Prophetic Ministry

by T. Austin-Sparks


The function of the Prophet has almost invariably been that of recovery. That implies that his business related to something lost. That something being absolutely essential to God's full satisfaction, the dominant note of the Prophet was one of dissatisfaction. And, there being the additional factor that, for obvious reasons, the people were not disposed to go the costly way of God's full purpose, the Prophet was usually an unpopular person.

But his unpopularity was no proof of his being wrong or unnecessary, for every Prophet was eventually vindicated, though with very great suffering and shame to the people.

If it be true that prophetic ministry is related to the need for the recovery of God's full thought as to His people, surely this is a time of such need! Few honest and thoughtful people will contend that things are all well with the Church of Christ today. A brief comparison with the first years of the Church's life will bring out a vivid contrast between then and the centuries since.

Take alone the lifetime of one man - Paul.

In the year 33 A.D. a few unknown men, looked upon as poor and ignorant, were associated with one 'Jesus of Nazareth' - which very designation was despicable in the minds of all reputable and influential people. These men, after that Jesus had been crucified, were later found seeking to proclaim His Lordship and Saviourhood, but were handled hardly by all official bodies.

In the year that Paul died - 67-68 A.D. (34 years later) - how did the matter stand? There were churches in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Caesarea; Antioch and all Syria; Galatia; Sardis, Laodicea, Ephesus and all the towns on the West coast throughout lesser Asia; in Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, and the chief cities of the islands and the mainland of Greece; Rome, and the Western Roman Colonies; and in Alexandria.

The history of generations of missionary enterprise, tens of thousands of missionaries, vast sums of money, immense administrative organizations, and much more on the publicity, propaganda, and advocacy side, does not compare at all favourably with the above. We now find ourselves confronted by the end of the whole system of world missions and professional missionaries as they have existed for a very long time, and still the world is not evangelized.

Is there a reason for this? We feel - nay, know - that there is. The explanation is not in a difference in Divine purpose or Divine willingness to support that purpose. It is in the difference in apprehension of the basis, way, and object of the work of God.

Some proof of this is recognisable in our own time. In much less than the lifetime of one man in China, churches of a deeply spiritual character sprang into being all over that land; four hundred of them in a few years. At the time when Communism overran that country a movement was in progress which was not only covering China, but reaching beyond, and as a result living churches are now found in many other parts of the Far East. This was for years a despised, persecuted, and much ostracised work. But since missionary movements and societies have had to leave the country this work has gone on, and, although with many martyrs, is still going on. The man raised up of God lies in prison, but the work is unarrested.

The same kind of thing is taking place in India, and in only a very few years of the life of one God-apprehended man churches of a real New Testament character have come into being all over the country and beyond. The opposition is very great, but the work is of God, and cannot be stopped.

What, again, is the explanation?

The answer is not to be found in the realm of zeal or devotion to the salvation of souls. Rather is it this: that there was at the beginning the supreme factor of an absolutely original and new apprehension of Christ and God's eternal purpose concerning Him. This revelation by the Holy Spirit came with devastating and revolutionising power to the Apostles and the Church, and, rather than being a 'tradition handed down from the fathers', a ready-made system, all set and entered into as such, it was, for every one of them, as though it had only newly dropped from heaven - which, in fact, was true.

This movement of God, brought about by a mighty upheaving of all traditions and 'old' things by a practical experience of the Cross, was marked by three features: -

(1) Utter heavenliness and spirituality;

(2) Universality, involving the negation of all prejudices, exclusiveness and partiality; and

(3) The utter Lordship and Headship of Christ directly operating by the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit.

This was all gathered into a tremendous and overpowering initial and progressive realisation of the immense significance of Christ in the eternal counsels of God, and therefore of the Church as His Body. Anything that corresponds to the results which characterized the beginning will - and does - correspond to the reason, namely, a getting back behind tradition, the set and established system, institutionalism, ecclesiasticism, commercialism, organizationalism, etc., to a virgin, original, new breaking upon the consciousness of God's full thought concerning His Son.

To bring into view this full purpose of God was the essence of the Prophet's ministry, and will always be so. We may not now speak of a special class as 'Prophets', but the function may still be operative, and it is function that matters more than office.

T. A-S.
JUNE, 1954.

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