Prophecy Versus Preaching

There is a common equation made among more conservative evangelicals (and liberals) between prophecy and preaching. Reluctant to allow for the direct gift of prophecy to be still operating today, they instead wish to believe that it has been replaced by inspired preaching. This, notwithstanding that the offices of prophet, pastor and teacher are listed as quite separate by Paul.

Certainly, there are times when a prophet will preach, or a preacher will prophesy. And sometimes the two merge together in prophetic preaching. Does this mean that as well as wishing that “all would prophesy”, Paul would insist that all should preach? I don’t think we could assume this, though all may do so at times. Nor does it mean that prophet equals preacher, or that prophesying equates to preaching.

An example which brings this home to me is the case of C.H. Spurgeon – often called the ‘Prince of Preachers’. Spurgeon was indeed a gifted preacher, with the power of the Holy Spirit very evidently operating in him and amongst his listeners when he spoke from his pulpit. But even Spurgeon was careful to distinguish between prophecy and preaching.

Ernest Gentile, in Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy: Prophetic Gifts in Ministry Today, says “He reckons that there were as many as a dozen cases in which, interrupting his sermon, he had suddenly pointed to someone in his audience and given a striking description without any knowledge of the person. These spontaneous descriptions had usually caused the conversion of the person addressed.”

Bishop David Pytches, in Does God Speak Today?, pp 48-49, recounts a story Spurgeon related in the first volume of his autobiography, C. H. Spurgeon Autobiography: The Early Years, 1834-1859 :

“While preaching in the hall on one occasion, I deliberately pointed to a man in the midst of the crowd and said, ‘There is a man sitting there, who is a shoemaker. He keeps his shop open on Sundays. It was open last Sabbath morning, and he took ninepence – with fourpence profit from it. His soul is sold to Satan for fourpence!'”

Later a city missionary happened to meet the shoemaker. As they discussed Spurgeon, the shoemaker explained that Spurgeon’s word was exactly right and had caused his conversion. Fearful at first to return to the church and risk further exposure, the man finally concluded that it must have been God. From then on he shut up his shop on Sundays and went to God’s house to hear the Baptist prophet preach. (Gentile, Your Sons and Daughters Shall Prophesy, p 81)

Spurgeon himself described the ‘unction’ that came upon him at such times as, “a dew from the Lord, a divine presence which you will recognise at once … ‘an unction from the holy one.'” (Lectures to My Students, p49)

Another common misunderstanding is that prophecy equates to powerful preaching about societal ills, sin in politics, environmental destruction, exploitation of the vulnerable, and similar important issues. Of course, prophets and preachers may thunder about such things, and probably will, but it is not the thundering which makes such preaching become prophecy. Rather, it is the accuracy and authority which comes from hearing a direct word from God about what to say. As we can see in Spurgeon’s example – he could not have known what he said before he said it. This is one mark of true prophecy.

Anyone can preach about the sin they are aware of among those around them, but few have the gift of speaking about what they do not know beforehand – at least without making fools of themselves.

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  • Chrysinda says:

    Thank you for the fine post. I was searching the internet for information about prophesying since 1 Cor. 11 Says a woman is to be covered when she prays or prophesieth. Some, as you have pointed out, say prophesying is preaching (which I disagree with) and some teach a woman is to be covered if she reads the Bible aloud in the congregation. Do you have any further insight on what is correct in this situation? I do not assume myself to be a profetess.

  • Bo McDaniel says:

    In seeking to know what the Bible says about this issue, it is my witness that the Holy Spirit in His Word needs both (preaching and prophecy) for the ministry of the Gospel. However, it is my witness that the Office of Prophet, to prophesy, etc. is not appreciated as the Word reveals for a large portion of the Body. It is more often presumed to mean foretelling rather that forth telling. To my witness there is a reason that the word prophet and its derivatives are more common than preach and its derivatives by a margin of what appears to be 4 to 1 or even 5 to 1 (scanning the references in Strong’s concordance). Moses was first confronted about others prophesying by Joshua who asked him to forbid them to do so (Num. 11:25-29) and in the NT (1 Thess. 5:20) exhorts the Church to “Despise not prophesyings.” and (1 Cor. 14:1) we are to seek to prophesy. Finally, the prophet derivatives significantly outnumber preaching where there is only 1 reference in the Book of Revelation based on my reveiw. It is my testimony and exhortation to the Church that Jesus wants all His members to become prophets/prophetesses and prophesy the Word of God, that is to speak for the truth of God, revealing the mind of God in these last days, without adding to any new revelation given in His Holy Scriptures. Perhaps we ‘fear’ to prophesy, and speak forth what the Holy Spirit shares with us, because our love in not complete more so than we desire to be ‘correct’ (blameless?) in the ministry (perhaps my desire to ‘earn my salvation’ through ‘failing to make a mistake’ or ‘self perfection’??). But we know, and have full assurance that perfect love casts out fear, not our works of perfection, but our obedience to speak as the Spirit moves in harmony with the written Word of God. Because we are under grace, it is my testimony that an error in prohesying by a believer leads to the loving chastisement of the Father, perhaps to the Church/other prophets, as all prophets are subject to the prophets (1 Cor 14:32). As believers our error/sin has been completely paid in full by the atoning work of Jesus Christ shed blood for the Church and in full payment for sin on the Cross of Calvary. Speaking prophetically, and without any merit on my part, I exhort my brothers and sisters in Christ, I urge you by the witness of the Holy Spirit to seek to prophesy and speak forth the Word of God as the Spirit of God gives you the unction and anointing to do so remembering He chooses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise (1 Cor. 1:27). Did he not say He would pour out His Spirit in these last days (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:16-21)? God Speed, looking for our Blessed Hope the appearing of the great God and our Savior, Jesus Christ . . . Titus 2:13. Look to see you all then, one the way up!

  • […] Listening 2 God Blog » Blog Archive » Prophecy Versus PreachingJun 14, 2010 … Editor’s note: Before conducting this interview with author and pastor Francis Chan, I went to the Cornerstone Church (Simi Valley, California) … […]

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