What Counts As Prophecy?
(Fade in). It’s a Sunday morning in a Presbyterian church, and the minister is preaching from Acts 13:1-3. As he approaches the end of his thirty minute sermon, he applies his message like this: “Brothers and sisters, the word of God, and the book of Acts in particular, is the story of expansion. From Adam being told to be fruitful and multiply, to Abraham being sent as the father of many nations, to Isaiah telling Israel that they were to be a light to the nations, to the early church going from 120 to 3000 to 5000, to Antioch sending Paul and Barnabas in this text here - God’s heart for his people is that they grow, and flourish, and multiply. So for all the challenges we face, and all the opposition we encounter, God’s will is that we continue to preach the gospel, and continue to see people added to us. For the word of God will not return to him void. Amen.”
My assumption is that most readers of this blog, and most people who attend charismatic churches, would be in the habit of calling the first “prophecy” and not the second, even though the speaker is saying almost exactly the same thing in each case. So my question is: why? Or perhaps more specifically: is that because of the prophetic content or because of the prophetic form? Have we got in the habit of regarding things as “prophecy” (or not) because they use (or don’t use) common charismatic identity markers: posture, tone of voice, phraseology, where they come in the meeting, whether they are accompanied by background music, who delivers them, or whatever else? From my limited experience of being around charismatic churches, networks and conferences, I suspect that the answer is yes. And I also suspect that some Presbyterian churches see more prophecy (as biblically understood), and some charismatic churches see less, than we are accustomed to believing.