Pneuma Review: What is the biblical role of the prophet today?
Allow me to begin by stating that I define “prophetic” in a simple and broad way. It has generally to do with direct divine communication by the Holy Spirit to and/or through human beings. “Prophetic” then serves as an umbrella term that has many sub-categories: the prophetic scriptures (2 Pet 1:20); a spirit of prophecy, a spirit of wisdom and revelation; the gift of prophecy, a word of wisdom or knowledge; a prophet or prophetic ministry, spiritual dreams and visions; angelic visitations, Holy Spirit induced trances; audible voices from the Spirit realm and the like. Direct divine inspiration and communication is intrinsic to all prophetic activity and causes its recipient to be animated and activated by a power beyond this earth.
The proper role of a contemporary prophet is not to take the place of the Holy Spirit’s role in the life of any believer or congregation. Neither is it to lead, command, correct or the Church without reference to the other ministries appointed by God. It isn’t to establish new essential doctrines of our common historic faith. And, it certainly isn’t to write new Scriptures.
The proper role of any modern-day “prophet” is akin to the “prophets” that are referred to in the New Testament. There are similarities between the New Testament prophets and the Old Testament prophets, but there are also many differences. The major one being the fact that through the New Covenant, every believer in Christ has an abiding anointing of the Holy Spirit that has transformed them into a living “temple”. Thus, every Spirit-filled believer has a “dose” of the prophetic spirit. In the OT there was “prophetic concentration” in which relatively few people had the “word of the Lord” come to them directly. In the NT, there is a “prophetic distribution” in which the actual voice of God would be directly heard by many.
This is reflected in Acts 2 where Peter uses the Old Testament prophecies of Joel to characterize the Pentecostal outpouring as being a “prophetic” infusion. The Church of Jesus Christ is therefore to be “prophetic” by nature. In essence, God answered the ancient “sigh” of Moses that “all the Lord’s people would be prophets”. I like to think of it this way: on the day of Pentecost, the pillar of fire that had led the children of Israel in the wilderness, broke apart and was distributed as a “tongue of fire” resting upon every recipient of the Spirit’s power. Since then, wherever a Spirit-filled believer in Christ goes, the power of the Spirit goes with her or him. This power is “prophetic” in its essence. Through the Body of Christ, the power of God has become highly mobile and the life and ministry of Jesus has been multiplied. This was right in line with the God’s passionate intention and ingenious strategy to fill the earth with the knowledge of His glory.
This wide distribution of the prophetic ministry of the Holy Spirit through the New Covenant significantly changed the dynamics of prophets and their role within the community of God’s people. The prophets of God are now to be relationally and functionally integrated within the larger Body of Christ where they are surrounded with the blessing and safety of many other divinely gifted believers. They do not stand alone or apart from their fellow members, and are in no way superior because of their extra dose of prophetic revelation or experiences. They simply make their special contribution along with everyone else. New Testament prophets prophesy “in part” and “according to the measure of their faith”. They don’t see the whole picture because they need the gifts of the other members to see and experience all that God intends to reveal. God has purposefully created this interdependent dynamic within the NT church. This characteristic distinguishes it from the prophetic dynamic of Israel in the OT in which only a selected few had the word of the Lord come to them.