When modern ears hear words like “prophet” or “ prophecy,” they typically invoke imagery of futuristic predictions or something sensationally mystical. Most people relegate the role of prophecy to the ancient scrolls of the Old Testament. And, prophecy does often involve a God-given vision of the future. Furthermore, the prophetic role certainly seems more prominent in the Old Testament.
To understand the role of prophecy today, we must begin by understanding the ancient prophets’ role. Otherwise, it’s like trying to understand algebra without a rudimentary knowledge of addition. It doesn’t take much casual browsing through Scripture to realize that biblical prophets were intensely controversial, mostly misunderstood, extremely negative, and overwhelmingly politically incorrect.
The Role of Biblical Prophets
Pre-Pentecost prophets were politically incorrect centuries before politically correct speech, and behavior was embedded into mainstream culture. Contrary to what most modern “prophets” peddle, their predictions of future events were rarely rosy. Their predictions were typically terror-inducing warnings straight from the mind of God. Aside from eschatological prophets (like Daniel and Ezekiel), their warnings were anything but vague. Prophets were acutely aware of the looming death penalty if they lied or spoke out of turn (Deuteronomy 18:20-22). God despises false prophets who invoke His authority to speak lies or manipulate people to their own will (Jeremiah 23:9-40).
Deuteronomy 18:20-22 was the backdrop that framed the mindset of true men of God. They feared the judgment of God and eschewed the opinions of men. To be sure, that nobility of heart and strength of moral character took a toll. Habakkuk felt abandoned by God (Habakkuk 1:2-11). Jeremiah mourned the prosperity of the wicked and felt the loneliness of being discounted (Jeremiah 12:1-4, Jeremiah 20:8). Elijah longed for death (1 Kings 19:4). Noah succumbed to strong drink after the fulfillment of his prophecy of worldwide judgment (9:21). And, God instructed Hosea to marry an unloving prostitute (Hosea 1:2) and endure a lifetime of heartbreak. Their difficulties and struggles don’t make the prophetic calling particularly compelling. Modern readers glamorize the prophetic life, but the reality described in Scripture is sacred, scary, and sacrosanct. To put it mildly, most people claiming the prophetic gifting have more in common with Balaam than Elisha.
Further convoluting the confusion surrounding prophecy, the definition of prophecy itself is mostly misunderstood. Old Testament prophets did more than predict the future. They bubbled forth the Word of the Lord. They were God’s mouthpiece. They spoke what God spoke regardless of the personal repercussions. They taught they reproved, rebuked, informed, corrected, and did all of this with long-suffering. In other words, they operated much like the preachers described in the book of Acts. That being said, in many ways, all preachers carry the prophetic mantle.
The Role of Apostolic Prophecy
The five-fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13) is divided into distinctly separate categories by apostolic thinkers. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are usually viewed as non-overlapping roles. Even those who theologically recognize the simplistic nature of this way of thinking revert back to it in practice. However, every New Testament preacher operates with a blending of the five-fold ministries. The prophetic mantle rests on the shoulders of every God-called preacher of the Gospel regardless of official title or position.
Modern preachers should be fountains that bubble forth the pure Word of God. They are keepers of the Word and carriers of the cross. They are the original truth to power brokers. Tweaking the Word for convenience is unacceptable in the eyes of God. Refusing to speak the full revelation of God’s Word is a perversion of the prophetic office. To pollute, dilute, or exclude any God-given words for profit is detestable and stirs God’s wrath. I am genuinely concerned that many apostolic preachers are losing the courage to remain righteously counter-cultural and unavoidably politically incorrect. I say “unavoidably” because it’s not possible to be biblically correct and politically correct at the same time. Politically correct preachers are really just biblically incorrect preachers.
Six Prophetic Tensions
I’d rather eat glass than jump into impossible-to-resolve eschatological debates. And, there’s probably no stickier debate than the question of who the Two Witnesses are in Revelations chapter eleven (Revelation 11:3-12). However, it would be foolish to overlook the appearance of burlap-wearing, fire-breathing, element-controlling, loudly-testifying, plague-inducing, death-defying prophets roaming the streets in the last days. When God calls two witnesses to preach during apocalyptic times, they will be eerily Old Testament in nature. And yet, more often than not, New Testament preachers seem frightfully out of step with the biblical prophetic legacy.
Every self-aware preacher wrestles inwardly with the tension that exists between their human desire to be excepted by men and their calling to be godly counter-cultural mouthpieces. Some bow, some bend, some break, and some refuse to surrender their will to anyone but God. No one desires to be politically incorrect, but it’s the nature of the calling. The truth (especially God’s Truth) is rarely mainstream, annoyingly inconvenient, and stubbornly unchanging. The world desperately needs courageous modern godly mouthpieces that will speak the truth in an age of timidity.
I’ve noticed six growing tensions developing in the hearts of ministers in my lifetime. Every politically incorrect prophet must win these battles that rage within their hearts and resist the pressure to become just another name on the long list of false prophets. This is a real-life and death, and Heaven versus Hell battle between good and evil. Not only does their eternity hang in the balance, but the souls of their followers do as well. Many have lost their stomach for the fight, others are just learning the importance of the struggle, yet a powerful remnant of true prophetic men of God are stepping to the forefront of spiritual warfare.
1. Truth vs. Timidity
Postmodernism has been eroding the perceived value of truth for at least sixty years. Just calling a biological man a man is considered borderline hate speech in our stupefied society. Peddlers of confusion malign and attack simple voices of reason. Spiritual truths are betrayed, minimized, and shunned by purveyors of moral ambiguity. Preachers are portrayed in pop culture as buffoonish curmudgeons or wild-eyed lunatics. Sometimes, godly truth-tellers are physically punished or stripped of their comforts.
In America, they are silently bullied and quietly derided (at least publicly) in an attempt to intimidate or embarrass them into submission. More and more, western preachers feel the urge to be timid about truth. They fear preaching controversial topics and eventually avoid speaking of the things God cares about altogether. But true men of God choose to shake off the shackles of timidity and speak the truth with boldness (Acts 28:32, Proverbs 28:1, Acts 4:13, Acts 4:31, Ephesians 6:19).
2. Clarity vs. Confusion
God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). True prophets clarify. False prophets confuse and convolute. Genuine preachers aren’t vague, cryptic, or overly speculative in their preaching. If a prophetic preacher generates more confusion than revelation, he’s more than likely a false prophet.
3. Conviction vs. Compromise
Have you ever noticed how excruciatingly uncomfortable the Last Supper must have been for the disciples? Judas was on the verge of betraying Jesus, and Jesus was painfully aware of that impending “kiss” of death. Judas was probably acting super strange. Jesus was always perfectly willing to make people squirm. So, naturally, He decided to mention a betrayer was in the room. That little grenade caused a lot of commotion.
As if that wasn’t enough drama for one night, Jesus took the opportunity to warn the disciples about all kinds of discouraging things (John 16:1-4). He told them they would be kicked out of synagogues and become societal outcasts. He even told them they would be killed by people who thought they were doing the work of God. Surely the disciples thought this is the kind of stuff we should have been told a long time ago. And, Jesus perceptively addressed those thoughts by assuring them that even though He was leaving in the flesh, He would remain with them in the Spirit (John 16:5-7).
During this revelatory conversation about the coming of the Holy Ghost, Jesus laid out a description of what the role of the Spirit would be on the earth (John 16:8-11). Jesus didn’t mince words; He said the Holy Spirit would convict people of their sin, reveal their need for righteousness, and warn them of the coming judgment. Notably, conviction is one of the primary roles of the Holy Ghost.
Conviction. Sin. Righteousness. Judgment. All of these are becoming taboo topics. But if these topics are the primary issues the Holy Spirit was sent to address, then preachers who refuse to handle them are not Spirit-filled. Compromising eventually places preachers in the position of actively resisting the work of the Spirit. Essentially, they become an enemy of God.
As people search for “safe” spaces, and Truth is viewed more and more as confrontational hate speech, preachers are placed in a precarious situation. The temptation is to avoid conviction and replace it with an ooey-gooey, warm, and fuzzy brand of non-intrusive, conversational preaching. Please understand, there’s rarely a need to be intentionally offensive or off-putting, but God’s Word usually offends carnal sensitivities. Conviction isn’t comfortable, but it’s irreplaceable and indispensable. Preaching conviction is a huge part of the prophetic job description. Prophets who never preach conviction of sin into the hearts of their flock are not prophets at all.
4. Faith vs. Fear
The spirit of antichrist doesn’t care if prophets speak the truth as long as they whisper it in fear and cower in the corner. Anxiety is normal and often justified, but true prophets overcome their fears with faith. They preach fearful things, but they temper it with faith that encourages and edifies. They preach doom and coming judgment, but they also preach that faith will bring us into an eternal relationship with God that is blissful beyond comprehension. Faith and fear are not compatible. One eventually pushes the other out. True prophets allow faith to cast out their fears, and they inspire their followers to do the same.
5. Reverence vs. Irreverence
There is a growing sense of irreverence towards spiritual things, even among “religious” people. I believe this is reflected in many ways, including how people dress for church (check out Should We Still Dress Our Best For Church?). Ancient prophets brimmed with righteous reverence for the things of God. They demanded the same from those listening to their divinely inspired words. Modern Christianity must overcome the growing tension between reverence and irreverence in our culture. God will not accept irreverent sacrifices in His name. British theologian Thomas Smail gives an interesting warning in his book The Forgotten Father:
“Abba is not Hebrew, the language of liturgy, but Aramaic, the language of home and everyday life… We need to be wary of the suggestion… that the correct translation of Abba is ‘Daddy.’ Abba is the intimate word of a family circle where that obedient reverence was at the heart of the relationship, whereas Daddy is the familiar word of a family circle from which all thoughts of reverence and obedience have largely disappeared… The best English translation of Abba is simply ‘Dear Father.”
I think Smail was attempting to strike the delicate yet hard to achieve the balance between reverencing God and simultaneously feeling closely connected to God. In the apostolic movement, many have over-corrected away from highly liturgical denominations (like Catholics, Methodists, and Presbyterians) whose reverence is more like a cold indifference, into a mushy “God is my best buddy” mindset. Not only does this endanger reverence, but it also breeds lots of unintended theological fallacies as well.
6. Power vs. Prosperity
Perhaps, the worst degrading of prophecy has come from the proponents of prosperity theology. The “God will double your money if you send me a thousand dollars right now” crowd. These charlatans, either genuinely or disingenuously, believe that wealth, health, and fame are spiritual success measures. But, ancient biblical prophets were far more concerned with spiritual power than earthly power. They called down fire from heaven while barely having enough food to eat or a place to live. If prosperity theology is correct, the ancient prophets were wildly out of the will of God.
Most people reading this have long ago rejected prosperity theology; however, there is a lingering (unspoken) assumption that struggling preachers are somehow out of God’s favor. This assumption is a subtle trick of the enemy. It’s just another way to shame godly preachers into conforming to the will of the carnal majority. The real measuring stick of apostolic authority isn’t bank accounts. Instead, it’s the manifested power of God. Interestingly, as materialism grows, manifestations of the Spirit decline. Men of God should seek the power of God, not positions or materialistic prosperity. I’m all for the blessings of God, but never at the expense of the power of God.
The household of God is built on the blood-soaked foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20). Jesus is the chief cornerstone of that unshakable foundation. Next time you read through the Gospels, pay attention to how astonishingly politically incorrect Jesus was in word and deed. He wasn’t trying to be odd or quirky. It wasn’t a gimmick or a facade that Jesus put on for attention. He just spoke the truth even when it was unwanted.
God is calling a fresh generation of preachers who are willing to be completely unashamed of the Word of God. They will preach without thought for their safety or societal security. They will leave their comfort zones and abandon the shackles that carnal culture wraps around their minds. They will seek to grow the Kingdom of God and not their ministry. They will value the Truth above tolerance and wisdom above worldliness. The spiritual revolution is already beginning; which side of it will you be on?
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