Friday, February 19, 2016

Prophecy in the Church: Part 1 of "Preparing for Revival"

Preparing for Revival, Part I
What Spirit-filled pastors and leaders need to know about prophecy in the church.

For several years I regularly attended a local Pentecostal church. The pastor believed in all of the gifts of the Spirit and often prayed in tongues during the music ministry. However, on the rare occasions that anyone in the congregation prayed aloud in tongues or prophesied, he tensed up, and had an unhappy look on his face. It was as if this was an unnecessary intrusion into the service. He never encouraged that type of activity. In theory he should have welcomed such lay participation in the gifts. But like many Pentecostal and Charismatic pastors, he did not really have the knowledge or training to handle the public manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit.

In vising multiple other Pentecostal congregation I have notice the same situation – pastors are theoretically for the active gifts of the Spirit, but not publicly friendly or encouraging to their manifestations. Mostly, they are satisfied with the traditional Evangelical worship pattern of music, sermon, and altar call – with perhaps enthusiastic clapping, rising of hands, and healing ministry time. This is in spite of the fact that Paul urges the gifts of the Spirit to be used in all Christian worship services:

What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up. If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and to God. Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.  And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. (1Cor 14:26-29, NIV)

This is surely one of the most neglected passages of Paul’s letters. As I have pointed out in my recent book, this disobedience/neglect is mostly due to the fact that by the time Paul’s letters were accepted as canonical most Christians had discontinued the use of tongues and prophecy. Thus these verses just did not make sense.[1] From the Third Century on, when the classical liturgies of the Church developed, Paul’s order of worship was ignored, not out of malice or in conspiracy, but simply that few people could make sense of what Paul was saying. Not until the recovery of the tongues and the other word gifts of the Spirit in Pentecostalism at the cusp of the Twentieth Century would the Pauline passages of 1 Cor 12 and 14 be comprehensible.

I believe that many Spirit-filled pastor’s unease at the public manifestations of the gifts of the Spirit stems from legitimate fears, especially a fear of the gift of prophecy. There is the real possibility that the prophetic utterance (either direct or as interpretation of tongues) may be contaminated with falsehood and doctrinal or moral error.  This is a valid concern, as Spirit-filled movement from the earliest times to the present have had incidents, sometimes overwhelming, of false prophecies that were not discerned or corrected.[2] 

Take for instance a revival that took place among several Holiness congregations in Corsicana County, Texas, in the 1870s. This revival began with a burst of worship and enthusiasm which included tongues. Significantly, the leadership understood that the gifts of the Spirit described in 1 Cor. 12 -14 were for the present. Unfortunately the leaders were inexperienced in prophecy and its discernment (of course, there were no mentors or literature to help them) and drifted into false prophecy.  Some prophetic utterances included the message that a person baptized with the Spirit would be regenerated physically to the point of being able to live a thousand years.  But strangely enough, some in the congregation continued dying. The revival disintegrated as local prophets urged their followers to sell all and await Jesus’ return in 1875. Jesus didn’t make it, and the only thing achieved by the revival was the discrediting of future Pentecostal efforts in the area.[3] 

Most Pentecostal pastors can probably tell of some prayer group or individual injured by non-discerned prophetic utterance. I had personal experience with one such incident early on in my charismatic Christian life. My wife Carolyn and I belonged to one of the finest and most influential Pentecostal/charismatic churches in the Atlanta area. There Carolyn joined a small, predominantly woman’s bible study and healing group. The leader of the group prophesied that the group was in danger of being destroyed by “a man who would sow dissension,” i.e. me. They asked me to leave. The prophetic utterance was bogus, and most likely the product some unhealed past hurt of the group leader. We both left at that point, and the group itself did not last long after that. All of which is to say that false prophecy has been and will continue to be a challenge to any Spirit-filled congregation.

Then the issue arises, why not just scrap prophecy and tongues to avoid these problems?  In fact, cessstionists often do make this argument. They usually exaggerate and say that all modern prophecy is unnecessary, bogus and harmful and thus unrelated the New Testament prophecy.

There are several reasons why we must reject this extreme view. The most important is that Paul mandated it, and we should obey it. Secondly, there are many instances when contemporary prophecy has been not only encouraging and supportive, as its main New Testament function (1 Cor 14:31) but even life-saving. One of the most famous examples of the latter is cited by Demos Shakarian, the founder of the Full Gospel Business Men Fellowship International. In his book, The Happiest People on Earth. Shakarian related that his family came to America from Armenia during the 1900s. This was because a prophet in their community continuously warned the people of grave impending danger and urged them to leave and go to America. Many did, but many also did not. The prophet’s warning became tragically true when the Turks began the Armenian genocide of 1916. [4] Those who obeyed the prophetic warning lived, and most who did not perished.

Many Pentecostal and charismatic pastors can relate stories of valid prophetic warnings, discernments and encouragements. Let me cite another personal instance. Back in 1999 many businesses and churches were busy preparing for the oncoming “Y2K disaster,” a supposed mass foul-up of all computers because they had not been adequately programmed to take into account the new century. Carolyn and I were on the Church Y2K committee at our Episcopal church, and we coordinated an expanded pantry and other emergency supplies, etc.  We went to a nearby Pentecostal church to further coordinate for the possible problems and relief efforts and the pastor adamantly told us we were wasting our time, and that the Lord assured him there would be no problems. We thought him arrogant and foolishly imprudent. But he had indeed heard from the Lord correctly – a lesson to us on discernment.

Years later, in a small Pentecostal church which I pastored we had multiple incidents of valid and encouraging prophetic utterances.[5]  That church had a mature and discerning small group leadership that understood both the danger of false prophecy and the benefits of prophetic communications with the Holy Spirit. In other words they understood the importance of discernment. That is, with the gift of discernment one can filter out the destructive instances of prophetic utterances and affirm the valid communications from the Holy Spirit.

Help for the pastor:

What is a pastor, who perhaps is new to the Pentecostal or charismatic movements, do to get and grow in discernment?  Most seminaries and bible colleges do well in teaching hermeneutics, church history preaching and administration, etc., but few teach anything about discernment, prophetic or otherwise. (Of course if you went to a mainline seminary or an Evangelical cessationsit one, prophetic discernment was not even considered.)

The important thing to understand about discernment is that it is a spiritual gift, but it is enhanced with biblical understanding, knowledge of Christian writings, and experience.  Discernment of spirits, the foundational spiritual gift, is named as one of the spiritual gifts in 1 Cor 12.  Thus it can be asked for in prayer and received as a gift.  This relationship between prayer/gifting and learning/experience is demonstrated in the life of one of the great saints of the American healing revival, Agnes Sanford.

Mrs. Sanford received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit back in 1953 when that was unheard of among mainline Christians. She and two other friends in the healing ministry had a lay over from a healing mission and were exhausted. They prayed for help and relief, and all received the guidance from the Lord to pray for the “Holy Ghost” with the laying on of hands. They did, two on one, two on one two on one, and each received an outburst of energy, joy and refreshment to continue in their ministry. Later, one of the three received the gift of tongues at a Pentecostal meeting and wrote Mrs. Sanford about it. She thought it was ridiculous and unnecessary, but agreed to pray about it. In their next get together she agreed with the other two to allow them to pray for tongues. She received that gift in a glorious outburst. She went home and ransacked her church library on the Holy Spirit. A bit later she providentially encountered another mainline Christian who had been a “closet” Pentecostal for years and was able to further instruct her on the meaning of 1 Cor 12-14.  She continued learning about and exercising tongues and the gifts of the Spirit throughout her life.[6]

Now, back to a Spirit-filled pastor who has little experience with the prophetic. Let me suggest that, like Agnes Sanford, he/she have several of their elders do a two on one, two on one, etc., for the specific purpose of receiving or strengthening the gift of discernment of spirits. This will help in establishing a discernment baseline. If the other elders also ask for and receive the gift discernment of spirits, they could help in the discernment and judgment of prophetic utterances (1 Cor 4 14:29). The participants can also pray and ask can also ask for auxiliary gifting, as for instance the wisdom and tact in parrying prophecies that are marginal or tainted with “flesh” or demonic elements.

We are now in era that is rich with readily available works on discernment. An interested pastor or lay leader perhaps should start with something from the greatest theologian America has produced, Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758). His preaching triggered a revival in his church in 1737 which produced some strange physical phenomenon, multiple conversions and a spiritually revived congregation. Later he witnessed the spread of the Great Awakening (1740-1743) under George Whitefield and others. The Great Awakening was a tremendous blessing to America, but it also including non-discerning and spiritually destructive evangelists. Edwards’ reflections on revival, the physical phenomenon of revival, and the discernment issues involved are classics. Perhaps the best way to start on his multiple writings on discernment is to read his short work Distinguishing Marks of a Work the Spirit of God, and then go to his final work on discernment, Religious Affections. Both works are readily available at various web sites for free download.[7]

Edwards’ writings are almost three hundred years old, and yet there is another stream of Christian discernment writings that is much older and at least equal, and in certain aspects superior to Edward’s work. It is the discernment literature of the Catholic mystical tradition. This immediately raises suspicions among my Evangelical/Pentecostal readers who would ask “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” i.e. Rome. The short answer is, yes, much good.

Dr. Vinson Synan, dean of Pentecostal historians, and former Pentecostal pastor himself, would say amen to this. He was born into a Pentecostal family where he was taught that the Catholic Church was the “Hoar of Babylon” and anti-Christ, etc.  But later, on his way to a doctorate in Church history, he studies Medieval Catholic mysticism and discovered, much to his surprise, that many mystics had been baptized in the Holy Spirit via their long hours of prayer (Matt 11:12). They often exercised the gifts of the Spirit, although they used different vocabulary for this.[8]  In effect, Catholic spiritual directors were dealing for centuries with not only discerning true from false visions and prophetic utterances, but true and false manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit.

In any case, the summary and culmination of Catholic discernment literature is a book first published in 1904 in France. It was written by the Jesuit scholar, Fr. Augustine Poulain, and entitled The Graces of Interior Prayer.[9] This was a very large work. Most of it dealt with advice to spiritual directors on shepherding the mystic through various stages of their spiritual journey. The most important part for the contemporary Spirit-filled pastor or lay leader is section IV. This is where Fr. Poulain dealt with discerning true and false visions and prophecies. Section IV has been reprinted in a convent paperback form.[10] Another very excellent Catholic work on discernment, and clearly based on Poulain, is Fr. Volken’s, Visions, Revelations and the Church.[11]  Let me stress to my Pentecostal and charismatic brethren, that the Catholic literature on discernment is generally excellent, though sometimes marred by long digressions on Marian apparitions and other items specific to Catholic belief.

Thankfully, the Charismatic Renewal has seen the rise of specifically Pentecostal/charismatic books on discernment. Many are excellent and I would recommend two especially, not negating that there are many others out there that are also excellent. Mike Bicle’s succinct work, Growing in the Prophetic is written by one of the major figures of the charismatic prophetic movement, and shows great experience and wisdom.[12] (It may be downloaded as a pdf file for free HERE). A much larger work, and one that gives excellent coverage of the discernment issues of the Church from its earliest times, is Ernest Gentile’s, Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy. Even for the busy pastor, it is well worth having and reading it in segments as time allows.[13] For a detailed review of Gentile's work go HERE. 

Accessing the rich discernment tradition of the Church is invaluable aid to every Spirit-filled pastor and leader. Let me cite a personal example. I was raised in a devote Roman Catholic home in the 1940s to the 1960s. I was educated in Catholic Schools all thought to a history degree from Fordham University. But this was pre-Charismatic Catholicism, and I never saw a miracle or miraculous healing. Like many in my generation, I grew suspicious of the “rumors” of miracles via the pious saint’s tales of old and eventually drifted into atheism. After almost a decade of atheism I fell into the New Age movement and discovered the spiritual world was real and phenomenon rich. 

Luckily, I remembered from my Catholic education that spiritual experiences and phenomenon can come from either the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Satan.  I began asking questions about the nature of the New Age spiritual phenomenon I was experiencing and seeing.  Then I began reading the Catholic literature of discernment. I quickly realized that New Age spirituality was demonically laced.[14]  I returned to the Church via a Catholic Charismatic prayer group which initiated my life as a charismatic Christian (1975). I did however notice that in many of the meeting there was a lack a discernment in regard to prophecies and revelations - almost all were accepted. The lay leadership had been baptized in the Spirit, but not educated or read in the discernment tradition available, but mostly unknown, to them. I had a better grasp of discernment than many who were senior to me in experience and maturity simple because I was well read on the issue. I say this not for self-glorification, but specifically to point out that the literature of discernment is invaluable for every pastor who wishes to effectively lead a Spirit-filled congregation. That literature places the pastor or leader in contact with the riches and experiences of Spirit-filled believers from all of Church history.

My personal recommendation would be that pastors and church leaders read at least Edwards’s Distinguishing Marks of the Work of the Spirit of God, and then one work from both the Catholic and Pentecostal/charismatic authors.  (Hint: seminarians and student of religious studies could write a great paper or an MA thesis comparing the Catholic and Pentecostal literature on discernment.)

Preparing the congregation:

My experience is that a congregation should be taught about the prophetic and the word gifts of the Spirit, such as tongues and words of wisdom, before such utterances become widespread. This helps ensure that false prophecies are reduced to a minimum. Stress should be placed on the fact that in New Testament prophecy in the worship service is mostly about encouragement, not correction (1 Cor 14:26). Negative prophecies are possibly valid, but very often reflect the venting and opinions of the person rather than the true voice of the Holy Spirit. I insisted in my congregation that any negative prophetic utterance be cleared by the leadership for extra discernment. Further, I taught that Paul indicated that we prophecy “in part” (1 Cor 13:9) and therefore imperfectly, so that a discerning correction should not be taken as rejection.

The length of prophetic utterances is also a concern. Many persons who rightly sense a word from the Spirit do not know how to end it and go on, often “sanctifying’ what are their opinions or prejudices. I stressed that prophecy is related to the gift of “word of the wisdom” which comes often unexpectedly upon a believer, and invariably short.  Thus the lay persons in the congregation knew that their contribution and participation in the service (1 Cor 14: 26) in prophecy, shared psalms, songs and prayers would have to be brief. I made a joke of it (with a serious purpose) by using football signs for “time out,” etc.  No one was offended by this and all understood the need for it. I found during my first attempts at this years earlier that there was invariably a well-intentioned “prayer hog” who wanted to publically pray over every situation, and at great length. Everyone in my congregation knew that had to be brief as a courtesy to others, and the Holy Spirit could give a complete message with great brevity.

Another useful teaching point I discovered was to first encourage the congregation to “open up” to public sharing with a song or psalm. Most persons have watched “American Idol” and its imitators for years and are quite comfortable in this. Again, I stressed a brief song or psalm. It was a glorious period in our church which ended all too soon.[15]

Upon reviewing this posting I am reminded of contemporary TV ads for prescription medications – thirty seconds to present the product followed by a minuet of possible negative side effects, as in “The possible side effect are interior bleeding, constipation, etc.” Yes, having your church move and operate in the prophetic can have negative side effects. But operating in the prophetic is what God wants of the Church (1 Cor. 14:1), and with proper preparation can lead to an exciting, Spirit-filled congregation that will naturally draw many to its healing and prophetic services, and, most importantly, be in obedience with the God’s desire for the Church.

Suggested Readings (* items are particularly important).

Catholic Tradition:

Kelsey, Morton T. God, Dreams and Revelation. Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1974.

Knox, Ronald A. Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion. Oxford: Clerandon Press, 1950.

Ponticu, Evagrius. On Various Evil Thoughts. This work is a classic of discernment, from the 4th                    Century. Can be accessed on the web at various sites.

Poulain, Augustine. The Graces of Interior Prayer: A Treatise of Mystical Theology. Trans.                              by Leonora L. Yorke Smith. London: Egan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. 1910 (modern                        editions available online and in print) Full text online:  
             Paper copy may be purchased HERE

*–––––. Revelations and Visions. Trans. By Leonora L. Yorke Smith. New York Alba House, 1998.
            This is the critically important part IV of Poulain’s Graces of Interior Prayer.

Rahner, Karl. Visions and Prophecies. Trans. by Charles Henkey. New York: Herder & Herder,                      1963.

Synan, Vinson. “The Role of the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit in the Mystical tradition,” 
             One in Christ. 10 No. 2 (1974) 193-202. Synan is the dean of Pentecostal scholars.

Volken. Laurent. Visions, Revelations and the Church. Trans. by Edward Gallager. New York; P. J.                Kennedy and Sons, 1963. May be purchased HERE

Pentecostal Charismatic tradition:

*Bickle, Mike. Growing in the Prophetic. Lake Mary: Creation House, 1996.

De Arteaga, William L.  Quenching the Spirit. Lake Mary: Creation House 1996.

*Gentile, Ernest B. Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy. Foreward by C. Peter Wagner.                           Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1999.  A large (430pp) book on every aspect of the prophetic                 ministry from a Pentecostal perspective.

Hamon, Bill. Prophets and Personal Prophecy. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image, 1987.

*McDermott, Gerald R. “The Great Divider: Jonathan Edwards and American Culture,” Books     and             Culture, January/February 2010. Posted 2/04/2010.                                     ards%2C+great+divider

Ruthven, Jon. What’s Wrong With Protestant Theology? Tradition vs. Biblical Emphasis. Tulsa:                     Word and Spirit Press, 2013. A great treatise on why prophecy should be normal in the                         Church.

Synan, Vinson. “The Role of the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit in the Mystical tradition,”                    One in Christ. 10 No. 2 (1974) 193-202. Synan is the dean of Pentecostal scholars.


The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my latest book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.

The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE You can purchase the print version at a discount from the publisher HERE

My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together.  It may be purchased HERE.

Watching God Work: The Stuff of Miracles by [DeArteaga, Carolyn Koontz]

[1]William L. De Arteaga. Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal, Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2015. Chapter 1.    
[2] On the Montanists and other Spirit-filled groups who had trouble with prophetic ministry see the classic work by Ronald A. Knox. Enthusiasm: A Chapter in the History of Religion. Oxford: Clerandon Press, 1950.
[3] On the rise and fall of this revival see: Barry W. Hamilton, “The Corsicana Enthusiasts: A Pre-Pentecostal Millennial Sect,” Wesleyan Theological Journal, 39 #1 (spring, 2004) 173-193.

[4] Demos Shakarian. The Happiest People on Earth (Old Tappen: Chosen Books, 1975) chapter 1.
[5] See my blog posting, “Can Church be done as Paul mandated?”  Posted, March 25, 2013.

[6] Agnes Sanford, Sealed Orders (Plainsfield: Logos International, 1978) 216-218.   Described in detail in my work Agnes Sanford and Her Companions, 222-224.  You may purchase the book HERE
[7] I especially treat with the discernment issues of the Great Awakening, and the opening the failures in discernment gave to the pharisaical opposition to the revival in my work, Quenching the Spirit (Lake Mary: Creation House, 1996) chapters 2 and 3.
[8] Vinson Synan, “The Role of the Holy Spirit and the Gifts of the Spirit in the Mystical Tradition,” One in Christ 10, #2 (1974), 193-202     
[9]Augustine Poulain, The Graces of Interior Prayer: A Treatise of Mystical Theology. Trans. by Leonora L. Yorke Smith.  (London: Egan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. 1910).   
[10] Augustine Poulain. Revelations and Visions. Trans. By Leonora L. Yorke Smith. New York Alba House, 1998 .But available from used book stores on the web such as
[11] Laurent Volken, Visions, Revelations and the Church. Trans. by Edward Gallager ( New York; P. J. Kennedy and Sons, 1963). This work is in print and may be purchased HERE
[12]Mike Bickle, Growing in the Prophetic (Lake Mary: Creation House, 1996).
[13] Ernest B.  Gentile, Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy. Foreword by C. Peter Wagner. (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1999). It may be purchased HERE
[14] The fruit of that stage in my life was the book Past life Vision (New York: Seabury, 1983) where I identified New Age beliefs as Gnostic and demonic.
[15] See note 5 above.

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