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Prophecy in the Church: Pathway to Revival

What Spirit-filled pastors and leaders need to know about prophecy in the church.

For several years I regularly attended a local Pentecostal church. The pastor believed in all of the gifts of the Spirit and often prayed in tongues during the music ministry. However, on the rare occasions that anyone in the congregation prayed aloud in tongues or prophesized, he tensed up, and had an unhappy look on his face. It was as if this was an unnecessary intrusion into the service. He never encouraged that type of activity. In theory he should have welcomed such lay participation in the gifts. But like many Pentecostal and Charismatic pastors, he did not really have the knowledge or training to handle the public manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit.

While vising other Pentecostal congregations over the years, I have noticed the same situation – pastors are theoretically for the active gifts of the Spirit, but not publicly friendly or encouraging to their manifestations. Mostly, they are satisfied with the traditional Evangelical worship pattern of music, sermon, and altar call – with perhaps enthusiastic clapping, raising hands, and healing ministry time. This is in spite of the fact that Paul urges the gifts of the Spirit to be used in all Christian worship services:

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop (1Cor 14:26-29, NIV).

Image: John Price

This is surely one of the most neglected passages of Paul’s letters. As I have pointed out in my recent book, this disobedience or neglect is mostly due to the fact that by the time Paul’s letters were accepted as canonical most Christians had discontinued the use of tongues and prophecy. Thus these verses just did not make sense.[1] From the Third Century on, when the classical liturgies of the Church developed, Paul’s order of worship was ignored, not out of malice or by conspiracy, but simply that few people could make sense of what Paul was saying. Not until the recovery of the tongues and the other word gifts of the Spirit in Pentecostalism at the cusp of the Twentieth Century would the Pauline passages of 1 Cor 12 and 14 be comprehensible.

I believe that many Spirit-filled pastor’s unease at the public manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit stems from legitimate fears, especially a fear of the gift of prophecy. There is the real possibility that the prophetic utterance (either direct or as interpretation of tongues) may be contaminated with falsehood and doctrinal or moral error. This is a valid concern, as Spirit-filled movement from the earliest times to the present have had incidents, sometimes overwhelming, of false prophecies that were not discerned or corrected.[2]

Take for instance a revival that took place among several Holiness congregations in Corsicana County, Texas, in the 1870s. This revival began with a burst of worship and enthusiasm which included tongues. Significantly, the leadership understood that the gifts of the Spirit described in 1 Cor. 12 -14 were for the present. Unfortunately the leaders were inexperienced in prophecy and its discernment (of course, there were no mentors or literature to help them) and drifted into false prophecy. Some prophetic utterances included the message that a person baptized with the Spirit would be regenerated physically to the point of being able to live a thousand years. But strangely enough, some in the congregation continued dying. The revival disintegrated as local prophets urged their followers to sell all and await Jesus’ return in 1875. Jesus didn’t make it, and the only thing achieved by the revival was the discrediting of future Pentecostal efforts in the area.[3]

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Category: Spirit, Winter 2016

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include, Quenching the Spirit (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), and Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He and his wife Carolyn continue in their healing, teaching and writing ministries. He is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook AnglicalPentecostal.blogspot.com

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