I have in my possession a note from God that I brought home from Glade Springs, Texas. It's in pencil block print and the signature is unmistakable: "God."
The message reads, "I love you. I will never leave you. Do not be afraid. You are beautiful." A little girl in Sunday finery who furtively passed it to me, all neatly folded, slipped into the crowd before I could inquire, but I know it was authentic because I read my Bible every day and it's all the things He says: "I love you"-John 3:16; "I will never leave you"-Hebrews 13:5; "Do not be afraid"-Luke 12:7; "You are beautiful"-Philippians 2:15.
At the Glade I had stepped into the pages of 1 Corinthians 14, as if 2,000 years between were but a day. "When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. . . . Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged."
This is what I found that Sunday morning, all "done decently and in order," "the spirits of the prophets subject to prophets." Here are workaday, lunch-pail-toting believers in first-century Corinth and in 21st-century Texas worship services speaking to the brethren "for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation" (which Paul suggests is the essence of prophecy), and it's all new to this know-it-all northerner.
Now since that July in 2005 I have seen prophecies that were wrong and prophecies that were right. I have also heard sermons that were wrong and sermons that were right. Neither should be taken as revelation and both can be botched, but why should we expect perfection of gifts in fallible men?
Turns out sometimes the prophecy is right and the conclusion is wrong. In Tyre godly disciples advised Paul through the Spirit not to go to Jerusalem. And in Caesarea Agabus prophesied by the Spirit that the Jews would bind Paul in Jerusalem and turn him over to the Gentiles, and urged him not to go. Paul went anyway-in the Spirit-and the rest is history. What happened? They both heard right about the suffering; they just disagreed as to the conclusion for action.
I realize prophecy is a theological burning potato. If I were having coffee with a Presbyterian I would say, "Let's open our minds to the whole Bible and not gerrymander certain gifts out of the list of gifts named in 1 Corinthians 12." If I were having coffee with a Charismatic I would say, "Let's broaden our view of prophecy and define it as all kinds of wise and godly advice from all kinds of Christians who might not even know there is such a thing as prophecy in this day and age."
Rev. Tim Keller (a Presbyterian) says, "There is a vitality in the Corinthian church. . . . There is a new level of ministry now that we're in the Pentecostal era because the Holy Spirit has come down. . . . In the New Testament suddenly we see the word 'prophet' all over the place. Everybody wants to give an exhortation. . . . Paul says, when the prophets are done, evaluate them. He doesn't say, when 1 Corinthians is read, evaluate it. In other words, Apostolic revelation evaluates prophecy."
So, if someone comes to you and says, "The Lord told me you should date that girl," I suggest you go home and think about it but don't have your conscience bound by it. Or you could always reply, "The Lord told me different"-and then go sit down and talk about it like two Christian adults with wisdom.
1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 says, "Do not despise prophecies, but test everything." God communicates with us in many ways, even through little girls in country churches. Let the spirits of the prophets be unhindered. Let the written Word of the closed canon judge all claims to revelation.