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Modern Saints and Prophets?


Published in The Free Methodist Herald,
(Mississauga, Free Methodist Church in Canada, March/April, 1998)


Modern Saints and Prophets?

Recently I was asked if there are modern prophets and saints. To answer the question we need to ask more questions. “Is God alive?” “Does God speak?” “Does God still call, equip, commission and appoint?”

Let’s think first about the prophets of the biblical era. The Hebrew prophet is summoned before God, addressed by God, and appointed by God to a specific task. When the prophet is singled out (Amos said he was singled when he was a mature adult, a shepherd in Tekoa; Jeremiah, in his mother’s womb), the prophet is brought before the “heavenly council”, as it is called. Once admitted to God’s deliberations with himself, the prophet is allowed to overhear God talking to himself out loud, or even addressed by God directly. Now the prophet has been given (burdened with!) a specific word reflecting the mind and heart, the will and way and purpose of God.

But haven’t all God’s people been made aware of the mind and heart of God? Yes. All God’s people know that God has disclosed his will and way and purpose at Red Sea and Sinai, at Calvary and empty tomb. Then who needs a prophet? To be sure, Red Sea and Sinai, Calvary and empty tomb form the people of God and inform them after God’s heart. Yet in the pilgrimage of God’s people from deliverance to promised land they need specific directions for specific crises or opportunities in the midst of specific developments. Sometimes the prophet’s word is directed to the people as a whole, as was the case when the Israelites were exiled in Babylon and floundered in the midst of foreigners who taunted them and tempted them. At other times the prophet’s word is addressed to an individual, as was the case when the prophet Nathan told David, after David’s violation of Bathsheba and murder of Uriah, that the king of Israel was nonetheless a “creep.”

In all of this the prophet is different from the teacher. The teacher expounds and interprets the whole body of the truth of God. The teacher mines the rich deposits in the goldmine of the gospel. A modern teacher will expound the Sermon on the Mount or the Ten Commandments or the message of the Psalms or the parables of Jesus.

While the prophet must never contradict the whole body of the truth of God (if he does, he’s manifestly a false prophet), he has yet been called and equipped to speak God’s special word to a special development.

Since life is punctured only occasionally by special crises, since life unfolds ordinarily most of the time, it’s obvious that teachers have to be many while prophets are few. Teaching is common while prophecy is unusual. Yet both are essential. The teacher acquaints God’s people with their identity and self-understanding as God’s people; the prophet imparts specific direction in the midst of unique developments. Both are essential.

Are there modern prophets? Of course there are.

In the same way there are modern saints. “Saint” translates hagios, holy. In the New Testament saints or holy people aren’t super-spiritual Christians; all Christians — even weak or immature or sin-riddled Christians — are called “saints” without exception.

The root meaning of “holy” is “set apart.” To be sure, Christians are set apart to do much: to do the kingdom-work that obedient subjects do gladly, to labour and struggle while it is still day. Yet before they do, Christians are set apart to be. We are to be light, salt — just be.

Whenever I think of what it means to be set apart, a saint, I think of Paul’s graphic images in his Corinthian correspondence. We are to be an aroma, the fragrance of God. (2 Cor. 2:15) Now I’m exceedingly fond of perfume. I’ll even stop on the sidewalk and continue sniffing after a woman fragrant with perfume has walked on down the street. As fond as I am of perfume, I loathe stenches — and would loathe even more being a stench. We shan’t be, however, for we’ve been set apart to be an aroma, the fragrance of God, rendering God attractive.

Paul says too that Christians are God’s letter. (2 Cor. 3:23) We are the letter that God sends to others. The purpose of a letter is to convey information — and of a love-letter, to disclose the letter-writer’s heart as well. We are God’s letter, “written not with pen and ink but with the Spirit of the living God on the tablets of the human heart.”

The apostle insists too that the saints are set apart to be God’s garden, God’s plantation. (1 Cor. 3:9) A garden is meant to feed people; God’s garden is feed them ultimately with him who is the bread of life.

Saints today? All who have embraced our Lord in faith have been set apart to be — saints! And among them will also be found those prophets the church needs to hear in every era.

Victor Shepherd
February 1998