David Forster looks at the history and important role of prophetic ministry within the Church and wider society, and encourages all Christians to develop a prophetic gift
In the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, there are many covenants. After the Exodus from Egypt, the nation of Israel lived under one of these, the Law of Moses. It contained 10 Commandments and 603 by-laws. The priests, who were part of the tribe of Levi, taught the people this covenant after they arrived in the Promised Land. The two primary ministries of this period were kings and prophets. The king ruled the nation; the prophet was the mouthpiece of God to the nation. He could bring a message that was independent of political and religious bias.
Each prophet had a specific commission from God, and a time-frame and context for its fulfilment. Recognition came as he carried through his commission. For example, Moses and Samuel were prophets to the nation of Israel. Moses was also a national leader. Elijah and Elisha were prophets to the nation, but outside of the political and religious systems. Nathan and Gad were personal prophets to David, the king. Daniel and Joseph were prophets to Babylon and Egypt, respectively (both secular powers). As such, they worked within their political systems and were subject to the authority of their leaders.
The prophet, under the Old Covenant, was very important to God. He represented God to the people, just as the priest represented the people to God. What the prophet said had to be accurate, because he was God’s mouthpiece.
Under the New Covenant, the prophet operates under grace rather than Law. The New Covenant Church, which includes people from other nations as well as Israel, has five ministries. These are individuals that God has appointed in the Church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11-16). Each operates under New Covenant grace and may function in church government. However, only apostles and prophets are foundational, ie. essential for the establishing and building of the Church, both locally and universally.
The purpose of the five ministries is to bring the Church to maturity of service: every member is to minister. To help facilitate this, the gifts of the Spirit are given (see 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 & Romans 12:3-8) to each believer, as the Spirit wills, to enable him/her to be a witness and to operate in the supernatural dimension.
Jesus was the embodiment of all five of the ministries given to the Church. Each ministry represents an aspect of the ministry of Jesus. The prophetic ministry is characterised by understanding, the apostle by wisdom. The apostle is an initiator and builder; the prophet brings revelation and understanding (see Proverbs 7:4 and 24:3). Prophetic ministry is not simply about revelation of the future, it is also about revelation and understanding about the present and the past – be it situations, circumstances or people.
“Every Christian, under the New Covenant, is a minister to those in his/her sphere of living, and is, therefore, a line of divine communication. God wants the whole Church to be prophetic!”
Like each of the other ministries, the prophet should be subject to checks and balances. God’s revelation to prophets is not an individual thing. Each prophet receives part of the picture, but not the whole. The Lord reveals His purposes to His servants, the prophets. No single prophet has exclusive right to revelation and understanding from God.
Prophetic revelation to an individual or group is partial, progressive and conditional. This means that no prophet receives it all; it comes in stages, and its fulfilment depends on cooperation with God from the individual or group receiving it.
Each of the five ministries, like the rest of the Church, may function in some or all of the spiritual gifts. There are also various levels and contexts in which prophets function: some are international, some national, some local (to one church or group of churches), some extra-local (they function across church boundaries). Other prophets operate outside of the Church: in industry, government, education, commerce or the arts. God wants to communicate with everyone: believer, unbeliever, agnostic and atheist.
The question is, can everyone learn to hear what God is saying?
God communicates in dream, vision, picture, speech, the voice of our conscience, spiritual gifts and what we feel/sense inside. Prophets and prophetic ministries model, demonstrate and teach people how to hear God speak to them. They can also speak on behalf of God.
The Church and the world need to hear what God has to say. Remember Jesus’ words: “I do only what I see the Father doing; I speak only what I hear the Father saying.” This is the primary function of prophets and prophetic ministers, but not their function exclusively. Every Christian, under the New Covenant, is a minister to those in his/her sphere of living, and is, therefore, a line of divine communication. God wants the whole Church to be prophetic!
David Forster is an enthusiastic preacher and prophetic teacher. He hosts prophetic workshops and teaches in churches across the UK. Visit www.reachingtheheights.com for more details