us in our growth to Christ-likeness. Granted this is an extreme among certain charismatic folk but the problem remains something not even addressed among cessationist Christians or pointed out as to why such gifts should be avoided. Ultimately, balanced prophetic words will point to the living Word, encourage us in our Christian maturity and play a part in Christ being formed in us.
1 Cor. 12-14 provides a great deal of insight into the prophetic gift and the story of Acts also provides the role of the prophets in the early church. From these two examples one can see two different types of prophetic words, the personal/corporate word and the prophetic word regarding events effecting regions or nations. The words for an individual or a church provide a source of encouragement for the building up and assembly of the Body of Christ. Such words can come from a prophet or from one having a prophetic gifting to provide the right word at the proper time. The main point in receiving such prophetic utterances is not about ‘us’ but about the formation of Christ in us and the establishment of the Body of Christ.
The role of the prophet as told in the book of Acts focuses on the future events that would affect nations and the believers in those nations such as the famine predicted by Agabus. This is probably the trickier type of prophetic word that I have not had the opportunity to see this in action. I say trickier, because of the future orientation and the often conditional nature of such prophetic words. This would seem to place a great burden on the one functioning as a prophet. The book of Acts records prophecies that came to pass. However, if the word is mistaken or does not come to pass, do we as the church allow for grace and restoration or do we quickly condemn the ‘false prophet’?
Others in recent times have spoken prophecies on a national scale. Often phrased in terms of blessing or wrath, such prophecy is problematic by its very nature. We expect such things from an OT style prophet but we are now under a new covenant; again, tricky stuff. The big question is does such prophecy have a place in the church? I believe people (even large groups of people) should be called to repentance, but should this apply to nations as well? Under the new covenant, should prophetic words still be framed in language of blessing and cursing? Maybe the bigger question is this, if one has a prophetic function in a church, what language and character would they express under the new covenant?