We are living in a time when believers have misunderstood "prophecy" to mean "predicting future events", and a "prophet" as one who predicts the future.
The vast majority of believers in our day know only of Agabus the prophet, who twice predicted future events (Acts 11:28, 21:10). But they are ignorant of the fact that Judas and Silas are also called prophets in Acts: "Judas and Silas, being prophets, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words" ( Acts 15:32) .
How many Christians understand that those who exhort and strengthen believers are also prophets? The Bible says that genuine new-covenant prophecy always brings "edification, exhortation and comfort" to the hearers (1 Cor. 14:3). Do the 'predictive prophecies' that we hear in our day bring edification, exhortation and comfort to their hearers? Usually not.
Consider John the Baptist, the greatest prophet under the old covenant, who came to prepare the way of the Lord (Luke 1:76). He did not predict the future. What he had was a message for God's people in his time.
All the prophets that God raised up in Israel had God's current message for their generation. And they proclaimed that message clearly and uncompromisingly without fearing any man. How far removed such mighty prophets of God were from the self styled "prophets" of today whose only interests seem to be to impress people and to collect their fees, after they have uttered their "prophetic predictions"!
One who expounds Biblical prophecies about the future is a teacher, not a prophet. And one who describes past events from the Scriptures in a mechanical way is a scribe. A true prophet however emphasizes the present. He calls God's people to repent and to return to God's ways now.
The real need of believers in our day is to recognize God's Word and His purpose for our time. Neglecting this, many preachers are taken up with interpreting matters like Gog and Magog in the final battle of Armageddon! At the other extreme are preachers who split hairs on the meaning of the bars and the pillars in the Old Testament tabernacle. Both these preachers are unable to see what God is doing in our time and thereby fail to become a part of His work in our day.
Jesus urged people in His day to "analyze their present time" (Luke 12:56). The true prophet also challenges believers to understand God's mind for this current time.
Such a prophet, commissioned by God at a particular time in history, will have some special characteristics. He will proclaim the particular burden of God's heart for His people at that time. That will be his only message - and so his ministry will not be a balanced one. His words will also be sharp and incisive. And he will never compromise.
Consider John the Baptist as an example of such a true prophet. We observe all these characteristics in him. He had only one message for God's people in his time ("Repent"). He was imbalanced in his ministry. His words were very sharp ("You brood of vipers.."). And He was uncompromising. (His dress, place of work and even his food were all proofs of this.)
Where is the prophet who will powerfully and uncompromisingly proclaim the burden of the Lord that is relevant to our time? Where is the prophet who will continue to communicate that message, without diluting it in any way to suit the changing opinions of men? Where is the prophet who is not afraid of being labeled as "imbalanced" in his preaching? Where is the prophet who will not hesitate to use sharp words to proclaim God's message without any partiality? Such a prophet is the need of the hour.
While many Jews in Jesus' time spent their time listening to the "balanced" teaching of the Pharisees in their synagogues, a spiritually-minded minority went 'outside the camp' to hear the imbalanced message of John in the wilderness. And something similar is happening today, as well.
Every prophet who proclaimed the burden of the Lord for his particular time had to face much opposition from the religious leaders around him. But there was always a small minority who ignored their blind religious leaders and listened to the burden of the Lord proclaimed by the prophet. These few became part of the spiritual movement of their time, led by God's prophet. Everyone who understood the mind of God became a part of such a move of the Holy Spirit in his time - and took a stand for God along with His servant the prophet.
A discerning believer who lived in the time of Martin Luther would take his stand with Luther. But a discerning believer living in John Wesley's time would stand with Wesley. Watchman Nee has pointed out that a seeker of truth living in Wesley's time would be missing out on the move of the Holy Spirit in his time, if he ignored Wesley and identified himself with Luther (who was God's man for a previous generation). Such a believer would be living in the past.
Every spiritual movement has a tendency to end up as worldly organization after some time. How can we ensure that a spiritual movement initiated by a prophet does not end up becoming a dead organization? It is when compromise mars the original vision that a spiritual movement declines and degenerates into an organization. The prophet who is conscious of his calling will be continually alert to such a danger. And in order to preserve the move of God in its purity, he will take a strong stand against those who do not go along with the original vision of God for the movement. Any prophet who compromises at such a time, by trying to please men, will destroy the work that God wants to do through him.
Consider the apostle Paul and his work. Demas was at one time a coworker of Paul (Col.4:14). But he compromised and left Paul (2 Tim 4:10). Many of Paul's other coworkers also left him. Why didn't Paul compromise and try to please those coworkers of his, so that he could retain them? If he had done that, it would have been the end of God's work through him.
Paul's strictness towards his coworkers would certainly have affected his popularity with them and with their followers. But he was not disturbed by that, for he was not 'a slave to his image'. He was not at all concerned about what people said or thought about him (Gal 1:10). Come what may, he stood uncompromisingly for the truth of God, compelled by the Spirit of God within him.
This resulted in more than one "split" in Paul's work. Towards the end of his life, he says, "All those in Asia have turned away from me" (2 Tim 1:15). He found only one like-minded person (Timothy) among all his co-workers (Phil 2:20). These were some of the setbacks that Paul faced as he sought to protect his work from ending up as a dead organization.
The "purification" that takes place at various stages of a work initiated by God through a prophet, is the proof that the work has not declined to become a dead system. Undiscerning believers might misunderstand such purifications. But the prophet will be uncompromising in his stand to preserve the truth of God in all its purity, without the slightest dilution.
Preachers who are 'administrators' and 'diplomats' may be willing to compromise, in order to take everyone along with them. Such preachers live before the face of men. But a prophet commissioned by God is no diplomat or politician. He lives before God's face alone. His words are the same as the words of his Lord, "My kingdom is not of this world". He has no kingdom (or ministry) of his own to preserve. And so, the words of Jesus are fulfilled in his life too: "No prophet is accepted in his own country and among his own people".
If we have discernment to understand the ways of the Lord, we will recognize the prophets of God in our time. And we will join them to be a part of God's move in our time. And like them, we too will never compromise, whatever the cost.
He who has ears to hear, let him hear.