Are there prophets today?
Many Christians would say no — outright. Cessationism is the view that the spiritual roles and gifts of prophet and prophecy, among others, were unique to and reserved for the New Testament era. With the Christian church established and the canon of Scripture completed in the first century, these operations of the Holy Spirit were no longer necessary and passed away.
The sixteenth-century Swiss reformer John Calvin is a good example of this point of view. Of Apostle Paul’s original fivefold ministry of the church (Ephesians 4:11) apostles, prophets, and even evangelists he relegated to the early era. Only roles of pastor and teacher remained in a less dynamic and more institutionalized church.
This is a safe approach. But does the Bible prepare us for this cessation? Certainly, Scripture needs no supplement, as some denominations have erred in creating. That special revelation of the Spirit through the prophets is fixed and finished. The Spirit is always at work, however, and we find throughout God’s Word that the prophet is a fixture of God’s people since reading that Abraham was a prophet (Genesis 20:7).
From Miriam to Huldah, to Anna, to the four virgin daughters of Philip, prophets have nourished and corrected the family of God, by the word of God, from the start (Exodus 15:20; 2 Kings 22:14; Luke 2:36; Acts 21:9). So central to Israel’s life in God, Moses desired that “all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29). Joel foresaw this democratizing of the prophetic office in his prophecy: “I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (2:28; Acts 2:17, 18). There seems to be no expiration date on this new covenant reality.
Perhaps our everyday experience belies it, but from a biblical perspective, it is hard to imagine a Spirit-formed people not exhibiting the prophetic gift and office so fundamental to the church in Corinth, where prophecy was not just a spiritual gift but greatest among them (1 Corinthians 12:10; 14:1). Should that cease to be which “speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (14:3)? No! Rather, Paul’s admonition “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies” still rings true to us today (1 Thessalonians 5:19, 20).
The next verse (“Test all things; hold fast what is good”) speaks to the flipside of this prophetic reality. Where there are true prophets, there will also be false. The oft-repeated warning of false prophets assumes the existence of the true (Deuteronomy 13:1-5; Ezekiel 22:28; Matthew 24:11; 1 John 4:1-3). We do not deny the prophetic word, but we must test what is said by the standard of Christ and His Word.
While the formal office of prophet may not exist among us, that ministry still stirs where the Holy Spirit is operative in the church. How do we rightly define and identify it? The prophet Haggai gave a simple answer: “The Lord’s messenger, spoke the Lord’s message to the people . . .” (1:13). The prophet delivers the message “Thus says the Lord” that safeguards the community of faith. The prophet foresees trial, judgment, deliverance, yes, but first calls us to faithfulness and repentance, rebuking apathy, injustice, and false alliances.
Is this ministry needed today? Yes! Are there prophets up to the task? I hope. More important, do we recognize the message of the Lord when we hear it, even when it makes us uncomfortable? Because that’s the role of the prophet: challenging the comfortable and comforting the challenged.
— Elder Jason Overman