home > Pastor’s Desk > 2021 > January > DO NOT DESPISE PROPHECY DESPITE 2020

DO NOT DESPISE PROPHECY DESPITE 2020

I believe in prophecy and I believe in prophets. But based on what I know from Scripture both are rarer than many would have us believe. I suspect though that there are a lot of Christians who used to share my acceptance of the validity of prophecy and prophets — who no longer do due to the events of 2020.

One of the many reasons I believe in prophecy and prophets is the teaching of Scripture. I will use one particular two-verse passage to bookend this week’s pastor’s desk to make my case.

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
First Thessalonians 5:20-21

 

THUS SAYS THE LORD!

Prophecy is predicting or foretelling. It is not like a good guess or a mere hunch. It is what happens when the Spirit of God comes upon a person and they speak on behalf of God. For the most part, the only ones who prophesied in the Old Covenant era were prophets. There were occasions when people experienced the Holy Spirit coming upon them in which people wondered whether these people were now prophets. But each of these instances were temporary and the prophetic utterances that resulted were forth-telling rather than foretelling. That is, rather than predicting the future (foretelling), these temporary prophecies were more like declaring God’s praises. Here are some examples- 

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the Spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders. And as soon as the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied. But they did not continue doing it.
Numbers 11:25

And when all who knew him previously saw how he prophesied with the prophets, the people said to one another, “What has come over the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” And a man of the place answered, “And who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
First Samuel 10:11-12

It was a grave thing to claim to be a prophet. ‘Grave’ because the consequences of claiming to be a prophet when you were not included shaming and a painful death (Deut. 18:20-22). Little wonder then that several of the Old Testament prophets were hesitant to accept God’s call to be a prophet.

¶ “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
¶ Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold,
I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.”
Jeremiah 1:5-6

Anyone who claimed to be a prophet but taught falsehood, was not to be listened to. This required that there was a standard of truth by which the prophet’s words could be evaluated. This is why the written Word of God became increasingly important. Over time, the role of the prophet broadened beyond foretelling to reminding God’s people of His Word, reminding them of the covenant their forefathers had established with God by retelling them their history (the prophet Jeremiah was one of the authors of First and Second Kings for example), and fulfilling the role of an intercessor. In Isaiah 36 we see the prophet Isaiah fulfilling each of these prophetic aspects after King Hezekiah sent messengers to Isaiah pleading for him to intercede on their behalf –

It may be that the LORD your God will hear the words of the Rabshakeh, whom his master the king of Assyria has sent to mock the living God, and will rebuke the words that the LORD your God has heard; therefore lift up your prayer for the remnant that is left.’” ¶ When the servants of King Hezekiah came to Isaiah, Isaiah said to them, “Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the young men of the king of Assyria have reviled me. Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumour and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.’”
Isaiah 37:4-7

 

PROPHETS AND PROPHECY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

It has been said that the calling of the prophet is the only Old Covenant ministry to be carried over into the New Covenant. Jesus Christ stated that He would be sending prophets, but just like the prophets of old, they too would be mistreated.

Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town
Matthew 23:34

And the apostle Paul tells us that when Christ ascended He gave of people to the church which included prophets.

He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers
Ephesians 4:10-11

Just as we briefly saw from our glimpse of what the Old Testament said about the distinction between the ministry of the prophet and those who received a temporary Spirit-enabled ability to prophesy about the glories of God, so too the New Testament makes a distinction between the gift of the prophet to the church, and the gift of [edifying] prophecy to the believer. Through the Book of Acts we see the unfolding role of the New Testament prophet. In the Old Testament, prophets prophesied to the regents of Israel and their national neighbours. Elijah’s prophetic ministry marked the beginning of the Age of the Prophet. John the Baptist was the last Old Covenant prophet and he marks the end of the Age of the Prophet. After Christ ascended and He gave gifts of people to the church as summarised in Ephesians 4:11, we see in Acts three important indicators about how the understanding New Testament prophet developed. 

 

1. The Leadership team at Antioch

In Acts 13 we are introduced to the church at Antioch (which was the Apostle Paul’s home church) which was comprised of prophets and teachers. 

¶ Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.
Acts 13:1

In his commentary on this passage John Calvin argues that prophets and teachers in this sense basically amounts to the same thing – people who could teach and interpret God’s Word. But it seems that later in Calvin’s life he came to recognise that they were distinct ministries and functions1. Calvin acknowledges in his commentary on Ephesians 4 and First Corinthians 12 that there is a similar distinction in the New Testament to the ministry of the prophet and the occasional gift of prophecy.

Through Acts we notice that others become identified as prophets (Acts 11:27; 15:32). But there is one in particular I would like to point out.

2. Agabus

Agabus appears in Acts 11 as one of the pioneers of the church at Antioch. His ministry is truly weird. While it might be popular among conservative scholars to assume that only the Old Testament prophets were foretellers, Agabus makes this assumption untenable.

And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).
Acts 11:28

The next time we meet Agabus is in Acts 21. By this time we see that Agabus had a long track record of being an authentic prophet. The prophecy that he delivers in Acts 21 highlights the difference between the gift of prophecy as one of the charismatic gifts of the Spirit, and the ministry of the prophet. (People whom the Holy Spirit graces with occasional gifts of prophecy for the edifying of the church are not necessarily prophets.)

While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
Acts 21:10-13

Prior to Agabus delivering this prophecy to Paul, the disciples at Tyre, where Paul’s ship had landed, were “through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). What we see when Agabus prophesied is that Paul listens, accepts, and acknowledges what he has said. We note that Agabus did not direct Paul to do anything. Paul may have chosen to heed the Tyrian and Agabus’ prophetic warnings about going to Jerusalem, but he accepted that what they were prophesying to him agreed with what he knew was God’s will was. This should stand as a warning for those who ever have people “give them a word from God” that is directive (that is, ‘God wants you to…’). Be very careful if someone claims to have a word from God for you telling you to do something that takes you by complete surprise. 

3. The Daughters of Philip

Among some Christians there remains some controversy about the role of women within the church. For those who claim that it is against God’s will for a woman to preach/teach/prophesy in a church, Philip’s four daughters present a problem.

On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied.
Acts 21:8-9

There can be little doubt that women prophesied in the early church (1Cor. 11:5). This should not be surprising either because even in the Old Testament times God called women to be prophets – Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2Kings 22:14), Isaiah’s wife (Isa. 8:3), and Anna (Luke 2:36).

 

DISCERNMENT AND PROPHECY

Twenty-twenty will be a memorable year for most us but sadly it will probably be recorded by church historians as the year of discredited prophets and prophecy. I’m not aware any prophet who foretold of the global pandemic, and most of the high-profile American ‘prophets’ unanimously prophesied the President Donald Trump would be re-elected.

I dared to respond to one of these ‘prophets’ with a Youtube video challenging his prophecy that Bill Gates was going to infuse a nano-chip into a coronavirus vaccine which would lead to him being revealed as the prophesied Antichrist. I’ve had around 700 people call me a ‘false prophet’ and condemn me to hell for daring to challenge this ‘prophet’. But this example of modern prophecy serves to illustrate the principle found in our bookend biblical passage. 

Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good.
First Thessalonians 5:20-21

Based on this text of Scripture, whenever someone prophesies something, we test what they say. This testing should include: 

  • Does it correspond to the teaching of Scripture?
  • Is it conditional? (Most Biblical prophecies were unconditional.)
  • Does it have a time-frame? That is, does it declare that it will be fulfilled by a certain date? This makes it easy to test.
  • Does the person prophesying have a credible prophetic track-record?

Last Sunday (January 17th 2021), someone in our church received a word from the Lord. They wrote it down and gave it to me through the week. This is what it says-

“God is calling His church—individual people to seek Him deeper for a more personal relationship with Him. This will cause people to grow—and lead to church numbers (attendance) to grow. So the church needs to prepare for growth. Be aware that in the past, such calling for knowing God deeper is often associated with upheaval.”

What do we do with a prophecy like this? We should do as First Thessalonians 5:20-21 teaches us. We should test it. Is it contrary to Scripture? No. Is it conditional? Perhaps. But it is an exhortation to draw near to God. Does it have a time-frame deadline? No. Does it come from a credible source? Yes. And it is my pastoral hope that if someone gives you a prophecy, or tells you of a prophecy that will supposedly effect you, you too will apply these tests to their prophecy. Even though recent high profile ‘prophetic’ ministries have brought enormous discredit to the genuinely God ordained prophetic, we should not despise prophecy, but we should test all claims and hold onto that which good.

¶ “For the Lord GOD does nothing
without revealing His secret
to His servants the prophets.
Amos 3:7

 

Footnotes:

  1. Van Alten, H.H. 2017. ‘John Calvin on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in his commentary on Acts’, Koers – Bulletin for Christian Scholarship 82(2), Available at https://doi.org/10.19108/ KOERS.82.2.2350

Your pastor,

Andrew

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PENTECOSTALISM, THE TWO SIDES OF REVIVAL

home > Pastor's Desk > 2024 >June 21st > PENTECOSTALISM, THE SIDES OF REVIVAL Pentecostalism began with a move of God - a revival. This happened on a Jewish Festival called the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1). This was when the Holy Spirit was given and poured...

MY BIGGEST BURDENS

A burden is something that weighs on you. You could be burdened emotionally because a relationship that is weighing on you. You could be burdened psychologically because of the weight of a looming deadline. You could be burdened spiritually because of the weight of guilt you are carrying. You could be burdened physically because of your weight and depleted strength. We all carry burdens. There are seasons in our lives where some burdens a big and you do not feel that you will be able to bear up under the enormous pressure you are under. Those seasons will pass. For those in leadership there is the constant burden of the weight of responsibility that must be carried. (Have you ever noticed what this kind burden bearing does physically to a President or Prime Minister over their term in office?) In the Bible we read that GOD actually gives people burdens so that they become stronger, wealthier, happier, and more productive. These types of burdens always involve caring for others. (Have you ever considered why Jesus was sweating great drops of blood as He was praying just before He went to the Cross via His hours of humiliating pummelling, beating, scourging, hair-pulling, and mockery?) I want to share you with you why I am now carrying an enormous burden that I would consider that biggest burden I have ever had to carry. I do so in the hope that this might help you to bear your burdens with greatest expertise and joy. Yes, joy.

HOW TO DEVELOP YOUR RELATIONSHIP SKILLS

This year we have been laying a foundation for knowing God and then each Sunday building upon it. Throughout June we are focusing on how knowing God enables us to find our joy in Him and consequently to discover that He enables us to find joy in our relationships with others. But sadly, for many people who have vowed to love, serve, and follow Jesus, this has not always been easy to do. This is why the current sub-theme of humility is critically important if someone desires to truly experience joy in each of their various relationships with others. 

KNOWING GOD

In the past few months, we have been hearing in Church and also by reading the Pastor’s Desks that through the Psalms and by the Fruit of the Holy Spirit, we can know God more. The Psalms show God as our Shepherd, God’s character is unchanging, we can be still and know Him, and that He is poetic. The Fruit of the Spirit reminds us that God is faithful, gentle and kind, and that we need to stay close to Him in the same way a baby gets nutrients from its mother through the umbilical cord. Knowing these things, we can become more like God as He helps us outwork His character in our lives. Philippians 3:10 challenged me in this regard some time ago.

RULES RULES AND MORE RULES

What comes to mind when you hear the word Rules? For some, it is a welcome relief to all the chaos surrounding us. Rules can provide comfort, safety, stability, predictability and protection. But for many others, as soon as you hear the word rules, it causes you to sigh loudly, followed by the instant urge to do the opposite. It can cause an immense sense of frustration along with that feeling of being boxed or caged in. Then some rules are plain silly as they make no sense, or there appears to be no apparent reason for why the rule/s exists in the first place. 

The Vine and the Umbilical Cord: Life, Abiding and Bearing FruitThe Vine and the Umbilical Cord: Life, Abiding and Bearing Fruit

Jesus’ allegory in John 15:1-17 of the vine and the branches provides a beautiful picture of the intimate and living relationship available to those who would abide in Him, the true Vine; and it illustrates how naturally the Holy Spirit is able to produce fruit in the lives of those who are willing to be branches abiding in the vine.

Knowing God Through The Fruit Of The Spirit

I’m sure you can picture an occasion where food delicacies are served and someone is there who has lost all sense of decorum to the point of being rude to get to the food before others and is unable or unwilling to engage in any level of conversation for the sake of finding the choicest of foods. Maybe that was you or me on occasions. Or an All You Can Eat challenge restaurant. It is a picture of complete lack of self-restraint (especially if Homer Simpson is involved). Whilst we are away, I am looking forward to visiting a town (Kenilworth) with a bakery tourist attraction that sells 1kg doughnuts. I’m not sure what will happen there, but I can imagine many have risen to a challenge.

WHAT CHARMING BETRAYERS DESERVE ACCORDING TO THE PSALM OF KING DAVID, NUMBER 55

Australia is now grappling with a national crisis — the violent abuse of women by men. Every four days in Australia a woman is being murdered [Source]. The sad probability is that she was murdered by “a current or former intimate partner” [Source]. But added to this alarming statistic is the even greater and more horrifying statistic of number of women who are experiencing abuse – physical; sexual; verbal; financial; psychological – daily. In fact, it is so prevalent that most people working in this arena know that most domestic abuse incidents in Australia are not reported. Abuse is oppression. And since the Bible is so clear and consistent in its condemnation of oppression of the vulnerable you would naturally assume that this national crisis was being thundered and denounced as a great evil from the majority of pulpits around our country at the moment. This assumption is further reinforced by the guesstimate that one-in-four women in every Australian church is regularly abused in some way by a man. But I suspect that it is not.

KNOWING GOD THROUGH PSALM 23

My cat, Lola, had a beautiful, fluffy, soft coat. I had her for 13 years so I knew her very well. She loved a cuddle and snuggling at night sleeping in the crook of my arm. She loved me but with others she could be a rascal, hissing or swiping her claws. She never scoffed her food but was a grazer. It was common to hear her crunching her biscuits for a midnight snack and she loved ice cream. She loved hiding in cardboard boxes or in the pantry. She particularly hated the car evidenced by her continual mournful meowing til she got out. As I knew her, she also knew me. She knew I would feed her and give her pats or cuddles. When I called her she knew my soft voice, my touch, my smell. She knew my growly voice when she had done the wrong thing. When I’d take her to the vet she would be still in my arms as the vet examined her and vaccinated her. If she was injured or sick I would look after her.

KNOWING GOD THROUGH PSALM 22

The Bible is an amazing book. As we look through the book of Psalms we can so unbelievably clearly see God at work. And also most poignantly, this Psalm – Psalm 22 – prophetically points to, and closely mirrors Jesus and the events of the cross mentioned in the New Testament. This Psalm is well over 1000 years prior to Jesus.There are some well known passages of Scripture that stand out as being prophetic promises of the Messiah. These prophetic words show us that God is Omniscient; He knows everything. The first Messianic prophecy shows that the seed of the woman would eventually defeat the devil.