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Monday, January 16, 2006

Prophecy and the "Office" of Prophet

(Previous entries in this series are found at the following links: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)

In the comments to my previous post, Ray and Libbie have both brought up the question about the "office" of prophet, and whether or not it has vanished. The most obvious problem with this question, though, is that (as far as I can see in my study) prophet is never mentioned in Scripture with relation to being an office. However, for the sake of discussion, let's run with the definition that Ray and Libbie have given in the comments: one is recognized FUNCTIONALLY and OFFICIALLY as a prophet; in other words -- not one who has had a prophetic utterance, but one who is fully functioning 24/7 in that role.

Obviously, we do see this concept in the Old Testament with prophets such as Samuel, Elijah, etc. In those days, someone could say, "Where is the prophet of God?" and people would refer them to these men. These are men who spoke the words of God to the nation of Israel (and occasionally to other nations, as well). If you wanted to know what God was saying, you asked the prophet.

Now, in understanding what has happened to that "office", we need to first look at the origin of the prophet. I think this will help us understand how to relate to prophecy in the New Testament, and what the purpose of prophecy is.

When God led the Israelites out of Egypt, He called all of the Israelites to the mountain. He wanted them to hear Him speaking to Moses and His desire was that the entire nation would be a kingdom of priests. However, the people became frightened and told Moses they did not want to hear the voice of God. Rather, they asked Moses to listen for them and tell them what God had said.

It is out of this request from Israel that the voice of God became one step removed from the people. (At least, this is what I see out of the passages there. Any other ideas are welcome.) In a previous post, I contrasted the Old Testament prophets with Jesus. This is where Hebrews 1:1,2 comes in to our discussion. We see Jesus as, to put it one way, the culmination of this "office" of Prophet by removing the "barrier". (Hebrews also deals with the superiority of the priesthood of Jesus to the OT priesthood, not just the ministry of prophet.) God no longer restricted His communication to us as being through another mere human being. He spoke directly to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. And we now, according to Peter, have become the "kingdom of priests" that God originally desired in Israel.

Now, as I've mentioned in the earlier posts in this series, we obviously have prophecy being mentioned in the New Testament church, so what is this prophecy, and what is its purpose? For this, we turn to 1 Corinthians 14. Paul states in verses 3 and 4 that prophecy exists in the church to encourage, edify, comfort, and strengthen the church. Here, we see that it is not an issue of God speaking to us through a particular 24/7 "prophet", but is something that all believers can pursue as a means of edifying the church.

We can easily complicate this concept of prophecy by trying too hard to understand it in Old Testament terms only. I believe that as believers come together, the Spirit speaks through various people to encourage and strengthen the church. This could be a matter of reminding others of what they already know, or shedding new light on a Scripture through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I believe this is consistent with Paul's instructions. It is, as Paul mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:10 and 2:16, part of us together as a body of believers being of "one mind" and having the "mind of Christ."


So what does it means to weigh the prophecies? Paul indicates that other prophets are, presumably, to judge whether or not the words spoken really are the words of God to the body. It is ironic to me that the Greek word used for "weigh" here is more often used in the New Testament (such as in James 1:6) in the sense of "to doubt"! So, perhaps what Paul is saying here is to be very discerning in accepting what is spoken, not just buying it all wholesale.

The prophecy is to be given with an understanding that others will weigh it, and it also seems implied to me that a consensus must emerge among others gifted in prophecy as to the "rightness" or "wrongness" of the prophecy spoken. Without that consensus, the word likely should be set aside or ignored.

I think one very critical point to note here is the plurality of both prophets speaking and prophets weighing. At no point is this to be one person claiming to have a word from God and not being open to that word being evaluated by others.

At this time, I think it is important to once again pause and allow comments. I probably will try to wrap up these thoughts in one more post, unless the questions are sufficient to require more than one additional post.

Let me conclude with this thought, though: We must learn as believers to trust the Holy Spirit. By that, I mean that we need to trust that we do have the ability as a body of believers to stay on track with the Holy Spirit if we are not all individualistically trying to control the flow of knowledge.

This seems to really have bearing today in our modern concept of one pastor being the teacher without dialogue taking place during the teaching. No one person in the body of Christ has a monopoly on the mind of Christ! And none of us should ever be so presumptuous as to think that we are exempt from correction by others.

Having said that, I am now ready to receive your criticisms and disagreements with what I've spoken here!

Until next time,

steve :)

15 comment(s):

Hi Steve,
I first spotted you by way of James Spurgeon's blog. Thanks for leading me back to House2House. I've come across them 3 years ago. But know I need more support in this area (read my bio in House2House forum if you want).

I've only read a few of your early posts so far and skimmed others. But I think I have similar concern for the body of Christ as you, thinking of your "Orchestra" analogy.

Sorry if I backtrack away from your latest post, but I just wanted to comment that there must be growing trend that is being noticed by a lot of people; that many believers are leaving mainstream churches, not out of rebellion, but out of hunger for REAL fellowship elsewhere.

I don't know if you keep track of Chuck Missler, khouse.org , but he says similar thing from his "global trends" perspective. He notes that now is the time for christians to get into small study groups (not necessarily abandoning their other churches), and especially because increased secular pressure (I can't yet bring myself to call it "persecution") in the West will drive the body (church if you prefer) underground, as it is in other presently oppressive countries.

So I just wanted to acknowledge your good thoughts and say, HEY! It's getting more exciting in these last days.

By Blogger alamar, at Tuesday, January 17, 2006 5:30:00 AM  

Steve -- I agree with the statement about the office; I just wanted to get it out on the table... This is one of the main things that people have to get past, as many want to point to some 'prophet' (i.e. official) who is leading the church: if we didn't agree on that it would have been hard to get to the nitty-gritty stuff... So, now we have cleared that up...

Now, where it gets sticky is this: "...we need to trust that we do have the ability as a body of believers to stay on track with the Holy Spirit if we are not all individualistically trying to control the flow of knowledge.

While I agree in principal -- in practice we have ended up with things such as 'Toronto Blessing', and 'Brownsville Revival', both of which were way outside of Scriptural boundaries. So, we cannot approach body life in that manner -- there have been specific offices set up whereby the church is governed (and the more I think about it, the leaders may have been the biggest problem in the aforementioned events, hmmm); i.e. elders, teachers etc. It is not anarchic, which may not be what you meant, but it is what I read in the post.

Also, in the role of preaching, I disagree with the concept that we should not have a pastor preach while people listen to the word of God. I do not believe for a minute that I, as a pastor, control or have a monopoly on the mind of the Lord, but I do know that it is my responsibility to be Biblically-aware and that many in congregations today simply are not. We have to train them to be Biblically aware; this will prevent much of the excess that passes for Chritianity today. So, therefore, I think it is proper to have a pastor preach in a one-way manner on Sunday mornings.

While that has been said, I also agree that I do not possess the sole input from the Lord. I have said from the pulpit many times that I am not supposed to preach while the congregation remain lifeless and listless in the pews (we don't have pews, just an illustration), they are to go and read the word, see if what I say is true or not. And we do have discussions (many), but they are not during the Sunday morning time of worship.

Where I think that the preaching position has been abused is when NO ONE is either allowed, or feels like they can, question the pastor. You should always be able to not only ask questions, but be ready to provide reasons for a position.

Well, I have rambled a bit here, but wanted to throw some stuff on the table.

To summarize:

1. I agree, no one has a monopoly -- but there has to be some rule of order in place, without it you get chaos, anarchy and, quite frequently, heresy.

2. I think that there is a place for Sunday morning preaching, but I also think that discussions amongst the body are healthy and should be encouraged, and not only in 'official' small groups, but whenever the body comes together. And I think the pastor should take part in the discussions and not sit in an ivory-tower refusing to discuss with the 'common man' the great truths of our faith.

By Blogger Ray, at Tuesday, January 17, 2006 8:12:00 AM  

Ray, I appreciate your note. I did fear that my post might "step on your toes" since I know that you are a vocational pastor. However, I also do know from reading your blog that you are not a "typical" pastor, and you understand the need for plurality. (At least I think I got that impression correctly. Am I right?)

Having said that, I will try to deal with your comments in more detail later on, but wanted to say that I don't think you and I are really in disagreement here to any large extent. You have correctly identified the same abuses I have seen, and we agree on those.

I don't claim to have the answers, but as you may have surmised from my blog (I don't know how much you've gone back and read of past entries), I embrace a very simple concept of church "structure", including the leadership aspect. That does not, however, necessitate anarchy or lack of rule.

I'll wait to see if Libbie weighs in to see if we need to stick with prophecy longer, but if not, I'll be glad to go on to these other aspects of the discussion soon.

By the way, neither of you really responded to the way in which I separated the closed canon vs. prophecy issue. What were your thoughts there? Do you think they need to remain connected, or do you think I identified it correctly as a red herring?

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Tuesday, January 17, 2006 8:44:00 AM  

I agree (thought I had said that, hmmm, getting old)

:-)

Yes, I think that you did an admirable job addressing that. And I agree...

Actually I am a bi-vocational pastor.. LOLOL, and you didn't really step on my toes directly from that perspective; I attended a 'conversation' type church once, and it was chaos, and no teaching at all. The pastor basically opened it up to whomever had a 'word'. UGH! One woman dominated and it was a rambling mess.

I asked if it was like that every week --"Yep, isn't it powerful?", was the response... Well, NO it was not powerful; it was scattered and contained very little Bible at all in it...

But, yes, I completely agree with the plurality of leadership, and that is where the church needs to be headed.

I left a denomination (that claims it is not a denomination) because of an ecclesiology I could not agree with. They believed that the pastor is the ruler and needs to find elders who agree with him, or fire them! That has led to many problems within this group, but they doggedly cling to the correctness of their thought.

I would not want the responsibility of being 'the man' without other men that I knew and trusted (who may not always agree with me), standing by my side.

The emergent church, while I disagree with most of what they are doing, did ask the right questions when looking at the church. As I have said before, I think it is their answers that I disagree with.

By Blogger Ray, at Tuesday, January 17, 2006 8:56:00 AM  

I agree with your caution about today's prophecies. I guess the complete canon will help us test what anyone prophesies, just like the good Bereans in Acts 17.

I think many believers, discerning believers are coming to the same conclusions as you. People are getting fed up with too much showmanship and emotionalism and getting more hungry for just the plain truth.

So many christs in the last days and so much to sift through!

By Blogger alamar, at Tuesday, January 17, 2006 4:02:00 PM  

Where two are gathered, the Lord is in their midst. I think the heart of the Lord may be expressed more fully by two who are simply loving others than by twenty who are preaching to them. The Bible is important, full of the breath of God, but the identity of the believer fully resting in the faith that in Him we live and move and have our being through the in-dwelling Christ is not talked of very much in so many Christian venues of discourse. Ironically, I see it clearly addressed in Scripture over and over again. What if we trusted conscience first then cognition?

By Anonymous ded, at Tuesday, January 17, 2006 8:27:00 PM  

Okay, I've slept on it and know my last comment is too vague. "What if we emphasized conscience over cognition," would more clearly reflect my intended meaning.
When Jesus confronted the angry men who wanted to stone the adulteress, He taught them nothing but appealed to their conscience. "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone."

An analogy I could draw is from my classroom. If I teach math as nothing more than mastering computational skills, the students are not taught how to be thinkers. I cannot not teach computation, but I must never neglect that computation is but a tool of a much higher function.

When we emphasize knowledge of scripture (teaching) over having a heart turned toward God what have we done? Am I suggesting to do away with scripture teaching? No. Do we then need teachers? Yes.
Yet, if even subtly men as teachers replace God as Teacher what will occur? Will true spiritual life erupt within us simply because men have taught from the scripture? I have come to fully believe that no one will walk in the life Jesus proclaimed if they rely on scripture alone. Cults can teach scripture to their own end; unfortunately, Christian teachers often do so as well.

The fullness of life is here now. It will not be achieved by the rituals or practices of people nor do we need to wait on the next "move of God." He already moved to the cross then up from the grave. What we yearn for is the revealing of sons and daughters whose conscience is alive and functioning from a vibrant faith that stands on the Truth of being one with God.

By Anonymous ded, at Wednesday, January 18, 2006 8:42:00 AM  

ded,

Thanks for the great input. I really appreciate your thoughtful comments here.

I think you have really put well into words the concept that I was not-so-successful at expressing! :) As with so many theological debates, we seem to always come to a point where we appear to be left with two disparate choices, and the balance gets lost.

This idea of human teaching vs. Spirit-leading is one of those areas. It's not an either/or situation. It's a necessary both/and. Scripture is clear that some are more gifted at teaching than others. And hence, human teaching will likely always be found in some form within a body of believers. But, like all the spiritual gifts, the gift of teaching is to be used for the edifying and maturing of the Body, and not for the focus on a particular man's ministry.

Just as a side note, it always rubs me the wrong way when I see ministries titled after their "lead man", regardless of which end of the spectrum they are on. I am equally uncomfortable with the name "Billy Graham Evangelistic Association" as I am "Kenneth Copeland Ministries". But I digress...

Anyway, I think that it is really important to disciple believers in such a way that they learn to respond to the Spirit's teaching themselves without someone always needing to guide them. This is a mark of maturity, much like we expect our physical children to eventually be able to walk on their own without us holding their hands. (Granted, the analogy breaks down a bit since we never are without need for our Father in Heaven to hold our hand, but you know what I mean!!)

I think that perhaps one area in which this breaks down for us as believers is in our understanding of "gifts" vs. "offices". I intend to blog on that aspect soon, Lord willing, from the perspective of New Testament teaching.

Thanks again ded (and Ray and Libbie and others) for commenting here. The recent interaction has been both challenging and encouraging to me!

Ray, perhaps you'd care to elaborate a little on why you believe that the particular practice of "preaching" on Sunday mornings is essential. I am open to your thoughts on that.

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Wednesday, January 18, 2006 9:51:00 AM  

Well, I would say that first, it is Biblical -- A man of God reading the Word of God...

Ezra
Josiah
Joshua
Paul
Timothy

To name a few --

This was the manner in which the people heard the Word and had it expounded upon. (and please let's not go down the 'that was an oral society' path, if anyone thinks we are becoming more literate over time, they need only work with people for a while to see that we are not).

The frightening reality is that people are becoming more and more dependent upon bad teachers who do not encourage Biblical study, and I agree that this is wrong.

I believe strongly that preaching should do several things -- first, it should drive people back to the Word, to see if these things are so (believers), and second, it should convict (the non-believer).

As a pastor, if I am not edifying the people on Sunday morning, they have every right to stop that nonsense, however, I have seen many incredible things happen through the preaching of the Word.

While I agree with Ded that we need to be led by the Spirit, I don't think that any of us believe that we should throw out preaching, and simply have everyone sit around and figure it out by themselves.

Jesus Himself said that He came to preach, Paul discusses it in length in Romans 10, and his instructions to Timothy were clear on it.

With all of that being said: I believe that we have become TOO dependent on teachers, and now ofttimes our arguments are simply the espousing of our favorite teacher's quotes. As a body we need to be Biblically literate; but with the state of the Body today that requires teachers.

I tell my congregation that they are all to be 'Biblical Archeologists', digging in God's Word to find what He has to say, and I firmly believe that.

Sorry for the rambling post, it's early here... :-)

By Blogger Ray, at Wednesday, January 18, 2006 10:07:00 AM  

Ray...didn't read your last post as rambling at all. I would that more "pastors in pulpits" could ramble as keenly as you manage! Amid the "pastor" rambling I have heard is a number of nearly unintelligible speeches. 8^)

Teaching is vital. As always, the crucial point is, "What is being taught?" This issue splinters the body...as blogs and other venues of debate prove.

Unity of the spirit is to be maintained, but how is that accomplished when we find ourselves on conflicting sides of debate regarding the meaning of scripture? or disagreeing as to the response any given scripture calls for in the life of a believer? Whose standard shall we choose? I can return and dig in the Word as instructed and still not necessarily accept that the pastor's interpretation is accurate. Where does that leave me as a participant in a group of believers? in the larger group of the family of God? I will be held responsible before God for my decisions, no?

This is the place at which I think we need to call upon conscience ruled by the love of Christ to get us through. Our human disagreements all too often divide, where I fully believe the Heart of the Lord is for one body and one faith. (If there is no divine mandate for one body and one faith, then methinks my whole position of conscience over cognition completely collapses!)

I can accept you in your pulpit (and even "trust" you there based on this minimal exchange). I accept the love of Christ for you as in me and, therefore, as my genuine love for you. This "intellectual" position clearly demands action and responsibility on my part before you can fully accept it as a true statement, yet having said such puts the ball in your court, eh? Do you love me in return, though I never sit in a Sunday meeting under one man's teaching?

(None of this is intended to sound dogmatic. I was for 18 years a church-goer of utter faithfulness. I took copious notes on what I was taught and made it the stuff of my devotions. I taught in the pulpit likewise with fervor, passion, and dedication to what I believed our group believed, which I believed was what was on God's heart and in His Word. God convicted me our group was dogmatic not disciplined in faith and needed correction. I do not offer my thoughts and questions as a challenge to anyone, yet think the challenge exists for all of us to more fully mature in faith. To this end only, I enter into these discussions.)

By Anonymous David (ded), at Wednesday, January 18, 2006 12:26:00 PM  

It's encouraging that there a lot of believers in blogland and elsewhere that are questioning modern church (body) practices. Thanks, steve and these other commentators for expressing the same things I'm wrestling with.

Looking forward to your "office" thoughts. It will be interesting to see where this leads. I've even heard simple church conferences speak of "five-fold ministries" functioning in simple church networks--a la Ephesians 4:11.

I even heard my former pastor of a mainstream church personally confide in me that he felt led to be an "apostle" within that five-fold ministry mentality.

So, bring it on when you're ready, Steve ;)

By Blogger alamar, at Wednesday, January 18, 2006 4:34:00 PM  

Ded,

While Sunday morning attendence is not necessary, I do feel that fellowship is. So, if you do not sit under one man's teaching, I would recommend actually engaging Christians in fellowship, and discussion (I assume you do this from your comments).

I think it is the concept that one doesn't need fellowship with anyone; walling oneself up and developing theological doctrine in a vacuum, devoid of interaction with anyone else is OK; that is what I would disagree with.

Church attendance is one way of hearing teaching and getting involved in the body.

BTW, I am putting together a post regarding the content of a sermon... Hope to get that done one day...

Yep, I can love you dude; that should not be dependent upon our agrrement on everything! That is why we (the church) struggle... Love needs to be the tie that binds -- Discussion is wonderful, but complete agreement should never be the basis for fellowship (that is assuming that the disagreements are not foundational, right?).

By Blogger Ray, at Wednesday, January 18, 2006 4:53:00 PM  

alamar: Great to have you around. Thanks for your contributions on House2House now, too. I hope to get another post up soon, and we can dialogue some more about this stuff.

Ray: You said something really good there about fellowship. Many think that those of us who are doing something other than the typical Sunday morning institution have abandoned fellowship, and speaking for myself, nothing could be further from the truth. I think this is one of the things that is grossly misunderstood by people reacting against Barna's Revolution book (have you read that, Ray? I'm just curious for your take on it).

ded: I really need to hook you up as an author on this blog, or help you get your own. You don't need to be restricted to these comment threads, my dear brother. The quality of your comments often eclipses the original posts here!! :)

I'll try to post again soon, but in the meantime, you all are doing a great job of talking amongst yourselves! :)

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Wednesday, January 18, 2006 7:48:00 PM  

Ray,

Nope, I do not shun fellowship.
We have folks regularly at our house and I meet several brothers from a local body before work on Mondays at 6:00am. We also meet in other people's homes as well. I fully expect that in the not too distant future, we will have figured how to overcome the logistical obstacles of our scheduled American lives to meet daily or nearly so.

I appreciate very much that you believe love binds us regardless of disagreement (fundamentals of faith being excepted). You lift hope in my heart for the brethren of Christ to come into the maturity of Jesus.

I am in absolute agreement with your comment that a walled-in, self-developed theology is dangerous.

Steve, you are too kind. I think the comment thread is working just fine!

By Anonymous ded, at Wednesday, January 18, 2006 8:09:00 PM  

Steve -- no, I have not read Barna's book... I have such a pile of books I am wading through that I am probably into next year before i get to any new books!

Ded -- Thanks for the kind comments...

By Blogger Ray, at Wednesday, January 18, 2006 11:46:00 PM  

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