Part 2: Conversation
A few days later, Tom sat in a nice little Thai food restaurant with a friend named Paul from his previous church, ReBible
Fellowship. They sat over a steaming plate of noodles and chatted about the last couple months of their lives. “So, we had this prophetic training last week.”
Paul’s face took an incredulous look. “Prophetic… training? Fascinating. And you actually went?”
“Yeah, I’d heard of prophetic trainings and always had been a bit skeptical, but I wanted to see firsthand what it was
like, rather than writing it off as heresy based on hearsay.” He chuckled at his own joke. It wasn’t the first time he’d
“Do you think it’s Biblical to do something like that?”
“Well, we try to train up evangelists, right?” And Tom summarized a good part of the teaching from the Sunday before.
Paul listened carefully as they finished their food, interjecting a few questions now and again before he voiced his opinion. “Well, at least you’re not trying to add to the canon. But still, there’s some parts I don’t like. For example, that part at the end about ‘whatever you see is from God for that person.’ That seems like a rather naïve way to approach hearing God. Maybe the reason I have an image of pipes in my head is because I was playing Mario Brothers an hour before the meeting. That teaching just doesn’t take basic human whims into account. Sometimes, our minds just come up with things, and that’s not God speaking. I feel like with trainings like that in a church, you’d get weird people who are convinced that every whim of their mind is the word of God. If anybody clears their mind and ‘waits for a word,’ they’ll get some kind of image, Holy Spirit or not. That’s just basic human nature. I’d say that images like that are pretty meaningless when you take that into account.”
“See, I disagree with that,” Tom said. “I do believe God can speak through a mental image, but it’s just not every mental image is from God. I’ve known people who’ve been really impacted by some of those funny images.” It’s funny, because somehow, Tom was the type of man who tried to get people to play fair. Around his new, Charismatic church, he’d defend the Evangelical Free and Calvary Chapel sectors of Christiandom, where around his old friend Paul, he’d try to give a fair hearing for the prophets.
Paul continued. “Anyways, we could argue about little things like that, but let’s cut to the core, shall we? The biggest thing I’m hearing from you about the Pentecostal idea of prophesy is that definition. He said it was ‘hearing God’s heart’ or something like that, right?”
“Yeah, basically hearing from God for another person. Do you have a better definition?” Tom ignored the word “Pentecostal.” They were “Charismatic,” and he’d told that to Paul a million times, but it just didn’t seem to sink in.
“Yes. Prophesy is speaking for God! There’s a weightiness to it that training didn’t capture. You just can’t go around saying you’re prophesying and making all kinds of mistakes. At the very least, it’s taking the Lord’s name in vain. At worst, it’s something of a blasphemy. If you just want to encourage someone, then don’t say ‘this is prophesy,’ because that’s saying that you’re speaking for God. And if you’re speaking for God, you better be sure of what you’re saying! And if prophesy is just vaguely hearing God’s heart for someone, then does the word still mean anything?
“I mean, God speaks in many ways: through the Bible, through wisdom, even through impressions. And if we just take God’s word through the Bible, I could say John 3:16 to you any time of any day, and bam, prophesy, because that’s always God’s will for you. Or if we take God speaking through wisdom – say that you’re doing terribly in school. And I determine that it’s because you’re watching too much TV. ‘God’s will for you is to cut down on the TV,’ I say. Prophesy!” He waved his hands in the air.
“The way your training went, it sounds like prophesy revolves around giving minor, insignificant, personal insights. If that’s prophesy, then any psychologist is a skilled prophet. Heck, if prophesy is that easy, then my last pastor, who vehemently denies the spiritual gifts, prophesies all the time in marriage counselling situations. It’s almost like the Pentecostal–”
“Charismatic,” Tom interjected.
“–World isn’t as unique as they think in possessing prophesy; they just have too wide a definition of it.”
When Paul’s mind got into debate mode, he got carried away. A waitress dropped the bill as he continued. “However, what about big prophesies? At the very least, prophesies that change the course of individual lives. But what about world events, calls to repent, etc? If someone came into your church carrying that kind of a ‘word’ but couldn’t read your palm (so to speak), would they be a prophet? Or say someone like Martin Luther came along and reformed the way we do everything. I call that prophesy in the biggest, most major sense. That kind of prophesy changed the world. But Luther didn’t look deep into your eyes, wait for a picture of a blue unicorn, and give it to you to hold like a stuffed animal. You haven’t really created a prophetic church; you’ve killed prophesy.”
“Little harsh there, don’t you think?” Tom asked.
Paul suddenly noticed that a few other customers in the restaurant were looking at him. “Sorry, maybe a little. But it bugs me to put prophesy in a box of little ‘words’–” he made quotes with his fingers “–given on demand when God’s got to be speaking bigger things to people – if He’s really speaking. I just hate to dress up a scarecrow in camel’s hair and call it a prophet. I want the real thing. Something I can’t deny!”
“I know, and I’ve been in that place,” Tom said. “The funny thing about that place is that you can always find reason to deny the obvious work of God right in front of your eyes, and I still do, sometimes. Without an open heart, you can look at a healed man and say ‘He did it on the Sabbath.’”
He pointed straight at Tom. “You calling me a Pharisee?”
They paused in silence for a moment, then the two old friends both collapsed in laughter, breaking the tension. Paul slipped his credit card onto the bill plate. “You paid last time, right? I think it’s my turn. Look. I just don’t want to cheapen God’s voice by calling every true statement in the world a prophesy.”
“Well, I think you’re missing one piece,” Tom said.
“Prophesy has a certain ‘now’ quality to it. I’ve heard people call it the rhema word (Greek meaning the Word of God for right now) as compared to the logos word of the Bible. Quoting John 3:16 or Jeremiah 29:11 may be true, but it isn’t prophetic, because it’s not what the Spirit is saying right now to me. I’m just doing it out of my own head. Quoting a Scripture like that in bad timing can actually wound deeply. If someone is really hurting and I quote a common Bible verse to them (say, Romans 8:28), then it sounds trite, and I seem uncaring. That’s not prophetic, because though it’s God’s plan for their life, it’s not what He wants to speak through me right now.
“And take wisdom. See, I get words for people where I feel like wisdom plays a big part. A girl in my Fellowship Group last week talked about some problems with her dad, and I suddenly knew that she needed to call him and apologize for her part in the fight. I felt wisdom, but there was more: God put all the facts together (plus some extra knowledge) into a whole package of discernment. With just wisdom, I wouldn’t have been able to piece it all together with such confidence. I had this firm sense that ‘this is correct, and it’s God. By the way, didn’t you say you had class at 1:30?”
Paul looked at his watch and spoke in flawless Christianese. “Crud, shoot. I do. Gotta run. Later, Jeremiah!”