“Proclaiming God’s truth to the church in its common language
brings the whole church into growth and strength.”
(I Corinthians 14:4-5, The Message)
Food For Thought… I grew up in a tradition that embraced all the gifts of the Spirit, and actively welcomed their expression in our church services. Judging from the church’s collective reaction to a “move of the Spirit,” the gift of prophecy, which is what Paul was speaking of in the above verse, seemed to rank at the top of these expressions.
What I witnessed in both the drama surrounding a prophetic outburst as well as the congregation’s response to it led me to the conclusion that this gift was, for one thing, a very spooky, quite mysterious gift. A corollary to that conclusion was that the one speaking the prophecy must therefore have attained some high-ranking level of spirituality to be used in such a manner, i.e., they were a bit “spooky” too!
Another observation led me to conclude that the manifestation of a prophetic gift was synonymous with either predicting the future or revealing a secret sin or a deep dark struggle in the life of someone sitting in the church service, and although we never knew whom that person might be, it was sure fun trying to guess. In retrospect, neither of those outcomes—prediction and revelation—occurred, at least to my knowledge.
To be sure, if the Holy Spirit wants to reveal either an upcoming event or a personal struggle, he is free to do that—and the church ought to embrace that aspect of the prophetic. But I think the more healthy and helpful approach to practicing the prophetic in the church would be to take the mystery out of it and look at it as a much more practical gift. I agree with Eugene Peterson’s rendering of this verse in The Message version of the Bible, which defines the prophetic gift simply as “proclaiming God’s truth to the church in its common language” with an outcome that “brings the whole church into growth and strength.”
If we embrace that definition of this gift, several positives things will happen: One, prophetic utterances will no longer be only in the domain of the spiritual elite, but open to even ordinary Christians. Two, a prophetic gift will be delivered in the “common language” of the church rather than the special “God language” that often is “worked up” for a prophecy. Three, prophecy will be reduced not to foretelling the future, it will express itself in forth-telling truth; not just revealing secret spiritual stuff, but affirming what should be commonly known and embraced by the church.
Finally, by this definition, an authentic prophetic word will bring growth and strength to the congregation. If it weirds people out, spooks the saints, and causes the cringe factor, it is likely that the expression was either inappropriate and off the mark, or it was delivered in a way that was over-the-top, inartful, and inauthentic, the result of prophecy wrongly understood.
So, and this is just my opinion, but I am convinced of it, we ought to demystify prophecy (and the other utterance gifts as well). We would enjoy them and be edified by them much more often than we are now.
Prayer… Lord, let there be a resurgence of all the gifts of your Spirit in the body of Christ, rightly understood and authentically expressed.
One More Thing… “The gift of prophecy is not a new revelation, but a clearer understanding of already-given truth.” —Ray Melugin