By Rev. Fr. Anthony Aneke
(MD/Editor-in-Chief, THE CHOICE FLAME NEWSPAPER)
WHAT PROPHECY IS
According to biblical traditions, Prophecy can be seen from two basic perspectives: Primary and Secondary perspectives. In its primary sense, it is the reading of the signs of the times in the light of God’s will and Word in a given circumstance. From its loose sense, prophecy could be seen as prediction of future events i.e. foretelling what will take place in the future according to the mind of God. This distinction is paramount in order to understand what prophecy means. To buttress this point, David L. Paterson posits strongly:
It is often that the prophet is a person who has the gift of foretelling the future. The word “Prophet” itself seems to support this definition. Yet as has been shown, ‘Pro’ in Greek term ‘Prophets’ does not mean “Before” but “Forth”. Thus the Greek term indicates that the prophets is a preacher, a ‘foreteller’ rather than a ‘Fortuneteller’.
The Bible identifies the prophet as a legatus divinus, the messenger of God; the bearer of an important revelation from God. From a biblical perspective, prophecy relates to the mediation, transmission and interpretation of God’s will in the words and actions of men and women. The prophet is one who utters God’s Word and whose life reflects the will of God. Lindblom sees a prophet as:
a person who, because he is conscious of having been specifically chosen and called, feels formed to perform and proclaim ideas which in mental state of intense inspiration or real ecstasy, have been indicated to him in the form of divine revelation.
He or she is chosen to speak on behalf of God in order to communicate to God’s people, the will of God so that the people can respond in obedience to God in order to find the face of God, receive God’s blessing and avoid falling into the pit of sin and destruction. The prophet does not stand alone, he stands with God in the name of the community because the vocation of a prophet and his prophecy needs to be validated based on the canons of faith, accepted by the community of faith. Indeed, every community has a moral and spiritual responsibility of receiving, discerning, and judging the reality of the prophetic word for the good of the community. For the Biblical Scholar David Patterson, bible Prophecies is even understood in this light:
The Hebrew Bible contains prophetic literature, not prophets. Hence it should not be surprising that rigorous and methodological controlled work has been done on the prophecies texts, that is to say that unanimity has been achieved in literary issues.
This way, the community guards itself against false prophets and charlatans who may be angels of death in shining armor. The prophets are standard bearers; they stand on the mountain top as sentinels of truth and bearers of light and hope which can help illuminate the dark places of human history and human societies with the truth of God which alone can heal society and restore what is broken. Prophecy then relates to how God’s revelation is received, communicated and enacted in history.
Beautifully, the French theologian, Yves Congar gives us wonderful summary of the identity of a prophet. First, Congar propose that prophets are individuals who are possessed by God, caught in the grip of God. secondly, prophets co-operate in being seized by God that is, they allow themselves to be used by God, and they think less of themselves and more about God, the good of others and how they can become instrument in God’s hand for medicating God’s purpose in creation. In this regard, prophets free themselves from attachment to the things of the world, money, power, ego etc in order to be possessed by God; they open themselves to the experiences of being converted, to the experiences of being broken, humbled by divine love, and totally consumed by a single vocation of being used by God for realizing the divine purpose in the life of God’s people. Prophets, according to Congar, listen to the word of God in multiple places and they allow the word of God to dwell in them so that they can undergo a second conversion from self to God in order to better serve the community. Thirdly, the prophet dedicates himself or herself to completing the demands made on him or her by God. The prophet is distinguished by being fully committed to his or her mission irrespective of the obstacle they encounter.
In this way prophet shines forth the truth of God first by his or her lifestyles which alone can illumine the complexities of history. Prophecy sometimes may not simply be words but counter-cultural deeds which contradict the decay in society. Prophecy is word and deed which reflect authentically the word God to people and the will God and the direction to attaining the value and virtue of the kingdom of God, the reign of peace, prosperity, righteousness and good order. From the perspective of biblical teaching, the entire baptized are called to be prophetic.
Therefore, Prophecy is not simply the claim or prerogative of a single individual; prophecy has a communal element in both discerning the voice of God and in enacting and living out this Word in concrete history. The Holy Spirit arouses Christians to prophecy spontaneously and occasionally as was witnessed in the New Testament. This prophetic function is primarily directed to equipping Christians to bear authentic and credible witness to the values and virtue of the faith through the service of love, reconciliation, justice, and peace. But the prophet is fundamentally one who reads the signs of the times and who is courageous enough to allow God to direct him or her in committing self to the construction of a better world through God’s grace. This calls for a spirit of humility and vulnerability.
Prophecy in Nigeria Today
But how does the general understanding and attitude of the Nigeria Christians fit into this light? How do ‘Prophets’ in Nigeria understand their position as prophets from these perspectives enumerated above? It is clear: Our understanding of prophecy in Nigeria today is naïve and far away from the status quo. In the first place, prophecy in Nigeria is basically understood from its secondary character. It is mainly seen as a prediction of future events: blessings or curses. This position is supported by the belief that the future is already determined in the mind of God. In addition, the blessings and curses guaranteed or incurred on us depend on our fulfillment or defilement of certain obligation or condition. And so, the prophet in Nigeria is first and foremost seen as a kind of seer or fortune teller who permeates and hears from the mind of God through probably visions or exterior locutions. The prophet’s reputation in Nigeria lies in joining the band wagon of making competitive prophetic utterances and looking forward to them as they stand or fail with regard to fulfillment.
Do prophets in Nigeria think less of themselves and more about God? Do they think about the good of others and how they can become instruments in God’s hand for mediating God’s purpose in creation? I do not think so. Most Men who call themselves prophets in Nigeria do not free themselves from attachments to the things of the world. They amass wealth, power, ego and claim to be spokesmen of social justice and equity but in actual sense, the real intention is to beef up their reputation. They thrive on the gullibility of Nigerian masses with their machinations and manipulations. They excel on the carcasses of the poor ignorant Nigerian masses who are already politically, socially and economically dislocated. Prophets in Nigeria claim monopoly of their prophecy. Hence, there is no communal element in both discerning the voice of God and in enacting and living out this word in concrete circumstances. We are all witnesses of how competing prophecies fighting for a place in Nigeria have defied the expectation of the masses. False prophets in Nigeria do not allow themselves to be easily discouraged by their repeated failures. They always find some good reasons to explain them, or they pretend that the event is only delayed. What do we make of all these? – Just one thing, the business of ‘prophecy’ in the Nigerian society is booming like the oil boom of the 1970’s.