The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Prophets, Prophecy and Prosperity

opinion

The hunt for material gain and wealth is the reason people go to school, colleges and universities, toiling hard to pass often hard-set examinations - the reason why African nations got colonised by wealth hunters in the 19th century, and the reason people hunt for employment in urban areas, even resorting to homelessness while waiting for the golden opportunity to get a job.

When we manage to gather wealth and material acquisitions we rightly consider ourselves prosperous from a viewpoint of material gains and social perception.

When we try and fail to gather as much of material wealth as we aspire to, sometimes we become desperate and we turn to divinity as a possible route to ending our woes.

Divinity can be by way of any religion, be it Christianity, African traditional religion or Islam.

We turn to divinity for doctrinal purposes, for spiritual salvation, in search of physical healing or for anything abstract or complex enough to make us consider the intervention of a superior being.

That is the nature of humanity.

Two of such pressing challenges today are poverty and sickness, especially in Africa where issues of chronic and incurable diseases are obviously a matter of extraordinary concern, given the direness of the scourge of HIV and Aids.

Many charismatic churches, commonly referred to as Pentecostals, have shifted from a doctrinal approach of spiritual purity and personal godliness to prosperity gospel and in some cases the gospel of healing miracles, always telling believers that God will bless them, never reminding them that God does not bless sinners.

Whether this is a direct response to prevailing social needs or a populist approach to cheaply populate churches is a matter of debate, one so difficult to exegetically exhaust.

One attractive way of enhancing a people's faith towards easy riches or physical healing is the idea of prophecy, with so many church leaders suddenly adopting the title "prophet," and switching from preachers of the Word of God to quasi-soothsayers.

This author is a political writer, whose inspiration and motivation is justice and the emancipation of the trodden masses, including their financial freedom and their free access to God-given resources.

As such, this writer does have concern when people are gathered in the name of worship by the persuasion to acquire wealth or financial freedom, more so if the prophesied or preached solutions attract controversy, justifiably or unjustifiably.

As this writer is penning this piece, there is raucous applauding from the background where family is playing a DVD of a popular Zimbabwean prophet who is screaming "Ndinoporofita mamillions of dollars muupenyu hwako! Ndinoporofita kuti varungu vazoita queue vachitsvaga basa kwauri," meaning "I prophesy millions

of dollars in your life! I prophesy that white people may come and queue for employment before you."

The raucous applauding is from both the prophet's congregation and the watching members of this writer's family.

The video shows ululating crowds throwing Bibles in the air, jumping up and down hysterically as the good news of "millions of dollars" and submissive white workers waiting for instructions from a black boss hit the thousands of ears.

How many out of these thousands to whom the prophet prophesied unto are going to end up with millions of dollars (of course US dollars), is a matter of speculation, but it is hard to believe everyone doing the merry jumping on this DVD will end up this happy.

Zimbabwe would simply wake up with thousands of instant millionaires one day if the prophecy would materialise for all.

Who are prophets and what is prophecy in this era of poverty, or is it the era of prosperity, albeit preached and not exactly prevalent?

The verb "prophesy" is derived from the Greek term "prophemi," meaning "to speak before."

The gift of prophecy includes both foretelling and forthtelling; that is predicting the future and preaching or teaching the present.

Whether the millions of dollars being prophesied on the DVD playing in the background is a matter of foretelling or forthtelling is not exactly too clear.

What is clear is that a prophet is God's mouthpiece, of course assuming we are talking about a true prophet.

A prophet speaks for God and gives God's message. There must be a huge difference between a prophet of God addressing a church gathering and a populist

politician promising heaven on earth to a gullible gathering at a rally.

The message of a prophet can be about the future, the present or the past.

The message can simply be doctrinal truth.

The constant factor is that it is God's message that has been spoken forth. No doubt there is controversy over prophecy and this controversy has not started with today's prophecy and neither will it end with it.

It has always been like that from the early days of Old Testament prophets, with both false and true prophets existing from those early times.

There is renewed interest and investigation over spiritual gifts, the gift of prophecy being one such gift.

Charismatic Christians emphasise personal religious experience in one's relationship with God as well as divinely-inspired powers, for example, healing, prophecy and the gift of tongues.

To these the gift of prophecy is readily acceptable and claims for its operation are common, more for the dramatic revived acts of prophecy, and less for the fulfilment of these prophetic utterances.

The non-charismatic believers interpret prophecy in a non-revelatory sense, saying it is the ability to speak forth for God, to preach with God's power and insight.

There are questions to be asked and answered.

Is it spiritually allowable to limit prophecy to either foretelling or forthtelling?

Is forthtelling a mere act of predicting the future in people's lives, or is forthtelling a mere act of expounding previously revealed truth (scripture)?

We must always remember that a prophet is one who prophesies, truly or falsely.

There are three ways by which one can prophesy.

They can simply prophesy by making personally inspired predictions, or they can prophesy through inspiration from the Devil or from the underworld.

Thirdly one can prophesy as inspired of and by God.

The former two constitute false prophets while the third makes up a true prophet.

Today preachers sometimes double as prophets; and teachers of the Word do too. The question is whether or not there is a difference between a prophet and one who simply has a gift of prophecy.

Old Testament prophets received direct revelation from God and were able to foretell the future, often revealing what would happen in the days and years that lay ahead, inasmuch as they sometimes dealt with matters of doctrine.

Sometimes they prophesied about the past, like Nathan did in his confrontation with David over his sin of adultery with Bathsheba (11 Samuel 12:1-12).

Whether foretelling or forthtelling, the Old Testament prophets were always revelatory in their approach.

There was not much change in the New Testament where the revelatory sense of prophecy was frankly assumed. This explains the attitude of Jesus' tormentors when they demanded that he "prophesy who is it that smote thee," (Luke 22:64).

Of course, Jesus did not carry out the demand because he knew the context was inappropriate.

That brings us to the question of the appropriateness of today's prophecy, especially that of the celebrity prophets that today carry out prophecy shows proudly pulling up individuals from the congregation and telling them their mobile numbers, their names or their home addresses, in the process mesmerising those in attendance with the awesome power of prophecy.

There is no single similar prophecy show recorded in the Bible, not one when a prophet specifically prophesied to show off his power or special anointing.

When Jesus told the woman of Samaria her hidden past, he was at that time called a prophet (John 4:19).

The context of this prophecy was salvation of souls, as the woman instantly became the tool through which an entire city was gathered to hear the Word of salvation.

Agabas foretold a coming famine as well as the coming suffering of Paul, and the context was very critical for the members of the early Church.

Paul himself had a gift of prophecy, but did not call himself Prophet Paul (1 Timothy 4:14).

This was precisely because the office of an apostle is higher than that of a prophet, as must be the office of any God-called founder church leader.

Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5 associate prophecy with receiving direct revelation from God, and such revelation is not exactly limited to foretelling the future but largely to doctrinal matters, themselves more sustainable than prophecy in providing solutions to challenges of life.

When prosperity is elevated to a matter of doctrine, we begin to see people turning to prophecy, not only for assurances towards things like the acquisition of wealth, but more for prophecy itself being the magic way expected to thrust greatness upon an otherwise hapless people.

Prophecy ranks higher than tongues as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. Prophecy is intelligible while tongues are incomprehensible unless interpreted.

Teaching and prophesying can overlap, just like preaching can overlap with prophecy, but not all preachers and teachers can prophesy, just like prophets are not necessarily teachers or preachers, at least from the examples in the Bible all the way up to the era of the prophets in the early church.

A preacher's authority is valid as far as the correctness of his interpretation of scriptures, while a prophet's authenticity rests not only in the correctness of their message, but also in the correctness of the assertion that they are inspired of and by God. As such a true prophet is one who delivers truth as revealed by God.

Prophecy stood in the gap all the way to the completion of the Word, the day the last word in the book of Revelations was written. This means there is no prophet today who can add a single comma or full stop to the text in the Bible, let alone another word.

Paul commanded that after the prophets speak "let the other judge."

Is there a mandatory need for prophecy today? Is revelation not already given after the writing of the New Testament? Can anyone today add a new verse to what is in the Bible? Can anyone today receive new truth that has not been given? Were the prophets not the foundation of the church and, as such, is the church not complete today as an institution?

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome!

Reason Wafawarova is a political writer based in Sydney, Australia.

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