19th of August, 2013
Although in many places the New Testament insists on the relevance of prophets for the believers, it is remarkable that no such group of people was generally recognised in Christianity. On the other hand, the New Testament’s very essence is that the believers need no priest whatsoever, other than Jesus “our Great High Priest,” the Christians multiplied for themselves priests of all sorts, and there was no small amount of controversy about this office.
Think about the strangeness of it.
The New Testament celebrates that we no longer need priests, since now we have one “of the order of Melchizedek.” It goes on to say that the priests who were prevented from carrying on their duties by death were merely “a shadow of the good things that are now here.” The priesthood—and the newfound irrelevance of it—is over-emphasised in the epistle to the Hebrews, to the point that the last chapter thereof explicitly looks down on the priesthood as not having permission to eat from the altar of the believers.
But Christianity emphasised the continuing relevance of priests, and much of it still does to this day.
Then we have the prophets.
In his first epistle to the Corinthians, Paul insists that God has made the body of the church complete by including prophets. He emphasises that they aren’t all prophets, precisely because prophets are just one member. He mentions teachers and counsellors in the same breath, which nobody pretends are not relevant. In the same letter, he gives instructions on how to deal with prophets; that what they say should be weighed carefully. This implies that, though they are a conduit for new information, it has to agree with old information. But Paul even adds that “you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.” He also emphasises that the prophets are in full control of what is going on in them.
In Ephesians, Paul says that Christ gave the prophets when he gave the pastors. So we have the pastors; where are the prophets? Paul uses the word “prophet” to describe a pagan philosopher, which further emphasises the nature of prophetic office as being accessible in general to even the average mystic. (This is what makes it necessary at times to say “holy prophets” as opposed to the oft-mentioned “false prophets” in many places of the New Testament.)
So how did we go from the prophets being the contentious and vulgar issue in Paul’s time to the priesthood being the subject of The Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards, for instance?
It seems to me that the Christian Church feared “the spirits of the prophets”, and had they been given free rein, they would have prevented the very form that the Christian Church took on later on. What is noteworthy is that all opposition to the priesthood tended to look the same—the Hussites, the Lollards, the Lutherans, the Calvinists—and their nature was that of firebrand men who emphasised the truth of what was going on in their spirits over what the authorities said. The fide in Sola fide, then, is not so much a Reformation thing as it is a thing of the prophets. On this view, the Reformation was the work of prophets, rather than prophets being the result of the Reformation. But it gets more-interesting.
In Romans, Paul points out that when Elijah appealed to God against Israel saying that they had killed all the prophets, God said that He had preserved for Himself 7,000 who had not worshipped Baal. The close relationship between those who didn’t worship Baal and those who were prophets is not accidental. When Elijah meets Obadiah, he finds that he had hidden 100 prophets; there is no indication that any worshippers of God who still existed at the time were distinguishable from the prophets of God.
When the showdown on Carmel happens, Elijah asks the crowd “How long will you waver between two opinions? … I am the only prophet of the Lord left.” Elijah also calls the agents of Baal and Asherah “prophets.” Clearly, then, those who wavered on either side were not prophets, and they were uncertain. Those who were certain of their position were prophets. Elijah was the prophet of God, all the others having apparently been killed, with only Elijah left. When God later tells him about the 7,000 He preserved by Grace (even a monergistic Grace, since they are the key piece of the argument in Romans 11), it is to correct Elijah’s assumption that he is the only prophet left.
Those who were certain of God, then, were essentially identical with the prophets of God.
Why is this important? Well, because we are at that point again where there have to be people who are certain of Jesus Christ—of “Grace and Truth”—and who do not waver between two opinions. The similarities between Elijah and William Tyndale, for instance, are unavoidable on this understanding of the prophetic office. If one is certain, one is a prophet; if one is certain of Jesus, one is a prophet of the New Testament, just as if one was certain of the Law which bore witness to Jesus Christ, he was a prophet. Yes, the prophets have to be weighed against Scripture, and what they say that doesn’t agree with Scripture should be treated with the utmost contempt. With Elijah, Scripture was the Law; with the New Testament, Scripture was “the Law and the Prophets;” and with our time, Scripture is the Bible. —It is unavoidable that the believers should have among them a body of prophets; just as no worship of Baal or Asherah was complete without the prophets, so also was the worship of God incomplete if there were no prophets.
It is a terrifying thing to realise that as many, today, as are obsessed with the Grace of God—with the point of Jesus Christ—obsessed because they are certain, as many of them are also prophets of God. Just as it was in the New Testament, so it is today. Alas, though, that Romans 11 flippantly declares an equivalence between those who are the Elect of God and those who are identified with being prophets. This is an engrossing realisation, because it thickens and deepens the plot considerably when you consider the synchronicity of Grace-fanaticism—à la Calvin, for instance—with the synchronicity of this kind of mysticism that can be called the prophetic office. If the Christians had not so grossly misunderstood what it means to be a prophet, they would not have been to scared of the office; then they would not have moved so far from the truth for so long; they certainly would not have had priests; they would have been like the church in Corinth, which, having been “excellent in all gifts,” was given blanket encouragement to prophesy in an orderly manner.
But we are here now.