As I minister in different churches and in a number of countries it is evident that there is a vast misunderstanding about the prophetic in the Church today. It seems to me that this is because their understanding is based on experiences that they have had in the past which were not biblical. Or, in some cases, there has been either a lack of teaching or poor teaching on this whole area of the prophetic.
In the Old Testament the prophetic was severely limited to mainly the prophets. With few exceptions, such as King Saul, only those who were appointed as prophets to God’s people ministered prophetically.
In the New Testament, everyone is is born again and baptized in the Holy Spirit can prophesy. The Bible states in 1 Corinthians 14:1 that we are to ‘seek to prophesy.’ It goes on to say in verse 31 and 39 that “you may all prophesy.” Verse 12 states we are to seek the manifestations of the Spirit that builds up the body of Christ and prophecy is the main one that accomplishes this. So, in the Church that Jesus is building everyone who is empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a witness for Jesus (see Acts 1:8) can move in the revelation gift called prophecy.
In the Old Testament the prophetic ministry was sent to direct, correct, and even chastise God’s people. At times it spoke of the coming judgment on His people as a result of their disobedience or rebellion. It was often negative and even condemning. It was predicting and announcing what was to take place in the future. The prophetic was to minister to and speak directly to the corporate ‘people of God’ or to a leader ‘of the people’ and thus indirectly to the people.
In the New Testament prophecy is a gift that the people of God can flow in and its three purposes according to 1 Corinthians 14:3 are to build up, to stir up, and to cheer up. The people of God are to minister the heart of God to His people – bringing encouragement. This gift is no longer to speak correction, direction, or bring chastisement to the Church. It is simply declaring God’s heart to God’s people. When operating in and through God’s people it is not predictive.
Prophecy in the New Testament is never meant to embarrass, expose sin, or convict or even condemn people. It is an encouraging gift that brings hope and encouragement
God also uses His people to speak a Word of Wisdom which will speak directly to an individual’s future. This sounds like a prophecy but is not. However, it is predictive. These announced future plans and purposes of God are not a certainly. They are simply God offering a person an opportunity to become involved in what He is doing and what God wants them to be doing in ministry at a future time. It is God speaking to their potential. Of course, they must respond and co-operate with what is spoken or it will not come to pass. Often then the word spoken is deemed a false prophecy when really it is just a Word of Wisdom that was neglected and not acted upon. And often the person delivering it is declared to be inaccurate when really the issue is simply a lazy Christian who did not take ownership of their Word and move with it.
However, the ministry of the prophet – also using the gift of prophecy – has God’s permission and the calling from God to speak correction, direction, and chastisement. To speak about the plan and the purpose of God currently unfolding as well as what will be happening in the future. This fivefold ministry calling carries on some of the functions of the Old Testament prophet as well as having a number of other ministries within the body of Christ, the Church.
To fully understand the gift of prophecy today one must move from the example of the prophetic under the Law in the Old Testament to functioning in this gift of the Holy Spirit under grace in the New Testament. And, a person needs to understand the different roles this gift can play when used by a fivefold prophet as compared to a person who has been baptized in the Holy Spirit and supernaturally enabled to flow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11).