The current revival at Asbury University, Kentucky, has caught the interest of Christians worldwide. However, some of my friends who have disappointing experiences in “revival meetings” organized by visiting “global prophets” have asked me how we know if a revival is genuinely a work of God.
I am certainly not an expert in matters pertaining to revivals. However, I can’t help but be impressed by how the Asbury revival seems different from many “revival meetings” which I have come across. Judging from the videos which I have seen, I am impressed that no one is seeking to dominate the stage to garner limelight attention, unlike “revival meetings” where a vociferous leader seeks to arouse the passion and prayers of the participants so as to “catch the fire” of the Holy Spirit. What I see are small groups of people quietly praying for one another in front as the congregation continuously sing both praises and meditative worship songs. Sometimes, someone would give a testimony on how his life is touched. I am also impressed that the leaders of the revival declined offers of news coverage by big news Networks. The Asbury revival does not seem to be humanly controlled, much less manipulated. I am personally impressed and touched by what I see. The Asbury revival is still at an early stage, but if it is a genuine work of God, many lives will be touched and transformed by the Holy Spirit. Time will tell.
In this sermon given at the SS Gospel Centre, Petaling Jaya, on 21 March 2021, I discussed whether the baptism in the Holy Spirit is an event that (1) is simultaneous with conversion or new birth (John Stott and Richard Gaffin), or (2) is distinct and subsequent to the new birth, accompanied by the initial physical sign of speaking in tongues (Pentecostals and Charismatics), or (3 ) follows a fixed pattern that is universal and normative for all believers?
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
1 Cor. 12:13
And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Cor. 1:21-22)
Introduction: Shortcomings prophetic movements in history
Richard Lovelace acknowledges that while it is difficult to frame strong biblical arguments for limiting prophetic utterance to the apostolic period, nevertheless it cannot be denied that various revival groups which exercised the gift of prophecy such as the Montanists (2nd century), the Zwikau prophets (16th century) and the Great Awakening (18th century) often ended up “treating the Scripture as an addendum which was more or less unnecessary once a Christian obtained direct access to the mind of God through the Spirit…People who begin by being open to extrabiblical revelation will give Satan an opportunity to wean them gradually from Scripture and establish himself as the ultimate authority.” These ‘prophets’ became incorrigible and fell into error. Failed prophecy brought despair, leaders abandoned carefully planning. Indiscreet zeal led followers to act without prudence or discretion and to do unseemly things that discredit both revival and Christianity.
Prophecy in this post does not refer to predictions of future events. It is (1) the speaking forth of what the Holy Spirit has spontaneously brought to the mind, (2) with the purpose of edifying, encouraging and comforting God’s people (1 Cor.14:3). It is noted that there is no succession of apostolic and prophetic office since the closing of the biblical canon (Eph. 2:20). While Christians should be open to occasions when the Spirit gives a prophetic word to guide the church, nevertheless, there should be no institutionalization of prophetic office today. Believers, especially leaders who exercise authority are profoundly aware of human fallibility. As such, the sharing of any prophetic word must be subject to the supervision of local church leaders (elders in the New Testament) and all prophetic claims must be tested by Scripture.
A careful study of the Bible would confirm that while there may be succession of apostolic doctrine and apostolic ministry, nevertheless, there is no succession of apostolic office for the Church. Lest some people accuse me of prejudice against the so-called New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), I quote from the excellent position paper given by The General Council of the Assemblies of God (USA), “Apostles and Prophets”:
It is also clear that while the apostles (with the elders) were established leaders in the Early Church, there was no provision for their replacement or continuation…It is instructive, however, that nowhere in the New Testament after the replacement of Judas is any attention given to a so-called apostolic succession…It seems strange that apostles of Jesus Christ, concerned about faithful preservation of their message (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2), would provide for the appointment of overseers/elders while ignoring their own succession if such were indeed to be maintained.
In fact, there are certain exegetical hints the apostles of Jesus Christ are not to have successors. In 1 Corinthians 15:8, Paul listed all the Resurrection and post-Resurrection appearances of Christ and noted “last of all he appeared to me.” While some disagree, the statement is most commonly understood to mean Paul looked upon himself as the last apostle to whom Christ appeared.11 If this is the correct understanding, only the Twelve whom Jesus personally called and those He commissioned in His post-Resurrection appearances made up His original apostles…It is difficult to escape the conclusion of Dietrich Müller: “One thing is certain. The N[ew] T[estament] never betrays any understanding of the apostolate as an institutionalized church office, capable of being passed on…
Since the New Testament does not provide guidance for the appointment of future apostles, such contemporary offices are not essential to the health and growth of the church, nor its apostolic nature
Of late, the Malaysian Church seems to have gained the favor of global trotting ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’ who fly in preaching about revivals and supernatural encounter, and promising material prosperity to the faithful. What are we to make of these ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’?
Tim Keller’s article on “Kingdom-Centred Prayer” offers a good starting point on how to evaluate these visiting ‘prophets’ and ‘apostles’. According to Keller, a spiritual revival, or renewal, “is a work of God in which the church is beautifed and empowered because the normal operations of the Holy Spirit are intensifed. The normal operations of the Spirit include conviction of sin (John 16:8), enjoyment and assurance of grace and of the Father’s love (Rom. 8:15–16), access to the presence of God (John 14:21–23; 2 Cor. 3:17–18), and creation of deep community and loving relationships (Eph. 4:3–13).”
II. Paul’s Teaching on Prophecy in 1 Corinthians New Pdf format embedded on 24 Nov 2017 1. Context While Paul has made many references to the gift of prophecy elsewhere, it was in 1 Cor. 12-14 that he addressed the issue more clearly and exhaustively. The church at Corinth offered Paul the unique opportunity to … Continue reading “The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament Part 2/2”
While Paul has made many references to the gift of prophecy elsewhere, it was in 1 Cor. 12-14 that he addressed the issue more clearly and exhaustively. The church at Corinth offered Paul the unique opportunity to address the gift of prophecy as a practical and pastoral issue. Being located in a cosmopolitan city where permissiveness and sexual liberty was rife, it was only too easy for the decadence of the world to creep into the church. Hence, the church was plague with party strife, theological disputes and immorality. In the one-up-manship atmosphere, it comes as no surprise that the congregation was giving a greater value to the more overt and sensational gifts of the Spirit. This was in fact due to a distorted view of true spirituality. “They imagines that the more the influence of the Divine Spirit deprived a man of his self-consciousness and threw him into an ecstasy, the more powerful was that influence and the more sublime the state to which it raised the man; whereas the more the inspired person retained his self-possession, the less did his inspiration partake of a Divine character.”/50/ It is clear then that despite its great endowment of spiritual gifts, the church was without love and unity. Continue reading “The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament Part 2/2”
Current Concerns About the Gift of Prophecy Today It is a sad fact that much pulpit preaching in Malaysia fails to deliver compelling Bible-based sermons that challenge and comfort believers in times of increasing economic uncertainties and political tension. In this famine of the living word from God, many Christians flock to meetings to hear … Continue reading “The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament Part 1/2”
Current Concerns About the Gift of Prophecy Today
It is a sad fact that much pulpit preaching in Malaysia fails to deliver compelling Bible-based sermons that challenge and comfort believers in times of increasing economic uncertainties and political tension. In this famine of the living word from God, many Christians flock to meetings to hear visiting ‘apostles and prophets’ from America and Africa.
The Bible clearly teaches that there is no succession of the office of ‘apostles and prophets’ as the church is “built on the foundation of the ‘apostles and prophets’, Christ himself being the cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20), but the Holy Spirit continues to empower apostolic and prophetic ministry to build up the church. The Bible provides clear guidelines on how the gift of prophecy should be exercised. Failure to abide by these guidelines will lead to spiritual deception and abuse of spiritual authority by Christian leaders, resulting in disillusionment and despair among the faithful and expectant followers. It is of utmost importance that Christians be fully informed by these Biblical guidelines so that the church will be well-grounded in its beliefs, and vibrant in its pastoral care and mission outreach. [Added on 19 Aug 2014]
The traditional doctrine of Revelation presents obstacles towards the acceptance of any contemporary exercise of prophecy. As is well known, the standard text books in systematic theology divide God’s Revelation into two categories:/1/
1. General Revelation, described as “God’s witness of Himself toward all men through creation, history, and the conscience of man. It is set forth in Scripture passages such as Psalm 19; Acts 14:8-18, 17:16-34; Rom 1:18-32, 2:12-16; etc.”
2. Special Revelation, which is God’s disclosure of Himself (revelation in reality) and the interpretative Word of Scripture (revelation in Word). Quantitatively, this encompasses more than we have in Scripture.”
However, even if it is granted that God has spoken to men in ways beyond what we have in Scripture, many insist that surely the situation has changed since the days of the Apostles. With the Bible inscripturated, God’s final and perfect Revelation is given to men. The last word has been spoken (Rev 22:18). God has Himself closed prophecy.
It can be seen that prophecy which is identified by Pentecostals as God’s word for special occasions is an anomaly that will not fit into the above theological scheme which envisages God’s word as authoritative for all times. It is not surprising then, that theologians like Walter Chantry concludes, “All modern prophecy is spurious! God’s truth has come to us in a fixed and finished objective revelation. We must not accept the new ‘revelation’ of neo-pentecostalism.”/2/ Continue reading “The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament Part 1/2”