The gift of prophecy is real enough, and for today. It is completely without merit to suggest that it only existed in the First Century. There is not even a hint of this in scripture, quite the opposite in fact; and we can see plainly that the gifts do exist even today, albeit among a plethora of frauds and counterfeits. And herein lies the problem. The solution to the widespread misuse and abuse of the gifts, for some, is reflexive denial of the gifts. But denial of the gifts (charisma) is a form of denying the power of the grace (charis) of God, which is not a good idea. Rather, we need to see the situation as God has described it: that we should expect that there will be "many false prophets", and yet hold fast to that which is good at the same time. This is a difficult balance to strike, but Satan wins if we get either too credulous or skeptical.
Concerning prophecy, we all should strive to have it (1 Cor 14:1). Prophecy means to "speak by inspiration", to "fore/forth-tell"; specifically to "say what God wants said".
1Pet 4:11(NIV) If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.Mainly, prophecy is what we now call preaching. But prophecy goes beyond mere preaching, as it occasionally deals with the specific sins or destinies of particular people, and future warnings and or blessings conditioned on repentance. If you survey the recorded prophets in scripture, they typically are speaking of the past (in terms of sin) and the present (in terms of repentance), and the future (concerning warnings or promises, based on what you do right now).
In the New Covenant, the gift of prophecy is available in quantity, but not necessarily quality. In the Old Covenant, prophets were very rare and to be completely obeyed. In the New Covenant, the situation is completely reversed: we have lots of people with the gift such that the onus is now on us to "test" the prophets and "test" the prophecies (1Cr 14:29, 1Jn 4:1).
So... yes there are prophets, but there are also false prophets as well. False prophets are known "by their fruit", Jesus tells us (Mt 7:16,20). The fruit we are to test by is not hype or numbers or success or fame, but "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control" (Gal 5:22-23). This is why it is important to "know those who labor among you" (1Th 5:12, KJV) at a personal level. (2Th 3:7, etc.) Else, how it is possible to obey these commands?
For more on what false prophets are likely to say, on the essential tone of their messages, see the full Bible Study on False Prophecy. This should also give you a feel for what a true prophet is likely to say, to "ward off your captivity" and to "expose sin". Consider Nathan with David as an example case (2Sm 12:1-12). Nathan the prophet comes and tells David a story of a man who stole a lamb, gets him all fuming and upset and (here comes the prophetic bit) then says "You Are The Man!", and David is cut to the quick of conviction and repentance. True prophecy is inherently condemning and convicting. Put in Gospel terms, the prophet nails our flesh to the cross when the flesh resurrects or seizes the day.
1Cor 14:24-25 (NIV) ..If an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!"The bottom line is that the carnal man does not like prophecy, as prophecy exposes our sin.Lam 2:14 (NIV) The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading.False prophets say "smooth things", and act like crystal balls, serve in the role as christianized "psychics", and butter people up in the flesh. This is a far cry from true prophecy, don't you think?
When you first realize it is your responsibility to "test the prophets", it can be daunting. But when you realize how incredibly easy this is to do, then you find God knows what He is doing. A soothsayer coming along telling people pleasant things, and not mentioning sin or calling people to "Repent!" is clearly a false prophet. But we must also see that false prophets will be very popular, because people love false prophecies (in the flesh).
Isa 30:10 (NKJ) ...say to the seers, "Do not see," and to the prophets, "Do not prophesy to us right things; Speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits."Real prophets are scary people, for they say "right things" that "expose our sin". Thus, it is easy to despise them and want to avoid them. What prophets do is akin to the torture of being an ongoing living sacrifice (to be put alive on the alter): they call us to repent from sin, like John the Baptist, Jesus, and every other prophet did. By analogy, Jesus sweat blood as He faced the real cross; He did not relish the moment but "despised the shame" of it. Likewise, we too have a natural tendency to "despise prophecies", for they are harbingers of death for what remains of our carnal natures. Thus, we are given a simple command concerning this:
Rom 16:18 (NIV) For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people.
1Th 5:20 (NKJ) Do not despise prophecies.Get it? There is nothing to despise in the false prophet, for he is saying all sorts of nice things, or even if he is warning of some (crystal ball-like) future prospect, nearly everyone wants to know such even if it is "bad". What we don't want to know is that we are sinning or have sinned in some hidden way, and have it exposed; and this is what real prophets do. They speak of the future in the sense of future punishment if we do not repent, or of blessings if we do repent or God wills it in His sovereign election, but not to tell us "smooth things".
There is a lot on our website concerning prophecy, including what I call "flesh prophets". These do not necessarily have a false message, but are copping-the-style of the true prophetic gift with mere human energy and cunning. Generally, they are also false prophets, but this is not always so obvious.
There is a popular and wrong notion that we can be "lone ranger" Christians. God's revealed plan of salvation is not to save men individually, nor did He die for you in some theoretical universe where you were the only sinner. This is a religious contrivance, and nowhere found in scripture. Rather, He died for his collective body, a "host" if you will, of people; and if we are going to be saved we must do it in submission to His supply stream for us: other believers. The church is not a building or marketing construct or forbidden hierarchy of power, but the living body of Christ among those God has allowed us to see "the mystery of godliness: Christ in US!" This might, or might not, exist in what the carnal man thinks of as "church", but transcends it for sure in any case. We must be saved with the body, not by our lonesomes, for this is the command of scripture: to "submit" to other believers, not to expect or look for any "direct" pipeline to God outside of His body. We need others to complete our salvation in the way of sanctification, and prophets are on the top of the list in terms of how God makes us "fit" for the Kingdom. So we should not be a "loner" Christians, but submit to those whom we see the fruit of Christ in, and no others.
Caution as concerns prophecy is wise, as there is responsibility that goes with it. Yet some of this caution might be good, and part of it might be timidity. Specifically, don't "despise prophecies" or think that you don't need prophets or others in the body who can help you "attain the fullness of the measure of Christ." (Eph 4:13) You do need prophets, even if you must test them.
1Th 5:21 (NIV) Test everything. Hold on to the good.Finally, I must tell you that my instincts about prophets, from much and varied experience. I think it wise to be suspicious: for one thing, we are commanded to scrutinize them and test what they say. For a prophet to resist this testing, then, shows he is either false or immature (perhaps he is true, and just does not know better). But in actual fact, I find 9 out of 10 claimed prophets false, and about the same ratio with prophecies. Sad, but true. I find the prophetic more often, truth be known, among those who are ignorant they are even prophesying, and might deny that they were if called on it ("I was just 'preaching"). If this sounds cynical, then consider what we are told to expect:
Mat 24:11 (NAS) "MANY false prophets will arise and will mislead many."So we should expect it to be so. "Many" false prophets. As well, consider that even among true prophets (and teachers as well, for that matter) they can err in the moment. Simon Peter says "You are the Christ" and Jesus replies: "You did not figure that out, God is speaking through you" (i.e.: Peter is prophesying, saying "what God wants said" by direct revelation). The next thing out of Peter's mouth is "Now Jesus, this whole death and crucifixion thing, you are too good for that, we would never let that happen to you..." And Jesus replies, "Get out of here, Satan; for you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men". Simon, I believe, is an example of the New Covenant prophet; on again, off again. Thus we are commanded to "test" each prophecy.
2Pe 2:1 (NIV) But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.
On testing, there is a particular "formula" that God has given us. The general command and "way of the Lord" is that:
2Cor 13:1 (NIV) ..."Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses."So you need not worry about "submitting" to any prophet or man. God speaks in confirmation from unrelated sources. Sometimes the second witness comes from His word, sometimes it can be the Spirit in us saying a strong "Yes!", but most often, and gloriously, it is through the body that God confirms things. We don't have to worry so much about what any one person says to us, even if a "prophecy". For the godly way to "test" is to wait for a confirmation by "two or three". Short of this, we need not fear what any prophet might say, and this also gives us the freedom to exercise the gifts in the body even if we fear we might be wrong ourselves, for if people are living by God's principals then we can do them no harm, even if we are wrong. God protects His glory, and this is one way He does so such that no one man "can boast", and also it makes us not have to worry about some oddball prophecy.
2Cor 13:8 (NIV) For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.If you arm yourself with the scriptures, such as the Bible Study, above, then you should be fairly confident that you can do the easy job of spotting a false prophet or prophecy right away, so there is no need to fear that. Arm yourself properly with the Word of God. Any remaining fear might be legitimate, as if you encounter a true prophet you might well be exposed and "laid bare" concerning your sin, and perhaps even in public. This is an appropriate "fear of God", so "do not despise prophecies" just because your flesh doesn't like to be crucified with Christ. Let us take up our crosses "daily", and offer up our bodies a "living sacrifice" to Him. It is painful, but it is worth it for the glory He will give us if we are obedient to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
1Cor 14:1,24-31 (NIV) Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy.... If an unbeliever or someone who does not understand comes in while everybody is prophesying, he will be convinced by all that he is a sinner and will be judged by all, and the secrets of his heart will be laid bare. So he will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, "God is really among you!" What then shall we say, brothers? When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.... Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop. For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.