Sounds rather dramatic doesn’t it? I envision a pastor in front of a church speaking prophetic words over individual people in the congregation. I have experienced modern day prophets doing just that.
Do all Christians believe this is possible?
Some don’t. I have to be honest. Billy Graham himself writes “the gift of prophecy in the first sense, that of foretelling or predictive prophecy, no longer exists to the extent it did in first century Christianity.” He goes further: “God no longer directly reveals ‘new truth’; there is now a back cover to the Bible. The canon of Scripture is closed.”
Even though I comment on Graham’s book I would be remiss if I did not present a balanced view of modern prophecy. Many do believe that God gives people messages to deliver to other people. God does reveal truth to someone in a supernatural way and that enables that person to deliver that message to others. Whether it is a “word from the Lord” or a supposed prophecy, our response should be the same. Compare what is said to what the Word of God says. If it contradicts the Bible, throw it out. If it agrees with the Bible, pray for wisdom and discernment as to how to apply the message. That is good advice for Christians who believe that prophecy is alive and well today.
But for others who wonder if prophecy exists, is there another sense of the word prophet that is relevant for today’s world?
Graham says there is.
The prophetic office he speaks of is edification, instruction, consolation and exhortation, all gifts of pastors in local congregations. The role of the prophet can now be exercised by ministers who preach God’s word for the edification of their congregations.
Let’s be clear, many in congregations who declare they are Christians are not students of God’s word. Literally the only Bible they hear is what is read by the pastor in Sunday worship service. The Bible can be a daunting book, filled with difficult words, challenging images and unclear concepts. People have a hard time diving right into the Bible and getting any valuable message from it, especially if they are not regular students, with effective study aids and a habitual desire for God’s truth. Most Christians need someone with a deep understanding to explain the word of God to them.
And here is where Billy Graham opens the door to the supernatural gift of modern-day prophecy. The Holy Spirit can “illumine” the minds of those called to explain the Word of God, giving them a gift that is impossible for ordinary church members to have. Graham says that the illumination is not new doctrine but God does give new directions. “I am willing to grant that possibility, with the understanding that it does not involve new revelation but something the Holy Spirit would do that would be dynamically related to the written Word of God” [Graham, 178].
He reports listening to a tape of a pastor who was reputed to have prophetic words. His followers admitted he had charisma, but they also reported his ability to explain Biblical truth in an extremely clear way. Upon listening to the tape, Graham writes “I found that almost everything he said was biblically based….He gave biblical truth in a dramatic way, applying it to our world.”
Not everyone has the level of Bible knowledge of a Billy Graham. They don’t have the gift of discernment, which is necessary for ascertaining truth from falsehood.
Here is where we as Christians have a challenge. “Every Christian should be rooted in the Bible, and he should know what the Bible teaches.” Granted, some Christians like Graham may have the gift of discernment in greater measure but most of us don’t. The only way to develop any discernment about prophetic exhortation is to open our Bibles on a regular basis, purchase some highly respected study aids and develop a habitual hunger for God’s Truth as written in His Word.
With this in place, we can really benefit from the prophetic words of our ministers. They can only deepen our understanding if they have the prophetic gift of edification, instruction, consolation and exhortation. We know what they say is in line with the Bible, because we have some knowledge of our Bibles.
Their words are growing our faith and we are actively trying to grow it ourselves.
Getting help and helping ourselves.
Two good things, I am thinking.