Friday, January 23, 2009

Preaching and prophecy?

". . . expositional preachers are modern day prophets, serving merely as conduits through which the Word of God may flow into the people of God in order to do the work of God in them." Mark Dever at Adrian Warnock's blog
I want to agree with this in what it says about preaching, but I have a concern. The next implication could easily be that prophecy is preaching. I do think there is an overlap.. some preaching is prophetic and that would be good to have in your church. Both are the exercising of a spiritual gift and so have their focus in confession of the gospel (1 Cor 12v3), serving for the common good (v7), using a gift assigned by the Spirit (v11),  and must be exercised in love (ch13). 1 Cor 12v28 lists "second prophets, third teachers" as distinct rather than identical gifts.

In light of which Paul sets up case studies on tongues and prophecy (1 Cor 14). From this we see that prophecy is speaking for upbuilding and encouragement and consolation of the church (v3). Prophecy is defined in contrast to uninterpreted tongues as being able to be understood. Prophecy furthermore has an evangelistic effect on an unbeliever who comes into a Christian meeting, hearing prophecy "he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all,  the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God anddeclare that God is really among you" (v24-25). Much like OT prophecy it has a major theme, calling people to turn back to God. At times it may be predictive (see Agabus in Acts) but much like the Old Testament prophets prediction is not the major theme.

Prophecy is a gift for men and women to exercise (11v4-5) - though it seems many who merge the definitions of preaching and prophecy wouldn't like where that goes for who can preach. Prophecy must be weighed and tested (v29) and seemingly gains it's authority not from the one prophesying but from the congregation. Prophecy seems to be both a prepared service and a spontaneous thing (v26, 30) where the source of preaching ought largely to be exposition of Scripture (which should have a fairly broad methodological definition). Clearly it's different from Old Testament prophecy, where a false prophet might be stoned - here a prophecy can be offered and tested and rejected and the church life goes on.

This gift is one to be eagerly desired (1 Cor 14v1) by a church. It might not be your gift - but your church needs it, and Scripture appeals to our desires to long for it. Why? Because this gift builds up the church and that is a cause for all Christians to rally behind and seek to excel in.  The Holy Spirit gifts the church with prophets and preachers for he is committed to building up the church (1 Cor 14v6,12).


  1. Dave,
    I very much had the same reaction when I read that quote over at Adrian's blog.

    It certainly seems that (as Daniel Newman put it) the purpose of the prophets was forthtelling, not just foretelling, proclamation and not just prognostication and that certainly could play into the parallel Dever makes. Yet, for the reasons you put forward I think there are strong reasons not to collapse the two into a mushy whole.

    I would argue that there is a transition from OT Prophets to NT Apostles in function and calling and yet for all the continuity there are significant discontinuities.

    If prophecy is genuinely for the upbuilding and encouragement and consolation of the church then to ignore, sideline or collapse it into the act and giftedness of preaching then I think we must conclude the church will not be as strong as God intended by the sovereign giving of the gifts by the same Spirit in the first place.

  2. Yeah, bang on I reckon.

    As a result I think prophecy happens all the time. Conversations over coffee, home groups, 121s, the family meal table as well as from the pulpit. Like you, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of Agabus-style, but as you ably point out, that's hardly the essence of what prophets do. Rather, in the OT at least there's a heck of a lot of calling people back to covenant faithfulness in the midst of calling them to task on the exact (often very situation-specific) ways they are currently failing to do so.

    On another note that you sort of bring up - I do wonder whether distinguishing prophecy from teaching (whilst maintaining the prophetic element of the ministry of the pastor-teacher) might be the key to seeing how Paul can be a 1 tim 2 guy as well as a 1 Corinthians 11 guy. That and perhaps the injunction about women being quiet during the evaluation of prophecy in 1 Cor 14. Dunno for sure, but it's a hunch.

  3. well said. I'm doing some teaching on this, this afternoon with our church family...

  4. Ant - I'd be interested to see what you say, and thanks for the agreeing linking. 1 Cor 12-14 clarifies so much of the mess on these issues.