Piper tends to be quite divisive in reformed circles, either people love him for being a reformed baptist with mainstream appeal or they get really annoyed at his stance on the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit. I fall into both camps, on the one hand I think he's a very wise and godly man with a great gift as a pastor. On the other hand, I get annoyed at his stance on extraordinary spiritual gifts.
The reason I bring this up is because a week ago on the Desiring God blog a video was posted of a short interview with Piper on tongues and prophesy. Of the two, I'm going to engage with the prophesy one first, you can watch it here, there's no strict need to watch it before reading what's to follow (but it will probably help).
In the video he defends the continuationist view on the extraordinary gift of the Holy Spirit. It's a view that most people I know who are continuationist would hold to so its worth exploring what the problems with it are. It's probably worth adding that I use the term 'continuationist' to refer to everybody who thinks that the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit - prophecy, tongues and healing have continued to this day. I use the term 'cessationist' to refer to those who think the extraordinary gifts ended with the death of the Apostles and the closing of the canon of Scripture.
The main thrust of my argument is that while I agree with Piper's description of the phenomena he is talking about; I do not think that this phenomena is prophecy or that it is helpful to refer to it so. Piper describes being in the pulpit and using an illustration about starting a bible study on floor x of building y and there just happened to be a lady who worked on floor x and building y who was really struck by his message. I could give examples of similar things from my own life. We all know occasions when we hear the sermon we 'needed' to hear or we feel moved to contact a friend with some encouragement and behold, they are greatly encouraged by it! The spiritual gift of preaching is not prophesying.
These are both works of the Holy Spirit, both supernatural works of the Holy Spirit (all His work is supernatural!) and it is of great encouragement to us when it happens but I cannot describe it as prophecy nor do I think it helpful to do so. I do think that one of the traps continuants fall into is that their 'obsession' with the extraordinary gifts leads them to neglect the supernaturalness of the ordinary gifts!
That would be my first point, many people think that cessationists, such as myself, deny the existence of spiritual gifts or the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit. This is far from true, we affirm both but we distinguish a sub-group of gifts that were for a time only and are now no more, the so called extraordinary gifts.
Piper starts by drawing a distinction between Old Testament prophecy and New Testament prophecy asserting that they are not the same. I do not think this is a valid distinction but there very clearly is a distinction between Old Testament prophecy and what is passed of as prophecy today. One starts 'The Lord says..." and is a direct, infallible message from God and the prophet acts as the very mouthpiece for God, conveying his revelation word for word. The other is prone to being wrong, prophecy in the current sense is not infallible, in fact, every time I have heard someone speak about prophecy they have given examples of its many failings. Modern 'prophecy' strikes me as inherently fallible! Only the most ardent charismatics argue that prophecy today is the same as in the Old Testament and they run into this very problem - their prophecy can be and will be wrong.
Therefore, it is worth noting that even continuationists are cessationist in some areas! For most would agree that prophecy Old Testament style no longer occurs. Indeed, while it is easy for a cessationist to explain the difference between prophecy in the Bible and 'prophecy' today then it is very much harder for continuationists to explain why prophecy should change from Old Testament to modern times.
The question then becomes, what type of prophecy is found in the New Testament? Is it like the prophecy in the Old Testament or is it like prophecy today? One of my criticisms of Piper here is that I think he is too quick to infer backwards rather than forwards. That is to say, he sees that we have in the church a phenomena called 'prophecy' so he interprets that into the New Testament context of prophecy rather than allowing the Old Testament view on prophecy to follow forward into the New Testament.
Piper argues that the prophecy found in 1 Corinthians 14 is different from Old Testament prophecy because Paul says about it: "and the others should weigh carefully what is said." and in 1 Thessalonians 5 v 21 "test them all" Piper argues that one would not test Isaiah to see if he had a word from God; therefore the two things are different. I disagree, there were many false prophets in Old Testament times, surely the church then had to test to see who was true and who was false? Moses very clearly teaches the Israelites:
"You may say to yourselves, “How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?” If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed." (Deuteronomy 18v21-22)
It is easy for us to assume that no test had to be made when the book of Isaiah sits comfortably in the Bible as the infallible Word of God. But as the above passage proves obedient Jews would test the prophets of Old Testament time. Indeed, Moses and Paul stand in agreement with how prophecy is to be tested, surely evidence to the two being the same thing.
Paul also says about prophecy: "But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all," (1 Corinthians 14v24) Ask yourself this: what fits into this description, prophecy as direct revelation from God or the vain platitudes and fallible 'prophesying' we see today?
We must also ask ourselves: "what was the point of prophecy?" Well, in Old Testament times then it was to convey the direct revelation of God. Why then would that change in the New Testament? Prophecy was for a time before the Bible was complete and now that we have the completely sufficient revelation from God (the Bible) the need for prophecy has vanished. John's command in Revelation not to add to his book is seen as a command over the whole of the canon of Scripture. The Bible is now complete, the imperfect has been swapped for the perfect, prophecy was a gift for when the Bible was incomplete, to convey revelation. We now have all the revelation we need in the Bible, thus prophecy in the biblical sense is no longer required. This is clearly hinted at in Zechariah 13v3, in a passage looking forward to 1st century times: "It shall come to pass that if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who begot him will say to him, ‘You shall not live, because you have spoken lies in the Name of the LORD."
To conclude, this is an all too brief post, and while I agree that the phenomena Piper describes does occur then it is not the gift of prophecy as described in the Bible. It is a gift from God, but not this gift. And it is unhelpful to even refer to it as prophecy for in doing so we give it more authority that it has. True prophecy in the Bible is always infallible and details events that will always come to pass. There was no margin for error, it was always quite specific and always direct revelation from God. What we see today falls far short of this so calling it prophesy makes is sound more 'true' and 'pertinent' than it is. Promptings of the Holy Spirit are not prophesyings of the Holy Spirit. Prophecy was a gift for a time and that time is now no more.
Further reading here.