Prophets! When it comes to the subject of prophets in the 21st Century you have to feel a little bit sorry for them!
Their role and function is sometimes the subject of debate, controversy and conflict – and most of the opposition prophets will ever face, generally comes from within the Church itself.
Let’s be fair, towards the end of His earthly ministry Jesus said that He was sending prophets (Matthew 23:34), and as the Church is being established the Apostle Paul goes on to talk of their importance as an important and essential ascension gift to the Church (Ephesians 4:11-16), taking pains in his letter to the Corinthians to show that it was a gift and calling limited to those who God calls and equips (1 Cor 12:29).
As the drama of the early Church unfolds the activity of prophets is encountered in various locations and Paul raises the issue of prophets in Antioch but only to unpack his narrative of the events that are unfolding. There is no explanation of their role – none is needed, the early Church knew what prophets were, and there was a community of prophets in Antioch. This was significantly different to the ‘gift’ of prophecy. (Acts 11:27) Agabus emerges as one of the prophets and his ministry is mentioned. Later Philip’s daughters are mentioned as ones who prophesied, the Jewish Historian Esubius goes further, mentioning them as prophets, saying that people traveled great distances to hear them prophesy (Acts 13:1).
It is interesting that those who suggest (against the counsel of the Bible) that the ministry of the prophets have ceased (and the apostles too), that they insist that the role of pastors and teachers continue to be relevant! Which they do.
Prophets are caught between a rock and a hard place!
On the other side are those who contend that one can simply choose to be a prophet. There is an inference among some that anyone who exercises the gift of prophecy is a prophet. The apostle Paul was at pains to stir the church to keep pursuing the gifts, especially the gift of prophecy (1 Cor 14:1). For Paul the grace-gifts were given by God at a time of need and needed to be sought as an expression of love and service in the Church. Prophets are called, they are not volunteers. Neither are they a progression of the gift, but like those who minister in the gift, it does carry an element of faith.
It goes without saying that all prophetic ministry is called to scripture-honouring, Christ-exalting and God-glorifying ways of discharging its calling, building the Church which it is called to serve.
Honouring the discharge of prophetic ministry in our midst.
The role of the prophets takes a more ominous position when you hear Jesus declaring that “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and in his own household.” (Mark 6:4) (Matthew 13:57)
It is easy to be complacent and familiar with someone who is snuggled up in your fellowship and who finds it audaciously easy to hear God and discern His ways, will and sometimes His audible voice. These people regularly dream dreams, sometimes have open vision and may even see angels. They are not special – they just have been enable by God to discern, know and see such things. It’s their calling.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Hopefully for everyone that reads this, we want to be a Church that appreciates and honours prophets; honours the time they have spent with God in prayer, honours the faith they express as they step out to serve in encouraging the church, honours the agenda of their hearts as they seek to restore hope in the hearts of the saints, and finally, honours the role they have of equipping the church to serve the Lord in a crushed and broken world.
How can we honour prophets whilst holding them accountable and close to our hearts? That’s something I will definitely talk about in another post soon!