[This is a work of fiction, and is part of my God-Talk club series. For more information follow the link.]
The God-Talk Club was gathered at the cafe, and everyone was fairly quiet. Even Ellen, who was normally their waitress was seated with them, claiming that she just happened to be getting off work. She couldn’t admit to the group that she had arranged her schedule so she could join them.
As a moment of silence grew longer, Justine started looking back and forth, slightly embarrassed. She clearly had a topic to bring up and wasn’t sure how to start.
“Spit it out!” said Mac. “You know someone’s going to ridicule you any way you say it, so just say it!”
“I don’t think we ridicule people,” said Jerry. “We just express our opinions vigorously.” Jerry was always uncomfortable with the tone of some of the discussions, even though nobody seemed to get hurt. He tried to explain how it was really alright, something that nobody but him doubted.
“So Justine,” said Mark, “Just go ahead and say it, or we’ll spend all evening talking about saying it.”
“I had an interesting experience on Sunday,” Justine began. “I would try to protect the innocent, or better the guilty, but everyone in my church saw it all, so I can’t do that.”
“Something interesting happening in church. Now there’s a miracle.” Bob Norman couldn’t imagine wasting time in church and never hesitated to make that clear to everyone.
“Let her tell her story,” said Mark. He enjoyed hearing Justine talk about her ministry, because while they were both students at the seminary, she was already an ordained pastor.
“Well,” Justine continued, then paused. “A new couple came to my church this past Sunday. They seemed reasonable and enthusiastic, and I was even hoping they’d choose to stay. They said they had moved into the area recently, and were looking for a place to worship and minister. I asked them what their gifts were, and they said that they were both prophets.”
She paused again. “I don’t know what they expected. Perhaps they thought I would invite them to speak or something. I don’t do that. I would have to know them before I would let them speak to my congregation. But they looked very disappointed when I just said ‘OK’ about their claim to be prophets.”
“Prophets,” said Jerry. “I think I’d ask them to leave just for making the claim.”
“Well, we believe in modern prophecy. It wasn’t that they claimed to be prophets. That didn’t bother me. That they expected me to accept their claim and invite them to minister that same day, that bothered me.”
“They didn’t actually ask you to let them speak, did they?” asked Mandy. “You just thought that was what they wanted?”
“It sounds rude to me, and I’m pretty rude myself,” put in Mac.
“I still think the ‘prophet’ claim should have settled it all once and for all,” said Jerry.
“Jerry, I know you disagree with me on that, but could I finish the story?” Justine was surprised at the intensity in Jerry’s tone. Jerry was usually the one urging courtesy in their discussions.
“You’re right,” said Jerry. “Sorry, go on.”
“Don’t forget to explain to me why you, a Christian, would object to prophets,” said Bob.
“I don’t object to prophets, as such. I just don’t think there are any modern prophets.” He turned to Justine. “Sorry. Carry on!”
“Well,” said Justine, “We got into the service. They participated in the worship music and seemed to be having a good time and joining right in. Then one of our elders was commenting on events in the church and he mentioned that I was going to the seminary. Suddenly the woman got up. ‘I have a word from the Lord!’ she announced. The elder was about to tell her that this wasn’t the time, when she went on. ‘Thus saith the Lord, “There is an abomination in this town, and I have commanded my people that thou shalt not have anything to do with it. It is a great abomination in mine sight. I tell my people thou shalt come out of it . . .”‘”
Justine paused a moment. Jerry looked pained, then asked, “Did she really use that horribly mangled KJV sounding English?”
Justine laughed. “Oh, absolutely. Even worse. And I’m going to spare you most of it. Basically she was saying that the seminary is an abomination–something many of its students would confirm!–and that I shouldn’t be studying there. Only she was taking several minutes to get there. The question was, do you interrupt her and make a big stink, or do you let her say her piece, and then try to settle it afterwards.”
“After about five minutes it was clear that she wasn’t going to stop now that she had the floor. I think she was enjoying the attention, but I may be judging. In any case, I interrupted her from the pulpit, but couldn’t get her attention. It all ended up with her being let out of the church yelling curses on us and telling us that since we had rejected God, he would reject us.”
“Wow,” said Mac. “You religious types have some pretty creative ways of being incredibly rude and obnoxious.”
“As opposed to your simple and direct ones,” Justine shot back.
“Touche!” said Mac, gesturing as though she was holding a blade.
“What I don’t understand,” said Bob, “Is how you know they weren’t prophets. I mean I commend you for going to seminary, even though I think theology is pretty much hogwash, but still you’re improving your grasp of your profession, whatever I may think of it. But didn’t ancient prophets challenge the people in authority and tell them when they were doing wrong? According to the prophets, of course. How would you know a real prophet from a fake?”
“What they say has to be based on God’s known word. They must speak according to this word [Isaiah 8:20].” He patted his Bible. “Though I don’t believe there are prophets today.”
“But when there were prophets, they had to speak according to what the Bible said?” Bob was interested. He hadn’t realized Christians had different views on this.
“Well, yes, as much of it as they had available.”
“But Justine,” Bob asked, “Since the Bible doesn’t say whether you should attend the seminary or not, how would you know whether this woman was really a prophet or not. For all you know you are going straight to hell because you ignored what she said.”
“I use my discernment,” said Justine.
“What’s that?” asked Bob.
“I have the gift of discernment. God will speak to me and let me know.”
“So how do you know you have discernment?”
“Because trusted Christian leaders have tested me and agree,” said Justine.
“But that sounds completely circular!” said Bob.
“It’s built on the community,” said Jerry. Justine looked at him in surprise. She hadn’t expected him to defend her.
“I disagree with Justine as to whether there should be people called ‘prophets’ in the church today, but if there are prophets, Justine is right about how to handle it. You see, Christians believe we are the body of Jesus [1 Corinthians 12:27]. God’s Spirit works in us as a community. For the same reason, and in the same way that I’m an elder in my church she’s a pastor in hers. Despite my profound disagreements with her theology, I’m not going to deny that.”
“But you don’t believe there should be prophets at all. Why not? There were prophets in the Bible.” Jerry was surprised that Bob was engaging this much Usually he just made snide remarks about religion.
“Well, I believe that the Bible is God’s complete revelation. It is enough for us. God might speak to individuals or give them impressions, but he no longer gives authoritative messages for other people. That’s what Paul was talking about when he said that when the perfect came, what was partial would pass. The perfect is God’s complete revelation [1 Corinthians 13:9,10].”
“I’ve never seen how the ‘perfect’ can be the Bible in that passage. It seems to me that Paul is referring to when we see Jesus in the kingdom.” Mandy joined the conversation for the first time.
“Well,” said Jerry, “Paul is talking about knowledge and that is the most obvious thing.”
“I agree with Mandy,” said Justine. “Paul has plenty of opportunity to let everyone know that the gifts will cease to function soon, and he doesn’t.” She turned to Bob. “Sorry, I’m using Christian technical language. By ‘gifts ceasing to function’ I mean that people would no longer prophesy or do other miraculous things.”
“It all seems very strange to me,” said Bob.
“It seems strange to me as well, said Mark. “None of this happened in church as I was growing up.”
“So you believe the gifts have ceased?” asked Jerry.
“I don’t know. We never talked about it at all!”
“It’s the sort of thing you’ll want to know if you’re going to be a pastor.” Jerry said it gently.
“I know that, but unlike Justine, I don’t have a church yet. I’m not even sure I’m going to be a pastor.”
“You’ll make a great pastor,” said Justine.
“There’s a practical reason for not allowing this type of prophecy,” said Jerry. “Consider the trouble it caused in your church. If you simply did not allow prophecy in your church, you would avoid that problem.”
“That’s hardly a good reason,” said Mandy. “If it’s God’s word, it’s God’s word. If it’s not, it’s not. You should stop what’s not, and allow what is. I’d prefer a little different way of handling it, with people speaking what they believe they’ve heard from God in small groups, but I wouldn’t want to cut it off.”
“I agree it’s a bad reason if God is still speaking through prophets, but I think that the trouble and the craziness that seems to go with active prophecy and other gifts being used in the church is one element of evidence that God isn’t working that way any more. God is a God of order, not of confusion [1 Corinthians 14:33].”
“But we can have order by simply handling the service properly. Paul spends chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians explaining how to handle order in the service. I admit that I didn’t handle it all that well, but it can be handled.”
“I’ve always thought that the church services in Corinth must have been exciting, ever since I first read 1 Corinthians 14,” said Mandy.
“Yes, I imagine they were, but I’m content with God’s word as given in the Bible,” said Jerry.
“You Christians are more interesting than I thought,” muttered Bob, though everyone heard him.
“You can say that again,” said Mandy fervently.
“You know,” Bob added thoughtfully, “I’m surprised that you, Jerry, and Justine can discuss this as peacefully as you did. Consider that she believes prophecy is possible, and you don’t. I congratulate you. Now if I can just figure out exactly what you mean by ‘prophecy’.”
“Well, we both agree that the ‘prophetess’ who showed up at her meeting was false. I’d like her to tell us a story of what she would consider true prophecy.”
“We believe in modern prophecy, but it is much more controlled by the church,” said Ellen.
“Well, for me at least, the rest of this subject is going to have to wait.” Mark started to pack his books ready to leave.
[Note: The next God-Talk Club will discuss this further, as our group discusses tests of a prophet, which are hardly touched on in this story.]