More on Spiritual Gifts & Prophecy

Patrick Hill / September 25, 2015

This Sunday we’re exploring Romans 12:3-8 on thinking of yourself soberly and using your spiritual gifts. This passage raises two important questions: (1) How do I identify my spiritual gifts? (2) What is the gift of prophecy?

How do I identify my spiritual gifts?

Many people feel stuck when trying to identify their spiritual gifts. Romans 12 gives a few helpful clues (“think with sober judgment” and “let us use them”), but many will also be helped by a practical tool that helps identify what may be our spiritual gifts.

Our friends at Central Christian Church have created a simple, 60-question Spiritual Gifts Tool that helps you identify which of your gifts are strongest.

Use the Spiritual Gifts Tool

What is the gift of “prophecy”?

All but one of the gifts listed in Romans 12:6-8 are fairly straightforward. The one that generates the most debate and discussion is the gift of prophecy

The word prophecy (prophÄ“tía) means the gift of interpreting the divine will or purpose (BDAG) or the ability to declare the divine will (TDNTA).

While scholars agree that prophecy is not always (or even often) predicting the future, opinion varies as to what exactly this looked like in the early church and what it should look like today.

There seem to be four main views:

(1) New Testament Prophecy is the Same as Old Testament Prophecy–and Is Still Around Today

This view sees prophecy proclaiming an authoritative “word from the Lord.” More common in pentecostal traditions, on “Christian” TV and on prophetic end-times websites, this view holds that there are still prophets who hear and communicate direct messages from God that should be obeyed. To disobey or disbelieve these prophecies is to disobey or disbelieve God himself. 

(2) New Testament Prophecy is the Same as Old Testament Prophecy–and Is Not Still Around Today

Like the previous view, this perspective sees New Testament prophecy as the exact same thing as Old Testament prophecy. However, in strong contrast, this view says that authoritative, “Thus says the Lord”-type declarations ceased with the closing of the New Testament (Eph 2:19-20; Heb 1:1-2; Jude 1:3). Pastor John MacArthur summarizes this view well:

Because a true prophecy is verbal, propositional, and inerrant, the only conclusion to draw is that it carries the full weight of divine authority. Ever since the end of the apostolic age and the completion of the canon, only Scripture can legitimately claim that level of authority.

(3) New Testament Prophecy is Different from Old Testament Prophecy–It’s Preaching.

Because a number of NT passages indicate that prophecies should be weighed or tested (1 Cor 14:29; 1 John 4:1; 1 Thess 5:20-21), this view concludes that NT prophecy cannot carry the same kind of inerrant authority as OT prophecy. This view concludes that prophecy is powerful, Spirit-filled preaching. 

Commentator Charles Hodge writes that the NT prophet is “anyone who speaks as the spokesman of God or who explains his will.” Pastor Tim Keller says, “It could be that the word ‘prophecy’ could have more than one meaning. Here it seems to mean preaching, of anointed utterance.”

In his commentary, John MacArthur writes:

[Prophecy] was exercised when there was public proclamation of divine truth, old or new. In our day, it is active enablement to proclaim God’s Word already written in Scripture.

Though it is confusing to discern which view MacArthur actually holds, his description of prophecy as preaching is not uncommon.

(4) New Testament Prophecy is Different from Old Testament Prophecy–It’s Telling Something That God Has Brought to Mind.

Like the previous view, this view acknowledges that New Testament prophecy often seems to lack the same authority as the OT prophets or the NT apostles. Dr. Wayne Grudem argues that Jesus selected apostles to carry his authoritative message rather than prophets because, even in Jesus day, the word prophet carried such a broad range of meaning.

Additionally, this view argues that since the NT uses other words (preaching and teaching) to describe those who proclaim the Scriptures, prophecy must mean something else.

Thus, this view holds that prophecy is speaking words of upbuilding, encouragement and consolation that God brings to mind (1 Cor 14:3). In his Systematic Theology, Dr. Wayne Grudem defines prophecy as “telling something that God has spontaneously brought to mind.” 

Pastor John Piper says that prophecy is speaking:

something that God spontaneously brings to mind in the moment, and—because we are fallible in the way we perceive it, and the way we think about it, and the way we speak it—it does not carry that same level of infallible, Scripture-level authority.

Similarly, Pastor Sam Storms says that prophecy is “speaking forth–in merely human words–what God has spontaneously brought to mind.” 

So, which is it?

Redemption Church does not have a defined position on the gift of prophecy. We think that view #1 is dangerous, as it seems to undermine the sufficiency of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16) and has led to many unhelpful and ungodly excesses in the pentecostal movement. In the extreme, view #1 has led to cults, usually led by a “prophet” who continues to receive authoritative (and unbiblical) messages “from God.” 

Among our pastors and elders, there is a diversity of opinions about views #2-4. This is a secondary, open-handed issue and we will not divide over it (see our Membership Packet, p. 30 for more on open-handed issues).

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