Tuesday, December 6, 2011

SGM Chronicles: Where Are the Prophets?

Ironically, when we connected with an SGM church in 1992, I was deeply cynical and not inclined to connect anywhere. But from day one of my association with SGM, I saw a pattern that impressed me at the time. I started buying into the idea that these were people who were “doing church right,” unlike other groups I had belonged to. Much of what caught my attention was the form, the methodology. It would take years for me to see that beneath the externals, the fire was fading.

Recently the Spirit of God brought to my remembrance something I questioned even in those early days. I recall being impressed that SGM was a ministry that believed and practiced true five-fold ministry (four-fold for those who believe pastor-teacher are one gift expression). But one day I remember asking the leadership: “You have “apostles,” “evangelists,” pastors, and teachers. Where are the prophets?” I do not recall many specifics of the conversation. I do remember the response I got boiled down to a conclusion that there is no “office” of prophet in the New Testament, at least not in the way we traditionally think of the prophet from our understanding of the Old Testament. At the time I fully bought into this faulty perspective. It would be years later before I understood that the arbitrary and capricious dismissal of prophetic ministry, could very well be one of the primary fatal errors of SGM’s leadership structure.

In recent years, I have discovered that one of the major issues behind the state of the current “church” in America is what I would call the cancerous expression of the pastor-teacher gift. I have a friend who refers to this as the “pastorization” of the church. I can tell you, I’ve made an extraordinary discovery in preparing this: that the entire church system, not just SGM, has marginalized a primary leadership gift. Let me demonstrate what I’ve found in my research.

Using the ESV version of scripture, I came up with only 2 references to pastors in the New Testament: the ESV uses “Shepherds.” The first is in Ephesians 4:11 as shepherds are listed among apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers.

The second is dark and disturbing. Jude references those who “pervert the grace of God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.” In verse 12, Jude refers to “shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds, fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted . . . ”

If you look at references for teachers you find:

Acts 13:1 - prophets and teachers

In I Cor.12:29 - Paul asks “are all teachers?”

II Cor. 12:28 - third teachers (behind apostles and prophets)

In Ephesians 4:11 - teachers are included with apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds

Beginning in I Timothy 1:3, it’s intriguing that Paul begins warning about false teachers. He charged Timothy (an apostle, neither a pastor nor teacher) to “remain in Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship from God that is by faith.” Paul goes on to say, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

Paul distinguishes this purpose from that of others: “Certain persons, by swerving from these (these? - love that comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith) have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.”

Might I suggest that the purity of the gospel must transcend “right concepts.” If love that comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith are missing, do we have anything more than “confident assertions?” This is NOT biblical faith. Faith is relational trust of our Heavenly Father, not merely our intellectual apprehension of biblical ideas. This may actually be a big part of SGM’s problems. Lacking the substance of relational trust in God, all that’s left are empty and confident assertions ABOUT God.

I Timothy 4:3 speaks again of teachers sought out by people looking for affirmation of their own passions

In Hebrews, the author chides the believers for their immaturity: “By this time you ought to be teachers.”

James 3:1 warns: “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

II Peter 2:1 references a warning about false teachers among them.

But notice the frequency of references to prophets:

Acts 11:27 - Prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch

Acts 13:1 - There were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers

Acts 15:32 - Judas and Silas who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words

Acts21:10 - references Agabus, a prophet from Judea

I Cor 12:28 - And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers

I Cor 12:29 - Are all apostles? Are all prophets?

I Cor 14:29 - Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weight what is said

I Cor 14:32 - the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets

I Cor 14:37 - If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.

In Ephesians 2:19-20 Paul references the church as the “household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” Paul continues by saying that it is in Him (Jesus, the cornerstone) “the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the spirit.”

Notice that the foundational work is not done by pastors and teachers, but by apostles and prophets.

In Ephesians 3:5, Paul references the “mystery of Christ which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has not been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit”

And in Ephesians 4:11: . . . and he gave the apostles, the prophets . . .

By now, the priority of prophets in the church should be very clear. So it should also be clear how foolish and even dangerous it is to attempt to operate anything and call it “church” without prophets.

Unfortunately SGM has pretty much reduced the gift of prophet down to expressions of “prophecy” at a microphone during “worship” at a Sunday morning service, and then only if the pastoral leader approves.

So what is a New Testament prophet? Let me first clarify that a prophet is not a psychic prognosticator, nor a bitter angry person with a bad attitude who is negative all the time.

Part of the clue begins in the Old Testament. In Jeremiah 1:10, Jeremiah is commissioned to “pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.” My friend, Dr. Stephen Crosby, describes a prophet as a person with a supernatural grace to identify what is crooked, and straighten it out:

If the foundation is crooked or cracked, or if the Chief Cornerstone is not accurately positioned in preeminence, a prophet is going to see it, call it out, and not let up until the presiding authorities do something about it. A pinhole for most people is an abyss for a prophet. This isn’t a defect, deficiency, or disorder in the prophet. It’s just his lens and his calling. It’s different than a pastor’s and equally necessary. Prophets call existing mindsets, systems, and structures into accurate kingdom alignment. This usually involves clearing out debris before a hole is dug and new concrete is poured. Prophets typically root out, pull down, destroy, and throw down before they plant and build (Jer. 1:10). Bad news often precedes good news in a prophetic ministry. The relentless focus on what is broken or crooked strikes those who don’t understand the prophetic mind as being unduly “negative.”

Prophets are configured by the Spirit of God, with a mandate to challenge any aggregation of power: wherever power/authority “collects” or “resides,” prophets are the God-given gift to assure power/authority is not mishandled or abused. Prophets are compelled by a higher perception of God’s justice than what others possess.

They have a strong hatred for injustice and the oppression of those who have no voice, by those who retain power and control:

This passion for justice is not merely justice for justice sake, which is a misguided perfectionism that obsesses about accurate adherence to some philosophical idea about right or wrong. God is concerned not because a precept of justice has been violated, but because a person has been hurt. Reflecting this aspect of God’s nature, a prophet’s primary concern is not merely the violation of some code, but the presence of oppression of any sort: seen, unseen, conceptual, methodological, or psychological. The prophet’s condemnation of injustice is rooted in his/her sympathy with divine care for humanity, particularly His own people.

Applying what we’ve learned to SGM, it appears that somewhere in its history, the role of New Testament prophets was either never understood or embraced, or at some point the idea was simply dismissed. Therefore, within SGM, prophets have been marginalized, even persecuted.

A spiritually toxic atmosphere of ongoing and systemic injustices, left unaddressed over time, will not be a place prophets will be able to tolerate without functioning in their gift. Their only recourse is to leave, and the local church pays the price for their departure.

Let me put a challenge to the SGM leadership: Put out a call to all SGM churches, to have people who believe themselves called of God as prophets, to come forward and identify themselves, and allow them to function as prophets, undomesticated by an imbalanced, insecure, and over-emphasized pastor-teaching gift.

It is also possible that some who are functioning as pastors, aren’t really pastors at all, but prophets. But because of the SGM environment, you have been emasculated, domesticated, and pigeonholed into a pastor-teacher role in an organization that has essentially choked out all the other gifts from functioning.

SGM leaders, If you have not already run the prophets off, and you now properly receive those who remain as the gifts they are (after all, Ephesians 4 says the LEADERS ARE GIFTS, they are not merely gifted people), by allowing them to function as leaders, who are just as legitimate as you are, you can very quickly resolve all of your outstanding relational and polity issues.

The alternative is to wander in endless processes of “reconciliation” that will ultimately leave the most important reconciliation undone . . . with Jesus, the one who should be the Head. Your alienation from Him and His ways, in the very fabric of your leadership paradigm, will never be resolved through “reconciliation.” You must look within, much deeper. I sincerely pray that you do so.


Jay Ferris said...

For some years now it has been pretty clear to me that the division of the Body of Christ does more harm than good, 1 Corinthians 11. Paul rebukes that M.O. What,s been calling itself "church" insists on continuing with and even increasing this problem. It's a very sad commentary on the history of "church" that male ego gratification has been more important than the unity of the Body.
We don't need more "cutting edge" "churches," not even more "prototype" "churches." It's past time to "repent of the work of our own hands," and see if we can discern that invisible Church that God has been building. It's already here and there. We just need to care enough to stop what we have been doing, and go find it!



David Fredrickson said...

Well said, Vince. I certainly agree that the ministry of the prophet is absolutely vital to the building up of the body and in bringing correction to trends that lead to loss of spiritual health and life.

Unfortunately that which is not truly church cannot be corrected, only dismantled. As Jay stated so well, the only recourse is to repent from dead works. Let the dead bury the dead.

Jesus promised that he would build his church and nothing would be able to stand against it. God is connecting people relationally who are willing to keep their hands off his work and love his bride wherever she is.



Dennis said...

I was in SGM for over 10 years. I have since asked many of my SGM friends - "Where is the senior prophet? Where is the sssociate Prophet? Where is the prophet in training? Where is the rophets college?"

You are so right. The church today is so pastor focused, that the other ministries got pushed to the side - so far to the side as to be unseen and unheard.

Maybe the prophet has authority over the pastor/teacher. Did anyone ever ask that question? Who set up the pastor as having the final word on all church matters? Certainly not God's word.