Is there a role for prophets today?

For the past few months one of my main focuses in the Bible have been the prophets, a crucial role in the Bible narrative that has long fascinated me. I find the lives and message of the prophets to have been a recurring theme when I preach and I have also been leading a series on the prophets of the Bible at my church fellowship but have only just got on to the major prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel) with the minor prophets yet to come. I am hoping in the next few months to complete a book on the prophets of the Bible, giving overviews of their lives, message and significance, although given the extent and depth of the subject it warrants a whole library.

It is easy to see the role of the Bible prophet in dramatic terms, e.g. Elijah who did battle against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel when fire came down from heaven according to the word of the Lord to consume his sacrifice. As far as this reflection is concerned, it is going to be about something much more ordinary. My own church background has been along the lines that the dominant view is the prophets were for a past era and that the gift of prophecy no longer applied today. I now reject that view and note there are good earnest Christians who believe prophets are for the church today, but urge caution and note the concern of those who point to there being many false prophets around today, something the Bible warns us of. Even so, despite my sheltered existence these days, I am aware of prophesy, e.g. Mark Taylor who predicted Donald Trump would become US President in 2011, but invariably I test the words.

23 If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? 24 But if all prophesy, and there come in one that believeth not, or one unlearned, he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: 25 And thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so falling down on his face he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth.” 1Corintians 14

I have been a member of my own church Providence (Strict / Grace) Baptist Church for only four years but I remind older members I was there long before they were. In 1969 (I believe) while a sixth form student I was invited to attend a meeting there when the renowned preacher, Martin Lloyd-Jones was preaching. He preached on the passage above and while much of what he said I do not recall (and there is no transcript to refer to) he made a point that made a lasting impression and at a time when the charismatic movement had just begun to hit my town as it did nationwide. His point as I recall was when the power of God was present in the midst of the congregation the prophetic word would be preached in a way that gets to the very heart of the unbeliever, who will know God is speaking into their very own situation and circumstances. Moreover, I believe it was the word of the Lord for that church then, which is my church now.

While predicting specific events is one of the more spectacular roles of a prophet in the Bible, he/she also had another role – that of a watchman – looking out on what is happening in the world around him and warning the people what to do and what not to do, in line with God’s will. Theirs was an unenviable job and more often not they were not thanked for giving messages that were disagreeable. Often they came to a sticky end, e.g. killed, and often they suffered deprivation, but they were put in that role for a reason and it was all part of God’s economy. I have little doubt that function is required today as well as the need for anointed preachers that preach, often without realizing it, to the needs and situations of the hearers, who whether they take heed or not, will know God is speaking to them.

I reckon this important subject of the role of the prophets today to be a controversial one and one where my views are still forming. There are dangers of course and not just from false prophets but from ordinary believers being obsessed with prophecy prediction rather than being intent on seeking the Lord and His glory. When I preach and when I comment, often controversially, on things around me, I do so mindful of the prophets of old, the world situation and the need to exhort the people of God and needing to do so humbly, giving honour to the Lord who unlocks with the keys to everything.

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