Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Is Prophecy Real?

Dear Friends,

I was once asked by a Lutheran pastor friend why our church believes that spiritual gifts are still active today. That was a good question! The short answer is that the original apostles established a church that was fully “charismatic.” Nothing’s changed. For those not familiar with the spiritual gifts, the following may be helpful in understanding the gift of prophecy

Spiritual Gifts: The ancient church had been taught by Paul and the other apostles that each sincere Christian believer received one or more of the spiritual gifts that were to be used in ministry to help and serve each other. 1 Cor 12:1-11 For the first few hundred years, the church taught that believers should fully expect to receive spiritual gifts that were imparted and empowered by the Holy Spirit. In the 4th century, when Christianity became formalized under the Roman Pope, the church began to elevate the clergy above the “laity” and taught that only the ordained and “holy” men of God were meant to receive spiritual gifts. The Church believed that Christians no longer needed the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts to guide them because the believers were now under the control and guidance of a priest.

The reformation was split down the middle on the issue. Like most monastics, the Catholic priest and father of Protestantism, Martin Luther spoke in tongues according to German church historian R. Kuntze (1859) and in Luther’s own words, “How often has it happened and still does, that devils have been driven out in the name of Christ, also by calling on His name and prayer that the sick have been healed.” But spiritual gifts can be messy and that’s why some reformed churches decided they didn’t want anything to do with the gifts. They developed a doctrine that the spiritual gifts ended in the first century with the deaths of the original apostles. But that cessation doctrine requires that one must ignore the ancient church historians such as Justin Martyr, Eusebius, Tertullian, Augustine and others who witnessed the presence of spiritual gifts and miracles in the early church many centuries after the apostles died. 

Prophetic Word: This refers not to a single word but to a prophetic statement. A prophetic word can be for the church or it can be a “personal prophecy” for a person. There are two types of prophetic words: Forthtelling and Foretelling.

Prophecy Can Be FORTHtelling. Forthtelling is when God uses you to speak forth His word. It’s being the empty conduit for the voice of the Holy Spirit to speak to others. It’s when the Holy Spirit uses us to speak God’s Word into particular circumstances at the right moment. Last week I used an example of a personal prophesy to a co-worker. Here’s another example of “forthtelling.” My first experience with prophesy was many decades ago when my (then) wife was struggling with something that involved her father. I didn’t know anything about their family history. She never talked about it. One night I woke up and heard her weeping. Before I was fully awake, words immediately began to come out of my mouth that were from the Spirit of God speaking directly to her. The presence and grace of God was overwhelming. There was a spiritual cleansing that took place as the Holy Spirit brought her to a place of forgiveness and her relationship with her father was subsequently restored. The next morning I remembered very little of what God had said through me to her. She told me what I said and we both marveled at it because there was no way I could have known or even guessed the content of this prophetic word from God. These were family secrets known only to her, her parents and to God. That was the first time I’d experienced what it was like to give a prophetic word and like any encounter with the Spirit of God, it left me humbled and shaken.

Prophecy Can Be FOREtelling: Foretelling is when God gives a prophetic word containing a warning about the future. Here’s an example: It was shortly after I’d returned to church following a long absence. I woke up one Sunday morning having just had a very vivid and detailed dream about the church I was going to. I dreamed there was a windstorm that blew down a large oak tree that fell onto the walkway from the parking lot to the church. A creek separated the parking lot from the church and a footbridge was the only way to get across. In my dream, the tree was blocking the access to the footbridge and the associate pastor and the groundskeeper were cutting up the tree with a chain saw. I woke up and as I was wondering what the dream meant, God gave me a prophetic word for the church that had to do with cutting out dead and decaying roots that were in the foundation of the church. God showed me in that dream that, once the “decay and rot” was cleared away, the “pathway” would once again be opened for people to come to the church.

Two hours later as I drove into the parking lot, I saw there had been a windstorm that had blown down an old oak tree on the walkway and it was blocking access to the church. I was stunned. It was exactly like I had just dreamed it. The associate pastor and groundskeeper were cutting it up with chain saws just like in the dream. I asked the pastor why the tree had fallen. He told me that the roots had just rotted out. 

Why did God orchestrate it like that? Because the dream and the actual event, confirmed the prophetic word about the church needing to clear out some things that were rotted in the foundation of the church. When I stood up that morning and told the congregation about the dream and the prophetic word from God, it electrified the church because each person had just walked past the rotten stump of the fallen tree. God created a spectacular drama to confirm a prophetic word of warning because He wanted to wake up that church. He did.

Like all Christian believers, I do have some of the spiritual and ministry gifts 1 Corinthians 12:7-11; Ephesians 4:11-12 but I don’t have the “gift of prophecy.” That’s why I use these examples from my own life to show how God uses ordinary people like me to speak His word into a person or situation. And, when you develop a prophetic voice (see last week’s AMEN Corner), He can use you!

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