I had an interesting conversation online recently: we have many people in the church today who claim to be “prophets” but who are clearly motivated by greed or by a need for acceptance or respect. How can we trust that there are any real prophets today?
There are evangelists in the church and some of those seem to be motivated by, um... something less than God's heart. Yet we never question whether the office of the evangelist is now vacant. I know some evangelists who are very skilled in their gift, and others who have a legitimate gift, but have no training, no discipline and inferior motives; who have too few skills supporting their gift.
So too the prophet: some few indeed are motivated by personal gain, whether financial, social or emotional. Their failure does not invalidate the reality of others. NT prophets have a different role than OT ones: the Spirit is now on "all flesh" where in the OT, it was very rare, yet in these "all flesh" days, the ministry of the prophet is still needed. Agabus was one; Paul and Barnabas were too (AC 13). The instruction about prophets (eg 1 CO 12-14) and warnings about false prophets (eg 1 JN 4) indicate their presence in the NT community of faith.
I've known scores of legitimate prophets over the years, a very few who claimed to be prophets and were not, and quite a few folks who were legitimately called to prophetic ministry, but lack the discipline, the skills, the training to use the gift properly. Too many people with real & legitimate gifts prophesy not out of God's heart of love, but out of their own hurts, out of their religious culture, out of "the second heaven" (in contrast to 2 Corinthians 12) as if it were from God.
And of course, when a man or woman of God whom we know and trust says, "God said thus to me", then whether we understand or not, we much discern: either they are deceived, or they are intentionally deceiving you, or they are telling you the truth, though it may be outside of your own experience. I have had prophets tell me what I had prayed in my hidden place the night before: either they are hearing from God, or there's something demonic going on, but it absolutely cannot be explained away. The first man who did it to me, I knew to be a man of God, which eliminated the option of my blaming the devil.
If I am called to be a pastor, I must also acquire training and develop character. Likewise if I am called to be a teacher or an evangelist: I must acquire (and learn from!) training and develop character. In the same way, if I am called to be a prophet or apostle, I must acquire training and character, and personally, I believe these latter gifts require more of both training and character than the former ones simply because we have so many fewer examples of what a godly prophet or godly apostle is. We can always look to Billy Graham as an illustration of evangelist, Jack Hayford as a pastor, John Maxwell as a teacher. It’s harder to point to as visible, as clear an example of a prophet or apostle.
Lack of training or character does not invalidate the office, nor my call to it. It merely invalidates the results of my ministry.