Against the Prophetic Call

I read an article today that irked me – irked me enough to spend a decent amount of time writing this post refuting what I think are some very erroneous views regarding prophecy and the office of the prophet as conceived in the charismatic tradition. The original article (written by Jennifer Leclaire), is here – and I’ll go point by point through it here.

As a bit of a prologue: though I myself come from the Charismatic world and fully believe that the gifts of the Spirit (including healing, signs, etc) are fully operational, it should be noted that this is a heavily contested point – large numbers of devout Christians believe the exact opposite of what I do and present compelling (though in my mind flawed) theological and biblical arguments for the cessationist view.

All traditions acknowledge the prophetic tradition in Scripture (Elijah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Daniel, Isaiah and the Minor Prophets). As a God-ordained office wherein one specific person is raised up to pronounce judgement and blessing on a nation (and in some cases serve the ruling power), however, it is firmly held that such an office ended, or is closed or in some way no longer operative. There is a sense in Scripture that such an office existed in a specific time for a specific purpose and is not meant to continue universally. The Prophets were called to pronounce judgement and blessing on the nation of Israel – to call them back to God when they strayed and to judge them when they continued to and to remind them of their role in God’s redemptive plan. Here I will be comparing two things: the image of the prophet as presented by Leclaire and the image presented by Scripture, and arguing that the former is nowhere near the latter.

Now to the actual article:

There is a lot of confusion regarding the call into prophetic ministry. Many Christians are looking for confirmation. I get email frequently from people asking, “How can I tell if I am called to be a prophet?” This is an important question. In order to walk worthy of your calling, you first need to be confident God has called you. Once you are sure, you can count the cost and decide whether or not to embrace the spiritual battle that lies ahead.

The differences between the prophet presented here and the image given by the biblical witness must be closely examined, because there are some significant divergences. In fact, the language of ‘confirming’ and confidence seems rather foreign to the biblical idea of the prophet. Not only were none of the prophets ‘confident’ that God called them, they often exhibited the exact opposite traits. Jonah ran from God. Elijah ran from God – even after he was what we might call ‘confirmed’. These are not pictures of men exhibiting confidence and God so as to make a decision to wade into spiritual battle.

Although I generally discount “checklists” that tell you whether or not you are an apostle or prophet or operate in some other ministry gifting, there are practical ways for believers to confirm a prophetic calling in their own hearts, which we will discuss in this chapter. And it is safe to say that if you are called into prophetic ministry, mature leaders around you will recognize that call eventually.

This paragraph is fairly telling – the confirmation is essentially an introspective process, which validates the call. The last sentence is especially noteworthy – the undertone is that if one has confirmed their calling in their own heart, then if a leader doesn’t recognize said call, they aren’t a mature leader. This effectively elevates introspection to a level of authority that supersedes almost everything else. Such an idea is quite far from the biblical picture – wherein the prophet was subjected to the judgement of the people if they proved to be false.

There are exceptions to that last point. Some pastors are too insecure to recognize the gifts and callings of those in their midst. But if you are called into prophetic ministry, be assured that people will discern that call in due season. You do not have to make an announcement, try to show off your prophetic gifts or otherwise strive to let people know. God will make it apparent in His time. In fact, waiting for Him to reveal your gifting in public ministry is part of the making process, the course of Holy Spirit training, teaching and practical experience that you will learn about through the pages of this book.

This paragraph ties in closely with the previous one in this way: failure to recognize the gifts may be an insecurity. Now a move has been made that effectively renders the prophetic call-ee immune from criticism: if I have confirmed my calling in my own heart, and you don’t recognize it, then you must just be insecure or immature. But God will make it apparent in his time. The sentiment of God vindicating His called prophet, coupled with the priority of introspective confirmation, allows one who feels ‘called’ to be beyond judgement.

So, are you called into prophetic ministry? Here are two important points to help you address this question.

First, perhaps you received a prophetic word announcing your calling. That could well have been an authentic word, but take the time to look for further confirmation. I have seen prophetic words send sincere believers on spiritual goose chases for gifts and callings that Jesus did not impart. It is sad to see people hold tightly to an erroneous word they believe is genuine and miss God’s true call for their lives.

Perhaps the elevation of introspection as confirmation has something to do with people going on wild goose-chases.

Second, perhaps you are consistently seeing revelatory gifts—such as words of wisdom, words of knowledge and discerning of spirits—manifesting in your ministry. That gives you a hint of your Kingdom vocation. It is actually a better indication that you are called to prophetic ministry than an announcement spoken, say, at the altar by a visiting prophet.

Ideas like this fail to pass any kind of biblical muster. The notion that you slowly grow into prophetic awareness by noticing consistent ‘gifts’ is a notion found nowhere in Scripture. A prophet was a prophet – period. There was no noticing of gifts, no gradual indications. The prophet was grabbed by God, with or without signs, with or without indications verbal or spiritual, and pressed into service. The tying of gifts to the prophetic calling in a necessary way has no biblical merit. None.

Think about it this way: Doctors are educated and trained to practice medicine. That is what they do day in and day out. And they do not just practice medicine at work. They practice medicine at home when someone in the family gets sick. They practice medicine in a restaurant if someone passes out and they hear the cry “Is there a doctor in the house?” Even when doctors retire, they remember the Hippocratic Oath they swore to uphold. Whether they are in the church, the marketplace or the home front, doctors are doctors.

Likewise, if you are called as a prophet, it is an occupation. You cannot turn off the instinct to stand in the office of the prophet any more than a physician can turn off the instinct to help people heal. If you are called to prophetic ministry, you will walk in the revelatory gifts as a way of life, not just occasionally. You will feel the unction to walk in prophetic gifts consistently.

There is no argument that the prophet can ‘turn off’ his vocation. Asserting that to be a prophet = to walk in the ‘revelatory gifts as a way of life’ is unbiblical, plain and simple. In fact, most of the Old Testament prophets exhibited no ‘revelatory gifts’. Far from it, in all actuality – the prophets as a whole were fairly miserable people called to live lives of solitude, sacrifice and pain. One thinks of Hosea marrying a prostitute – was that a way of life dominated by ‘revelatory gifts’?

Modern-day prophetic ministry is more than the usual public perception. It is more than prophesying over people in prayer lines. It is more than having dreams, visions and angelic visitations. Far more. Modern-day prophets are reformers, like John the Baptist. Prophetic ministry should bring positive change and hope. A reformation mindset is part of what it means to be prophetic. Prophets have reformation in their DNA.

Again, one strains to find evidence of any of this in the text of Scripture. To be sure, the biblical prophet did more than have dreams and visitations – however, the prophets, more often than not, brought negative change and despair instead of positive change and hope. Some of the minor prophets brought only despair, as a matter of fact.

Modern-day prophets are called to prepare a people for the Lord by pointing them to an intimate relationship with Jesus (see John 3:29), equipping them to discern His voice (see Ephesians 4:11–12), speaking words of warning or correction that God gives them (see Matthew 3:2–3) and standing in the gap between man and God (see Ezekiel 22:30). Usually this latter function takes place through intercession. Not all intercessors are prophets, but all prophets are intercessors. It is part of the prophetic priestly duty to make intercession. The first time you see the word prophet in the Bible, it is in connection with intercession (see Genesis 20:7). You cannot separate the prophet from prayer because prayer is the prophet’s connection with God and His will.

Here I will only point out that if Leclaire intends to use the Old Testament to validate the modern-day prophet, that means that the whole of the OT must be taken into account, not only bits and pieces – and, as I’ve made clear, this has not happened in Leclaire’s portrait of the prophet. This inconsistency renders the other texts offered as proofs virtually irrelevant.

Modern-day prophets are called to prepare a people for the Lord by pointing them to an intimate relationship with Jesus (see John 3:29), equipping them to discern His voice (see Ephesians 4:11–12), speaking words of warning or correction that God gives them (see Matthew 3:2–3) and standing in the gap between man and God (see Ezekiel 22:30). Usually this latter function takes place through intercession. Not all intercessors are prophets, but all prophets are intercessors. It is part of the prophetic priestly duty to make intercession. The first time you see the word prophet in the Bible, it is in connection with intercession (see Genesis 20:7). You cannot separate the prophet from prayer because prayer is the prophet’s connection with God and His will.

Modern-day prophetic ministry involves turning the hearts of the fathers toward the sons and the hearts of the sons toward the fathers (see Malachi 4:5–6). The Amplified translation calls this turning a “reconciliation produced by repentance of the ungodly.” Prophetic ministry, thus, turns the hearts of believers toward the matters of the Father’s heart. Often, that means a cry for repentance as modern-day prophetic ministry works to separate the holy from the profane (see Ezekiel 42:20).

If you are called as a prophet, you will feel moved to root out and to pull down and to destroy and to throw down and to build and to plant (see Jeremiah 1:10). Intense spiritual warfare will be a frequent reality in your life. You will have a sense—a “knowing”—that you are being called to walk a narrower path than some around you. You will feel a sense of duty to honor God’s will and be crushed with godly sorrow when you misstep.

While I don’t disagree over the importance of intercession, reconciliation, repentance, etc, what I will disagree with is that these are somehow (a) distinctive only of the prophetic office and (b) tied to revelatory gifts (as seen above). In fact, if one is trying to be consistent, it would appear that these things can only happen if accompanied by these kinds of gifts – and this is far from a biblical idea.

Note also the insistence on ‘feeling’ and ‘knowing’ that alert one to being called to walk a narrower path – which, as I’ve shown above, serves to remove the call-ee from any criticism and elevates feelings and introspection to a quasi-divine level. The emphasis on feeling, ‘knowing’ and introspection is another aspect of Leclaire’s thinking that has next to no biblical support – the prophet is confirmed by God, not a few moments of introspection and ‘revelatory gifts’. The image of the prophet as presented by Leclaire is dangerously misleading – focused on signs, gifts and feelings elevated to positions of absolute authority, while failing to take into account the whole of the reality of the office of the prophet (to say nothing of a more or less non-existent biblical/theological method).

For a far more solid look at the idea of prophecy, specifically in the New Testament, see this.

 

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On Scripture Speaking

What does it mean when someone says that Scripture ‘speaks’ to them? That verse really spoke to me. That kind of thing. In the normal sense, it means that Scripture X disclosed a meaning to the hearer or reader. The text has a meaning which was made known to the hearer. Now this assumes that there is a kind of fixed meaning for Scripture – it has a meaning independent of whatever we happen to think/believe about the text. This verse means that, not that.

Does Scripture in fact have a fixed meaning? Lots of people have said lots of different things about what Scripture means. There are lots of interpretations of Scripture out there – minimalist, maximalist, reductionist, existential, analytic, and a million others. Broadly speaking, though, I think one can confidently say that Scripture is, in fact, about certain things. There is, in some sense, a kind of fixed meaning. Redemption, forgiveness, salvation, holiness, etc, are all things that Scripture is about – there may be various interpretations of this but one would be hard-pressed to argue that Scripture isn’t about these things in a fixed sense.

An essential aspect of Christian belief is that the spiritual truths of Scripture are revealed, not plain and available for all to see as if Scripture were any other kind of textbook. It is only through illumination by the Holy Spirit that the true Word within the words is revealed – prayerful abiding in the Holy Spirit is the key to grasping the true Word, which is Jesus Christ.

This is the second way the Scripture speaks to us – or, to be a bit more technically correct, the Holy Spirit revealing the Word in Scripture. The Holy Spirit can illuminate a certain text and reveal a meaning which may be specific and applicable to a certain time and place for a certain individual – perhaps one is reading a familiar text and suddenly sees it in a whole new light, and is able to draw a fresh application from a familiar text.

This, then, is the more dynamic way of Scripture speaking – in prayer, abiding in the Spirit. Now, one can study the text of Scripture in a non-spiritual way and still come away better for it. Even if one isn’t explicitly doing spiritual study, the Spirit is still working the hearts of all men. Perhaps someone engaged in a non-spiritual study of the text of Scripture will have an encounter with the Spirit and come away changed or transformed in some way.

Roughly then, truth about the Scriptural text can still be found through purely academic study. Historical, cultural, sociological truths can all be grasped on the basis of the Biblical data. But to truly grasp the Word, the Truth of Scripture, which is Jesus, one must abide in the spirit – as it says in the Psalms, our eyes must be opened so we can behold the wonderful things in the Law.

On Scripture, the Spirit, and God Speaking

Yesterday a friend posted this link on his Facebook:

http://www.whitehorseinn.org/blog/2013/03/05/review-of-jesus-calling/

I don’t care too much about the book under criticism or the specific source of the criticism -I’ve never been to the White Horse Inn before I clicked that link yesterday, so this is purely a theological post.

This was my reply I posted as a comment (click the link and read the review to see exactly what I was responding to:

1 – the criticism: Seems pretty ballsy to declare with no qualifications that apart from the written scriptures, neither Jesus nor the Holy Spirit speaks today, since:
      (a) not once in Scripture is this claim made – not once does it say that apart from the written scriptures neither God nor Jesus nor the Holy Spirit speaks.
      (b) it assumes a ‘closing of the canon’ which is again, not once mentioned in *any* way in Scripture.
      (c) there is in no way *any* problem with God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit speaking to anyone in a personal way apart from the written scripture – in no way does that contradict or undermine the finality of Scripture.

2 – the observation: the reliance on Warfield says exactly one thing: rationalism. Warfield hated mysticism, for whatever reason. For him, the spirit operated by means of rational proof and evidence- not mysticism. This is a gutting of Christianity, period. Christianity is mystical – the entire point is communion with the divine, and there isn’t a definition of mystical that doesn’t fit. Warfield was desperate for matheatical certainty – just look at his apologetic for the canon.

3 – the question: why is it necessary in a devotional work like this to include a comprehensive view of the atonement? Not every work of christian writing has to include ever aspect of Christian theology. If a writer wishes to write about simply being in the presence of Jesus, they don’t have to produce a work on that outlines the atonement and the historical aspect of the faith. It is in fact okay to simply bask in the presence of Jesus, without doing anything else.

I was going to add to what I wrote above, but keep getting stuck with writers block, so I’ll leave it alone for the time being and instead direct your attention to the best study done on the subject of the Holy Spirit I’ve been able to find. I hope for some good discussion on this subject matter.

https://bible.org/series/whos-afraid-holy-spirit-investigation-ministry-spirit-god-today

Musings on Revelation

Let’s say that revelation is the act of God’s disclosure to us. God’s revelation involves communicating true things about Himself – but it is not limited to only propositional data. God’s revelation is of a personal type – but to have true knowledge of anything, one must being in some kind of existential relation to it. On our own we cannot have such a relation with God – the establishing of such a relation is an act of divine grace alone. Since God desires to know us and for us to know Him, His revelation necessarily then involves establishing personal relations between Himself and ourselves. Since even propositional data cannot be gleaned in a relation-less way, God’s revelation to us is throughout relational and personal. However, since we as humans are under the power of sin and cannot of our own accord come into relations with Him, God not only establishes the relations but also the conditions for relations – namely, the eradication of the barrier between us and Him, which is sin. God’s revelation is thus of a two-fold nature: one, the barrier between man and God is eradicated – in Jesus Christ, God has said ‘yes’ to humanity and bridged the gap, so to speak. The second part is the giving of the Holy Spirit, who is both our comforter and teacher and by whom we know Christ.