Prophecy and Prophets in the Church
In Jerusalem, on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on the followers of Jesus with remarkable manifestations. It drew a curious crowd of onlookers. The Apostle Peter stood up and addressed the crowd. Peter explained that what they were observing was a fulfillment of ancient prophetic promises given by the Lord God. He quotes the prophet Joel who proclaimed that with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit all the people of God, young and old, male and female would prophesy (Acts 2:16-18). The Apostle Paul confirms this in his letter to the church at Corinth: “For you can all prophesy, one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged” (1 Corinthians 14:31). In the New Testament there is a clear expectation that all Spirit-filled believers would be candidates through whom the gift of prophecy could flow for the upbuilding, encouragement and consolation of the church (1 Corinthians 14:3).
After Jesus’ ascension into heaven and His sending of the Holy Spirit, the gift of prophecy was opened to all believers. All could prophesy. As we read through the Book of Acts, however, it becomes clear that there were some who were specifically called to be prophets in the church. There were men like Agabus, Judas and Silas (Acts 11:27-28 &15:32) who were recognized prophets among the believers.
What is the distinction between the gift of prophecy flowing among all the believers and the ministry of prophets in the churches? Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus gives us some important keys to answering this question. He says that the ascended Christ “gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13). The ascended Christ has given ministry gifts to His church and these gifts are men. They are given to equip the church for the work she is called to. Just as apostles help the church become more apostolic and evangelists help the church become more evangelistic, so prophets help equip the church to become more prophetic.
Paul makes it clear in the Ephesian letter that both apostles and prophets have a foundational ministry in the churches. He says to the church, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20). Every church must understand that our identity as the people of God is no longer based on any racial or cultural background, but upon who we are in Christ by the grace of God. This foundation brings into clear focus other central truths that are the basis for our life together in Christ. For example, we are called to bless all the nations and to proclaim the kingdom of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This foundational truth comes by the revelation the Holy Spirit brings, and will always be consistent with, and based upon, the revelation of the Scripture. According to Paul, apostles and prophets are especially graced to lay this foundation in every church. They are foundational men. They will function within their unique gifting in this work, yet it is the same foundation that they lay. It is of great value that apostles and prophets work together because they tend to confirm one another in the revelation that they bring.
Prophets will often come with a prophetic “now word” which helps the church give application of this foundation in some immediate situation. For example, when the prophet Agabus and his team came to the church in Antioch, his prophecy led to a practical demonstration of the foundational truth that racial barriers are broken down in Christ. Gentile believers began to help and serve their brothers in Christ from a Jewish background who were deeply affected by famine. What a wonderful expression of the church being one new man in Christ!\
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