I think the prophecy Paul commands to be conducted in the church in 1 Cor. 14 is different from much of the prophecy you see in the Old Testament. While the prophecy in the Old Testament clearly had a future-predicting function, it also functioned to teach and warn God’s people. OT prophecy was not just a foretelling of the future but also a forth-telling of God’s Word. We simply do not get any indication from 1 Cor 14 that Paul has a future-predicting prophecy in mind. 1 Cor. 14:1-5 clearly indicates that the type of prophecy Paul is calling for is one that is focused on the edification of the church (cf. Spiritual Gifts 301). That doesn’t mean that there is no future element in Paul’s mind, it merely means that the purpose of the prophecy Paul is calling for is not to foretell the future. As I have said over and over in this series on Spiritual Gifts, the focus is on the edification or upbuilding of body of Christ! In 1 Peter 4:11, Peter gives this command to believers—“whoever speaks, let him speak, as it were the utterances of God.” This phrase “utterances of God” is a phrase taken from the Old Testament and ought to be understood to mean “the things which God has spoken.” Thus Peter is commanding believers to speak God’s Word. Peter like Paul sees the goal of such speaking to be “to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (v. 10). I think prophecy in Paul’s mind is not far from this, there may be a future element, but the focus of prophecy is to declare the things which God has spoken, namely, His Word. Practically speaking, I think we ought to hold that prophecy ceased with the closing of the canon. None of us ought to be elevating our words to the same level as that of the Bible. Also be very careful about predicting the future—the Bible promises severe punishments for those who falsely foretell the future (c.f. Deut. 18).
The cessation question is likely burning in your mind right now. Well, first let me just say that I cannot in good conscience call myself a cessationist because there is no NT text that clearly sets forth a time when tongues/prophecy would cease. Several people have set forth 1 Cor. 13:8 as a text that points to a future time of cessation—“Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” It is possible that 1 Cor. 13:8 predicts a time of cessation but this is highly unlikely. If 1 Cor. 13:8 is setting forth a future time of cessation (in this age) for tongues and prophecy, it is also setting forth a future time (in this age) for the cessation of knowledge. Given Paul’s teaching on the importance of knowledge (i.e. knowing Christ in Eph. 1 etc.), this seems highly unlikely. Further, Paul sets forth a edification-driven function for prophecy in 1 Cor. 14 that could not cease before Christ’s return. The distinction Paul seems to be making in 13:8 is between the temporal usefulness of tongues, prophecy, and knowledge now, and the eternal nature of love. Love never ends—it will remain even into the new heavens and the new earth. One day we will be with the Lord and we will no longer need prophecy, tongues or knowledge because we will all (all in who are God’s people) know the Lord (Jer. 31:31-34). Thus it is very difficult for me to see 1 Cor 13:8 as setting forth a time before Christ’s return when tongues and prophecy will cease. It seems most likely that tongues and prophecy and knowledge will cease on that day when we are raised with Christ and we see Him face to face.
While I cannot call myself a cessationist, I will say that some gifts are clearly different today than they were in the NT era. For instance, the gift of healing is different. Jesus healed people who were paralyzed from birth and immediately they walked. Jesus made lepers clean and raised the dead. As far as I know these things are not common place today. I am not saying that God cannot heal today—He can and He does but it seems the gift of healing is different today. I have heard stories of people being healed miraculously in missionary contexts. Many of these stories come from credible brothers in Christ, so I do think it is possible that this gift is being practiced overseas in missionary settings. I have never seen tongues interpreted such that their interpretation builds up the body, nor have I ever seen tongues practiced “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). Thus it seems we should approach the gift of tongues very carefully, it too seems to be a gift that is practiced differently today (i.e. in some charismatic churches) than it was in the 1st century church. As mentioned above, the prophecy we practice today ought to be the edifying/warning kind rather than future-telling kind. So you might call me a practical cessationist because I agree with much of what cessationists say, but I would object to the term because I think that the Bible doesn’t teach a point of cessation and I think that God is capable of accomplishing any of the spiritual gifts in any believer.
Well this conversation on spiritual gifts has been a long one and I do not claim to be an expert on gifts; so if you object to anything I have said please tell me why! I have simply done my best to interact with the NT’s teaching on spiritual gifts and I hope you were challenged or encouraged at some point along the way. Questions are welcome as are differing opinions . . . Well that is it; no more posts on spiritual gifts (at least for a while). Class dismissed!