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The Gift of Prophecy
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By David B. Smith

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iBelieve: God Still Speaks to His Church | PDF Version

It goes way back in the odd-but-true annals of the Secret Service, but a clever craftsman named Francis Leroy Henning masterminded a plot where he prepared a tool-and-die imprint and quietly produced a bumper stash of counterfeit currency. What made his master plan so baffling was this: the guy cranked out a boatload of fake nickels.

G-men burst upon the scene, guns drawn, and found entire cupboards filled with nothing but bogus five-cent pieces, each with the exact same date and barely perceptible flaw. It was hard for the cops to keep straight faces as they hauled Henning off to the slammer, no doubt wondering what his objective had been. Make free calls from pay phones for the rest of his life? Go to Las Vegas and play the nickel slots — which meant that most jackpots would simply return his worthless slugs? Buy fifty thousand Baby Ruth bars?

Despite his hapless performance, the crook did at least recognize one important truth: there’s no point in counterfeiting something that’s not originally genuine and true. He might have been a candidate for the dumb-as-a-post Darwin Award, but at least he didn’t try to print fake $25 bills.

The spiritual gift of prophecy plays an authentic, vital role in God’s communication to the Church in all ages. In Matthew 24 we find Jesus’ clear warnings about deceptions in the closing days of earth’s history. “False Christs and false prophets will appear,” He said, “and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect – if that were possible” (v. 24). So the proliferation of counterfeit prophets means we must prayerfully discern between the false and the true. Paul describes the full range of spiritual gifts, including prophecy, as being part of God’s work for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:12, 13). We can all agree that these are ongoing, present-day needs for the Church!

The prophet Isaiah laments: Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you (59:2). With the fall of the human race, it was no longer possible for God to directly communicate with people. Prophets, or seers, became a divine conduit, as God spoke through His chosen messengers to those willing to listen. Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets (Amos 3:7).

What roles do prophets play in serving the spiritual needs of the Church as spokespersons for God?

1. Build up the Church. Their words of counsel, along with those of the apostles, have been instrumental as a foundation for the Church (Ephesians 2:20). Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3). In Antioch the Holy Spirit communicated through prophets to designate Paul and Barnabas as a traveling missionary team.

2. Build up true doctrines and warn against heresies. Since the beginnings of Christianity, false teachers have abounded! Paul’s own prophetic gift was a protection, as he wrote to his believer friends in Ephesus: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming (4:14).

3. When necessary, make predictions based on Spirit guidance. Daniel provided a crystal-clear panorama of future world empires; historical events transpired exactly as God revealed through him. Prophets pointed forward in astonishing detail to the future time when Jesus the Messiah would appear in our world. In both Testaments, prophets have warned of impending famines (Genesis 41:31, 1 Kings 17:1, Acts 11:28), allowing God’s people to prepare ahead of time.

4. Uplift the uniqueness of Jesus as God’s only Son. A prophet’s ministry will affirm Christ as the divine Messiah; he or she will passionately encourage fellow believers to solidify their trust in Jesus for salvation. 1 John 4:2, 3: This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.

The Bible has always instructed Christians to place their faith in true prophets — but in a discerning way! In three quick verses, Paul lays it on the line: Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Then he quickly adds: Test EVERYTHING. Hold on to the good (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21). As we consider the above guidelines, it seems clear that a prophet truly sent by God will fulfill all of the above steps. Their work will strengthen the Church, not divide it. Their testimonies to individuals and groups will encourage and sustain them, warning against false teachings and amplifying the true. Clearly, their new insights must conform to the totality of what the Bible already contains for the Body of Christ. Most importantly, their life will be marked by a focus on the beauty and saving power of Jesus’ life.

It’s also important to evaluate a prophet’s ministry by whether or not their predictive writings are later confirmed. Jeremiah 28:9: But the prophet who prophecies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the Lord only if his prediction comes true. In the 1970s, a psychic named Jeane Dixon made her fame by a few highly publicized predictions that actually happened — while scores of other guesses fell wildly short. This phenomenon was quickly dubbed “the Jeane Dixon Effect.”

The Adventist movement has always embraced the Protestant foundation of Sola Scripture — “the Bible and the Bible only” as its guidebook for life. At the same time, keeping these prophecy guidelines firmly in mind, the church feels confident that God blessed their spiritual rise with a modern gift of prophecy in the person of co-founder Ellen G. White. In a long ministry spanning decades, she experienced visions, wrote a prodigious number of books, and shared counsels that inexorably led the new denomination toward its unique position as a Sabbath-keeping grace community. Much of what she wrote about health and the body temple was decades ahead of its time; she also correctly foretold the current political rapprochement between the global Catholic Church and much of the Protestant and evangelical world — an unthinkable development in the 19th century. Throughout her life of service, she used her gift to guide congregations toward orthodox Christian teachings; her signature work on the life of Christ, The Desire of Ages, has been appreciated by believers of all faith backgrounds around the globe. Her years of devoted work harmonize with Jesus’ own Sermon-on-the-Mount observation about the role of a prophet: “By their fruit you will recognize them” (7:16).

View related article: Do We Need More Bible?
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David B. Smith writes from California. (18 of 28) His web page is davidsmithbooks.com. Biblebay Copyright © 2014. Click here for content usage information.