Preaching and Prophecy – Luther’s Sermon Blog (part 2)

21 Sep


Here’s another question I didn’t get to in our great question time on Sunday Night …

How is prophecy different from encouragement or preaching? I’m confused.

Don’t worry that’s a great question because in many ways there is overlap between the three.  It can be somewhat confusing!  Preaching may include both encouragement and prophecy.  Though not all encouragement and prophecy is preaching.

Let me explain.

Firstly, we need to remember that New Testament Prophecy is different to Old Testament Prophecy.

Many have argued that the apostles and other New Testament writers truly inherit the mantle of the Old Testament canonical prophets, since they claim absolute divine authority for their words and call upon believers to acknowledge that authority.By contrast, the prophetic ministry given to certain members of the Corinthian church and our churches today requires assessment and evaluation, which implies the possibility of challenging and even rejecting such contributions in church (1 Cor 14:29; cf. 1 Thess 5:21-2). This means that prophecy today does not necessarily carry the weight of being actual ‘words from the Lord’ in the Old Testament prophetic sense, yet it is distinguishable from other human words in that it is the result of a revelation (1 Cor 14:30), a prompting of the Spirit of God to speak, whether we realise it or not. The apostles functioned as foundational prophets, transmitting the revelation that was applicable to all the churches, providing the touchstone for assessing all other ministries, and subsequently forming the basis of New Testament Scripture. The revelation given to the Corinthian prophets and to us through the gift of prophecy today is of a different character.

Secondly, some argue that inspired preaching, exegesis or teaching are actually (wholly or in part) what the New Testament means by prophecy.  Therefore it’s through preaching only that prophecy may occur today.

I don’t think this is true.  The main reason is that given that the early Christian writers regularly distinguished between the gifts of teaching and prophecy (e.g., Acts 13:1; Rom 12:6-7; 1 Cor 12:28-9; Eph 4:11), it seems likely that the old and widespread difference between these functions in Judaism and in the Greco-Roman world was being maintained.  In Acts, it seems like prophesying is a ministry shared by all believers in different ways, though it is particularly manifested in those designated as prophets, either in prediction or in encouragement.  Teaching was clearly an apostolic function in the first place (Acts 2:42), though it was soon carried out by others (11:26; 13:1; 15:1; 18:25), both formally and informally.  Therefore, Prophecy and teaching appear to overlap in the ministry of preaching.

Thirdly, it’s important to notice that Prophecy and Preaching are also different in terms of who does them and how they are received.  I think this has implications for how question times happen in churches.

There are similarities between Prophecy and Preaching.  Both are verbal and both are done within the congregation.  Yet, as said above, Paul distinguished between them.  He allows women to do one (prophecy) and forbids them to do the other (preach).  One must be evaluated before it is accepted (prophecy) and the other is authoritative (preaching).  If prophecy is weighed and found wanting then the speaker suffers no harm, but false teachers / preachers are to be kicked out of the church!

Now it is clear that on the one hand both prophecy and preaching come under the ultimate authority of the scriptures and yet on the other hand we deal with them in church in different ways.  How so? Well, whenever someone claims to have a word of prophecy or encouragement from the scriptures it must be tested (1 Cor 14:29) before it is accepted by the congregation.  Preaching, on the other hand, which is to be carried about by the male elders of the congregation who have been tested (1 Tim 3) before they are given this office is not tested each time before it is excepted.  Publically we give our preachers the benefit of the doubt and naturally sit under it.  My first thought when I’m listening to preaching is not Is this right? but How should this shape me?  I sit under preaching not over it in judgment.   Therefore, Preaching in this sense comes with a higher level of authority (1 Tim 2:12) and therefore comes with a greater responsibility!  Who’d want to be a teacher? You get stricter judgement from Jesus on the last day (James 3:1).

Does this mean we can’t disagree with our Pastors.  Absolutely not!  I change my mind on what passages mean and often others help me do that.  That said, this is normally done out of respect for those who teach us in a less public manner than in our church meetings.  It’s also less embarassing for us if our teachers need to correct us publically as well!

I think this has implications for how we do question times in church.  Question time isn’t so much an opportunity to evaluate the preachers message.  In that way question time isn’t a parallel to the weighing of prophecy in 1 Cor 14.  With the utmost humility may I suggest that ‘question time is a time to ask questions’ so that we can all learn more.  In the process preachers may even change their minds as I think as much as anyone we want to understand the scriptures well But that’s not why we should be asking questions.  Question time is a time to clear up confusion (mine or one the preacher might have created!), further explain key ideas and apply the bible to us.

So in short … yep because of their different levels of authority (preaching has more) and because of the different way they are given (preaching by some and prophecy by many) they are different.  Hopefully both are encouraging and cause us to grow and change!


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