“If we say that God speaks through prophetic words today,” someone asks, “do we not open the door to every form of abuse and exploitation?”
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Obviously this very beneficial gift can be abused or misused, as can any other gift (including, for example, uninspired preaching). Scripture therefore provides rules, caveats, safeguards and tests. Christians have always been cautioned not to believe every claim of a divine word but to test the spirits (1 John 4:1). For 2,000 years, these tests have involved examining the message (1 Thes. 5:20-22) as well as the messenger. That includes testing his or her personal faith (1 John 4:2-3; 1 Cor. 12:3; Rev. 19:10) and also his or her personal character (Matt. 7:15-20).
An early second-century Christian writing called The Didache suggests that one who asks for money is a false prophet — and that was even before television. It is still true, nearly 2,000 years after Paul, that prophecy is nothing apart from love (1 Cor. 13:2), and that, like all grace-gifts, it is to be exercised constructively, with self-control and in an orderly fashion (1 Cor. 14:26, 29-33).
The church fathers attest to the grace-gift of prophecy well into the fifth century. Unfortunately, the mainstream Church, whose hierarchy felt threatened by such ministry by “ordinary” people, responded to extremists and charlatans in a manner with which we may easily identify. It stopped desiring prophecy — and it began to despise prophetic utterances. The rest, as they say, is history.
For specific, detailed stories of prophecies among the Scottish Reformers, see chapter five of Jack Deere’s book Surprised by the Voice of God” (Zondervan 1996).