Are there prophets today and does it matter if there are?
So I am going to shoot straight from the hip – no pious platitudes; no wooly sentimentality and doing my best to avoid some of the more contentious areas on a subject where my take is many thinking Christians are exercised by things to do with the prophetic and coming up with different views, in many cases not definitive ones.
My big project at the moment, set to continue for the next two months, but thanks to Corona Lockdown I have the time to pursue it, is writing a book, titled “Prophets of the Bible”. It requires a monumental effort if I am going to cover all the prophets in the Bible (and I am well on track) and what they prophesied (an even more challenging task and the best I can do is summarize what seems to me to be the main points). I have chosen to play it with a straight bat by considering first and foremost the Bible text and leaving my own opinions to one side (or at least for the most part).
As I go through the heavyweights, right now it happens to be Isaiah and Jeremiah, the question that keeps being raised in my mind is do their like exist today (to which most people I connect with will answer with an emphatic NO) and if not, do prophets of any sort exist today (and by that I mean true, rather than false prophets, of which those on my theological wavelength might say they are not sure on the true but false prophets certainly exist in abundance), and the one bugging me is do we need a prophetic voice today? After all, there is a lot going on in the world, hugely significant, and it would be helpful to know the truth, but always God knows best and often it is on a need to know and do you really trust me basis. Those that believe in true prophets today might add all sorts of caveats of what makes them true or false, including are they saying the sort of things we wish to hear rather than what God wishes us to hear. We are, after all, exhorted to maintain a fair balance: “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings. Prove all things; hold fast that which is good” 1Thessalonians 5:19-21
My position on false prophets is made clear in the chapter I wrote on the subject (see here) and they indeed exist today. I haven’t gotten yet to New Testament prophets and other than John the Baptist and John the Apostle (who wrote Revelation which is mainly prophecy), they were little known. While existing in abundance, their ministries were quite different to the Old Testament big hitters and seemed to focus on what God was saying to the church (mainly local manifestation). Even so, the question is begged, given Peter’s take on what the Hebrew prophet Joel prophesied centuries earlier, when the Holy Spirit fell on the Day of Pentecost (something church folk the world over celebrate in two days time): “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams: And on my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy” Acts 2:2:17-18. That being so, it does matter, for these are the last days.
This time of Corona lockdown, when people are wondering what is happening, what is going to happen, what should happen, and how the people of God should respond, is a good time to ponder this question: is there a prophetic voice TODAY? It is notable that we are now transitioning from celebrating the Passover, when the Lamb was slain and its blood applied, and in the case of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (Jesus), which did not end there because Jesus rose from the dead, to that of Pentecost when the gathering of the Spring harvest is celebrated (by Jews) and the giving of the Holy Spirit (by Christians). It should also be noted that God gave this day to Israel to commemorate the giving of the Law to the Israelites, when Moses descended Mount Sinai with the Ten Commandments (Exodus 19 and 20), which happened 50 days after they left Egypt. While on the face of it, and because I am not a prophet, I cannot say something special will happen this Pentecost, I am mindful some think there will be and many of us who long to see God do something amazing through this crisis hope so to, but any case we cry Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy on us.
My concern is that leaders of the church that ought to provide a prophetic voice for such a time as this are saying little to convince me that this is what they are doing (at least when it comes to true rather than false prophecy). I may be wrong (I hope I am), but Anglican Bishops having a go at the government for hypocrisy (which is likely true but hardly the main issue of concern), Spring Harvest speakers getting on their holy high horses and saying that which is false to be true, sanctimonious Christian leaders pouring scorn on those entertaining conspiracy theories or facts (depends which side you are on, which one it is) when the people are being misled or wish to challenge the official narrative and those that are waking up are vilified for merely questioning this, and Christian leaders endorsing a book like “The Book of Queer Prophets”, as if they were authentic prophets of the Lord, all these examples fill me with foreboding, humanly speaking. It is with sadness I find Christians (urged on by the leaders) supporting the wrong causes and endorsing the wrong people and then distancing themselves form those who dissent. What I have seen too little of is calling the nation to prayer, that the Lord will be merciful on our world, for those suffering in various ways, for the gospel to go forth and for justice. But then my confidence is in the Lord and, while the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury will be preaching to the masses this Pentecost Sunday, they do not represent the true church, which is but a remnant and always has been thus.
I dare not say anything other than what is the Word of God (the Bible). I am reluctant to call out those who claim to follow the Lord but lead astray “the flock”, for only He is truly qualify to judge, yet sheep need protection from wolves. I am reluctant too to pontificate much on the Covid-19 phenomena we are currently experiencing, other than to say God is in control and, at the very minimum, He is using this to get our attention. Our trust should be, not in earthly rulers, who deceive for their own nefarious reasons or ignorantly mislead us, but in Him alone. We should be watching and praying. There is undoubtedly much suffering because of what is happening and the age-old question of why the innocent suffer comes to mind. When the archetypal prophet of doom, Jeremiah, wrote reflecting on worse, he also said: “My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me. This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him” Lamentations 3:20-25.
While I don’t anticipate prophets today, quite in the Jeremiah mode, and sadly lament that there are false prophets and teachers around, I believe also, the real Church (God’s instrument to reach the world), ought to be a prophetic voice. Too often it falls short and people hear mixed messages. I sense the Lord raising up those who, while not into predicting future events, do present His perspective on things and more often than not are NOT lauded by the church hierarchy (there is nothing new in that). I also include annointed preachers carrying on the honourable tradition of speaking into individual circumstances, sometimes without realising it. I feel our nation and maybe all the nations have been let down by their rulers and this is a day of opportunity and even harvest for the people of God. Pentecost is also about bringing in the harvest. This is her (The Church) time to arise and embrace the Pentecostal gift of the Holy Spirit that enables the young to see visions and the old to dream dreams, and speak to the people the words He is giving and wants to give us, and not just with words but with actions too, starting with me, now.