Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Saturday, February 14, 2009

All Christians are prophets

This is how our lesson study guide begins for the week of Feb. 15 2009:

Memory Text: “Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:20, 21, NKJV).

All through the Bible, a theme recurs: God talks to people through His prophets, and the people either accept or reject what’s being said. Of course, by rejecting the words of the prophets, they’re not rejecting the prophets; they’re rejecting the One who sent them.

It’s a very serious thing, then, to claim to speak in the name of God. If you claim it, and are, then you are a mouthpiece for the Creator of the universe, no small responsibility. People have been delegated authority to speak for the boss of the company, or the president or prime minister—but to speak for the Lord? That’s heavy. Unfortunately, much of biblical history is a story of God speaking through His prophets and of people rejecting what was said. How careful we need be not to make the same mistake today.

What strikes me about this is how they have taken the New Testament statement on prophets and applied it to Old Testament prophets. I think that perhaps they are right and also wrong. Right in that the text used is applicable to everyone. Read the text :

(1 Th 5:16-22 NIV) Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not put out the Spirit's fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt. 21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.

God communicates with His followers but they have to test what they think God reveals to themselves and others. It is common sense isn’t it? Wrong however in assuming the ultimate authority of prophets. The lesson goes on to say that Moses was God’s spokesman as if God was speaking to Aaron and Pharaoh. This is very similar to the New Testament where Paul says:

(2 Cor 5:20 NIV) We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God.

The prophets are God’s ambassadors; Christ’s followers are God’s ambassadors. We are just as much prophets as Moses and Elijah, but of course we don’t live under a Theocracy where a prophet acts as a ruler who sets up kings and declares what to do in a battle with an enemy nation. Time and circumstances change and we simply cannot carry forward into our time the things of thousands of years ago.

So let’s say a prophet receives a message from God, does it have to be new and original to him or can God give multiple times the same message to prophets. Well that is pretty easily answered because the Old Testament is filled with prophecy which are basically the same thing that Moses first gave. Repent and follow God or trouble will follow. So prophecy does not have to be novel. Can a prophecy be derived from something previously said by God? Again I think the Old Testament has frequently shown to have prophets using what other prophets have said and applying the message to their times.

So far we have seen prophets to be simply followers of God, the messages are pretty straight forward in that they usually relate to obedience to some command or other that God through some other prophet had given. For the most part dealing with the nation of Israel with the later prophets dealing a lot more with ideas such as justice and mercy, yet they were still centered upon the nation. So it was not too hard to test these prophets; as they were pretty consistent in telling people to return to God in one way or another. If as in Jeremiah you have a prophet going about saying how well you all are doing and how pleased God is with you, you probably don’t have a real prophet, probably not someone who really is a follower of God. Now back to Paul:

(1 Cor 14:29-33 NIV) 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. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged. The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace.

The spirit of the prophets appears to be what the intent of the prophet is. That is he/she is in control of the things he/she does and says. What is there motivation is probably as important as what they said. John says:

(1 John 4:1 NIV) Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

So not everyone who claims to be a prophet is one and not everyone who claims to be a follower of God is a follower of God. We have to test not only what they say but their motivation. So clearly the idea of the authority of a prophet is becoming pretty dicey. We can’t simply trust them we have to test them carefully. We are no longer dealing with a nation and what happens to a nation but to people living out in multitudes of nations. The common factor is that they are followers of God not because they are part of a chosen nation for some specific purpose.

Martin Luther wrote:

But why does he say: “We have a sure prophetic Word”? Answer: I believe indeed that henceforth we shall not have prophets like those the Jews had in times past in the Old Testament. But a prophet must really be one who preaches about Jesus Christ. Therefore although many prophets in the Old Testament foretold future things, they really came, and were sent by God, to proclaim the Christ. Now those who believe in Christ are all prophets; for they have the real and chief qualification prophets should have, even though they do not all have the gift of foretelling the future. For just as through faith we are brothers of the Lord Christ, kings, and priests, so we are also all prophets through Christ. For we can all state what pertains to salvation, God's glory, and a Christian life. In addition, we can also talk about future events insofar as it is necessary for us to know about them. For example, we can say that the Last Day will come and that we will rise from the dead. Furthermore, we understand all Scripture. Paul also speaks about this in 1 Cor. 14:31: “For you can all prophesy one by one.”4 [Martin Luther, (1999, c1967). Vol. 30: Luther's works, vol. 30 : The Catholic Epistles (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (vol. 30, page 164). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.]

So we being good protestants can agree with Luther here, the importance of a prophet is to be declaring Jesus Christ. What about this predicting stuff. Were the Old Testament prophets particularly good at it? No, they did not even predict the coming of the Messiah so anyone could really notice it. There are scores of unfulfilled predictive prophecies in the Old Testament. So we say they are conditional prophecies designed to lure the nation into following God which of course as all the other prophets reiterated the nation did not follow God. So we end up with prophecies that did not come to pass and it is highly likely that God knew they would never come to pass. We see this in the New Testament where the Apostles clearly thought and taught the soon return of Christ. No doubt for the purpose of making the expectation of something better in life more immediate. Because saying that in 2000-4000 years Jesus would return would put a heavy damper on the idea of spreading the gospel. Of course one of the techniques people use to attempt to shore up the Old Testament unfulfilled prophecies is to move the fulfillment to some time yet in the future.

All in all with predictive prophecy which can be conditional or can be transferred way beyond what it originally appeared to suggest there is very little one can do to test it. We end up with saying here is a prediction that did not come true thus they are not a prophet, we can do that with a modern authoritative prophet such as Ellen White but it can be done with Isaiah or Ezekiel also. But we have to do it with the Old Testament Prophets because we are still reasonably instructed that we have to test all prophets. Just because something is in the Bible does not make it true, does not make it the express instructions of God or a correct understanding of God.

Adventists I think are currently at the crossroads in understanding both how to interpret the Bible and how do deal with the prophecies of God. We made the fundamentalist mistake of making Ellen White an authoritative Old Testament prophet of the nineteenth century. It has proven to be a disaster for our church; it keeps our church stuck in nineteenth century eschatology and a self importance based upon wrongly interpreting the Bible from Miller to the SDA formation. Maybe all we had to do was open our minds to what a prophet is they way Martin Luther describes it; someone who directs the attention of others to Jesus Christ because that is where the authority is not in the prophet.

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