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Prophecy in the Church: Pathway to Revival

Now, back to a Spirit-filled pastor who has little experience with the prophetic. Let me suggest that, like Agnes Sanford, they have several of their elders lay hands on each other for the specific purpose of receiving or strengthening the gift of discernment of spirits. This will help in establishing a discernment baseline. If the other elders also ask for and receive the gift discernment of spirits, they could help in the discernment and judgment of prophetic utterances (1 Co4 14:29). The participants can also pray and ask for auxiliary gifting, as for instance the wisdom and tact in parrying prophecies that are marginal or tainted with the flesh or demonic elements.

Jonathan Edwards

We are now in era that is rich with readily available works on discernment. An interested pastor or lay leader perhaps should start with something from the greatest theologian America has produced, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). His preaching triggered a revival in his church in 1737 which produced some strange physical phenomenon, multiple conversions and a spiritually revived congregation. Later he witnessed the spread of the Great Awakening (1740-1743) under George Whitefield and others. The Great Awakening was a tremendous blessing to America, but it also including non-discerning and spiritually destructive evangelists. Edwards’ reflections on revival, the physical phenomenon of revival, and the discernment issues involved are classics. Perhaps the best way to start on his multiple writings on discernment is to read his short work Distinguishing Marks of a Work of the Spirit of God, and then go to his final work on discernment, Religious Affections. Both works are readily available at various web sites for free download.[7]

Edwards’ writings are almost three hundred years old, and yet there is another stream of Christian discernment writings that is much older and at least equal, and in certain aspects superior to Edward’s work. It is the discernment literature of the Catholic mystical tradition. This immediately raises suspicions among my Evangelical/Pentecostal readers who would ask “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” i.e. Rome. The short answer is, yes, much good.

Dr. Vinson Synan, dean of Pentecostal historians, and former Pentecostal pastor himself, would say amen to this. He was born into a Pentecostal family where he was taught that the Catholic Church was the “Whore of Babylon” and anti-Christ, etc. But later, on his way to a doctorate in Church history, he studied Medieval Catholic mysticism and discovered, much to his surprise, that many mystics had been baptized in the Holy Spirit during their long hours of prayer (Matt 11:12). They often exercised the gifts of the Spirit, although they used different vocabulary for this.[8] In effect, Catholic spiritual directors were dealing for centuries with not only discerning true from false visions and prophetic utterances, but true and false manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit.

In any case, the summary and culmination of Catholic discernment literature is a book first published in 1904 in France. It was written by the Jesuit scholar, Fr. Augustine Poulain, and entitled The Graces of Interior Prayer.[9] This was a very large work. Most of it dealt with advice to spiritual directors on shepherding the mystic through various stages of their spiritual journey. The most important part for the contemporary Spirit-filled pastor or lay leader is section IV. This is where Fr. Poulain dealt with discerning true and false visions and prophecies. Section IV has been reprinted in a convent paperback form.[10] Another very excellent Catholic work on discernment, and clearly based on Poulain, is Fr. Volken’s, Visions, Revelations and the Church.[11] Let me stress to my Pentecostal and charismatic brethren, that the Catholic literature on discernment is generally excellent, though sometimes marred by long digressions on Marian apparitions and other items specific to Catholic belief.

Thankfully, the Charismatic Renewal has seen the rise of specifically Pentecostal/charismatic books on discernment. Many are excellent and I would recommend two especially, not negating that there are many others out there that are also excellent. Mike Bickle’s succinct work, Growing in the Prophetic is written by one of the major figures of the charismatic prophetic movement, and shows great experience and wisdom.[12] A much larger work, and one that gives excellent coverage of the discernment issues of the Church from its earliest times, is Ernest Gentile’s, Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy. Even for the busy pastor, it is well worth having and reading it in segments as time allows.[13]

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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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