Marv and I are currently working through a series in which we are interacting with Michael Patton’s eight-part series entitled “Why I’m Not Charismatic”. You can also download Patton’s series in a 22-page PDF file.
Thus far, we have posted three articles responding to his first three parts.
By the way, you will probably notice right up front that Marv’s posts carry much wittier titles and arguments than mine. I guess I am the dry, dorky, pastoral-theologian. Oh well. Thankfully we are a tag-team here. So now I somewhat dryly continue on with part 4.
If you read part 4 of Michael Patton’s series, I suppose you will respond in either one or a combination of ways: 1) anger, 2) frustration, 3) brokenness, 4) embarrassment and a whole host of other possible emotions.
Patton’s part 4 is a kind of side excursus where he shares of one particular person’s negative experiences with prophecy. Even as a continuationist, I am quite aware of such stories and examples right throughout Pentecostal, charismatic and third-wave circles. Matter of fact, as the proverbial statement goes – We’ve all been there, done that. Even if we haven’t personally been a part of negative experiences, we’ve at least seen such on television or heard enough stories from our friends and colleagues.
And such truly breaks my heart. But, even more, it breaks the heart of our Father.
But let me start off by giving what is probably one of the wisest nuggets I can give when it comes to the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts: Abuse and misuse should not lead to no use, rather it should lead to biblical and healthy use. Or, to say it another way: Abuse and misuse should not lead to disbelief in something, rather it should drive us to truly understand how to faithfully walk it out in accordance with the Scripture.
Those who know me and read my stuff regularly will note that I say that statement quite a lot. And I expect a rolling of the eyes from some due to the perpetual nature of the statement from my lips (or keyboard). But I believe that is truly the biblical approach to most problems we face with the practise of our faith. And I definitely disagree with the approach of abandoning something all together because of abuse and misuse.
Again, I know that abuse takes place. I know things go wrong. At times I want to hurl at what I see on what is labelled as ‘Christian television’. But I cannot allow such to push me to abandon what 1) I believe Scripture teaches and 2) what I have seen God do in mine and the lives of others.
Here is reality: There is abuse right across all aspects of the Christian life. We can name just a few. What about leaders who sexually abuse children? Should we never trust leaders? I don’t believe that is the answer. Divorce rates are just as high in the church as in the world. Should we just abandon marriage? I don’t believe that is the answer. I know plenty of people claiming the name Christian but don’t live at all like the one we are named after, Christ. Should I abandon the faith all together? I don’t believe that is the answer.
Again, I believe the answer is this: Abuse and misuse should not lead to no use, rather it should lead to biblical and healthy use.
Well, that is not a band-aid answer to fix all things. What might possibly be needed is deep emotional healing from abuse. What might also be needed is to find another church community to be a part of. But I believe a mature body of Christ will not ultimately allow abuse and misuse to determine where they stand. They will rather desire to pursue God, study the Scriptures and look to see what it teaches outworked in their lives, which includes the workings of the Holy Spirit Himself.
Now, the person that Patton quotes in his article also observes that none of the prophecies that he has heard spoken have ever come true. None.
I don’t know this person in particular and I don’t know the people who he says have ‘prophesied’. So I really cannot address him or them particularly. But what I can say is that I have heard plenty of prophecies in my life in Christ that have come to fulfil their purpose. I don’t use the normal phrase of ‘prophecies that have come true’ because, while I am ok with that wording, I do believe it can create a wrong perception about prophecy.
What does Paul say the fruit of prophecy will be?
On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. (1 Corinthians 14:3)
And to see this accomplished, one does not have to predict something. You see, we have fallen into the trap of believing prophecy is only about predicting things to come. Not only the hearer, but also the one speaking can easily fall into this false notion.
Now listen, I do believe prophecy can have a predictive element. But that is secondary to its primary purpose of being a specific message from God (an unveiling of God’s heart and purpose) that brings about edification, exhortation and comfort to the body of Christ. And when we allow prophecy to function in the bigger framework that God Himself desires, we will realise that 1) we don’t always have to announce that something is going to happen and 2) we aren’t looking for it to ‘take place’ within our own prescribed time frame.
Again, I believe prophecy can have a ‘predictive’ element to it. I’ve seen this in my own life. Right now I’m specifically thinking about a prophecy given to me by a ministry partner a few years back as a group of leaders were gathered together. It came to fulfilment (and is still being fulfilled), but only after about a 3-year period.
And that’s just it. When prophecies are given that speak of something that will take place at some point in the future, we in this microwave generation of everything-must-happen-in-3-minutes sit around expecting it to happen automatically. Or, we might give it a week or two at most. But don’t we realise that even some prophecies found in Scripture took a long time to be fulfilled? There was the 25-year waiting period for Isaac to be born. There were the centuries of waiting for the Messiah to actually arrive. And we are still waiting for Christ to return to make all things new.
Not only that, but we must also realise that there is an unfolding nature to some prophecies. As I said, a ministry friend of mine prophesied something that took about 3 years to come to fruition. But I believe that prophecy is still being fulfilled, still unfolding with its blessing and fruit from God. Plenty of prophecies from Scripture fall in that category as we are still living in the Messianic age of the new covenant. God is still pouring out His Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2), still writing His laws on people’s hearts rather than tablets of stone (Jeremiah 31).
The problem is that we build such wrong assumptions of what prophecy is. And this is not only true for the cessationist but also just as true for the continuationist. You know the silly ones:
- You must begin a prophecy by stating, ‘Thus saith the Lord…’
- You must use Thee and Thou.
- You must shout.
- You must include a few Hallelujahs.
- You must only prophesy on Sundays and not the other days of the week.
Those are a bit silly, but we do build up wrong presuppositions of what prophecy is. Here are more likely ones:
- Prophecy is always predictive. [I addressed this above.]
- Prophets did not exist after the apostles came. [Plenty of prophets existed in the New Testament: Agabus, Judas and Silas, prophets in Antioch, Philip’s four daughters, prophets in Corinth, etc.]
- Prophets are specifically those who wrote the Old Testament Scriptures. [There were plenty of prophets that did not pen one word in Scripture – Elijah, Elisha, Nathan, Agabus, etc.]
- Prophecy must be accompanied with signs. [Is that true of all prophets like Nathan, Gad, Micaiah, Agabus, Judas and Silas, etc?]
- Prophecy must be fulfilled within our prescribed time frame. [I dealt with this above.]
And there are a host of other false assumptions of what prophecy is and what the ministry of a prophet is. It takes time to take off the wrong lenses and see them replaced with the correct lenses. But it is possible. It happened with me and it happened with my colleague here, Marv. We both were cessationists and we both had our theology radically changed via God’s Word and true interaction with the Spirit’s gifts.
A couple of more things.
Patton included these words from the disillusioned person who had converted from continuationism to cessationism:
If you have the gift of prophecy and it is working for you and you have evidence to back it up, please contact me. I would love to be proven wrong. I am serious as a heart attack. I’d rather prophecy be happening rather than not.
I’m not trying to give a cop-out excuse and side-step things, but this is really not how it works. I promise you this isn’t the design of the Spirit of God Himself. Maybe I should have listed it above in the false presuppositions we have about prophecy. Prophecy isn’t like an on-off light switch that you kind of control when you want. I’m sorry to say this, but it just does not work like that.
Now, for the one who is used regularly in this gift, I would not deny that they could ‘on the spur of the moment’ be used in prophecy. But it doesn’t work with an, ‘Oh yeah, prove it.’ You remember what happened to the Son of God right before His crucifixion. People were beating Him, taunting Him and saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?’ (Matthew 26:68). He could have. It would have caught there attention. But such did not fit into the purpose of prophecy or the plan of the Father.
What I can do is give you testimonies in my life, which I have alluded to above. And I can point you to some posts even on this blog that gives examples of faithful prophecies and hearing God’s voice (see this post, this post and this post). But I am pretty convinced, at least from Scripture (i.e. 1 Corinthians 12:11), that this is something God is in charge of. Not to mention that it seems pretty obvious that these gifts were not accessible in an ‘on-off’ fashion from reading the narrative portions of Scripture where these men and women of God were used in such gifts.
Oh, we are called to pursue Him and His gifts. But this is not a water faucet that we turn on and off whenever we want. Even Jesus looked to the Father to know when to do something and what to speak:
Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. (John 5:19)
Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. (John 14:10)
Remember, I post this article very aware of the grave failures of prophecy and other spiritual gifts. I can probably even easily point to my own failings with prophecy: 1) speaking that which I should not have and 2) not speaking what God I should have. And maybe we are all sometimes guilty of number 2 because of number 1. So I know the pain and hurt. I have seen it and heard plenty of stories to shake my head at.
But, though experience does truly shape our theology, and such is not evil in and of itself, I always encourage the flock that I shepherd, a flock of multi-cultural and multi-church backgrounds, that abuse and misuse should not steer us away from what Scripture teaches and God desires. Rather we will look to be a people that know God’s heart by centering our understanding in His Word and we will look to practise such gifts with as much faithfulness as possible as we stay humbly submitted to Him. That, I am convinced, is the heart of God.