In the ordinary course of daily ministry pastors often find themselves having to deal with sticky issues. What does a pastor do if someone believes he/she has the gift of prophecy and that person asks to use that gift in the worship service?
The best way to resolve any sticky problem quickly is to go back to the Scriptures to see what it has to say about the issue and how it should be addressed. In this case one of the most explicit passages on the nature of prophecy and how it should be managed from a pastoral point of view is 1 Corinthians 12 – 14. In looking at this passage again recently, I came to the following conclusions:
- Prophecy is an important gift that serves to encourage and edify the church. It appears to be a rather spontaneous revelation of the Spirit that inspires a person to speak knowledge or truth into any particular situation (1 Corinthians 14:4, 6, 30).
- Prophecy is similar to tongues except that in the case of tongues interpretation is required in order for it to edify the church (14:19).
- Love is the ultimate gift that brings tolerance and communication about the meaning of these things in a way that truly builds the church (1 Corinthians 13).
- The context seems to imply that Paul’s comments were addressed to people who were meeting in a smaller group, probably a house group. One might visualize a worship meeting in a home where there was worship, sharing, teaching and prayer (See Acts 2:42-47). Prophetic ministry might proceed in the form of various ones sharing about what God puts on their hearts — perhaps similar to what we might experience in a home care group today. Even in this context, according to the instruction given here, prophets must wait for one another to speak because the ‘spirit of the prophet is to be subject to the prophet’ (1 Corinthians 14:29). Most worship services in today’s churches take place in larger buildings with many more people present which makes spontaneous speaking less expedient. But prophecy is not something that couldn’t take place in smaller settings as when the church meets in smaller home groups. Today’s larger church meetings makes it very difficult to accommodate a variety of prophetic messages.
- 1 Corinthians 14:29 also implies that prophetic utterances should be subject to evaluation. In other words, others should be allowed to comment on the accuracy, relevance, and value of a particular prophetic message. Others should have the prerogative of determining the extent to which it is authentic.
- Those with prophetic messages need to submit to one another deferring to one another’s prophetic ministry (14:30-32).
- It’s interesting to note that prophecy should not be so spontaneous that any particular messages not fit within a prescribed sense of order (14:33, 40). There is also a strong sense in this passage that those who claim prophetic gifts need to recognize and submit themselves to the leadership of the church (14:36-38).
Obviously it’s important to affirm the gifts of the Spirit as described in this large passage. Those with these gifts need to be recognized and affirmed but they also need to recognize that they are subject to evaluation. There are appropriate places to practice these gifts but it doesn’t seem that the practice of either prophecy or tongues is practical in the context of the larger worship meeting venues of our day. In the large meetings these gifts are constrained by time and the need for order. In the larger meeting it does not seem improper to think about prophecy as a more ordered, formal occurrence expressed through worship in music, through invited word or testimony, and through preaching, all directed by pastoral leadership.