Is All Prophecy Equal to Scripture? Part 5

Friday, November 22, 2013

In the last post of this brief series I want to summarize what was discovered in the concise surveys presented in Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.  I believe that when we start reading the Scriptures and take it at face-value that we cannot come to the conclusion that is known as cessationism

I have attempted to do this with the subject of prophecy.  And my face-value readings on this subject not only called into question the presuppositions I had about the gift itself, but eventually dissolved the very foundation of my belief in cessationism.  Eventually it collapsed, giving way to new life growing in the cracks of the rubble which now laid upon the more secure foundation that God is still speaking to His people today like He always has.

A Summary of Differing Types of Prophecy

In summary, there's a qualitative difference in prophecy itself, isn't there?
  • There is prophecy that is canonical, that is, prophecy that resulted in the Scriptures we have today.
  • There is prophecy that is not canonical, which is not recorded in the Scripture, even though it occurred during the time the Scriptures were being written.
    • The first survey of texts indicated that a majority of the prophecy referred to in the Bible was never actually recorded in the Bible, and is therefore non-canonical.
    • The second survey of texts indicated that a great deal of prophecy was simply practical in nature, and therefore non-canonical.  (And judging from what I see there, I personally make the assumption that it probably occurred more than we see in this short survey.)
    • And 1 Corinthians 14:3 indicates that there is a "one-anothering" type of prophecy that is simply a revelation of the Holy Spirit enabling one believer to strengthen, comfort, and encourage another believer.
Has ALL Prophecy Ceased Today?

Now, there are some cessationists who will argue that all types of prophecy have ceased and are no longer in operation for today.  They argue that since doctrinal prophecy resulted in the canon of Scripture that all prophecy, even those of a "lesser" or different quality, including practical prophecy and "one-anothering" prophecy are also out of operation today and not valid.  But here's my question: how does one come up with that arbitrary conclusion?

Think about it for a moment.  If most of the prophecy in the Bible is non-canonical, and if a great deal of it is just practical and about loving one another, then why must these types of prophecy necessarily cease when the final book of the Bible was written?  Does the Bible actually say that this will happen?  No.  It doesn't. Anywhere.  At least, not until Jesus returns (1 Corinthians 1:7; 13:10). 

So we have a significant confusion existing within the DNA of the cessationist's reasoning.  They argue that prophecy is canonical in nature, when clearly it is not always the case.  And they argue as a result of this faulty conclusion that no prophecy of any kind can exist anymore after the Bible is written.  However, if we've proved the first conclusion is wrong, then the second conclusion falls as well.  Follow the rationale here:
  • If the canon of Scripture is equal to prophecy...
  • ...while prophecy is not always equal to the canon of Scripture...
  • then the completion of the canon of Scriptures means that doctrinal prophecy has ceased...
  • ...while the completion of the canon of Scripture has virtually nothing to do with the cessation of practical prophecy and "one-another" prophecy, in the very least.
I recall being a cessationist once.  Understandably, I argued from what I perceived to be a historical decline and cessation of these gifts.  In other words, I didn't seem them any longer and I didn't see them really operating in the church history that I had personally read.  So I concluded that the gifts were not for today.  I read more church history and concluded otherwise.

On another plain of thought I also argued from Scripture.  I argued from what I perceived to be a decline in these gifts in the New Testament times.  In other words, I saw the gift of prophecy, in particular, declining in use as early church history progressed.  So I concluded that the gifts were not for today.

The problem with both lines of thought - historical and exegetical - is that neither can be supported by the facts of Scripture itself, or history for that matter.  I read more church history and found that my previous perceptions were incomplete.  Prophecy has been happening since Pentecost.  And I read my Bible a lot more and found that my previous perceptions about its history was also incomplete.  The book of Acts ends with the miraculous kingdom in full swing with the prophetic, and the last book of the Bible written was itself one long prophecy.

Personal Conclusions

God is finished speaking in doctrinal prophecy.  That much is true.  This means I'm a reformed guy who sees Sola Scriptura and the sufficiency of Scripture as the bedrock of my faith.  But God is not finished speaking in practical and one-another prophecy.  This means I'm also a charismatic guy who sees the qualitative differences in the prophetic throughout the Bible that are plain enough for any person to see, regardless of theological background or exegetical training.  The gift of prophecy is also a bedrock of the experience of my faith.

God hasn't finished speaking prophetically to His people for the simple reason that...

  • We still need literal directions from God to go places He wants us to go to help people come to Jesus.
  • We still need the Holy Spirit to predict things for us so that we, His people, can prepare ourselves to help and serve one another.
  • We still need the Holy Spirit to direct us in the mission Jesus has given us.
  • We still need the Holy Spirit to predict danger so that we can prepare or evade if, necessary.
  • And we still need the Holy Spirit to give us practical directions on the mission in general.
My conclusion is that...

...the Bible is not an encyclopedia or dictionary of
all the prophecy God has ever spoken to His people.  

Instead, my conclusion is that

the Bible is a book of stories that provides
a trajectory for the kinds of practical and one-another prophecy
God will continue to speak to His people.  

In the end, we should move beyond an argument about whether or not prophecy is for today.  

It is.  

And I think it's plain as to why it is.  

I think it's plain for the simple reason that practical prophecy and one-another prophecy is not equal to Scripture.

I also think it's plain for the simple reason that Jesus promised us in John 10:27 that His sheep would hear His voice and follow Him.  

We hear the voice of Jesus in the Holy Spirit.  And we hear the Holy Spirit in Scripture and in prophecy.  The latter doesn't in anyway outdo or trump the former.  Practical prophecy and one-another prophecy is and never will be equal with doctrinal prophecy.  But we always need the first two to elaborate on and apply the latter.

Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5

About the Author: Rob is a follower of Jesus at Jubilee Church.  From there he pursues Jesus' mission at Revive Consignment as the Business & Operations Development Director, as well as at Jubilee Church of Atlanta, in Woodstock, GA. From there he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 20 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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