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I did not send these prophets, but they ran.
I did not speak to them, but they prophesied.
The author of Ecclesiastes exhorts his readers not to speak rashly in the presence of God (Ecclesiastes 5:1-7). Jesus warns that God will hold us responsible for carelessly speaking worthless things (Matthew 12:36). James cautions those who would be teachers of spiritual truth to remember that they will "incur a stricter judgment" (James 3:1). These are consistent with Deuteronomy 13 and 18, which lay down strict guidelines for God's prophets.
In spite of such Scriptural warnings about the seriousness of speaking for God, ours is becoming an "age of prophets," or at least an age of those who call themselves "prophets." Not only are scores of individuals claiming to speak for God, some teachers are encouraging every Christian to become a prophet or a prophetess. The adjective "prophetic" is being used to promote a wide range of new activities and approaches to Christian ministry - prophetic prayer, prophetic music, prophetic dance, prophetic spiritual warfare -- the list goes on. If you don't know how to take part, there are numerous prophetic conferences that promise to teach you how.
The "prophecies" produced today are voluminous to say the least. Many are posted on the Internet for all to see or made available through Internet mailing lists to those who subscribe to the value of such sayings. Often mingled with Scripture themes and verses, and often contradictory, it isn't difficult to understand their attraction for those who produce them. Whoever speaks for God speaks with a great deal of authority. If you want to accomplish anything, for good or for ill, "Divine authority" is a good way to motivate people to believe or do whatever you are promoting.
The result of this proliferation of personal prophecies is the belittling and replacing of Scriptural truth; if not by the admission of those who offer these prophecies, certainly in their practice. When people say, "all truth is God's truth," they are elevating all truth to the same level, which effectively lowers the truths taught in Scripture to the same level as other truths. On this basis, the statement "many rocks are granite" rises to the same level as John 3:16; or to put it another way, John 3:16 achieves no greater importance than someone's "prophecy" distributed without careful comparison to Scripture; my impression, my feeling that God is speaking to me, takes on the same level of importance as what God actually states in His Word, the Holy Scriptures. To be sure, most avid promoters of prophecies claim that they are careful to evaluate them by God's Word and provide their own instruction about how to identify false prophets and false prophecies. But it becomes obvious after reading many contemporary "prophecies" that only a casual or superficial evaluation has been made if any has been made at all. In the lives of so many, it would appear, these sayings become the lens whereby Scripture is interpreted, rather than Scripture being the rule with which to measure their sayings and impressions.
The justification for elevating these prophecies is often "the restoration of the five-fold ministry" of Ephesians 4:11, believing that the church in every age should have apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. This view, however, limits God to working in any one age rather than throughout history, ignoring that the work of the Spirit might be to establish apostles and prophets in one age (the time described in the New Testament) upon which He would base the work of evangelists, pastors, and teachers (or perhaps, pastor-teachers) throughout the church age - both then and thereafter. In Ephesians, Paul definitely indicates that the church is to mature over time, so such an interpretation is fully consistent with Paul's teaching in this letter. This also fits more closely with the judgment of Christians throughout history. The devotion of the Christian church throughout the ages, including the devotion of such church leaders as Luther, Calvin, and Wesley, to determining the teaching of the apostles rather than declaring themselves apostles or prophets in the same sense as Christ's chosen apostles and prophets shows that they viewed the ministry of the Spirit in this way. The church is to be "apostolic" in the sense in which it is true to the teachings of the apostles with which Christ established His church rather than in the sense of always having living apostles, and prophetic in the sense that it echoes the message of God's true prophets, the authors of Scripture; representing it faithfully and applying it accurately to contemporary life.
Another justification used by modern "prophets" is that the ministry of prophets and apostles will be restored just prior to the return of Jesus Christ. However, the verses from Joel used to justify a "latter-day" restoration of the offices of prophet and apostle ignore the teaching of Peter on Pentecost that these verses were fulfilled that very day (Acts 2:15-21, Joel 2:28-32). What fuels so much of the prophetic movement in our day is the belief that a separate time of history begins just before Christ's return, one in which God will present Himself to the world in a new way through His people, a time marked by a multiplicity of supernatural events, "signs and wonders," including many prophecies. This is often, although not always, presented in terms of latter-rain or Manifest Sons of God theology; which many of today's "prophets" hold and teach even when they deny it. However, neither the Scriptures nor traditional Christian eschatology teach us to expect the glorification of God's people prior to the return of Christ (I Thessalonians 4:14-15, I Corinthians 15:20-24 - notice carefully that the context is the resurrection of God's people).
False prophets and false prophecies draw interest primarily because they appeal to sinful desires for pleasure, security, and self-importance apart from dependence upon God. The message God delivers to us is generally much less comfortable, much more personal, much more costly, and much more challenging that that brought by false prophets. In Paul's second letter to Timothy he warns that there will come a time when people will seek out preacher's who satisfy their own desires (where "desire" is the Greek epithumia, see the article "Sin and Human Desire" at this web site, taken from our September 1997 newsletter). Paul literally says that people will "heap up" for themselves preachers who say what they want to hear. In other words, they won't be able to get enough of them. Paul's words relate strongly to Isaiah 30:10-11 and Ezekiel 33:30-33. These false teachers, appealing to sinful desires, will turn the people away from sound doctrine into myths - into ingenious religious fantasies their listeners find appealing.
Latter-rain, Manifest Sons of God theology is a good, contemporary example of such a fantasy. The number of such "prophets" gaining large audiences in our day certainly indicates that there are those "heaping up" for themselves preachers to suit their own liking. The growing number of "prophets" and "prophecies" then becomes, itself, a promotion for more. The endorsement of so many who profess the love of Christ invites other like minded people to accept them. There is pressure to "get-on-the-bandwagon," to not be left out when others seem to be a part of something spectacular. Much seems to reflect godly concerns and Scriptural themes. Even the language often seems Biblical. However, as our attention focuses upon these prophecies, we are diverted from Scripture. Their number and frequency preclude giving as much attention to study and mediation upon the written Word of God, which falls by the wayside under the blizzard of "prophetic" messages.
There is also a strong pressure to give in to false prophecy because, when it is popular, it is costly to oppose. Very much for this reason, it has always been easier to find those who would prophesy falsehood than truth. Elijah stood alone against 450 priests of Baal, standing by while they "prophesied" (I Kings 18:16ff.). The courageous Micaiah faced 400 false prophets (I Kings 22:1ff., II Chronicles 18:1ff.). The major and minor prophets of the Old Testament were uniformly unpopular for their teaching. Jesus, the greatest of all prophets, "came to His own and His own received Him not" (John 1:11). The "latter-day" prophets of our time issue many warnings that God will punish those who criticize their teachings, apparently hoping to intimidate their critics into silence. However, no faithful spokesman for God is afraid of scrutiny.
"I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy falsely in My name, saying, 'I had a dream, I had a dream!' How long? Is there anything in the hearts of the prophets who prophesy falsehood, even these prophets of the deception of their own heart, who intend to make My people forget My name by their dreams which they relate to one another just as their fathers forgot My name because of Baal? The prophet who has a dream may relate his dream, but let him who has My word speak My word in truth. What does straw have in common with grain?" declares the Lord.
The contemporary claim to renewed offices of "prophet" and "apostle" should alert us that those doing so may be signaling their intention to promote doctrinal innovations -- teachings that would be considered unacceptable if not presented in the cover of "Divine authority."
Beyond this, no faith which is based upon Divine revelation can afford to be careless in the matter of discerning true prophets - and both Judaism and Christianity rest upon special revelation from God. Today, no less than in the past, we have the solemn responsibility to carefully discern those who truly speak from the Lord and those who do not.
Often we will find appropriate God's warning to those following delusions in Jeremiah's day, "Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'Do not listen to the Words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord'" (Jeremiah 23:16, cf. Ezekiel 13:1ff., 22:28).
First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume V, Part 11, November 1997.
Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.
The American Night Watch is a trademark of the Christian ministry of Sterling M. Durgy.
Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible, Copyright 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968,1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977 by the Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.
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This page was last updated October 22, 1999.