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Prophecy in the Church Today: an interview with Michael Sullivant

 

In light of this, NT prophets are not to be considered infallible in their person or their ministry, just as other gifted believers are not to be regarded this way. Even the weak humanity of the apostles Peter and Paul are referred to in the NT account. Just because they themselves were anointed and used by God to inscripturate His infallible word doesn’t imply that they were above and beyond error in other aspects of their lives or ministries. The words of NT prophets need to be judged and examined by the rest of the Spirit-filled community because their weak humanity might get mingled in with their message. Their words are not infallible, because they don’t need to be infallible to be legitimate and helpful, as long as they are properly related and in submission to the body of believers about them. If they make errors in the transmission of their words, then they can be forgiven and encouraged instead of being rejected and stoned. Of course this requires the humility on their part to not demand some kind of “special status” in the body beyond the honor that is afforded every member of the body. If a degree of human error is interspersed with the prophetic word of a believer, this should not automatically classify them as a “false prophet”. Rather their word should be tested and refined by the light of Scripture, the wisdom and mature judgment of the body, and the leaders that surround them so that any good can be gleaned from what they have delivered. If infallibility is to be the standard for NT prophetic ministry, who then would dare step out to begin to prophesy?

It is within the NT record that we are to look for our models for contemporary prophetic ministry. If you accept the above premises, then one thing becomes clear: receiving, interpreting and applying contemporary prophecy becomes more of an art than an exact science. I believe it is this way by God’s design. He desires to use the challenge that this presents to draw us closer to His heart and to more deeply rely on His Spirit in our lives.

In the NT we see prophets at Corinth speaking forth for the purpose of the exhortation, edification and comfort of their church in addition to revealing the secrets of people’s hearts that leads to their salvation. We see the prophets at Antioch ministering to the Lord and fasting and then hearing the voice of God regarding the apostolic mandate of Saul and Barnabas. We see Agabus and Philip’s seven daughters, along with many others, predicting and confirming some specific troubles to come in Paul’s future. We also see Agabus accurately predicting a famine that came upon a whole region with such authority, that believers prepared to help those who would be affected by it. We see Judas and Silas, who were called prophets, strengthening the churches through preaching lengthy messages. Indeed, prophets love to have biblical justification for their long messages! We also see in Ephesians that the NT prophets are to partner with the NT apostles as complementary ministries that help lay foundations in the churches so that they become sound, mature and well-rounded. These are the kinds of functions that we see in the NT for Christian prophets. We see these same kinds of functions I have just emphasized performed by our prophets countless times throughout the history of the Church, even to this day.

 

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Category: Pneuma Review, Spirit, Spring 2004

About the Author: Michael Sullivant and his wife Terri live in the Kansas City, Missouri area. They have given themselves to planting communities of faith in several U.S. states, pastoring, teaching, writing, coaching, building leaders and traveling to offer ministry in many nations. Michael is the author of Prophetic Etiquette: Your Complete Handbook on Giving and Receiving Prophecy (Creation House, 2000), and Your Kingdom Come (Creation House, 2000), and a devotional commentary called The Romance of Romans: God's Big God-Story (2011). www.radius-group.org

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