I just finished up teaching a class on a topic I’ve had my teeth in for a good while – God speaking. In fact, I wrote my master’s thesis on it as I described in this post here.
Naturally, a component of how God speaks today depends on how you consider New Testament prophecy. Just on the surface, when reading though the New Testament, especially Acts and 1 Corinthians, it does seem reasonable to conclude that we should expect that people would deliver prophecy just like they did in the Bible. In fact, I have spent much of my Christian life in churches where delivering prophecies was quite normal. Prophecies would range from exhortation to rebuking to foretelling what was in store for the church. It was also no uncommon for people to give private prophecies to individuals that typically included some type of foretelling, “look out for _____” or “in this season God is going to _______.” If you were to ask someone how did they know this was from God, a typical response would be “I just felt in my spirit.” In other words, there was some type of strong feeling that whatever words were being formed in one’s mind was God wanted to communicate.
However, the more I examine the New Testament, and specifically 1 Corinthians 14, the more I question this methodology of evaluating prophecies. I use this particular chapter as an example because I think it provides the clearest picture what transpired in the early church regarding the practice of prophecy to the body of Christ. In this regard, I think it can present the biggest challenge to a cessationist position that concludes that prophecy no longer exists, or at least the office of prophet no longer exists.
Without going too in depth and explaining in a cursory way, what I argue in my thesis and further developed in preparation for this class is that New Testament prophecies were proclaiming what the testimony of the apostles meant for the church. Keep in mind that during the New Testament accounts, the church had the Old Testament Scriptures, the testimony of the apostles and the word of the prophets. There was not a completed Bible. However, a holistic understanding of God’s self-revelation to humanity will see that the foundation of Old Testament provided the basis for what would be fulfilled in Christ, who completely and ultimately expresses the mind, will, character and plan of God. All New Testament activity portrayed in the epistles must rightly find their place in what God has done through the Son.
In light of this connection between Old and New Testaments, John Child, professor of New Testament studies at George Whitfield College in South Africa, states this in a fabulous essay entitled Towards an Evaluation of Charismatic Prophesies;
Since prophets claim their prophecies are from God and should be heeded, we should expect them to be tested under the new covenant We should expect the theological test to reflect theological development from old to new covenant; not just a fidelity to Yahwey but to Jesus Christ, not just to content in keeping with the Torah or Old Testament but in keeping with the progressive revelation or full revelation in the New Testament.