According to both the Old Testament (Joel) and the New Testament (Peter), one manifestation of God’s Spirit in this messianic era is the widespread gift of prophecy — not through a select few as in past ages but through God’s children in general — men and women, young and old, servant and master alike. Because God bestows this gift so indiscriminately, I refer to it as “ordinary Christian prophecy.” Before we try to describe ordinary Christian prophecy in a positive way, it is helpful to note some things it is not.
First, it has nothing to do with producing new Scripture. The Bible is complete and it will never be enlarged. Second, ordinary Christian prophecy does not mean predicting the future. Sometimes it involves a revelation of future events (Acts 11:28; 21:11) but that is not its primary purpose or nature. Its purpose is to strengthen, encourage and comfort (1 Cor. 14:3). Whether it reveals future events or not is really beside the point. Third, ordinary Christian prophecy is not a means for revealing new doctrine or giving divine commands. All the doctrine and commands we need are found in the Bible, and it is complete (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3).
Fourth, ordinary Christian prophecy is not an infallible word from God. We are told to evaluate, weigh or test such prophecy whenever it is given (1 Cor. 14:29; 1 Thes. 5:21). This clearly shows that ordinary Christian prophecy is not on a par with the word of Old Testament prophets or New Testament apostles. Ordinary Christian prophecy originates in a divine “revelation,” as we will see later, but it is expressed in uninspired human words. Sometimes the person giving the prophecy misunderstands the revelation, for it is “in part” and not always crystal clear. (Compare the details of Agabus’ prophecy in Acts 21:11 with the actual events as described in verses 30-33.)
Fifth, ordinary Christian prophecy is not preaching or teaching. Strictly speaking, the content of preaching is the gospel. Teaching is an exposition, explanation and/or application of Scripture. The content of ordinary Christian prophecy is not the gospel itself or an explanation of Scripture, but a specific message designed to strengthen, encourage or comfort a specific audience in a specific time at a specific place. One who teaches or preaches studies and prepares the message. The person who ministers ordinary Christian prophecy simply relates a divine insight he or she has received from God (1 Cor. 14:30). Prophets and teachers are equally God’s ministers but they are two separate categories of ministers (1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 4:11). Prophecy and teaching are both spiritual gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit, but they are different from each other (Rom. 12:6-7; 1 Cor. 12:4-6).