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Are There Modern Day Prophets in the Church?

I recently reviewed the book Radical Together written by my friend David Platt for our friends at 9 Marks (review will appear on their site shortly).

Through that review, and some conversations with friends, I reflected on the nature of prophets in our culture. God leads prophets sometimes to do things that many of us see as extreme. Think, for example of Old Testament prophets who laid on their side for 3 years or married a prostitute to make a point. This doesn’t mean that that they are giving a pattern for us, but God is using them to make a point. Quite often they are the first ones to say that what they are doing is not a model for everyone. (And, I should note, I am not saying that modern-day prophets carry the same authority as Old Testament prophets. Old Testament prophets were revealing new messages from God; modern day prophets are merely elevating already-revealed messages to us).

God led David’s church through “the Radical Experiment” which included dramatic budget cuts, the elimination of certain good ministries, and the now infamous removal of goldfish and other snacks during the children’s program. Is that the new standard for all of us? David would say “no.” But the point being made through Brook Hills Church (and, I believe, by God) to us is that church is not a social club for Christians.

Gospel theology demands urgent missiology. David teaches periodically at a “Secret Church” for 6 hours with hardly any interruption or breaks. Do we all need to do that? Not necessarily. But the point being made is that the word, not the entertainment, is the living power of the church. Or, another example: Mark Dever, whose church has been “out of space” for years, won’t multiply services or campuses, can’t expand their current building, and won’t transfer locations. They believe that churches are too often focused on building an audience than they are the members, and they want membership to be meaningful. Should we all refuse to multiply services, or be unwilling to move locations to be able to grow? I don’t think so, but God has used Capitol Hill to remind us that the church is not an audience. It is a family.

The Apostle Paul would not take a salary for his work as an Apostle, even though he acknowledged he was entitled to it and that others in his position can and should take one. God had directed him to take no salary to make the point that ministry was not about self-promotion. The ministry, he said, is about pouring yourself out for the church, not enriching yourself off of the church. But Paul was very clear that what God had directed him to do was not a standard for others. In some ways, it was unique to him. But the point he made is for all of us.

I’m not trying to trivialize what any of these churches or leaders have done so that we can box them up and brush them off as extremists. Quite the contrary: God is using them to speak to us. We must heed the message being given and ask God what we need to do with the truths they embody. I’m just saying that even if we do not imitate them exactly in how they apply these truths, we can still recognize them as an appointed messenger from God.

I am very grateful for the prophets God has raised up in our Christian culture. Even if I don’t apply the truth they stand for in exactly the same ways that they do, I recognize the gracious, disciplining hand of God in them.

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J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.