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Prophecy in the Church: Pathway to Revival

Most Pentecostal pastors can probably tell of some prayer group or individual injured by non-discerned prophetic utterance. I had personal experience with one such incident early on in my charismatic Christian life. My wife Carolyn and I belonged to one of the finest and most influential Pentecostal/charismatic churches in the Atlanta area. There Carolyn joined a small, predominantly woman’s bible study and healing group. The leader of the group prophesied that the group was in danger of being destroyed by “a man who would sow dissension,” i.e. me. They asked me to leave. The prophetic utterance was bogus, and most likely the product of some unhealed past hurt of the group leader. We both left at that point, and the group itself did not last long after that. All of which is to say that false prophecy has been and will continue to be a challenge to any Spirit-filled congregation.

Operating in the prophetic is what God wants of the Church.

Then the issue arises, why not just scrap prophecy and tongues to avoid these problems? In fact, cessationists often do make this argument. They usually exaggerate and say that all modern prophecy is unnecessary, bogus and harmful and thus unrelated the New Testament prophecy.

There are several reasons why we must reject this extreme view. The most important is that Paul mandated it, and we should obey it. Secondly, there are many instances when contemporary prophecy has been not only encouraging and supportive, as its main New Testament function (1 Cor 14:31) but even life-saving. One of the most famous examples of the latter is cited by Demos Shakarian, the founder of the Full Gospel Business Men Fellowship International. In his book, The Happiest People on Earth. Shakarian related that his family came to America from Armenia during the 1900s. This was because a prophet in their community continuously warned the people of grave impending danger and urged them to leave and go to America. Many did, but many also did not. The prophet’s warning became tragically true when the Turks began the Armenian genocide of 1916. [4] Those who obeyed the prophetic warning lived, and most who did not perished.

Many Pentecostal and charismatic pastors can relate stories of valid prophetic warnings, discernments and encouragements. Let me cite another personal instance. Back in 1999 many businesses and churches were busy preparing for the oncoming “Y2K disaster,” a supposed mass foul-up of all computers because they had not been adequately programmed to take into account the new century. Carolyn and I were on the Church Y2K committee at our Episcopal church, and we coordinated an expanded pantry and other emergency supplies, etc. We went to a nearby Pentecostal church to further coordinate for the possible problems and relief efforts and the pastor adamantly told us we were wasting our time, and that the Lord assured him there would be no problems. We thought him arrogant and foolishly imprudent. But he had indeed heard from the Lord correctly – a lesson to us on discernment.

Years later, in a small Pentecostal church which I pastored we had multiple incidents of valid and encouraging prophetic utterances.[5] That church had a mature and discerning small group leadership that understood both the danger of false prophecy and the benefits of prophetic communications with the Holy Spirit. In other words they understood the importance of discernment. That is, with the gift of discernment one can filter out the destructive instances of prophetic utterances and affirm the valid communications from the Holy Spirit.

Help for the pastor

What is a pastor, who perhaps is new to the Pentecostal or charismatic movements, do to get and grow in discernment? Most seminaries and bible colleges do well in teaching hermeneutics, church history preaching and administration, etc., but few teach anything about discernment, prophetic or otherwise. (Of course, if you went to a mainline seminary or an Evangelical cessationist one, prophetic discernment was not even considered.)

The important thing to understand about discernment is that it is a spiritual gift, but it is enhanced with biblical understanding, knowledge of Christian writings, and experience. Discernment of spirits, the foundational spiritual gift, is named as one of the spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12. Thus it can be asked for in prayer and received as a gift. This relationship between prayer/gifting and learning/experience is demonstrated in the life of one of the great saints of the American healing revival, Agnes Sanford.

Mrs. Sanford received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit back in 1953 when that was unheard of among mainline Christians. She and two other friends in the healing ministry had a lay over from a healing mission and were exhausted. They prayed for help and relief, and all received the guidance from the Lord to pray for the “Holy Ghost” with the laying on of hands. They did lay hands on each other and each received an outburst of energy, joy and refreshment to continue in their ministry. Later, one of the three received the gift of tongues at a Pentecostal meeting and wrote Mrs. Sanford about it. She thought it was ridiculous and unnecessary, but agreed to pray about it. In their next get together she agreed with the other two to allow them to pray for tongues. She received that gift in a glorious outburst. She went home and ransacked her church library on the Holy Spirit. A bit later she providentially encountered another mainline Christian who had been a “closet” Pentecostal for years and was able to further instruct her on the meaning of 1 Cor 12-14. She continued learning about and exercising tongues and the gifts of the Spirit throughout her life.[6]

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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: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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