Ask RC: Are there still prophets in our day?
Yes, and no. Too often we in the evangelical church see the prophet as a sort of white witch, a godly soothsayer that can see into the future and tell us what is going to happen. Not only do we not have anyone filling such an office in our day, there was never anyone filling such an office. Foretelling the future never was and never will be the calling of the prophet. The prophet, instead, is called to speak God’s Word to God’s people.
The beginning of that Word from God always looked back rather than forward. That is, the prophet served as a kind of lawyer bringing suit for failure to keep covenant. Thus the beginning of the message was “You agreed to this covenant. You said you would honor it.” It moved from this glance backward to an assessment of the present, “You are not keeping the covenant. You are breaking this provision and that one.” Finally, the prophet gives this typically general vision of the future, that God had revealed, “If you don’t repent, judgment will come. If you do repent, God will spare you and bless you.”
Because God spoke directly to the prophet in the Old Covenant, there certainly could be greater specificity to the prediction: your descendants will be slaves in Egypt for 400 years; the son of your adultery will die; the Assyrians are going to wipe the floor with you; you will return from exile; a prophet greater than Moses will come. This was God’s message, and either implicitly or explicitly it always carried the notion of forgiveness for repentance and judgment for failure to repent.
Does God still speak this way? Yes, and no. No, because we have the complete Word of God. Yes, because the Word of God is God speaking in this way. We do not have new prophetic messages, but we do have the prophetic message. It is complete, and speaks with all the thundering glory, all the refulgent promise of the prophets of old. As individuals, as families, as churches, as nations the message is the same- if we repent God will bless. If we do not, God will judge.
Prophets in our day then do not receive new revelation from God. They do, however, continue to proclaim the Word of God. Husbands prophesy to their wives when they wash them with the water of the Word (Ephesians 5:26). Parents prophesy to their children when they speak to their children of the things of God when they lie down and when they rise up and when they walk by the way (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Churches prophesy to the world when they proclaim the faith once delivered (I Corinthians 11:4-5).
It is important that we affirm the overlap between Old Testament prophecy and prophecy in our own day. In both instances God’s Word is being proclaimed. In both instances God’s people are called to repentance. It is important also to note the differences. God spoke directly to the prophets of old. Now, His Word is complete. Those who claim to hear directly from God now besmirch the fullness of the Word, and mislead the people of God. On the other hand, those who refuse to speak His Word besmirch the power of the Word, and fail to lead His people. Speak. His Word.