My brother is into a religion that believes in prophets today. I know that this is not correct and the answers should be in the living Word. Can you direct me?
TP from Toledo, Oh.
Are prophets for today in scripture? (Part 1)
I do not know if your brother is in a religion that is false or genuine. There is no way to tell based on whether they believe in prophets and/or prophecy for today. Here's why: scripture is replete with prophets and prophecy in both the Old and New Testament. Listen to this from Ephesians 4:11-12; "And He Himself (meaning Christ) gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."
If we were to say that apostles and prophets are not valid for today (as some teach), wouldn't we also have to invalidate evangelists, pastors and teachers which are commonly accepted? We certainly know that the church still needs to be equipped today the same as it did in the first century. We have not come to completion; all the work of ministry stands before us and the body of Christ still needs to be edified. These five office gifts to the church are in full force today just as they were in the beginning.
Additionally, when Peter preached his first sermon on Pentecost, he let his audience know that the days had finally come which the prophet Joel had spoken of; "And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy." (Acts 2:17) The "last days" are the days we are in now - the age of grace or often called the age of the Gentiles. Until Jesus returns we are still in these last days and we can expect men and women will prophesy.
As we read through the New Testament we find prophecy alive and well and in use in the life of the early church. That early church is our model for church life all the way down to today. But that's not the end of the story.
Next: Is ALL prophecy real? Are ALL prophets of God?
Counterfeit verses genuine (Part 2)
Not all prophecy is genuine and not all prophets are from God. God chastised Israel often in the Old Testament for following false prophets who were not speaking on his behalf. There are also examples of false prophecy in the New Testament. Remember the slave girl that Luke spoke of in Acts 16:16-18?
"Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, 'These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.' And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, 'I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.' And he came out that very hour."
Notice that she was actually accurate in her fortune telling; she was telling the truth about Paul but she was still a false prophet because the root of her "gift" was not God but a "spirit of divination." Fortune tellers, along with psychics, palm readers, astrologers and every other New Age practitioner today represents the counterfeit to the genuine gift of prophecy.
In order for there to be a counterfeit, there must be something real first. For instance, there must be genuine money for counterfeiters to copy off of in order to produce their phony stuff. Every genuine gift of God has a counterfeit produced by Satan meant to confuse or mislead us. Prophecy is a genuine God given gift but we have to discern it. Remember that scripture tells us; "Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good." (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21)
Okay then, let's examine what is real and good regarding prophets and prophecy.
Next: What does a prophet do; how do they operate?
What is a prophet? (Part 3)
There are a couple of different Hebrew words which translate into "prophet" but we will use the most common one, nabiy'. The nabiy' prophet is one who speaks on behalf of a superior, in this case God. He or she is the mouthpiece or spokesman for God declaring what he wants said.
Some people think that prophecy always refers to telling future events but that is not the whole story. While a prophet may speak of things to come, often it is a NOW word which comes from God's heart for the moment. Frequently, when prophecy is right on the mark, a wonderful sense of encouragement will come to the hearers.
The first person spoken of as a prophet in the Bible was Abraham. Moses was a prophet as was Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel to name just a few. The Bible even tells us that a spirit of prophecy fell on Saul for a time when he was called to be king over Israel (see 1 Samuel 10).
In the New Testament, we have Simeon and Anna both prophesying when Jesus was presented at the Temple. John the Baptist was a prophet declaring that the kingdom of God was at hand. In Acts 21:9 we are told of the four virgin daughters of Philip the evangelist who were prophetesses. Again, these are a few examples.
Prophecy is a natural part of the ministry of the Christian church and much of it goes on without fanfare or even acknowledgement that it is official "prophecy." Rarely is it someone standing up before a congregation, shaking a finger and saying in old King James English; "Thus sayeth the Lord!" The most wonderful prophecies I have heard have been quietly spoken, gentle in approach, creating a stirring in the heart which validates that the words are from God.
There are different levels of gifting in the prophetic. One might have prophecy as their main Holy Spirit given gift, another might have prophetic leanings occasionally and another may be gifted to pray prophetically. If you have ever received prayer from someone who is prophetic, you might find yourself thinking; "Oh my, that person is really reading my mail. How did they know to pray for me exactly the right way?" If that has happened to you, you have received prophetic ministry.
Next: How can we tell what is genuine from God?
"We prophesy in part..." (Part 4)
Paul told the Corinthian church; "For we know in part and we prophesy in part." (1 Cor. 13:9) He says a few verses later; "Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy." (1 Cor. 14:1) From those scriptures we should realize two things: prophesy is to be highly valued and yet we will administer it imperfectly.
No one knows it all; no one prophet is going to have it 100% right. That is why the church is told to judge prophecy. That is our protection. Paul gives some practical advice regarding prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:29 when he says; "Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge."
And how are we to judge? Here are some questions to ask. Does the prophetic word line up with scripture? Is Jesus glorified? How does the word sit with the hearers? (Meaning, does it bear witness with the Holy Spirit inside the believers who received the prophecy?) Is the prophet a born again believer who is fully submitted to God and to a local church with accountability? If the prophecy involves future events, do they actually come to pass?
We should not be running after prophecy or exalting the prophet but neither should we dismiss it or reject it out of hand. It is wise to keep an open mind with an individual who appears to operate in the gift of prophet until we see their gift and their maturity as a Christian over time. Character counts.
One final word: some churches center their attention solely on prophecy to the exclusion of other ministry gifts and I think that is out of balance. A good church should center on Jesus Christ, work on fulfilling the Great Commission, be dedicated to good works and mercy and have a balanced approach to the gifts of the Holy Spirit such as prophecy.
Jesus prayed; "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me." (John 17:20-21) We are part of those he was praying for to be one. Our churches need to concentrate on essentials and apply grace to those who operate with different understandings than their own. Then the world may believe the Good News!
Note: For more information on Prophets and all the other supernatural gifts read Holy Spirit Gifts - Building Blocks of the Church.