The arguments surrounding this particular concept revolve around whether or not there are prophets in the world today or not. It seems to me that the answer to this question is pretty well decided by how you define prophecy. If you look at the bible, you can see a few things: 1.) A prophet spoke in the name of God, 2.) Signs and miracles often authenticated his message, 3.) His message harmonized with Scripture, 4.) He spoke only by revelation from God, and 5.) He had 100% fulfillment of his prophecies. This last one holds the key to my own personal convictions regarding this subject. Let me explain the differing opinions and then we’ll get back to my opinions.
Some say that prophecy still exists today, but that it just doesn’t look the same way it did back then. Their idea is that prophecy happens when God speaks to someone and gives them an instantaneous thought. If that person speaks this thought then he has become a prophet who speaks for God. This happens quite often in charismatic churches today, but I personally don’t see this in the same way. If you define a prophet the way the bible seems to, then this idea falls short. Does this person represent God and speak in His name? Maybe temporarily, but certainly not like the prophets of the bible. Does he enjoy 100% accuracy of the things he says? probably not. Does his message harmonize with Scripture? I guess that depends on what he says, but I’ve witnessed men giving me a “word” that certainly didn’t. Does this man have signs and miracles to authenticate his message? It’s doubtful, but I guess possible. Anyway, in theory, I can’t deny that this view is certainly debatable, but my own personal view follows this next theory.
Another idea is that of the cessationist. He believes that prophecy ceased with the closing of the canon of Scripture. Certainly no one who holds to the authority of Scripture could say that prophecy disappeared before that since the writers of the New Testament, were clearly able to speak for God. They lived up to every requirement which we previously listed and could be considered prophets by the biblical standards. Now, let’s be clear, I don’t believe that prophecy is completely gone. I believe that the office of prophet as it was in the bible is gone, but that the Holy Spirit can certainly give the believer special even prophetic insight into certain situations as He sees fit to do. It could be argued that when this happens one could be considered a prophet, but I personally think we should give the glory and credit to the Holy Spirit in these situations rather than giving a title to a man. He may function temporarily as a prophet, but still doesn’t live up to the Biblical standards for who a prophet is.
To be honest, I’m not completely sold on the cessationist’s view. I could probably read some more and be convinced otherwise. I want to remain a man who is teachable and it’s difficult for me to say that anything has ceased to exist. It scares me to think that I have somehow put God in a box which says that He can’t work in certain ways, because I believe He can do whatever He wants to. At this point in my life, I’d have to lean more heavily toward the cessationist view, but if God wants to raise up a prophet like the ones we read about in the Bible, I certainly believe He could do it.
How will I change my life as a result of this concept? I’m not sure.I will probably be much more critical or cautious about people who bring a “word” to me. I will try to weigh their words against Scripture and be discerning about who they are in regards to whether they are living up to the Biblical standards. I will seek God and ask the Holy Spirit more questions about their message before taking it too seriously. I guess I must also say that for me, God usually shows me things multiple times and multiple ways, so if their message is similar to other things God has been showing me, I might be more apt to just receive it. I will try to be intentional about discernment now that I have this understanding of prophecy though. I think the key in discernment has to do with Scripture. It’s interesting to note that the articles we read with differing opinions all agreed on one thing – that the authority of Scripture should be place higher than that of modern prophecy.
OK – In class, our professor described a couple of other views regarding prophecy. The Pneumatic view is like me – they are basically cessationists who say that in this dispensation, God generally operates as the cessationists describe, but that in special circumstances He might do something different. I’m not real sure how this is any different than the cessationists view – maybe just a bit more liberal in saying that God might do something different. There is also a new idea being put forward by Wayne Grudem called “Cautious Charismaticism” in which he tries to divide right down the middle. Grudem clearly thinks theres something of value in the charismatic practices, but he is also disgusted by their misuse and lack of Scriptural integrity. He encourages a cautious practice of prophecy and the other sign gifts.