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Were There Prophets in the Early Church?

Updated: Aug 28, 2021

The term prophet in the modern, New Testament age always rubbed me the wrong way. I think this issue stems from the abuse of the term that I experienced while attending a charismatic church in my teens.

Some would draw attention to themselves by carrying the label of prophet or apostle. Rarely did you ever hear someone label themselves evangelist or teacher. Probably because they weren’t as cool in comparison. At least the critic in me thinks this. Yet I recognize that just because this term was abused does not give me good justification to reject it outright.

In reading Acts 15, the body of believers are dealing with a doctrinal issue. After deliberation they send Judas and Silas to address the church in Antioch to help guide them. Consider how Scripture describes these two:

“Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.” –Acts 15:32, NIV

They are specifically described as prophets. So this office or title was still occupied in some capacity within the first century church. This is different than the prophet-judges of old, but regardless this text challenges my bias. And while we do not know if Judas or Silas gave any special revelatory words to the listener.

We do know that the message the carried was a Revelation in some form; that is, that circumcision was no longer a necessary to be in good standings with God. And their message brought encouragement as well as strength to the believers.

Scripture offers several different ministry positions within the New Testament of Scripture. Ephesians 4:11 specifically highlight five callings within the church that is typically referred as the five-fold ministries:

  1. Apostle

  2. Prophet

  3. Evangelist

  4. Pastors

  5. Teachers

Each of these ministry callings are meant to round-out and benefit the body of believers at large (see 1 Corinthians 12 to understand the gifts of the spirit). There are spiritual assessment tests that exist to help people identify where they may fit. Of course nothing trumps what the Holy Spirit may reveal to the individual, but the motivation of these gifts are for the building of God’s church.

If we remove any of the above, we are limiting the effectiveness of the church. So we must be careful to (1) understand how these gifts ought to be used, and (2) not to write them off just because they are wrongly used or applied. Otherwise, you may end up working against the building of God’s church.

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