Part 1 “I believe in marriage. I have been married three times.”
I wasn’t there to hear but apparently this statement was made by a “Christian” television host and personality in Norway. When hearing this, most Norwegian believers that I spoke to were shocked and annoyed (aghast comes to mind) that anyone claiming to be a Christian should have the gall to make such an utterance in public and do so on national television. Those reporting this to me were pretty clear in their minds that this statement was not made in jest. This fellow was serious, meant what he said and didn’t recognize the ethical conflict.
The point was made, that if anyone else would have said this they would not have been so readily excused for it. Some people, because of their notoriety, can say almost anything and get by with it. They somehow get a free pass from that which the rest of us are held accountable.
It may seem strange to you that I begin this OPINION piece with an illustration of this nature. Yet, the identical thing is happening all around us with increasing frequency and hardly anyone says a word about it. How dare anyone touch the Lord’s anointed – the man of God – the prophet of Lord?
“I believe in prophesy and because I do I will endure any blithering idiot’s asinine proclamations.”
The truth is, we are nowhere instructed to do such a thing! In fact, we are commanded to do just the opposite. We are commanded to put the prophet and the prophetic to the test. We are to protect the office and integrity of the prophet.
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
1 John 4:1“But if there is no interpreter, let him keep silent in church, and let him speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others judge.”
1 Corinthians 14:28-29
Let me attempt to clear this up. I believe in the prophetic. I believe that God speaks today.
Now, the truth is, we all hope that He does. We attest to such a thing when we say, “The Lord told me this or that,” or “God called me into the ministry.” Even the most conservative (Cessationist) believers will often make public comment about the present, active voice of God. Further, none of us want our preachers to rise to the pulpit on Sunday morning and not have a revelation. Doctrine is one thing and revelation is another. We pay our preachers to go up to the mountain, get something from the mouth of God and come back to us with it. In this respect, we all believe that our preachers should be prophets and not just talking heads. We believe there is a fresh, off of the altar living Word to be had.
“Scholars can interpret the past. It takes prophets to interpret the present.”
A. W. Tozer
Historically, preachers and prophets were called to capture the mind of God and deliver it. Regrettably, many contemporary parishioners are subjected to preachers who have to say something rather than have something to say. This may be the distinguishing feature that separates the good preachers from the dull. If we were all honest we would admit to preferring the prophetic preacher over an academic one.
“Preachers can be turned out of seminaries like cars off of an assembly line;
but prophets are only made by God.”
A. W. Tozer
We want, even expect preachers to gain God’s angle on a thing and powerfully bring it down to earth. When it comes to “telling forth” we are all comfortable with the prophetic. Our anxiety comes when people step this up to some form of “forth telling.”
We are seemingly presently besieged by scores of people who call themselves Prophets in the more notorious sense. These are those who say they have the ability to see what
cannot be seen, pull back the veil, look into the future and so forth. This is where the rub comes and this is what I have my problem with.
“Despise not prophesying.”
1 Thessalonians 5:20
When one reads the most extensive treatment of prophesy in the New Testament, First Corinthians chapters 12 and 14, they could right away become confused when they begin separating the telling forth from the forth telling forms of prophesy. The divisions and distinctions between the two ideas are not always transparently clear. It winds up being a tangled mess which may take some sorting out.
There was, after all, the New Testament office of the prophet (Ephesians 4:11). There were those individuals, both men and women, specifically gifted to foretell events to come. They, through the gift of discernment (words of wisdom and words of knowledge) were enabled to somehow know things that could not otherwise be known without divine aid. They were so accurate at seeing into things that the church recognized their propensity for this gift and relied upon them for this purpose. The most notable of these were Agabus and the four daughters of Philip who lived in Caesarea Philippi. For a lack of a better word, and as occult as it might sound, these people were seers and were considered gifts to the church.
But it was not always or only these people who prophetic insight. Apparently Peter had the gift in his dealings with Sapphira and Ananias when they lied to the Holy Spirit by conspiring to keep back a portion of the monies from the sale of land. Peter had a “word of knowledge” about it all. He saw into the business for what it was. The scripture goes on to say this event so frightened everyone that people did not want to join up though they held the believers in awe for what had taken place. They didn’t want to come near such a thing.
Paul had many prophetic incidences occur in his ministry. The most frequently mentioned is what we have come to call the “Macedonian Call” when he was prevented from going into Asia and re-directed by a vision in the night to go to Philippi.
There is simply no shortage of first century events of this nature but we needn’t stop there. History is full of similar testimonies of the prophetic at work especially among reformers, revivalists and missionaries. A fitly spoken word or vision has made the difference in gospel advancement. Even the most theologically conservative, while they may reject the office of the prophet in the church today, have made decisions on the basis of the prophetic impression either within themselves or from some other influence. Not everything has been determined on the basis of an accurate “jot” and
“tittle” textual exegete. The conservative believer who may not want to admit to a present gifting for the prophetic might prefer to call this a hunch, impression, influence but it all amounts to the same thing.
Again, in Corinthians when having to choose between tongues and interpretation, it is well stated that prophesy is the more important of the two. Sadly, some groups make more out of tongues than they should in the public meeting. They should know better but have not rightly divided the word here and have placed all of the emphasis on ecstatic utterance when the scripture is crystal clear in 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 that this should not be so. People will come in and think you are all crazy. Well, that’s what it says, now doesn’t it? The utterance of the tongue serves as a bell so that God may get a word in edge ways and the entire group be edified (exhortation and comforted) as well as sinners convicted of sin and converted. No one needs to be a Greek scholar to figure this out. Prophesy and interpretations are more universally useful than tongues.
The important thing here is that prophesy was an integral part of the first century worship service. There were two prophetic expressions, preaching (doctrine and revelation) and the other, an immediate word which provided encouragement, exhortation and comfort. This was all done for the purpose of edification.
What about the other prophetic utterances that we are accustomed to read about in the Old Testament? There we read about warning, exposure and rebuke.
The Old Testament prophets were a vital part in the functional history of Israel. There was nothing soft about these men of God. They were both disturbing and disturbers. John the Baptist typified the others like Elijah and Elisha, but the many others as well. When it came to the prophetic, people preferred to stand clear of them. These characters struck fear in the hearts of kings and false prophets. They were not pleasant to be with personalities. Not at all, John, a rugged man himself rebuked the refinement of those in fine raiment and in king’s palaces.
Perhaps we should all in a fresh way ask ourselves what the prophetic and anointing should look like? How should an authentic “man sent from God” appear to us? What should we expect based upon the biblical imprint left by them? Would we invite Elijah to be the keynote speaker at next Thursday evening’s prophetic meeting? Would he arrive in by jet to enthusiastic crowds and popular acclaim? What about Paul who could see through person like he was a pane of cut glass? If they were to expose everything and bare the earth in front of us, I doubt anyone of would be as anxious to be a part of that congregation.
This is what disturbs me about the more contemporary fascination with prophets and the prophetic. It just doesn’t always look right to me. When people are brought great distances and touted as anointed, I wonder what should be expected in the wake of
their visit? Should I expect a revival or a riot? It was always one or the other or both when Samuel, Elijah or John the Baptist came onto the scene. The event was characterized as unpredictable and perhaps even frightening. People did not gaily leave after having their fortunes told.
With all of this said, I am surprised by the favorable reactions people have toward prophesy. I work out of the prophetic and I will tell you right now, for the most part, I don’t like it. While the prophetic has proven to be a great aid to me in knowing what and what not to do , who to partner with and who not to partner with – it helps get things done with the least amount of personal and kingdom expense – it is also a disturbing gift to have to contend with. Being able to see into something is not all it’s cracked up to be and can prove to be downright troublesome. Uncovering fraud before others do is not a pleasant insight to live with. Having a word from the Lord when others are not yet ready or willing to hear it is a burden grievous to be born. I have no idea how people can be so jolly about it all.
For me, I have wrestled night after night with a stinging rebuke that needs to be delivered to good friends that are misdirected or have cut the corners with personal and corporate integrity. It was difficult for me in 2003, when I, in front of five-hundred onlookers, publicly rebuked the popular, charismatic Pastor of New Life Church of Colorado Springs and Executive Director of the National Evangelical Association, Ted Haggard. I felt that my sanity was about to be called into question and my job put on the line.
After warning those who had his ear to intervene before it might be too late, I was ignored and passed off as a loose cannon. In less than two years the warning came back to haunt them. None of this was fun for anyone. This wasn’t provided as a form of amusement and cheap entertainment. It was no Christian substitute for the Psychic Fair.
On a number of other occasions, I have also been prompted to write and privately deliver letters written in the middle of the night. I have delivered my soul to other leaders, warning them of what might be on their doorstep if the fail to take heed. They did not always want to hear it and have reaped the consequences. They rebuffed the warning and in so doing, I can name a number of people who have met their fate. This was not delivered to people in party hats. Prophesy is often a hard word and not always pleasant to hear.
I am not trying to commend myself. The prophetic rises up and the prophet may have no predilection that any such thing is on its way. He may not be able to predict that he will be a prophet this Thursday night at seven in the evening. Yes, there have been other times when in a classroom the Lord will call on me to speak over the students’ a word of recognition and encouragement but this is likewise unpredictable.
This is why I am left baffled. To me the current movement neither looks like the scriptural pattern nor matches up with my experience with it. I am disturbed by what I see. I feel compelled to speak this solemn warning. Perhaps this is a prophetic word. It has come to me in this way.
Do I believe in prophesy? Of course, I do. I admit to having interacted with the spirit of prophesy. Here, let me name for you my concerns.
First, I am concerned that a prophesy enamored culture is looking for spiritual short cuts. They don’t want to take the long way ’round as others have done. The fact is this, the Bible demands that we go the long route – we must run according to the rules. It is hard work to study and apply the scriptures through interaction and experience. It is much easier and quicker to be spoken over by a prophet. “Surely, they know the will of God for my life.” I should remind the reader that this is not new, mediums and clairvoyants provide the same service for a small fee.
Don’t misunderstand my point here. This sort of thing of providing direction when you need it most may and does happen on occasion but it is not the way to live. One word at just the precise time may be spoken which will alter all of the direction of one’s life. Nevertheless, this is not the way to move from faith to faith. We should not rely upon these things. We should not run from one prophet to the next and leaders should be more responsible than to promote such an idea or opportunity. For some believers the prophetic meeting has become an obsession and an unhealthy way to direct or manage one’s spiritual life.
Well meaning people have had their entire lives destroyed by the words of a prophet. Should anyone care to know, most American cults began in a prophetic movement. This writer can provide the reader with twenty disastrous cults that began through the words of a prophet. When people place their trust in the voice of a man their security is misplaced and the prophet takes on the role of a priest (a mediary). This is a dangerous route to take and it will not wind you up in spiritual maturity. It is a common concern that this generation of believers are turning out to be the most spiritually immature of all of those in the last two centuries. This is being attributed to the low value being placed upon scripture and doctrinal convictions.
Next, I am worried with respect to the firm warnings we have in the scriptures concerning false prophets, false doctrine, heresy, lying signs and wonders. One of the evidences of the end of the age is the seduction and falling away of many from the faith (apostasy). If I were to take the time it could easily be shown that we must guard against being taken hostage. In the interest of time let me provide the reader with just two such references.
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron,”
1 Timothy 4:1-2
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”
2 Timothy 4:3-4
Here is where leadership is failing us. They have shirked their responsibilities. They are not only called to feed and lead the flock of God, they are called to protect it at the peril of their own lives. To do otherwise is to prove one’s own self to be a false prophet (the hireling). Many advocates of the prophetic movement have seen the wolf coming and have run away.
This writer has witnessed the most incredulous (downright stupid) things spoken with a “Thus saith the Lord, “and no one offers a rebuke or caution at the end. In a world of mass communication where prophets can be discovered, popularized then whisked in by jet from the other side of the planet, “hands are laid on men suddenly,” people are not sufficiently examined. Holy ground is surrendered to imbeciles. Leaders that have a biblical responsibility play the ostrich, renege on their biblical responsibility to test the spirits as not all spirits are from God.
In my view this what has been missing in certain “revival” movements. Leaders have failed to explain or debrief the people and thus have tacitly endorsed ridiculous antics (kicking, blowing, hacking… the more bizarre the better) and /or people who neither enhance the gospel nor edify the people. People are left to sort out for themselves what might be truth and what might be error. In the process immature, undiscerning believers have been thrown to the wolves and left to fend for themselves. Furthermore, because leadership shrinks from calling a spade a spade for fear of incidentally touching the Lord’s anointed, they propagate and spread a false notion throughout the globe. Instead of encouraging confidence in the prophetic they manage to do the exact opposite. They turn a holy thing into a laughing-stock.
This is my prophetic word on the matter. Before he passed away, a friend of mine advised me to conclude such essays and messages with this brief line, “Do whatever you want with this, you will anyway.”
So now, I warn my friends who believe that “the kingdom comes in power not in word” and want to preserve this truth. If we continue to promote the bizarre simply because it is bizarre we will succeed in driving people from the very thing we hope to attract them to – life in the Spirit. False fire will not cause people to pursue real fire. It will cause them to rush to the false security of no fire at all. This is the reason that some earnest believers have moved from “Spirit-filled” life to the traditional evangelical, Reform or have left the church entirely.