Christian prophets within the 21st century

Spiritual gifts are supernatural abilities anointed by God to believers who receive His grace of salvation. Examples include words of wisdom or knowledge, the gifts of healing or miracles, discernment of spirits, speaking or interpretation of tongues and prophecy. Although the theological debate about whether using spiritual gifts continues, these talents are given by God to His creation.

Cary Balzer, professor of biblical studies at John Brown University, certainly believes in the existence of spiritual gifts and urges the personal use of everyone’s gifts. “[Spiritual gifts] are still valid today, and we, in the church, ought to be using them,” Balzer stated.

The gift of prophecy has evolved since its Old and New Testament practices and operates under the charismatic movement of Christianity in the 21st century. Rudy Graham, writer at the New York Times, described it as “a loose but fervent movement led by hundreds of people who believe they can channel supernatural powers – and have special spiritual insights into world events.” However, do prophets still serve a purpose in the church despite the current theological discourse?

“If by prophet, you mean someone who uses the gift of prophecy to reveal what God has for a church or an individual, then there’s not any reason to doubt that they play a huge role,” Kyle Cameron, sophomore Biblical & Theological Studies at JBU, said.

Jim Blankenship, assistant professor of biblical studies at JBU, recalled the New Testament’s definition of prophecy “as a gift from God in Romans 12 and as a spiritual gift in 1 Corinthians 12-14,” with God anointing “apostles, prophets and others in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28).”

Balzer defined prophecy as “any divine, supernatural ability given by God to enable a Christian to serve the body of Christ.”

In the Old Testament, prophets, such as Elijah, Samuel and Nathan, were divine messengers of God for the king and people who prefaced their prophecies with “this is what the Lord says,” (NIV). In the New Testament, John the Baptist was prophetic when he baptized Jesus and proclaimed Him as the Messiah. Got Questions cited John as “the last of the Old Testament prophets” but mentioned the New Testament’s lack of acknowledgment to other prophets. Throughout Paul’s letters, he repeatedly emphasized spiritual gifts, like prophecy, as necessary components to edify the church.

Books such as Romans 12:6-8, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11—as Balzer highlighted—repeatedly mentions prophecy as gifts given to believers as critical tools for the church.

Critics often cite 1 Cor. 13: 8-10 as evidence for these gifts not be used and ended because of canon’s closing from its “completeness” or the disciples “pass[ing] away.”

“It sounds like,” Balzer contested, “they are talking about the end of the world or when Christ comes back.” He said it is more plausible to believe the gifts still exist and are valid today but will be completed upon Christ’s return into the world.

“Spiritual gifts lasting until the return of Christ is consistent with both 1 Corinthians 13:8-12 and Ephesians 4:7-12,” Blankenship stated. He affirmed that 1 Corinthians 13:9 and 12 mentioned gifts ceasing when “the perfect comes,” and “we both ‘see face to face,’” and understand about the Lord’s return. He cited Morris’ Tyndale NT Commentary, Mare’s Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Trail’s SIL Exegetical Summary on 1 Corinthians 10-16, Fee’s New International Commentary on the NT and others for analysis about the passage.

Graham warned about the rise of “independent evangelists who do not lead churches or other institutions,” who retain a strong online presence. This interest in prophets in the 21st century can cause strain for the church since followers might become attached to their prophetic claims.

“It’s unfortunate, because it’s an embarrassment to the movement,” Michael Brown, an evangelist radio host and commentator, told Graham.

Prophets like Kevin Zadai, Kat Kerr, Robert Henderson, Jerimiah Johnson, Hank and Mark Taylor prophesied President Trump’s second term victory. Moreover, Cindy Jacobs prophesized “the coronavirus will cease worldwide” and called for a global day of prayer to “contain it.” Some prophets, like Jacobs, are affiliated with a church while others operate independently.

Johnson publicly apologized and sought repentance after President Joe Biden’s declared victory yet received harsh backlash from supporters for being “a coward, sellout, and traitor to the Holy Spirit.” This troubled some Christians because there might be no accountability for these prophets since they are independent from any church body.

Balzer stated that the body of members and leaders above a prophet “is the first layer of accountability.” He emphasized how these independent prophets are in “vulnerable” positions to not be held accountable and “go against the biblical teaching.”

Cameron also recommended that Christians watch out for prophets who claim to have “new additions to scripture or are speaking on the same level as scripture” since those claims are unbiblical.

“At least twice, probably three times, the NT warns people to test, weigh, discern prophecy (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21; 1 John 4:1),” Blankenship said. “Of course, one of the tests of prophecy is whether or not the purported prophecy contradicts scripture. If there is a contradiction, then the prophecy is not of God,” he added.

With accountability seen as a necessary component for prophets, their roles within the church have developed to take a preaching role based on their discoveries. If a continualism perspective is adopted, then the role of prophecy should lead followers to preach about new revelations made in scripture.

“I think prophecy can easily be a synonym for teaching,” Balzer said, “that is the primary understanding in the New Testament.” He described this preaching as a flow of God’s word but anointed through the Holy Spirit. If someone makes a prophecy, the prophet should be “primarily preaching based on scripture and making the message of scripture clear and applicable to the body of Christ,” Balzer said.

“Prophecy is not necessarily a telling of the future,” Cameron remarked, “but a revealing of a specific word from God.” He explained the component can derive from scripture – God’s word – which can encourage individuals with a specific problem they may have. “A word of prophecy must agree with what is found in scripture,” Cameron said, “that’s how we know if it’s really from God or not.”

“I’ve heard many say that the Bible says one should choose love instead of the gifts,” Blankenship stated, “I cannot find this as an alternative in the Bible.” He said “Love is the motive out of which we serve one another. The spiritual gifts are one way that God enables God’s people to serve one another.”

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