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Sunday, January 15, 2006

Prophecy vs. Closed Canon

(See here for part 1 of this series, and here for part 2)

Continuing on with the prophecy discussion, I want to take the time to dismantle a frequently-taken rabbit trail with regard to prophecy and "Scripture". I think the rabbit trail is a red herring. Specifically, I'm speaking of the idea that one who accepts that God still speaks through prophecy today must necessarily accept that prophetic words are on the level of written Scripture, and therefore must disagree with the idea of a "closed canon".

For those who are not familiar with the concept of a closed or open canon, the "canon" refers to that body of writings which are accepted by Christians as being the Bible. A "closed canon" means that no more writings will be added to our Bible, and an "open canon" means that, in theory at least, more writings could be discovered or composed which could be accepted as part of the Bible.

I really feel like this is a red herring for several reasons. Most compelling for me is that there are references in Scripture to the fact that God would speak to people of all ages and both genders, and yet those are not all recorded as Scripture. Joel prophecied in chapter 2 of the book that bears his name:

It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.

We know from Peter's sermon in Acts 2 that this prophecy was being fulfilled during his (Peter's) time period. (I'm not saying at this point whether or not that prophecy is still being fulfilled. That is a different issue than the main point being made here.) So, in this prophecy, we see that sons, daughters, old men, young men, male and female servants will all participate in the dreams, visions, and prophecies. Cross-reference Numbers 12:6 where God says that when a prophet is among us, God speaks to him through visions and dreams.

We also have recorded in Scripture at least two instances of people prophesying, and what they prophesied was not recorded in Scripture. The first example is Saul in 1 Samuel 10, where we find recorded that he, along with others, prophesied. But no written record is included there as to what the content of the prophecy was.

Another example is Anna, who was in the temple when Jesus was brought as a newborn baby. She is described in Luke 2 as a prophetess, and it mentions that she spoke to those there in the temple regarding the baby Jesus, but it does not record what she spoke. Even if we decide that what she spoke at that time was not a prophecy, the fact that she is called a prophetess and Scripture records no specific prophecy from her seems to support my argument that prophecy does not always equate to "canonical Scripture".

One could also look at Acts 21:8,9 which references four prophetesses who prophesied, yet does not record their prophecies. And, of course, we come back to the instructions in 1 Cor 14 regarding prophecy in the church, and to my knowledge, none of the books of the New Testament were written by members of the church in Corinth!

I must draw this post to a close, even though I haven't had a chance to move into more productive "positive" reasoning with regard to prophecy. But I hope that I have at least demonstrated that prophecy can exist outside of the canon of Scripture without forcing an "open" canon.

Until next time,

steve :)

11 comment(s):

The part that I really want to explore: What is the purpose of modern 'prophecy'? (even the prophecy of the church in Corinth for that matter).

I think John Piper does a good job of defining the purpose of the gifts in his interview with Steve Camp. here, and Steve also has a good article here.

Then, once we discuss the purpose, I would like to explore two other areas:

1. Is the OFFICE of prophet still functioning? (No, is my response).

2. If a prophetic 'word' turns out to be incorrect, does that invalidate anything ever spoken by that person? (Wrestling here, but gut-check says that I will be EXTREMELY leery of anything spoken by this person).

By Blogger Ray, at Sunday, January 15, 2006 9:52:00 PM  

Hi, I'm back, busy weekend.

I would also say with Ray that my first concern would be whether or not the Office of Prophet was functional today, and if so, what on earth that would mean. The authority of the Office is such that experience does come into play.
I know that arguments from experience are considered no-no, but I think in this instance, it is greatly significant. If there was an Office of Prophet functional today, it isn't unreasonable to expect to actually know who they were. Given that there really and truly isn't a 100% accurate prophet floating around pronouncing the Words of God (and even the wackier end of the Charismatic camp don't claim this), it's not irrelevant to point this out if we're talking about this office.

About Ray's point 2, I'm going to argue from experience again, but not in the argument from silence, surprisingly enough.

When I was a charismatic, I did, indeed, 'experience' the gifts. I spoke in tongues, I prophesied, I prayed for healing. I hung around with people who did too. Sometimes the prophecies were suitably vague, so their testability was practically non-existant. I mean, how do you test someone telling you "you are a ship in full sail" against scripture??

Also, the difficulty with this 'safety catch' method of testing comtemporary prophecies against scripture, and also equating them with scriptural examples of NT prophecy, is that it simply isn't biblical.
Sure, people tested Paul's teaching against scripture, but how exactly would it be possible to test Agabus' prophecy and others?
It sounds nice and reassuring to say 'prophecy mustn't contradict scripture', but practically, it's meaningless.
I 'prophesied' accurately a number of times - including predicting the death of my mother (before she was even ill). But please, don't expect me to display that sort of thing again, because my deep conviction now is that it was occult.
Well, I've thrown plenty out there to chew, and not much coherent thought. It's Monday morning :-) Make what you will of it, and I'll be back later to carry on with the debate.

By Blogger Libbie, at Monday, January 16, 2006 6:13:00 AM  

Ray and Libbie, I really appreciate the way you two are taking the time to interact with this topic. And these are great questions. It seems that both of you want to discuss the "Office" question, and so I will try to put my thoughts together on that and add to the discussion here in a little bit.

I'm with Ray (and I guess you were saying this, too, Libbie) on the hunch that the "Office" of prophet no longer exists, although I would like to take a few steps back and try to figure out what exactly is meant by "office".

Any thoughts?

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Monday, January 16, 2006 8:10:00 AM  

I had a reply that disappeared into the ether. I'll try again.

The official office of Prophet would be He that spoke with the authority of 'Thus says the Lord'. As in The Word of God, but audible.

By Blogger Libbie, at Monday, January 16, 2006 9:11:00 AM  

The office of Prophet would be the position whereby, as Libbie mentioned, 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.

In this manner you would find Samuel, Elijah, Obadiah, and John the Baptist, to name a few. Now, what I find interesting about those who were functioning in this role is that they were always reluctant prophets. No one sought that role, it was sovereignly given by God. this is where I see the big departure today -- many who claim to be filling the office of prophet have sought this. Yes, I know Paul says seek the gifts, but again we are speaking of office... I would like to focus on that for the moment.

And about Libbie's second point -- I am in total agreement, that is why 'proving' prophecy Scripturally is difficult at best (unless the 'prophet' says something completely unscriptural, which most are careful not to!)

I had some friends attend a 'prophet's' appearance at a local church, and they were so jazzed by what he had told them about their lives, they had it tape-recorded so they could 'prove' to me that he was a prophet.

Well, his pronouncements were so vague as to be useless, but they (my friends) WANTED to be convinced and so they were, and no amount of my pointing out hiw vagaries would change thier mind.

Much like John Edwards (not the pastor, but the occult psychic), this guy is incredibly vague: i.e. "Someone in the audience has a relative who last name began with L", and he goes on to pull out of them information, all the while they think he is talking with dead aunt Mabel!

I also agree with Libbie that some of the stuff that goes on under the guise of 'Christian' experience could best be labelled occultic (I came out of the occult originally, and I was amazed by the similarity between some of the 'christian' experiences, and the ones I had witnessed and experienced while practicing occultic methods).

By Blogger Ray, at Monday, January 16, 2006 9:14:00 AM  

OK, I'm tracking with you. I'm not exactly sure where to start with this, but let me share some thoughts on the occult aspect.

1. We are dealing with the spirit realm when dealing with the Holy Spirit (I know that sounds obvious), and the occult deals with the spirit realm as well.

2. Scripture tells us that Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It seems evident from Scripture that his modus operandi is imitation.

3. We know from Scripture and from other sources that cultures steeped in witchcraft, etc., will often have very similar characteristics to true Spirit-filled living.

For example, in Acts 8:5-24, we read the account of Simon the Sorcerer who was doing some form of magic in a way that captured the attention of all in that area. This is juxtaposed in the text with the miracles Philip was doing.

Compare also the magicians in Pharoah's court who performed the same "tricks" that Aaron was performing in Exodus 7.

Now in saying this, am I downplaying the occult? Not at all! But I'm just saying that we should not be surprised to see similarities in display between the power of God and the imitative power of the evil one.

Now, I'll get back to the "office" topic...

steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Monday, January 16, 2006 9:47:00 AM  

I heartily agree with your comment regarding the similarities between the occult and the Spirit, however, some manifestations are CLEARLY not Spirit, and the modern 'signs and wonders' groups do not always have enough discernment to understand that... i.e. 'barking like dogs', ecstatic dancing/gyrating in a very suggestive way', etc.

Also, if they are similar -- and here's the rub to me; how do you KNOW that it is not from the wrong side of the house? That is the concern I have with much of what passes as 'signs' today...

I believe that we have clear guidance -- Does it bring glory to God?, but I have seen people bend that to mean a lot of things it simply doesn't mean. How does, for example, barking like a dog, glorify God?

I know that I have moved into other things besides prophecy, but these are all tied together at the end, and I think what I am most curious about is the method by which we judge ALL gifts -- it is great to say "Does it glorify God", but when that has been reduced to "anything that makes me feel good", it loses it impetus as an objective aspect.

By Blogger Ray, at Monday, January 16, 2006 10:02:00 AM  

yep, it's the qualitative difference that's key. If an authoritative sign from the Almighty could be so easily counterfeited, it wouldn't serve as an incontravertable sign, methinks.
My charismatic friend uses this particular argument. I always ask her how I'm supposed to tell the difference. It comes down to 'discerning the spirits'. Which again, is a practically meaningless phrase, because I feel so uncomfortable around these manifestations now I generally can't even go in one of these services, while she is perfectly happy.
Whose discernment do we trust?

By Blogger Libbie, at Monday, January 16, 2006 10:24:00 AM  

Libbie wrote: If an authoritative sign from the Almighty could be so easily counterfeited, it wouldn't serve as an incontravertable sign, methinks.

While I want to be sympathetic to what you're saying here, I think this is an example of where we need to make sure our thoughts are rooted and grounded in Scripture. The fact is, Scripture indicates that miracles, signs, and wonders were done to authenticate the message, yet we also have recorded situations where those miracles were counterfeited.

So, regardless of how badly we want to just discount that, we must start with what we know from Scripture.

One thing that can be said is that often the signs and wonders that were being done by the power of the true Holy Spirit mocked, or in other ways showed themselves to be superior, to the "false" signs. For example, when Pharoah's magicians duplicated the rod turning into a snake that Aaron had done, Aaron's snake ate all the other snakes!

The other very important characteristic that I see (and I'm using the example of Philip vs. Simon for this one) is the message that accompanies the signs and wonders. Or, to be more accurate: The message which is accompanied by the signs and wonders.

Simon brought glory to himself. Notice that the people referred to him as "the Great Power", while Philip and the other Christians gave glory to God and preached a message that was about Christ. The passage says that when the people heard what Philip preached and believed the message, they began following him and that's when Simon's selfishness got the best of him!

So, to answer both of you regarding "How do you know?": I would say, look at the message being preached. Look at the focus of the miracles. If it's just a big hyped-up "look at me, I've got the power" show, then keep on moving. Don't fall for it.

This subject illustrates to me why discipleship is soooo critical in the life of a believer. And why we must always use our gifts for the edification and maturing of the Body.

Ephesians 4 says that the gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor/teacher are given to the church so that the believers in the church will become mature. Do we see that happening? Or do we see those gifts being used to build man's reputation and following?

I'll stop there because this is a very long comment. But these are some of the thoughts I have in response to what you two have said.

Great discussion!
steve :)

By Blogger Steve Sensenig, at Monday, January 16, 2006 6:49:00 PM  

Ray, I find your comment about signs which have no value except does it make me feel good to be very telling. Often during my 18 years in a charismatic body, the fact that something we attibuted to God which had induced feelings of euphoria or just happiness at what we had all "experienced" was the only measure that some word or happening had been a move of the spirit. It was incredibly subjective!

I also have come to realize that we all verified that our "spirits had borne witness" was a function of our group-think that we were spiritual and had the faith. Did our spirits truly confirm God, or were we confiming ourselves?

I struggle to sort all of this out without leaving behind a child-like faith behind. God moves in the hearts of His children in this day and time, of this I have no doubt. But a generation of Christians whose whole perpsective has been shaped by American narcissism cannot separate the soul from the spirit I am certain.

By Anonymous ded, at Monday, January 16, 2006 7:47:00 PM  

I think Ded is right on, and that is what I have seen...

BTW, I already commented on the positions given us to lead... that is the latest post from Steve... :-)

By Blogger Ray, at Tuesday, January 17, 2006 11:25:00 AM  

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