"Suppose Pete and Roger are carrying on a dialogue about the gift of prophecy. Pete is a Pentecostal. Roger is Reformed.Viola points out that we must seek to understand the semantic differences that Christians emply when describing spiritual experiences. "Rather than hone in on the specific rhetoric that one employs, it is better to seek to hear and understand the reality of another's experience. And to realize that they may describe it in a way that is foreign (and sometimes irritating!) to our ears."
Pete believes the gift of prophecy exists today and claims to have it...his explanation of the gift is punctuated with expressions like "revelation," "thus saith the Lord," "God told me," "God showed me," etc.
Roger believes that "Divine revelation" is no longer given to the church and that the gift of prophecy ceased with the closing of the NT canon. Pete shares with Roger that he has given people personal prophecies...When Roger asks Pete about the content of these "prophecies," he discovers that they were mainly general exhortations and had no real impact on the people Pete delivered them to. Roger is both skeptical and turned-off by this.
You see, Roger rejects Pentecostal theology. And he does not employ standard charismatic jargon to describe his experiences. But he does have a vital relationship with God. In addition, Roger often receives "thoughts" and "burdens" to exhort, challenge, and direct others in their walk with God. He also senses things about people that go beyond his natural reasoning powers.
In one instance, Roger was awakened from sleep one night to write a letter to a friend who had left his church. After prayerfully writing the letter, he mailed it the next day. When his friend received the letter, he notified Roger and told him that it was exactly what he needed to hear. As a result, Roger's friend was restored to the Lord and to the church.
Roger was exercising the genuine gift of prophecy through his letter (1 Cor.14:3, 24-25), but he feels uncomfortable using the word "prophecy" to describe it. Because Roger fails to describe the letter with the charismatic accents that mark Pete's description of prophecy, it never occurs to Pete that Roger had in fact prophesied by the Spirit of God.
The fact of the matter is that Roger has operated in the gift of prophecy. However, because of his reformed doctrine concerning the gifts, Roger fails to call it by that label.
On the other hand, while Pete may use the correct label when describing this gift...Pete appears to have substituted his own good intentions, ideas, and zeal with the genuine gift of prophecy..."
In much of our work across denominational lines, we run up against this type of conflicting theological jargon. It becomes very easy to get caught up in the language others use to describe spiritual truths and experiences. Language then becomes a barrier between us. We end up judging one another on the basis of the kind of language we are using to basically describe the same kinds of things!