I have regular conversations with Christians in which they tell me all about what God has been telling them. Most recently, someone told me how God had told him what the outcome of a particular event would be. Sure enough, he turned out to be right. Though, there were only two potential outcomes to this event, so he had a 50/50 chance to begin. Still, he used the accuracy of what he had heard as evidence that God had indeed spoken to him.
When I find myself in these situations, I really don’t know what to do. There is no sense in putting forward the theological argument that the Bible contains everything necessary for all matters of life and godliness and is the only rule that God has given for faith and practice. There is no sense in telling the person that if the Bible is indeed God’s complete and sufficient revelation, then any revelation outside the Bible is at best superfluous and at worst false and misleading. It is useless to say these things in this situation because one cannot argue with another person’s experience. Have you ever tried to say to someone who thinks he saw a UFO that UFOs don’t exist? It’s not going to work. For these people, experience trumps everything; and if they believe they have experienced something, like God talking to them, then it must be true.
The reality is that most evangelical churches are full of these people. How many times have you heard or said yourself, “I just really feel like God is telling me . . . ”? It happens all the time, but there is a question that I don’t hear anyone asking. Is there a place for this in the modern church? Should those who have the ability to hear God’s secret voice be told to shut up or get out, or should they be welcomed into the church and encouraged to exercise their prophetic gift?
I might upset some people with my answer, but I think we should make room for prophets in the church. Personally, I believe that God has said everything he is going to say and that prophecy ceased in the first century. However, as I stated above, I cannot argue with someone else’s experience. Since it is impossible to prove that a person who thinks he had an experience did not actually have that experience, those people who claim to receive special revelation from God should be given a place in the church to exercise their gift.
The prophetic office is a public office, so anyone who believes that he receives revelations from God should be brought before the congregation and presented as someone who claims to be a mouthpiece for God. When this person receives a revelation from God, he should be allowed to share it publicly, and the congregation should take note. In fact, they should take detailed notes and test everything the prophet says that God is saying. The first time this prophet presumes to speak something in God’s name that God has not commanded him to speak, he must be put to death. The way we will know if the prophet has spoken presumptuously is if that which he proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true (see Duet 18:20–22). This will ensure that only true prophets stand up in the church to proclaim God’s secret will.
I know, I know. This would never happen and should never happen. God does not want the church to execute false prophets. When the church and the state were separated into two distinct institutions, only the state retained the authority to execute people. I certainly don’t anticipate that any modern state will execute anyone based upon whether or not what he says about God is true. However, I do expect the church to exercise its authority over and against those who blaspheme the name of God. Some time ago, a man whom I had gotten to know was suddenly struck with a potentially deadly illness. He was certainly not an old man, and we all wanted and expected him to get better. In times like these, prophets often come crawling out of the woodwork. This instance was no exception. Numerous people received word from God that this man would be healed; and it was all quite encouraging up until he died, at which point all the prophets crawled back into the woodwork. This kind of behavior should never be tolerated in the church. Those who speak presumptuously and make false proclamations on God’s behalf make God out to be a liar, which is blasphemy. These false prophets should be brought before the congregation and their folly paraded around for all to see. Then, they should be excommunicated and treated as unbelievers who have no place in God’s household.
If we make room in the church for prophets to practice their gifts within biblical parameters and then treat those prophets with biblical expectations, I guarantee that prophecy will cease in the church overnight. The words, “I feel like God is telling me . . . “ will never again be uttered, and the Bible will be restored to its rightful place as the only rule of faith and practice. So, let’s make room for prophets in the church.