Prophecy today vs. New Testament prophecy – are they the same?

early church-peter preachingI 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.
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Relieved from guilt: my reluctance to see Passion of the Christ

Passion of the Christ_bloody JesusI realize that many have praised this movie and I don’t want to throw a wet blanket on somebody’s parade. So please know that what I’m about to say is formulating my own thoughts about a wildly popular movie among Christians. These are just my thoughts and observations. You may disagree and that’s ok. In fact, I’d be open to rethinking my perspective, which has been bubbling for some years. However, I suspect there are others who agree with me and so I wanted to pen out my thoughts.

Back in February 2004, The Passion of the Christ hit movie theaters and Christians turned out in droves to view it. At the time of its release, the church I was involved in at the time set up a mass viewing. I was reluctant but I didn’t know why. I blamed in on the difficulty of my home situation with my husband’s illness but really, that was no excuse. He passed away later that year and surely I had ample opportunity to rent the DVD once it was released. So what was my problem? Every year, I agonized over watching it since it seemed the “Christian” thing to do. It would not be until years later that I realized why I did not want to see this movie.

The more the reports and reviews spread about the incredible nature of the movie, the more conflicted I felt because of my reluctance. These reports emphasized the gruesome nature of Christ’s torture and crucifixion. Without seeing the movie, it became pretty obvious pretty fast that the director had intentionally taken liberties with the details of Jesus’ brutal last hours, expanding on the horrific violence that Jesus endured. By all accounts and reviews, there were bloody, tortuous scenes that would make the toughest of macho men flinch. The more I read and heard, it seemed to me that this violence was a central theme of the movie.

And it has occurred to me, that was the problem…

No doubt, Jesus endured a brutal trial and execution. That really was the Roman way. But when I look at Scripture, I have to wonder if that was the focus of the NT writers, especially the Gospel writers, in the narrative of Christ’s last hours. Continue reading

A Sure Word (Pt 1)

Deere and SamraIn working through my thesis, I’m interacting with some popular level books that advocate seeking the voice of God, hearing God speak regarding whatever dilemma we are facing or just to give encouragement or direction. And this seems right to so many because we ARE in relationship with the living God who continues to move by the Holy Spirit, right? Well not so fast.

I’m addressing the fact that God already spoke through Scripture and explaining why that is so. Of course, we need to define what it means for God to speak, which is his verbal revelation. Whatever propositional knowledge of himself he wanted to convey, has been conveyed progressively through the Old Testament as he spoke through word and historical acts in establishing a covenantal relationship with his people. Both word and deed get accomplished through the Son, through whom the words of the Old Testament are validated and the New Testament explains.

But I’m also reminded of the fact that we do face uncertainty, difficulty, confusion or fear. We do face times of doubt and discouragement. Being in relationship with an invisible God can cause us to ache for the tangible. We are humans after all.

So many do what these writers I’m interacting with advocate, seeking out that tangible need in he form of soft whispers or signs, words of comfort and affirmation that we long to hear.  Somehow the Bible seems deficient and words spoken by others meet the needs of the immediate, especially when there is a claim attached to it that the Lord has spoken. Who doesn’t want a word right now for what we are going through? Continue reading

Short-Sighted Prophecy

MosesDo prophets exist today? That has been the subject of much dispute and one that this post is not necessarily seeking to address though I know I’ll tip my hand regarding my own position. Nonetheless, I’m not writing to defend one position or the other. Nor am I seeking to define prophecy. So what am I addressing?

I find that it is quite common for Christians to arrive at a conclusion based on biblical examples So in other words, we can look at God speaking through prophets in the Old Testament and think that is applicable to us.  And certainly there is mention of prophets in the New Testament. But what is needed is putting this activity in the context of the complete message, which entails taking a 20,000 foot view, so to speak, and see the connections that are being made between the Old and New Testaments to get the whole picture.

It is not sufficient enough to look at examples or isolate passages that speak of prophecy. We must consider the role of prophecy in Scripture with respect to the complete message of 66 books. That message is God’s redemptive work through his Son through which a people are gathered for his purposes.

J.I. Packer notes this about Old Testament prophecy:

When our author tells us in Old Testament times God revealed himself by speaking words spoken by the prophets (for that which is to come), it is important to see the range of his reference. We are apt today to restrict the term ‘prophets’ to the authors of the prophetic books of the Old Testament, along with Samuel and his successors in Israel’s history. But we need to remember that to the New Testament writers, Moses the lawgiver and David and his fellow-psalmists are also among the prophets. The New Testament hails them all as foretellers of Christ (Luke 24:44; John 5:47; Acts 2:25-31, 7:37). Moses, indeed, was regarded throughout as the supreme prophet (see Deut. 34:10), and the Mosaic body of teaching as the supreme and basic prophetic revelation. When Stephen says that Moses ‘received living oracles to give unto us’ (Acts 7:38), it is the law of Moses that he has in mind; the law, seen from this standpoint, was entirely prophetic.[1] Continue reading