Thursday 1 January 2004

The prophetic voice of the Army

Published in “The Officer” Jan/Feb 2004

It was impossible to resist the challenge put forward in ”The Officer” in Sept. 2003 to write about our movement’s prophetic ministry. There are various reasons for my personal interest in the topic:
  • The word of God has a definite appeal to: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (1. Cor. 14:1)
  • Through history there has very often been a prophetic period preceding revivals and renewals.
  • Since the reformation, we have had an ongoing renaissance of the ministry-gifts listed in Eph. 4:11 – starting with the pastoral and teaching gifts growing into the ministry of the great evangelists, continuing into our own time where we on a broad base are rediscovering the ministries of the prophet and the apostle.
  •  Moving on to the personal level, God has used the prophetic word to keep me in line with his will in my own ministry. I could have written a long testimony (may be a whole book?) about how God generously has intervened on many occasions through his own word and through people equipped with the gift of the Spirit to prophecy.
  • Furthermore, I had a personal experience in 1994 that changed my personal ministry an added a new prophetic dimension to it. I do not regret the blessing of that particular encounter with God, but occasionally the anguish and burden following the prompting to share a word, is of such a character that even the knowledge that it might do some good is but a small encouragement in the internal battle. It is impossible to enter into the sphere of the prophetic without realising both its great potential for release and the incorporate danger of manipulation. But it would be disastrous if a fear to fail should prevent the gifts from being used in the church. Only a careful and ongoing teaching on the prophetic can prepare both the deliverer and the receiver of a message in such a way that misunderstandings can be prevented. Because “we know in part and we prophesy in part” (1. Cor. 13:9)
  • I have seen how the use of an external person with a prophetic ministry in our corps has helped particularly the younger generations to seek a deeper relationship with God and gain a more sincere awareness of a calling to go and make disciples.
  •  I see that the Army in many countries has a high sense of credibility in the consciousness of the public, and therefore has a God-given opportunity and therefore a responsibility to be a prophetic voice in the society.
A prophetic voice
Within our own movement we will find different interpretations of a “prophetic voice”, and they do not necessarily contradict one another. We e.g. understand it as

  • a clear proclamation of the Word of God
I do not think that anyone will argue against such an understanding. Our Bible contains the prophetic word, and one may even suggest that the whole scripture is prophetic. Therefore a call to Salvationists to raise the “prophetic voice” through a conscious and sound proclamation of the Word of God would be very appropriate. Seen in this context every preacher will in some way take part in a prophetic ministry, and the receiver of the message may well experience it as a prophetic word into his or her situation. The proclamation of the word of God has never ceased in the history of our movement, but I need to constantly remind myself of the enormous responsibility I have as a “minister of the Gospel” to be true to its prophetic intention. May be if I always managed to do so, the Army would have been one step closer to “find its prophetic voice once again”.

  • a clear understanding of the present time
When we read about the prophets in the Bible, one of their characteristics was the ability to interpret their own time and in turn God’s way forward. In 1. Chron. 12: 32 we read about the men of Issachar – ”who understood the times and knew what Israel should do”. Being a “grass root-movement” the Salvation Army under the guidance of the Holy Spirit will be in a position to see, feel and interpret the spiritual, social and material needs found in our societies. To bring forth God’s solution to this knowledge both to our own people, the general public and to the municipal, regional and national authorities would be a definite way to fulfil a part of the prophetic calling upon our movement. This was true in William Booth’s time and it is true today.

  • an utterance of a prophetic word
Without entering into a long biblical exposition, I personally prefer to make a distinction between a prophetic ministry and an utterance of a prophetic word. I think that all believers should be encouraged and taught how to prophesy (1. Cor. 14:1) through the Spirit, but this will not necessarily make them prophets. When we discover the benefit of a prophetic message, how e.g. a couple of words can solve a problem in a minute that would demand hours and hours of pastoral counselling to solve, we very often realise how poor many of our congregations are on spiritual gifts. May be one of the reasons can be the fact that we are a “holiness-movement”. I love and encourage all good holiness teaching and long to see more holiness both in my own life and in the life of my corps. But very often a strive for perfection, gives us an obscure idea that we have to be perfect before God can use us – particularly when we come to the subject of spiritual gifts. But the gifts belong to the Spirit and are never “lend” to anyone as a reward or in recognition of a “holy life”. Neither the power of God nor the gifts of the Spirit are generated by our holy living, but are merely given by grace – the church in Corinth is an excellent example (1.Cor. 1:7).  A chase for “Christ-likeness” and a strive to hear God’s voice and feel his heartbeat for our present world should be a joint venture without dropping to the conclusion that the one depend on the other. Only when we discover this, God can receive all the honour and the world will recognize our message as an authentic prophetic voice.

  • an act or a word from a prophet
I believe that God rises up people with a special ministry as prophets and that the SA has had and still will have more such people within its ranks. These ministers are not always officially recognized, but they are there and their gifting is obvious to many. I could have mentioned names from our history, and many people would have agreed to the description, but the recognition is not important at this stage. But I think it is important for us to release such a ministry on all levels of the Army from to time to time, either it be on corps, divisional or territorial level. Since we belong to a universal church, I believe it could be edifying even to use the ministry of non-Army prophets – as other denominations would gain from seeking the same ministry from equipped people in our church.

“Is there no prophet of the Lord here, that we may inquire of the Lord through him?”
(2. Kings 3:11)

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