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Prophets and Priests

May 12, 2007

The Charismatic Movement began largely as a house church movement among the youth in the 1960's. As I understand it, this movement really started as the "Jesus People" movement on college campuses and in the so-called "hippie" culture. The mood at the time was one of rebellion in general, and in the area of religion it took shape as a revolt against the established Church forms--buildings with steeples, church pews, being tied to hymn books, one-hour worship services with 20 minutes of preaching, and other traditional forms.

I recall attending a Jesus People fellowship occasionally in the early 1970's, and I enjoyed its freedom. It removed Pentecostalism from its denominational setting and redefined "church" as people instead of buildings or organizations. There was no Jesus People Denomination.

It was not long, however, before some Charismatic leaders decided that this movement needed a king. A number of them banded together in Florida and started the so-called "Shepherding Movement," in which they convinced a lot of people that they needed to be responsible to priests other than Jesus Christ Himself.

If they had confined their leadership to teaching and training, the effects of this movement would have been mostly positive. But instead, they established another brand of King Saul and in the name of "Church Discipline," they usurped the authority of Christ. If they had known the story of King Saul and had seen Saul as a type of Church under Pentecost, they might have avoided making this mistake. At any rate, most of these leaders later renounced their own ideas after seeing the damage it did, but the leaven was easier to put into Charismania than to remove it.

Today, some of the largest churches in America are Charismatic. Insofar as structure is concerned, they differ little from other denominations. Their main innovation has been in the area of marketing God through entertainment and shows of wealth and prosperity.

Yet in spite of this, an increasingly high percentage of Christians are dropping out of churches and forming house churches. It will not be long before more Christians will be outside of Organized Christianity than in it. I think this is a positive trend, although organized churches view it as a threat and try to convince people that one cannot be a Christian outside of an organized church setting.

The Shepherding Movement sought to develop the spiritual gifts of the people. That was very good in itself. However, once again, the leaders did not understand the biblical development of the prophetic office, and so they made the mistake of putting the prophets under the authority of the pastors (or priests).

Abraham (Gen. 20:7) and Moses (Deut. 18:18) were both prophets, but when Israel was organized into a Kingdom, the prophetic office was merged with the priesthood in Aaron, who wore the ephod. Many people prophesied, of course, but this gift of prophecy was distinct from the prophetic office.

A few centuries later, we come to the days of Eli, whose priestly office was corrupted by his sons (1 Sam. 2:12). So a "man of God" was sent to tell Eli in 1 Sam. 2:31,

"(31) Behold, the days come, that I will cut off thine arm and the arm of thy father's house, that there shall not be an old man in thine house. . . . (35) And I will raise Me up a faithful priest that shall do according to that which is in Mine heart and in My mind; and I will build him a sure house; and he shall walk before Mine anointed forever."

There is no evidence that anyone's physical ARM was ever cut off. God was telling Eli that He was going to remove a part of the priestly AUTHORITY that had been given to the office of the high priest since the days of Aaron. It was the prophetic office that was being removed from his shoulder.

Meanwhile, God had caused Hanna to vow that if God would give her a son, she would give him to God. Thus, Samuel was born and was given to Eli to raise in the temple, as if he were an Aaronic priest. Samuel was the "faithful priest" of the prophecy, though I realize that ultimately the prophecy was about Jesus Christ.

The result of this was that the prophetic office was removed from the priesthood because of corruption. Because the priests could not (or would not) hear the word of the Lord, God created a distinct office of Prophet and took responsibility to personally train them--often in the wilderness, where they could learn about God without the influences of the traditions of men that were rampant in the priesthood.

And so we read in Acts 3:24,

"Yea, and all the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days."

Something changed when Samuel came on the scene. But the priesthood did not like the change. They were jealous and wanted to get their arm back. And so from that point on there has been a natural conflict between priests and prophets, which we see also today between pastors and prophets. The pastors (modern priests) are very suspicious of prophets, and many of them only believe in the existence of false prophets. It would seem that the only true prophets are those who are in agreement with the pastors!

But the history of this conflict shows us that the very reason God raises up prophets is because the pastors cannot or will not hear the Word of the Lord. So God has raised up an independent witness so that the people may have at least some opportunity to hear the Word--even if they have to go out into the wilderness to hear it.

So let's say there is a young prophet in the church. He is still "green" and a bit naive, because he has not yet had time for King Saul to beat him or try to kill him. Let's say that in this church the pastor believes that the only way for the church to grow is to build a bigger and more attractive building that costs $5 million. The prophet, on the other hand, receives a Word from the Lord that a beautiful building is no substitute for a move of the Holy Spirit. Attracting more people is no substitute for the quality of the people.

It is likely that the pastor will then demand that the prophet submit to the authority of the pastor and the board. He must repent of the Word from the Lord. Now the prophet is faced with a choice. He can submit to the pastor and become a "recognized church prophet," or he can remain submitted to the Lord and become "the Lord's prophet." Or, perhaps he could be hired by the king and become one of the king's prophets (1 Kings 22:23).

Now, I admit that this is an over-simplification. It also assumes that the prophet is a true prophet, and it assumes that he truly has heard the Word of the Lord. There are certainly cases where this does not happen. Nonetheless, it illustrates a basic problem that occurs when the priest wants the prophetic office to remain under his authority and control. It also shows how priests and prophets are often "natural enemies." Of course, this ought not to be so. But too often, it is.

Every "green" prophet needs seasoning in order to give him or her more depth of understanding. David was a prophet, and he was seasoned by King Saul to bring him to maturity. Joseph was a prophet, but when he shared his prophetic dreams, he showed lack of wisdom and a need for seasoning. So God seasoned him in an Egyptian dungeon. "Green" prophets are young and full of vinegar. It would be wise for them to learn from older prophets (and others of the five-fold ministry in Eph. 4:11) who have been seasoned by many years of experience.

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Category: Commentary

Dr. Stephen Jones

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