The Gift of Prophecy

The Prophet ElishaThe following is a summary of chapter 8 from Dennis and Rita Bennett’s The Holy Spirit and You (1971), entitled: “The Gift of Prophecy,” referring to the gift mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:10. This may very well be the first occurrence of an “official” teaching on the prophetic, the gift of prophecy, or prophetic ministry from the Charismatic Renewal viewpoint (let me note that I think it’s evident he borrowed a little from Smith Wigglesworth’s Ever Increasing Faith, 1924). As Charismatic experience and teaching developed over the years, more literature on this subject would come out: Don Basham’s A Handbook on Tongues, Interpretation, and Prophecy (1971), Bruce Yocum’s Prophecy (1976), John and Paula Sandford’s The Elijah Task (1977), Herman Riffel’s Voice of God (1978), Learning to Hear God’s Voice (1986), Wayne Grudem’s The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (1988), Clifford Hill’s Prophecy: Past and Present (1989), Herman Riffel’s Dream Interpretation (1993), Mike Bickle’s Growing in the Prophetic (1996), Steve Thompson’s You May All Prophesy (2007), etc. All of these experiential writers on prophecy were in some way involved or impacted by the Charismatic Renewal started by Bennett, and have personally witnessed the gift of prophecy develop in Charismatic churches over the decades since 1971; especially with John Wimber, Mike Bickle, and the Vineyard churches leading the way, since 1989. Paul Cain, a false prophet—not so much on account of his theology, but because of his poor character, was the “guinea pig” of this budding prophetic movement experiment in the Vineyard, drawing from a “word of knowledge” theology carried over from the days of the 1950s Healing Revival with William Branham (another man who went off the deep end later in his ministry):–what good could be salvaged out of a theology of prophecy, in that movement, has been compiled in Gordon Lindsay’s Commissioned with Power. Before we get started with my summary of Bennett’s teaching, let’s note that it’s easy to despise prophesyings, for reasons of caution (1 Thess. 5:20); it seems to be the “safe” thing to do. But we should also bear in mind that it’s never safe to disregard that counsel of Scripture: “Eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (1 Cor. 14:1). Let’s proceed with Bennett’s teaching on the gift of prophecy, from a Charismatic viewpoint:

  • Prophecy Comes from Supernatural Thoughts (Revelations) Planted in the Human Mind. “The gift of prophecy is manifested when believers speak the mind of God, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and not from their own thoughts. It is supernatural speech in a known language” (p. 99).
  • The purpose of prophecy is to build up the faith of believers; however, it can also serve an evangelistic function. “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers; prophecy, however, is for believers, not for unbelievers…But if an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you!’” (1 Cor. 14:22, 24-25; p. 99).
  • Prophetic Revelations Build Up, Urge On, and Comfort. “There are three ways, the Scripture tells us, in which prophecy ministers to believers: edification, exhortation, and comfort; or building up, urging on, and consoling” (1 Cor. 14:3; p. 99). “Most prophecy to the Church is of an encouraging nature, but not all. If an earthly father never corrected his children, it would be harmful and unloving. They wouldn’t grow up and mature normally. On the other hand, if the father were always telling them they were wrong, and never told them that he loved and appreciated them, love wouldn’t grow between the parent and the children. We may say that there is a healthy ratio here: one-third exhortation and two-thirds comfort! Thus in a meeting you may expect to hear many prophecies that are frankly the Father comforting, and fewer that are of the ‘get with it’ variety! Valid prophecy will not be harshly condemnatory of believers, but it may strongly counsel them” (p. 100).
  • Conditional Prophecies of the Future (Repentance-Oriented). As with the Old Testament prophets, like Jonah and his prophecy to Nineveh (Jonah 3:4), or Jeremiah and his prophecy to the king and priests:–modern-day prophets operate in the gift of prophecy combined with the gift of the word of knowledge; and these direct, personal prophecies to other people may have a repentance message, with conditional futuristic outcomes, depending on either their repentance or impenitence (p. 101). Repentance-oriented prophecy is always dangerous and risky, because it may result in persecution or martyrdom: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets!” (Matt. 23: 37):—see also Stephen before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:52).
  • Unconditional Prophecies of the Future (Faith-Builders). There are also unconditional prophecies, which will happen in the future no matter what. For examples of this in Scripture, see Isaiah 53, Deuteronomy 18:15, Matthew 24, and John 16:1-4. These are given to strengthen people’s faith during circumstances in the future. Jesus said, “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe” (John 14:29) (pp. 101-102).
  • Sometimes Church Leaders Become Envious of Prophets; and for this Reason, Christians Trying to Be Used in the Gift of Prophecy Should Humbly Submit their Revelations to the Judgment of Godly, Trusted Church Leaders. Such was the case when the Lord put the gift of prophecy in Eldad and Medad, and some of the elders, in an authoritarian manner tried to make them stop prophesying. Moses responded to these elders, “Are you envious for my sake? would God that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!” (Numbers 11:29; p. 103).
  • It is God’s Will for All Christians to Be Used in the Gift of Prophecy. “This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out My Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on My servants, both men and women, I will pour out My Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:16-18; p. 103). Seeing visions and dreaming dreams were understood by Bennett as Biblical means of revelation (supernatural thoughts) for operating in the gift of prophecy today, for more see page 110; they are seen as available to all people in the church (not just an elite group of prophets), by faith in the Gospel, and receiving the baptism in the Holy Spirit. I would like to add here, personally, that I believe Christians who do not experience prophetic dreams regularly, can at any time, choose to start receiving them by faith, if they will only open their minds to this way of divine communication, and pray for God to speak to them in this manner. I would like to bear in mind, that although Scripture is “a more sure Word of Prophecy” (2 Peter 1:19), it is not in God’s design for New Testament Christians to make Scripture into their only Word of Prophecy. I realize this flies in the face of most Reformed theology, whose rally cry is “sola Scriptura!” (only Scripture!), but that is not in God’s design for the church. (Let me note here also that the Covenanters, the founders of the Church of Scotland, are recorded in John Howie’s The Scots Worthies as having many such visions and dreams! And they were totally Reformed! This provides a historical precedent for Charismatic Christians today. See also Daniel Jennings’ The Supernatural Occurrences of John Wesley—for the Methodist precedent.)

     Acts 2:16-18 makes it clear that visions and dreams are to supplement the Scriptures in the believer’s life for the purpose of specific guidance through edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3). Sure, the Bible is “sufficient for salvation”—all that Christians need for “life and godliness,” “for training in righteousness,” and knowledge of the Gospel is contained in the Bible. But when it comes to the more specific and personal circumstances in our lives, and especially during trials and tribulations which test our faith, it is then that the gift of prophecy through visions and dreams—if passing the test of Biblical theology (Isaiah 8:20; 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21; 1 John 4:1)—can serve to supplement the believer’s use of the Bible for the purpose of edification, exhortation, and comfort. It reminds us in those dark nights of the soul that God is really among us (1 Cor. 14:25). I also bear in mind that it was considered a judgment of God in Bible times, if you did not receive divine dreams! Scripture says of Saul, when he was rebelling against the Lord, but still wanted military advice from Him, “He inquired of the Lord, but the Lord did not answer him by dreams or Urim or prophets” (1 Samuel 28:6)—note dreams were mentioned first; and in the middle of a pagan séance, the troubled Saul speaks to a familiar spirit under the guise of Samuel, and he complains that God “no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams” (1 Sam. 28:15). In Bible times, as illustrated by Saul’s case, it was considered a judgment of God for rebellion and unbelief, to be unable to receive specific prophetic words from God through dreams and prophets! All the more reason, then, why New Testament Christians, who according to Acts 2:16-18, all of whom have the ability to prophesy by visions and dreams—should seek and inquire of the Lord for such revelations in their lives, and the lives of others in the church, for the purpose of edification, exhortation, and comfort! (1 Corinthians 14:3). “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:29-33). Commenting on 1 Corinthians 14:30, The NIV Study Bible says, “Prophecies referred to in chs. 12-14 could come through any member of the church (vv. 26, 29-31) and were intended for particular persons in particular circumstances; the ‘revelation’ they contained could be a prediction (Agabus, Acts 11:28; 21:10-11), a divine directive (Acts 13:1-2) or a message designed to strengthen, encourage or comfort (v. 3).”

  • True prophets are submitted to godly male leadership in the church (p. 104).
  • True prophets are meek and humble; knowing they have power, but not flaunting it: “Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3; p. 105).
  • True prophets have words of knowledge (pp. 105-106).
  • True prophets are not perfect, but are going on to perfection. “A true prophet of God will be a mature Christian, as his ministry is listed as one of the offices to be used to bring the Church to maturity (Eph. 4:8, 11-16). No person should be allowed to minister as an established prophet in the Church unless he is thoroughly known by the brethren as to his doctrine and his manner of life. A true prophet will speak out against things that are wrong, whether it makes him unpopular or not. He will draw people to God and not to himself. The ministry of the prophet must be even more carefully judged than that of the brethren in general who prophesy in the meeting. A man may be strongly used in the prophetic office, and yet may be completely wrong from time to time. His words must never be accepted because of his ministry, but tested by the Word and the Spirit; this does not mean at all that he is a false prophet, but that he is still not perfected and therefore liable to error. ‘We prophesy in part’ (1 Cor. 13:9)” (p. 106).
  • False prophets can be cult leaders (p. 106). Examples: Joseph Smith, David Berg, and Jim Jones.
  • False prophets prophesy their own imagined visualizations; and not visions received from God. “Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord” (Jer. 23:16; p. 107).
  • False prophets do not preach against sin or on repentance (Jer. 23:17-22; p. 107).
  • False prophets give in to sexual immorality, fornication, or adultery (p. 107). Examples: David Berg, Paul Cain, Bob Jones (not Jim), and Todd Bentley.
  • True prophetic revelations are confirmed by signs (divine coincidences). “Note the caution of the prophet Jeremiah. He was told by the Lord to buy a piece of property from his cousin Hanameel. He took no action, however, until his cousin came and offered to sell him the property, having no idea what the Lord had already said to Jeremiah. ‘Then,’ said Jeremiah, ‘I knew it was the word of the Lord.’ If the prophet Jeremiah, that great man of God, was so cautious, not even believing his own prophecy until it was confirmed, we should be all the more (Jer. 32:6-9)” (p. 108).
  • True prophecy is not fortune-telling. I strongly agree with Bennett in his statement that the gift of prophecy is not fortune-telling. Prophecy is not a destiny-utterance, it is not a psychic, New Age, pagan prediction of the future, with a twist of fate, mixed with superstition, magic, and bad omens. The gift of prophecy is none of those things—and it requires no devices of divination such as looking into a crystal ball or reading Tarot cards (p. 108); further, Bennett says, that in the Bible, the true prophet “was having fellowship with the Lord, when God chose to share the knowledge” of the future (p. 108). But then, Bennett says something I disagree with; he seems to overreact to the fortune-telling mentality, and says, “God strictly forbids any attempt to pry into the future—He has always forbidden it. If men attempt to do this, they will be fed information from the enemy for his own purposes, and if they persist, it will be to their destruction…The true prophet was not trying to get information about the present or the future…True prophecy is forthtelling not foretelling” (p. 108). I disagree with this idea. Firstly, because Bennett provides no Biblical basis for it. Secondly, because seeking information about the future through occult means is the only thing forbidden in the Bible (Deuteronomy 18:9-12), and not because the people are seeking information about the future—but because they are doing so through occultic, pagan means, such as crystal balls, Tarot cards, palm reading, etc. Thirdly, because in Scripture, there are examples of kings “inquiring” of God’s prophets about the future (especially regarding whether it was God’s will for them to fight in certain wars, and whether God said they would win in the future); and all this without occult means, but through the only means available: visions, dreams, and the voice of the Lord (Num. 12:6).
         However, it wasn’t only kings who inquired of the Lord through prophets, the common people did too: “Formerly in Israel, if a man went to inquire of God, he would say, ‘Come, let us go to the seer,’ because the prophet of today used to be called a seer” (1 Samuel 9:9). Prophets were called “seers” because when they were inquired of by the people concerning words of knowledge, or God’s guidance for the future, the prophet would pray to God (Jer. 37:3), and see a vision in his mind’s eye, or perhaps an open vision, and the prophet would immediately convey the prophecy to the inquirer. (On the surface, this is very similar to people today who go to a psychic, or a palm reader, and get their fortune told to them; but notice, there is no pagan philosophy being taught by God’s prophets; these are prophets of the Lord, not New Age psychics with a Spiritualist or Hindu worldview.) In Bible times, it was a judgment of God for the prophet to have no vision: “Calamity upon calamity will come, and rumor upon rumor. They will try to get a vision from the prophet; the teaching of the law by the priest will be lost, as will the counsel of the elders” (Ezekiel 7:26). Deplorable state! “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).

     An epic story about the practice of inquiring of the Lord through a prophet, concerning the future, involves the death of King Ahab. That king was wicked, and had allowed his witch-wife to fully paganize the Jewish people. God’s true prophets had to live in hiding, in prophetic communes, led by the prophet Elijah. God brought three years of famine on Israel because of the wickedness of this king. Now Ahab was in a rough spot; Syria and Israel were about to go to war. And King Ahab, although he was ungodly, still thought it “necessary” or should we say “customary” to seek a prophet for guidance concerning the war. Ahab only let the false prophets of Baal prophesy to him at first, all of which said, “Go to battle, and the Lord will make you win.” Then Jehoshaphat, a devout Jew and allied king of Judah, challenged Ahab, saying, “Is there not a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” (1 Kings 22:7). Ahab knew of one such prophet, by the name of Micaiah, but he didn’t like him, because “he never prophesies anything good about me” (22:8)! After Micaiah was pressed, he shares his vision of the Lord, about how lying spirits were sent into the mouths of all the false prophets, to tempt Ahab to attack Syria, and “go to his death there” (22:20). Micaiah was put in prison for his prophecy (22:27). Yet, during the battle, “Someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armor…The blood from his wound ran onto the floor of the chariot, and that evening he died” (22:34, 35). Jehoshaphat inquired of the Lord concerning the future of Ahab, Micaiah prophesied death for Ahab, and death for Ahab is what happened.

     Is that fortune-telling? No. It’s prophesying: what today in Charismatic circles is called “personal prophecy.” You see, what matters here is the theology of the prophet. In this case, the prophet had a Biblical worldview; and the judgment was on the pagan—the reverse is the case for people today who seek to know their “fate” through Madame Moon fortune-teller lady. What matters is the spiritual source, not whether it’s right or wrong to seek God through a prophet concerning the future. It is not wrong to seek God for revelation concerning the future, but what is wrong, is to be a pagan, or go to a pagan prophet; that is definitely wrong. For other Biblical instances of people inquiring of the Lord concerning the future through God’s prophets, see 1 Samuel 9 (Saul’s servant inquires of the prophet Samuel), 1 Samuel 23:1-12 (David inquires of the Lord directly through listening prayer three times concerning his immediate future—and each occasion saves his life), 2 Kings 3:11-27 (Jehoshaphat inquires of the prophet Elisha), 2 Kings 22:11-20 (Josiah sends men to inquire of the prophetess Huldah), and Jeremiah 21:1-7; 37:6-8 (Zedekiah sends men to inquire of the prophet Jeremiah).

  • Prophecy is not “inspired preaching” (p. 108). I’ve heard the word “prophecy” used in this way before, almost as a literary device for a revival sermon, or an evangelistic sermon on holiness and Hell. But Biblically speaking that is not prophesying. That is preaching. The whole idea of using the word “prophecy” in connection with preaching, and under the notion of preaching a Biblical sermon, goes back at least to a Puritan work: William Perkins’ The Art of Prophesying (1606). I bought this book once; it’s not about visions, dreams, and giving prophetic words. It’s about how to construct a Puritan and Reformed three-point sermon, with conviction, and feeling. So, in the Reformed community, since they usually reject the “prophetical gifts,” they have come to use the word “prophecy” under the notion of Bible teaching or Biblical preaching (expository sermons or evangelistic sermons). Many conservative Evangelicals use the word “prophetic” in connection with a sermon on holiness, or the like. I’m inclined to think that even A. W. Tozer and Leonard Ravenhill, the great men of God that they were, have earned the titles of “prophet” by several church leaders, because of the holiness they emphasized in their sermons, and how often, like the Biblical prophets, they morally challenged the church, and preached against sin. But all this is a misuse of the Biblical word “prophet”; the word “prophet,” “prophecy,” and “prophetic,” I would agree with Bennett needs to only be used in connection with the manifestation of “the gifts of wisdom and knowledge”; and not “from the inspired intellect” which is prepared ahead of time, in an “inspired sermon,” through prayer and theological study (pp. 108-109).

     I believe to water-down the word “prophecy” into something Fundamentalist, Evangelical, or Reformed; into something that is only an inspired Biblical sermon; something that does not at all have a vision, dream, voice, or word of knowledge tucked into it—is to de-supernaturalize our understanding of the gift of prophecy, and perhaps, might be a kind of deistic Sadducee mentality, regarding “neither angel, nor spirit,” or anything supernatural (Acts 23:8)—but understanding everything only in terms of morals and ethics. Personally, I believe David Wilkerson’s The Vision (1974) would rightly put him in the “prophet” category:–in the Biblical and Charismatic sense of the word; but I would not say that any of Wilkerson’s sermons were a “prophecy” unless they contained visionary content or something of a direct supernatural experience in them. Otherwise, a sermon is just a sermon: an inspired, godly exhortation to live a holy life:–but it’s not a supernatural prophetic word. Sure, the Holy Spirit can move through sermons mightily (and supernaturally through regenerating and sanctifying grace), as in the revivals of Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, George Whitefield, and Charles Finney—but we should distinguish this from the kind of prophesying that Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Daniel, etc took part in, or else we do both ourselves, and the body of Christ a disservice, by replacing the charismatic gift of prophecy with theological and intellectual preaching. Agabus, the New Testament Christian prophet (Acts 11:28; 21:10), would be shaking his head to hear Christians today using “prophecy” merely under the notion of preaching a good, godly sermon based on a few Biblical texts. So would all the other Christian prophets down through the ages: the Desert Fathers, St. Patrick, St. Benedict, Hildegard of Bingen, St. Francis of Assisi, The Scots Worthies, the Camisards (the French Prophets), various Methodists, the Irvingites, Smith Wigglesworth, Pentecostals, Charismatics, etc. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach” (Romans 12:6-7). This makes it clear that prophesying and Bible teaching (often called preaching) are two completely different spiritual gifts. Prophecy “is from the spirit, not the intellect” (p. 109).

  • Prophecy is not “witnessing” or evangelistic preaching (p. 109). I agree with Bennett on this statement. A distinction is made in Scripture between the prophet and the evangelist (Eph. 4:11), because prophesying and evangelizing are two completely different gifts and tasks. Although it is possible to mix the two gifts into a combined, Book of Acts-style ministry, few have been able to accomplish this after the first century, other than maybe St. Patrick, St. Francis of Assisi, The Scots Worthies, and a few Methodists and early Pentecostals. Today, there are Charismatics who attempt to use the spiritual gifts in evangelism through a method called “treasure hunts,” but although words of knowledge are used and people get healed, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is barely ever preached soundly and theologically. (See Kevin Dedmon’s The Ultimate Treasure Hunt and Sean Smith’s Prophetic Evangelism.) Prophecy is not evangelism and evangelism is not prophecy. Prophecy is receiving words of knowledge, words of wisdom, visions, and dreams, and then speaking them forth into people’s lives, and especially other Christians’ lives, for their edification, exhortation, and comfort (1 Corinthians 14:3). Evangelism is preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost (the message of repentance from sin, faith in the cross for penal substitutionary atonement, justification for the forgiveness of sins, regeneration of the human spirit by the Holy Spirit to bring about faith and righteousness from the heart, sanctification, salvation from eternal punishment in Hell, etc). Bennett says, “Prophecy is not witnessing. Some, trying to justify the lack of prophecy in the Church today, say that it is. They quote the Scripture: ‘The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy’ (Rev. 19:10). Although it is true that the Holy Spirit wants us to witness to unbelievers and has given us the power to do so, yet how could this be ‘prophecy,’ when prophecy is the greatest gift to edify the Church?” (p. 109).
  • Ways That God Speaks Directly through the Gift of Prophecy. Bennett says, “Expect to prophesy. Ask Jesus to edify His Body on earth through you. As you have fellowship with the Lord and with your brothers and sisters in the Lord, you may find thoughts and words of inspiration coming into your mind that you have not heard, and did not compose. If they are according to Scripture, then share them with the Church. As with interpretation, you may just receive a few words, and as you start to speak, more may come. You may see a picture in your ‘mind’s eye,’ and as you start to talk about that picture, the words will come. As with tongues and interpretation, the Spirit may bring you the words in a variety of ways. Some also have seen the words as if written down, and just read them verbatim” (p. 110). From this paragraph by Bennett, I would like to delineate four categories of prophetic revelation:

1. Mental Voices; or Spontaneous, Random Thoughts. “You may find thoughts and words of inspiration coming into your mind that you have not heard, and did not compose.” Catholic mystical theology term: “intellectual and imaginary locutions.”

2. Inspiration; or Ecstatic Prophecy. “As with interpretation, you may just receive a few words, and as you start to speak, more may come.” Catholic mystical theology term: [none, but probably related to intellectual and imaginary locutions (random thoughts and voices)].

3. Closed Visions; or Spontaneous, Random Mental Images. “You may see a picture in your ‘mind’s eye,’ and as you start to talk about that picture, the words will come.” Catholic mystical theology term: “intellectual and imaginary visions.”

4. Open Visions; or Apparitions Seen with the Eyes Open. “Some also have seen the words as if written down, and just read them verbatim.” Catholic mystical theology term: “corporeal visions.”

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