While all Christians have the ability to prophesy in the sense of speaking forth the truth, there was a group of church leaders in the apostolic church who functioned uniquely as prophets. These were apparently next to the apostles in the order of authority within the church (1 Corinthians 12:28-29 ; Ephesians 4:11). The function of the prophets was to edify, console, and exhort (Acts 15:32;1 Corinthians 14:3).
There are no prophets today in the same sense as there were under the old covenant and in the apostolic church. Before the canon of Scripture was complete, God used prophets to maintain order and teach correct doctrine. After the canon was completed, however, prophecy began to be more of a problem within the church than a help. Eventually, the office of prophet died out completely except among heretical groups such as the Montanists.
Today, however, a prophetic word can be spoken in the church in the sense that God’s Word can be proclaimed based on Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit. But there will be no new revelations that will supplant or contradict God’s written Word.
According to 1 Corinthians 14, there are two tests that must be passed by any supposedly prophetic statement. First, verse 29 states that after two or three speak a prophetic message, the others are to “judge” (NKJV) or “weigh carefully what is said” (NIV). In other words, the prophetic message must not disagree with the knowledge of God’s Word and of truth held by the other members of the assembly. Second, verses 37 and 38 demonstrate that just as the apostle Paul submitted his words to the examination of the Corinthians on the basis of their knowledge of the Word of God, any prophecy that is given must be judged by the standard of the truth already known to the church of Christ. In other words, no completely new truth would be revealed, but rather the prophet would expound and explain truths already accepted and recognized by God’s people.
The New Bible Dictionary summarizes the purpose of New Testament prophecy in this way:
It is in this sense that the apostle urged the church of his day, and would urge us also, to desire earnestly to prophesy: not to desire the notoriety of doctrinal innovators, but to contend earnestly for the truth once for all delivered to the saints.