WHEN LEADERS NEED LEADING AND LEADERS ARE BLEEDING [PART 1]

Recently I was asked by our City Fraternal, a network representing many of the mainline denominations as well as other church groups in our Metro, to address the bi-monthly Fraternal (male/female) Breakfast, which seeks to promote inter-church fellowship and encouragement. The chairman asked me to share because of my ‘seniority’ age-wise and in terms of pastoral experience. He was aware that in recent years I have been facilitating non-institutional church groups engaging in community outreach. I honour his willingness to ‘take the risk’ of asking me to address the approximately 100 leaders present! [my current position is that while I said farewell to denominationalism and the institutional Church years ago, I desire that our organic house churches in the city be part of that one ‘true Church of Jesus Christ in the city’ that Watchman Nee was so passionate about. Some of my readers might be critical of my addressing for the most part institutional church leaders:  while my own conviction is that you can’t change the institution, I believe we can be of blessing to those who in their more serious moments are questioning it]. I was sharing a little of this fraternal talk with a local pastor last night, and he suggested I blog it for his and others’ benefit. So here goes…

[I prefaced my talk by referring to two recent conversations I’d had. The one was agreeing with the Fraternal chairman that whenever we are feeling very comfortable in ourselves and with our own ministry, we are in great danger. The second conversation was one with a ‘senior pastor’ of an influential city church who had opened up to me about his profound hurts during a time of merciless ‘church politics’ (been there, done that, got the tee-shirt)]

1st point:  a true prophet will always ‘afflict the comfortable’… Whenever we are in a comfortable position in our own discipleship and leadership, with things ‘going well’ in terms of church growth and people buying enthusiastically into the ‘senior pastor’s’ ‘church vision’ (a-la-business strategy but not in the Bible, NT particularly), we are in trouble.

Our Lord, after Peter’s confession of his messiahship and Jesus’ reference to imminent suffering, challenges all would-be followers in Lk. 9:23, “‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'” This requirement is usually preached with great gusto to ‘our members,’ but surely applies first of all to ourselves as leaders! (audience chuckles knowingly)

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, martyred for his opposition to Hitler’s anti-semitism, wrote in his ‘The Cost of Discipleship,’ ‘When Christ bids a man come, he bids him come and die.’  (i.e. to our self-centredness, selfish ambition, pride, etc:  own comment).

I recently listened to the aged Jurgen Moltmann, renowned German theologian, refer to two kinds of ‘crosses’ in our time:

  • The real cross, that of Golgotha, the cross that kills (and gives life)…
  • The dream cross, the cross of Roman Emperor Constantine who in the 300’s AD saw the sign of a cross in a dream by which he was to conquer his enemies. Constantine institutionalised and professionalised the church (resulting in the clergy-laity divide, which has bedevilled the Church for the past 1700 years:  personal comment), a mere symbol, an ornament, lifeless and powerless…

I asked the leaders who were familiar with the writings of A.W. Tozer, imho a prophet in his time and a prophet still:  quite a few raised their hand. Tozer declared, ‘The cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the NT... the old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it… current Christianity has moved away from the standards of the NT. So far have we moved indeed that it may take nothing short of a new reformation to restore the cross to its rightful place in the theology and life of the Church.’

Eight years ago the crucified Christ utterly ‘wrecked’ me for the second time, the first time being my conversion 55 years previously. He set me free:  ‘Once I was a Baptist, now I am free!’ (laughter). God drove me to a re-reading of the Gospels, especially the Synoptic Gospels, and I re-discovered the real Jesus. Why don’t you try doing the same some time, and then, Listen to Jesus! (and him only). These last years I have been taking the Good News to the poor, and finding that they are bringing the Good News to me.

Second point:  a true prophet will always ‘comfort the afflicted’…

Consider with me Jesus’ well-known story of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Lk. 18:9-14:  v. 13-14a, “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God…”

Shane Claiborne, American activist for the poor, in his excellent The Irresistable Revolution, suggests from this passage that a Christian community can be built around a ‘common self-righteousness’ or a ‘common brokenness.’ (check out your own faith community. How closed or open is your community to the poor and the broken?)

I believer all leaders need to belong to ‘a community of brokenness.’ It should be his/her own community, but in reality if it contains self-righteous people, it can be the cause of your brokenness. At this point I briefly mentioned my/my family’s own journey of pain over the years, including clinical depression/burn-out on the part of three family members, the gang-rape and attempted murder of one of our daughters at the hands of vicious criminals out on parole, the public questioning of my integrity and character on the part of a minority group in my last congregation, ending in our dismissal, etc. I point out that among my listeners there are those who are currently bleeding because of different or similar sufferings, and that sooner or later, each one will be faced with demonic attack on their character and calling. We are not playing games – we are in a deadly warfare! (many agree:  I sense I have touched a tender spot…)

What to do? Under God ensure that you belong to a small group of people who walk with a limp or are willing to walk with you through the desert place. I have shared regularly with a small bunch of leaders in the Western Suburbs of our city over a period of some 30 years:  folk willing to speak the truth to you, yet also walk with you through personal pain in a non-condemning and compassionate way. They, and one or two organic church brothers, are my safety-net, a soft place to fall, brethren with whom I can dare to be ‘weak.’ This can only happen in a small group, with maximum confidentiality and true relationship. It requires from us both giving and receiving (why are leaders often so ‘super-spiritual’ that they would rather die than admit a need and be vulnerable? I guess they’ve been hurt before:  but we can’t be non-trusting forever).

One of the great ‘servant-passages’ in Isaiah speaks of one who ‘will not break a bruised reed, or snuff out a smouldering wick – in faithfulness he will bring forth justice’ (Is. 42:2), We bowed in small groups at our tables, praying for one another.

[next time dv we shall take another look at aspects of true leadership, which hopefully will help prevent leaders becoming too comfortable or hurting all on their own]

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WORKING THE FRINGES

Recently I sent off a little newsletter to family members and friends, updating them on two recent events in my life. The first was our annual school camp for SCO members (‘Students’ Christian Organisation’). A team and I work with these young people once a week at a local township school, which caters for some of the poorest and most disadvantaged in our metro. We took a group away to a camping centre in the scenic Elands River Valley, where they had an absolute ‘ball,’ enjoying the open air, three square meals a day, clean sheets, workshops on ‘life skills’ and ‘opening up to Jesus,’ swimming and games, walking a trail. Nothing much for well-off youth, but paradise for those living in tiny houses and tin shanties amid grinding poverty, drunkenness and abuse. The second event was being ‘one link in a chain’ which found a second-hand but almost new wheelchair for a needy home in another, sprawling township. The mother has a son in his late teens who is mentally challenged and unable to walk or speak. For medical care she has had to carry him on her back to the local clinic! One of our house church members noticed this and shared the need, and after united prayer God miraculously provided the right chair at a bargain price. When my co-workers delivered it to the shanty where mother and son live, the son came from his room, dragging himself along on his stomach, squealing with delight and grabbing Mimie by her face and hair to smother her with tears and kisses. Having sent this report, I received so many encouraging responses, including one from my good missionary friend in Hong Kong, Rod Lam. He mentioned that he had just heard Lawrence Tong of Operation Mobilisation share his vision on organic sustainability among the poor and forgotten children of the Far East and Middle East. On visits to the East I have personally witnessed the tragedy of deformed children, spastic and autistic children, despised and abandoned by family and society, only receiving help here and there at the hand of caring Christian groups and missions organisations. I was reminded again that in a world where approximately 80% are poor and young, we as Jesus-people and kingdom-people, are compelled by love to incarnate our Lord and ‘work the fringes!’

Witness the concern of Isaiah in Is. 58, dealing with True and False Worship. This great poet-prophet to Judah, conveying God’s great ‘salvation symphony’ to his world, begins the last ‘movement’ (ch. 56-66) with the theme of full-orbed ‘worship.’ Let the text speak for itself:  58:2-14 (NLT),“They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to hear my laws… They love to make a show of coming to me and asking me to take action on their behalf. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed?’ [sound familiar??] I will tell you why! It’s because you are living for yourselves even while you are fasting… No, the kind of fasting I want calls you to free those who are wrongly imprisoned and to stop oppressing those who work for you… I want you to share your food with the hungry and to welcome poor wanderers into your homes. Give clothes to those who need them… Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as day… Your children will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities… I will give you great honour and give you your full share of the inheritance I promised Jacob, your ancestor. I, the LORD, have spoken!”

Was this not Jesus’ way? Should it not be our way as those redeemed at cost and indwelt by his presence? Of course Jesus engaged with those in power, the religious centre, the affluent. But let’s face it, more often than not you would find him ‘working the fringes,’ dealing with the poor, the diseased, the broken, the shunned and forgotten, even the ‘dregs of society.’ Look at his ministry manifesto for himself and his followers, spelt out in his home-synagogue of Nazareth (Lk. 4:18-19, quoting from Is. 61):  Spirit-empowered ministry to the poor, the captives, the blind and the down-trodden.

So also with the early Church. The apostle James, writing to the young Church, urges those new believers to a lifestyle of ‘Listening and Doing.’ He defines ‘pure and lasting religion in the sight of God’ as ‘caring for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refusing to let the world corrupt us’ (Jam. 1:17).

The renowned Mahatma Gandhi was apparently often asked if he was ‘a Christian?’ His stock-reply was:  ‘Ask the poor’ (what would they say about you and me?).

Do yourself a favour and get yourself Shane Claiborne’s The Irresistable Revolution, telling the story of his burden for the forgotten of the world. Amongst other things he relates how he learned to read the Bible with new eyes on the streets of down-town Philly (Philadelphia), ministered with Mother Theresa to dying lepers in India, and stood with Iraqi families whose homes had been bombed to bits under the reign of Saddam Hussein. He records the testimonies of affluent people who read the Gospel accounts in the Bible, ‘and it messed up everything!’ He writes of fat-cat believers in the West, suffering from spiritual bulimia, vomiting up Bible information and teaching but not touching the poor and needy. He quotes the Catholic Sisters working with ‘The Simple Way:’  ‘We are trying to shout the Gospel with our lives.’

Let’s get practical. What are the essentials for us as followers of Jesus in the 21st century?

  • While most of us reading this blog would consider ourselves as ‘middle class’ or even ‘poor’ when compared to the mega-rich around us, we are actually very well off materially!
  • Begin by, in a very small way (because that’s how God works), getting involved with ‘fringe people’ others may not have noticed. You won’t have to go far to find them, just leave your church building! And work with ‘saints’ from other church groups, who have as common denominator the lordship and love of Christ.
  • Churches generally, especially the bigger ones, have departments for everything. What happens is that our personal responsibility to the needy gets relegated to a church department, and we ourselves are left untouched and unbroken.
  • God loves working in and through small groups, communities, house churches, etc. He works from the bottom up, rather than top down.

Let me begin with myself. I am still so proud and self-sufficient. I was deeply moved a year or two ago by the words of a Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, reflecting on the heart of Jesus:  “I say to you, Blessed is he who exposes himself to an existence never brought under mastery, who does not transcend, but rather abandons himself to my ever-transcending grace. Blessed are not the enlightened whose every question has been answered and who are delighted with their own sublime insight, the mature and the ripe ones whose one remaining action is to fall from the tree. Blessed rather are the chased, the harassed who must daily stand before my enigmas and cannot solve them. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who lack a spirit of cleverness. Woe to the rich, and woe to the doubly rich in spirit! Although nothing is impossible with God, it is difficult for the Spirit to move their fat hearts. The poor and willing are easy to direct. Like little puppies they do not take their eyes from their master’s hand to see if perhaps he may throw them a little morsel from his plate. So carefully do the poor follow my promptings that they listen to the wind (which blows where it pleases), even when it changes. From the sky they can read the weather and interpret the signs of the times. My grace is unpretentious, but the poor are satisfied with little gifts.”

And I thought I was taking the good news to the poor… all the time they were bringing the good news to me. Nothing like ‘working the fringes!’

SO WHAT MAKES A PROPHET? [AN AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE, PT. 2]

Triggered by the recent tragedy under the ministry of Prophet TB Joshua of Nigeria, we explained the immediate context of our question ‘So What Makes A Prophet?’ and then went on to outline, very briefly, the answer of Scripture to our question.

In the 3rd place, we examine the popular ‘prophet mindset’ in Africa (one could give examples from the West also)…

  1. There is in Africa what we may call ‘the man of God’ syndrome. This term is applied to an outstanding, charismatic Christian leader or personality, or even to the garden variety of ‘pastor’ (I have been called such among the poor to whom I largely minister). More often than not, it carries the thought of a revered ‘man of God’ who has unusual access to God and his presence. Such are usually called ‘apostle’ or ‘prophet,’ as in the case of TB Joshua. In Joshua’s case, to underscore his authority, claims are made that he was carried in his mother’s womb for 14 months. He is widely recognised as a worker of outstanding miracles, he is prosperous materially, he can discern the future, etc. There are of course many leaders across our continent (and world) who aspire after such a position, some insincerely, others very sincerely – here I recommend Cheryl McGrath’s excellent post ‘When Jesus Isn’t Enough,’ which she wrote out of an experience in E. Africa with a young Kenyan pastor (Cheryl blogs under ‘Bread for the Bride’). Often there is an obsessive pursuit of ‘anointing,’ signs, wonders, healings and giftings, often at the expense of a knowledge of Jesus himself as our all-sufficiency in every way.
  2. There is also often a conviction that ‘the man of God’ is beyond criticism and that to say something negative about him/her is asking for trouble. Many times believers have said to me about some of these celebrity leaders, ‘You know, we must be careful as to what we say about this person’ (true enough in itself), and then they go on to scare us with the words of Ps. 105:15 (KJV), ‘Touch not mine anointed!’  As if ‘anointing’ guarantees a faultlessness beyond the critique of the body of Christ (in any case, in Ps. 105 God is addressing kings who would do damage to the small remnant of God’s faithful). Does God use broken, ordinary people? Of course he does, think of King David. Does he condone the sins of such people? Certainly not. I have before me a letter to the Editor of the Sunday Times of 12/10/14 in which Margaret Ferguson of Cape Town, writing as a Christian, raises the point (in Joshua’s case) of the use of money easily becoming a form of manipulation to counter negative publicity of the prophet’s ministry. She also has a problem with the term ‘followers of Joshua,’ as any true follower of Jesus can well understand. cf. 1 Cor. 1:10ff.
  3. Christianity in Africa is exploding, but as many have pointed out it is often a mile wide and an inch deep. There is little biblical literacy. Tokunboh Adeyemo, the renowned Nigerian theologian, on one occasion suggested that if as an African you want to hide your money, put it in a Bible, because no-one will look for it there! As a humble counter to this, my co-workers and I are encouraging the simple discipline, among all our house churches members, including our children and teens, of having their Bible handy so that they may learn how to ‘correctly handle the word of truth’ (2 Tim. 2:14ff) and ‘test the spirits’ ‘because false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 Jn. 4:1ff).
  4. In many African nations, churches/megachurches have charity status, i.o.w. they don’t have to declare their income in any way or complete any tax returns. In SA, most denominational churches are registered with our Revenue Service and are bound to declare their monthly income at least. Therefore it is easier for ‘independent churches’ to hide and abuse their income, which in some cases can be enormous. Of course, denominational churches have their own challenges!

Fourthly, we consider the issue before us as those living in a post-Christian era, even in Africa. It was interesting listening to a recent radio talk show on the Lagos disaster, with two guest theologians from UNISA giving input. I give a brief summary of their points, in my own words:

  • People generally are impressed by one who has ‘directly’ heard from God, directly experienced him and now brings a direct message from him to the ‘laity.’
  • People in need want to be with ‘the man of God,’ hence the many pilgrims to Lagos.
  • Many of these charismatic mega-churches are attempting to address people’s personal hurts and needs, e.g. a physical ailment, guidance re some major issue in their life, etc. One S.A. couple visited the Prophet to find out the whereabouts of their young adult son who disappeared some years ago:  they didn’t get an answer and sadly the wife was killed in the collapsing visitors’ quarters. The husband continues his allegiance to Joshua.
  • Most Nigerians, as most Africans, are desperately poor, and long for some word of hope and/or economic outcome.
  • People today want immediate answers to their problems.
  • People today are, by and large, pragmatists – it if works, it must be real and even true.
  • Many church leaders in Africa are self-appointed, rather than appointed by a stable congregation or faith community.
  • There is no doubt that, in many cases, genuine miracles/healings take place. I myself have been the recipient of healing when present at a large gathering of church leaders, addressed by a reputable Cell Church leader from Kenya, without me even asking for that healing!
  • Many of the more charismatic churches in Africa have provided a more experiential and practical faith than that found in many orthodox, Calvinistic churches.
  • The kind of phenomenon observed in Nigeria is going to spread, according to the two theologians. We are seeing it in my own country and the countries immediately north of SA. In many places I believe huge damage is being done to the cause of Christ in our continent.
  • In so many ways, in terms of the Kingdom, ‘this is Africa’s time.’

So, you can evaluate TB Joshua and his Synagogue Church in Lagos for yourself… For myself I think he and his ilk are still operating under an OT ‘prophet’ paradigm, and their ministries militate against a healthy NT ‘prophetic’ paradigm in which every believer is a potential prophet (see Pt. 1) and every faith community a potential prophetic community. Furthermore, there is also too often in these mega-ministries a disconnect between ministry and biblical ethics/morality. Much more could be said and other points raised, but let me leave it at that…

Finally, may I humbly make the following pleas…

  1. Let us at all times and in all situations remain humble, teachable and generous in love. Let us also remain prayerful at all times.
  2. Let us move away from ‘celebrity leadership’ (including ‘celebrity pastors’ and pastor-ruled churches), tear down our inherited clergy-laity divide, and restore the biblical priesthood of all believers, with Christ alone as functional head:  cf.1 Pet. 2:4ff; 1 Cor. 12 & 14; Acts 2:42ff; etc. To me, the exaltation of the Spirit’s giftings in Eph. 4:11 to hierarchical offices (since 250 AD) has strangulated NT body life and worked against the discipleship of all nations. Here I highly recommend an article by Jon Zens on ‘Celebrity Pastors: Getting to the ROOT of the Problem’ (you can check it out under GodsLeader.com).
  3. Let us ‘re-centre’ life and ministry in Christ and re-fashion our communities according to Christ alone. Too often we look for supplements and substitutes, when in reality nothing can be added to Christ. David Bolton (blogging under ‘Christ-Centred Christianity’) has defined ‘apostasy’ as ‘moving away from the centre,’ which is Christ alone.
  4. Let Jesus be enough for us, whether we prosper or not, whether we bear much fruit or relatively little fruit. And so may the Lord alone receive the glory!

SO WHAT MAKES A PROPHET? [AN AFRICAN PERSPECTIVE, PART 1]

Good question I guess, at any time and in any context.

First, what triggered this subject in me? A deep sense of concern at a recent happening in Nigeria, W. Africa. For years thousands of people of all backgrounds and especially South Africans, including Calvinistic Afrikaners, have been visiting ‘Prophet’ TB Joshua’s megachurch in Lagos in hopes of physical healing and spiritual direction. Just a few weeks ago, a six storey accommodation centre on the Synagogue Church premises collapsed, killing some 115 people, 84 of them South Africans, with hundreds injured. As I write, the S.A. government is awaiting the Nigerian officials getting the bodies identified so that they may be brought home. Note that for most black Africans the physical remains of a loved one are particularly important and need to be buried at home, if the spirits are to be at rest. Negotiations are on-going but progressing at tortoise-like pace.

Some local believers continue to defend the Prophet, whereas others are questioning issues and remain shocked and even angry. How did this tragedy happen? Could it have been prevented? The press has been awash with questions like why were the ruins apparently shut off by church officials for a number of days, impeding urgent rescue attempts? Why was the Prophet quiet for days, at first not expressing condolences at the tragedy but declaring the collapse to be the work of satan, mention being made of the extremist Muslim group Boko Haram and a mysterious plane flying over the quarters several times on the day of the tragedy. Some officials have reported that the apartment block had been ‘sealed off’ to prevent further building operations, for fear that the foundations were inadequate for adding extra storeys, with this ruling apparently being ignored by the church officials.

Others have felt insulted by the Prophet calling those who died ‘martyrs’ of the faith. I have before me a newspaper clipping in which the brother of a dead churchgoer (his sister died under tons of rubble) exclaims, ‘My Sister was no willing martyr!’ I myself have had many questions, particularly with regard to the relatively belated concern expressed for the victims of the tragedy – there seemed to be more concern, initially anyway, for the Prophet’s reputation and ministry.

Recently Jacques Pauw, a respected South African journalist, wrote an article in the Afrikaans press with very negative comments based on his personal observations when visiting the ‘Man of God,’ admittedly fourteen years ago. On that occasion he accompanied Reuben Kruger, a Springbok rugby player who represented our country in 36 test matches. Kruger was suffering from a brain tumour and undergoing chemo therapy. After being prayed for in Lagos he was declared ‘healed,’ demons fled out of his brain, and he was encouraged to rub special oil on his head and not to continue with medical treatment. Some years later, Kruger died. Other S.A. sportsmen followed, e.g. Wium Basson who was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer. He was not prayed for because the Prophet did not feel compelled by God to do so, and he died a week later. As Pauw and his camera team were leaving, Joshua gave each member a wad full of dollar bills – Pauw and his colleagues returned the money as a matter of conscience. I guess many others would claim permanent healing at the hands of the prophet – I am not in a position to verify that one way or the other.

This past Sunday’s press reported that a team from the Prophet’s church have in the last few days visited the bereaved families in South Africa, offering each R. 5000 ($ 500 USD), some maize meal and a flask of ‘holy water.’

Did Joshua start out sincerely? Perhaps he did. In the mean time he is recognised as one of the 50 most famous people in Africa and, according to Forbes magazine, is worth about R. 170 million or $ 17 million US. Here is a truism: ‘it takes a steady hand to hold a full cup.’

In the second place, what does the Bible have to say about prophets and prophecies, etc? Consult any Bible or Theological Dictionary and you will be confronted with many pages of fine print on this colossal subject. Let me refer to the British Bible scholar J.A. Motyer, and give just the tiniest of summaries of his research. Maybe you ask ‘why bother?’ For a number of reasons:  there are apparently 1000’s of similar churches to Joshua’s in Lagos alone, many Nigerians are taking this message to other parts of the continent, including my own country, and theologians expect this kind of thing to increase rather than decrease. Note also, we cannot generalise:  I count among my very good friends a Nigerian couple doing excellent missions mobilisation in my home city. They are outstanding believers, and there are many like them!

Starting with the OT…

  • Prophecy’s normative form in the OT is the life and message of Moses, a standard of comparison for all future prophets. cf Dt. 18:15-19. It’s interesting that the term ‘man of God,’ so popular in Africa in describing a pastor (I have been called one myself!), was first used of Moses. cf Dt. 33:1.
  • Prophecy is by divine initiative and arises out of a profound encounter with God and his presence.
  • Moses was enabled to interpret history for the sake of Israel.
  • Prophets always displayed ethical and social concerns, with a compassion especially for the helpless. cf Dt. 24:19-22.
  • God’s prophets were not afraid to confront royalty, fearing God more than kings and queens.
  • Prophecies always exhibited a healthy balance between proclamation and prediction.
  • Prophets/prophetesses were often intercessors, conveying their message to the people via symbols.
  • Prophecies conveyed warnings, calling for moral responsibility rather than satisfying carnal curiosity. They were meant to inspire a hatred for sin and a love of holiness. Prophecies also conveyed comfort for the suffering people of God.
  • There are true prophets and false prophets, e.g. Micaiah and Zedekia. cf 1 Kings 22:1-28. They are to be evaluated theologically and by the life and standards of Moses.
  • There were corporate, ecstatic groups of prophets who ministered to God’s people from time to time. The terms nabi, roeh and hozeh are, at the end of the day, fairly synonymous.

And the NT?

  • “Prophecy and the prophets form the greatest line of continuity between the Old and New Testaments. The prophetic line did not end with Malachi, so to speak, but with John the Baptist. This is the express teaching of our Lord:  ‘For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John…'”  (Mt. 11:13)… We see in John, as indeed his father, Zacharias (Lk. 1:67-79), the pattern of Old Testament prophecy repeated:  the unity of proclamation and prediction. It was the prediction of wrath to come (Lk. 3:7) and of grace to come (Lk. 3:16; Jn. 1:29ff) that gave John such a potent message for his generation.”  (J.A. Motyer)
  • The NT stands in a relation of fulfilment to the actual message of the OT prophets. What God has said in the past he has now brought to pass. The OT prophets are raised to the level of proclaimers of eternal truth by the verification of their greatest words in the greatest of all events, the person and work of Christ. 
  • Every Christian is potentially a prophet. The outpouring of the Spirit on all flesh carries with it this result, ‘and they shall prophesy’ (Acts 2:18) (note Moses’ fascinating statement in Num. 11:29 of how he would have all God’s people be prophets and receive his Spirit). cf I Cor. 14:1, Acts 19:6 and 21:9, 1 Cor. 11:4-5, etc.
  • There are those specially gifted in terms of prophecy, and they number among other key functionaries like ‘apostle,’ pastor-teacher and evangelist in Eph. 4:11ff, given for the edification of the body. These gifts are horizontal functions rather than hierarchical offices or ranks in the body of Christ. One prophet mentioned in the NT is Agabus, very accurate in prediction (Acts 11:28, 21:10-11), giving spiritual guidance to the Church in a particular context viz that of imminent severe famine.
  • Prophecy is primarily for the encouragement and strengthening of the saints (Acts 15:32) (1 Cor. 14:3).
  • While prophecy may sometime come in an ecstatic and spontaneous way under the Spirit of God, all things are to be done in order. Also, the prophets were not to be given undiscerning credence at all times (1 Cor. 14:22-29). All things were to be tested by the discernment of other believers plus the apostolic deposit. NT prophets were not sources of new truth to the Church, but the expounders of truth otherwise delivered in both the OT and NT revelation of God.

Next time round we’ll give attention to the context of the prophet in Africa and in our postmodern world, also submitting a way forward for the Church if she is to be healthy and proclaim the kingdom of Christ to the ends of the earth.