Prophets In the Church?
In the Church?
Pastor Jannie Viljoen
There are many today who say and teach that God is again giving “revelations” to the church through those who have the “gift of prophecy.” This is claimed to be a work of the Holy Spirit whereby He brings “words of prophecy” directly from God through a human person. Most of these “prophecies” are predictive of future events. In the light of the warning of Scripture that, during the latter times, many “... false prophets will appear ... to deceive ...” (Matt. 24:24), it is imperative that we heed the warning of God’s Word to “... test the spirits because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1).
Because many Christians have the idea that everything that seems “spiritual” or takes place in a “spiritual atmosphere” must be from God, they ignore, to their own peril, the fact that God’s Word warns us that there are deceiving evil spirits that will take every opportunity given to them to deceive the Christian (1 Tim. 4:1).
To be able to get a proper perspective and to do an honest analasys of prophets and prophecy in the church today, we need to first investigate the possibility that Christians, no matter how sincere they are, can be deceived. Secondly, we need to see what the Bible teaches about prophets and prophecy. Thirdly, we need to investigate the teachings and prophecies of those who claim that God is giving revelations directly to, and through them.
As we look into this matter, we need to understand that it is only the written Word of God, the Bible, which can be the measure by which we can investigate and compare the teachings concerning prophets and prophecy: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16,17).
It is unfortunate that many Christians today, when it comes to Biblical teachings, are not schooled in proper Biblical exegesis. They often take Scripture verses out of context or employ verses in isolation to propagate specific “doctrines” that would “fit in” with their own ideas and teachings. Another problem is that spiritual “experiences,” rather than the Word of God, becomes the basis for their doctrines and teachings.
“(They) ... err because they tend to build their teachings on experience, rather than understanding that authentic experience happens in response to truth. Too many ... experiences are utterly detached from - and in some cases contrary to - the revealed plan and operation of God indicated in Scripture. When these become the basis for one’s beliefs, there is almost no limit to the kinds of false teaching that can emerge.”(1)
CAN CHRISTIANS BE DECEIVED?
Many Christians today mistakenly believe that when the Bible warns about false Christs and false prophets, it is a warning about non-Christian cults like the Mormons, Christian Scientists or the Jehovah’s Witnessess. But when we study the warnings of Jesus in the Gospels and the teachings of the New Testament writers in connection with false prophets, it is clear that they warn of false prophets who will come into the true Church of the Lord Jesus Christ under the guise of true “followers” of Christ and their message will be to deceive and will be accepted by the undiscerning as Biblical (2 Cor. 11:3,4).
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
Spiritual deception is therefore a very real danger in the Church today! When Jesus warned of the great end-time deception in Matthew 24, He was extending this warning about false prophets and false teachers to those who would be His followers (Matt. 24:4,5,11,24). Jesus confirms and emphasises this warning in verse 25: “See, I have told you ahead of time.”
In 1 Tim. 4:1-2 we are clearly warned that in “latter times” (end-times) some Christians will “abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits ...” This is not through openly evil or heretical teaching, but through deception. It is through teachings that the undiscerning accept as from God because it has been “clothed” in Biblical terms and because Scripture has been employed to “verify” these teachings.
Another danger is that many sincere and good Christians who have been deceived are in turn deceiving others through their erroneous teachings and doctrines. They do not do this wittingly, but unwittingly because they believe what they teach is true.
“This has its foundation in the prevalent idea that everything that Satan and his evil spirits do is manifestly evil, the truth not being realised that they work under cover of light (2 Cor. 11:14), i.e., if they can get a ‘good man’ to accept some idea from them, and pass it on as ‘truth,’ he is a better instrument for deceptive purposes than a bad man who would not be believed.”(2)
HOW ARE CHRISTIANS DECEIVED?
Christians who are most easily deceived are those who accept that, because they are Christians, they cannot be deceived and therefore accept everything supernatural as of “Divine” origin, not realising and understanding that evil spirits often immitate or disguise their workings as the work of God. In speaking of those who bring false teaching in the last days, Timothy compares them to “... Jannes and Jambres (who) opposed Moses ” (2 Tim. 3:8). Who were Jannes and Jambres? They were sorcerers in Pharoah’s court who duplicated some of the miracles that Moses performed. Timothy therefore warns us that in the end days there will be those who will deceive Christians by immitating the work of God -it will seem supernatural and “Divine.”
We need to understand that not everything that is supernatural comes from God! Paul warns the believer in 2 Thessalonians verse 9 that, “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders ...” and that its purpose is to “deceive.” In other words, we are warned that during the end times there will be those who bring deceptive teachings under the guise of Scripture and verifying it through “supernatural” manifestations, i.e. they will claim it is the work of the Holy Spirit.
“... most Christians are so uninformed about occultism that they wouldn’t recognise it exept in its most blatant forms. Nor do many Christians seem to understand the passages in the Bible forbidding occult practices, so they cannot recognise sorcery on that basis either. The extent to which anti-Christian and even occult beliefs and methodologies have been integrated into Christianity within the last few years is staggering, and this trend is now accelerating at an alarming rate.”(3)
“Today we are seeing many signs and wonders. They may even be done in the name of Jesus and ‘to the glory of my Father above.’ But which Jesus? Which Father? To use His name does not guarantee its source, for many today have so redefined Him that what they call ‘Jesus’ in no way resembles the Jesus of the Bible, and so they lead the undiscerning into the worship of ‘other gods whom you have not known’ (Deut. 11:28). ‘For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough’ (2 Cor. 11:4). Incidentally, Paul said this to a church ‘not lacking in any gift’ (1 Cor. 1:7), a church sincere in their devotion to the Lord (1 Cor. 1:4-8). Yet their gifting and sincerity alone, Paul says, does not preclude the possibility of their being tricked and deceived and led astray because of their undiscernment, and their unscriptural emphasis on experience.”(4)
Often Satan will especially focus his attention on those Christians who desire to have a closer walk with God. Because of their desire to have God move in a “new” way in their lives, they are more susceptible to supernatural workings in and around them. The danger is that experience, emotion, phenomena, and feelings can become more important in the quest for a closer relationship with God, than the written and revealed Word of God. And as we have seen, evil spirits will be quick to use such a desire for experiences to masquarade as messengers from God to deceive.
An “experience,” no matter how “good” it may be, can never be the basis for accepting spiritual teaching! There are ample passages in Scripture warning us that the end times will be characterised by false teachings and teachers who will use supernatural manifestations to deceive Christians. The final criterea for testing any and all spiritual teaching, is to see if it is in line with what the Word of God, the Bible, teaches. If it is not in God’s Word or in agreement with what the Word of God teaches, it must be rejected, no matter how fine it sounds or how spiritual it seems.
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE TEACH ABOUT PROPHETS AND PROPHECY?
When we look at the Biblical teaching on prophets and prophecy, we need to distinguish between the Old Testament prophet and his message, and the New testament prophet and his message.
OLD TESTAMENT PROPHETS AND PROPHECY.
The Old Testament is basically a historical record of God’s dealings with His chosen people, the Jews. They were set aside by God as the people through whom He would reveal Himself to mankind and ultimately through whom the visible revelation of God, in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, would come. Because the Jews were the means through whom God would reveal Himself, they were to be a people separated from the other heathen nations - a people living in obedience to God. Therefore God gave them His Laws to keep so that they would not be contaminated by the heathen practices of other nations around them.
But the nation of Israel constantly turned away from God to idolatry. God therefore raised up certain men as prophets through whom He gave warnings to the nation of Israel to return to their God and His ways. The Old testament prophet was given a revelation of God’s holiness and His coming judgement so as to warn the people to turn from their wicked ways. (Examples: Isaiah 1:1-20; 2:6-21; 6:9-13; 22:1-14; Jeremiah 6:1-30; Ezekiel 6:1-14; Hosea 4:1-19; 5:1-15; Joel 1:1-20; Amos 3:1-15; etc. )
The Old Testament prophet was never popular with the people, because he was the instrument that God used to confront them with the evil and sin in their lives, and to pronounce the judgments which God was going to bring upon them. It was the false prophets who were popular with the people because of the prosperity they were prophesying for the people:
“This is what the Lord Almighty says: Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They keep saying to those who despise me, The Lord says: ‘You will have peace.’ And to all who follow the stubborness of their hearts they say: ‘No harm will come to you.’” (Jer. 23:16,17).
Because God knew there would arise false prophets, He gave the test of authenticity on prophecy by its future outcome. If anyone claimed to speak on behalf of God of future events, the test of whether it was from God or not was whether the prophecy would come to pass.
“You may say to yourselves, ‘How can we know when a message has not been spoken by the Lord?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the Lord does not take place or come true, that is a message the Lord has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.” (Deut. 18:21,22).
We find that the prophet in the Old Testament was always divinely chosen by God. The chosen person had no say in whether he wanted to be a prophet or not. He never sought this position, or saw it as a position to be attained. Also, the purpose and the message of the true prophet of God was always to warn the nation of Israel to return to their God. His prophecies always came to pass. The Old Testament prophet was also the instrument God used to proclaim the coming of the Messiah.
THE NEW TESTAMENT PROPHET.
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things ...” (Hebr. 1:1-2).
Here in Hebrews the Apostle Paul makes an interesting statement. He is reminding them, as Jews (Hebrews), that in the Old Dispensation (Old Testament times), God revealed Himself and His words through prophets, to whom and through whom He spoke to the people.
But now, Paul says, a New Dispensation has arrived and God has now finally spoken through Jesus Christ. Christ Himself now revealed God’s final message to humanity. Just as the Old Testament closed with the final prophet Malachi, after which there was no revelation from God for about 400 years until the birth of Christ, so the New Testament closed with God’s final revelation given to the Apostle John on the Isle of Patmos.
Thus, all revelation from God, whether past, present or future, is now complete and is fully contained in His Word, the Bible! That is why God’s Word warns us not to add to the completed revelation (Rev. 22:18). Even Paul warns us: “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6). While the New Testament was being lived out, God gave the office of apostle and prophet to establish and write the New Testament record, “... built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets ...” (Eph. 2:20).
The New Testament “apostle” and “prophet” was a unique ministry given to establish the original foundation of the Church. While the New testament was still being lived out and its canon was not yet completed, the New Testament prophet, unlike his counterpart in the Old Testament, had as their ministry the expounding of the words and teachings of Jesus (Hebr. 1:2).
At the completion of the New testament, with the final revelation given to the apostle John, direct revelations from God through a prophetic ministry was not necessary any more. After the close of the New testament canon there was no need for certain individuals to take up a special “prophetic” ministry. God’s Word is complete: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16,17).
After the completion of the canon of the Scriptures, all believers are called by God to be “prophets” in the sense of sharing the Gospel with an unsaved humanity. The New Testament “prophet’s” primary task is now to proclaim and explain the written Word of God as contained in the Bible.
“The New testament prophetic gift primarily has to do with declaration, not revelation. The New Testament prophet ‘speaks to men for edification and exhortation and comfort’ (1 Cor. 14:3). He is a preacher, not a source of ongoing revelation. His task is one of forth-telling, not foretelling. That is, he proclaims already revealed truth.”(5)
THE ERROR OF MODERN PROPHETS AND PROPHECY.
The majority of references to “prophets” in the New testament are warnings concerning the rise of false “prophets” that will lead Christians astray (2 Cor. 11:13-15; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 4:1). Jesus Himself warned that false prophets will appear in the end times and will deceive people (Matt. 24:24).
There is a difference between false teachers and deceived ones. There are many sincere and able Bible teachers today, but because they have been deceived, they become unwitting teachers of deception themselves. This deception is very difficult to discern, because not only do these “prophets” use Scripture to “authenticate” their teachings, they also seem to be sincere in their desire to serve God. Many of them truly do love the Lord, but we must remember that sincerity alone does not guarantee that we cannot be deceived! When Jesus told His disciples that He had to go to Jerusalem to die, Peter rebuked Him and tried to keep Him from going to the cross. Jesus turned to Peter and said: “Out of my sight, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, ...” (Matt. 16:23). Peter was truly sincere, but that didn’t protect him from Satan using him to oppose Jesus!
Also, the so-called “personal prophecies from God” that are being spoken out upon individuals and churches today, are not what one would call Biblical revelations, but rather “foretelling / predicting the furure” - in other words, it is fortune telling! This has become a major deception in the church! This is strongly condemned in God’s Word: “Let no one be found among you who ... practices divination (predicting future events) ... Any one who does these things is detestable to the Lord, ...” (Deut. 18:10. Also see Jer. 14:14; Ezek. 12:24; Acts 16:16).
“The Holy Spirit is NOT a fortune teller. Neither does He give us divination ability (Matt. 6:34). One of the most common deceptions of demon spirit guides is to give the person many false ‘words of knowledge,’ which is really simple divination. Demons also give many individual ‘prophecies,’ which is really fortune telling.”(6)
There is also a tremendous danger for the Christian who thinks that God will speak directly through Him. The danger lies therein that he becomes passive in the “presence” of God. God always require that man works in co-operation with Him (Rom. 12:1-2). God has not created us as “robots,” but has given us an active mind which must be used during all spiritual exercises (2 Tim. 1:7; 1 Peter 4:7). We are called, by an act of our will, to love the Lord with all our heart strength AND MIND (Mark 12:30). God touches our “hearts” but never by-passes our minds. The primary condition for opening the door to evil spirits is when a person “empties” his mind or “surrenders” his mind to a “power” from without. This teaching that God wants to give messages through a person necessitates the “emptying” of a person’s mind so as to “receive a word” from God. This is the same technique applied in many Eastern religions to obtain “oneness” with the so-called “Universal Mind” or “Higher Self.” It is an occult technique and when applied in the church it opens the door to lying and deceiving spirits who will not hessitate to use such an opportunity.
History have shown the danger of so-called “prophets” in the modern church. Most false movements and cults that came out of established Biblical churches started from “prophesies” given to an individual in the church. This type of “ministry” opens the door for just about any deception in the name of the Lord. There are many churches and individual Christians who have become spiritual casualties of this deceptive practice.
“So many have already been disillusioned, and some have even lost their faith because of this toleration of false prophets! The prophets themselves, in many cases, after having dabbled at being a ‘seer,’ intoxicated by the power that many attribute to them, have gone on to shipwreck their faith.”(7)
As we listen to these modern “prophet’s” proclamations and predictions, we find that they have nothing to do with revealing the written truths of God’s Word, but are claiming and proclaiming fresh and new “revelations” directly from God. Most of these “prophecies” are in the first person, as if God Himself is speaking!
“Although (they) deny that they are trying to add to Scripture, their views on prophetic utterance, gifts of prophecy, and revelation really do just that. As they add - however unwittingly - to God’s final revelation, they undermine the uniqueness and authority of the Bible.”(8)
Even though their prophetic revelations have been shown to be false and often misleading, these “prophets” are continued to be accepted in the Church as true prophets of God. There are even training centres for “novice” prophets, like Mike Bickle’s Shiloh Ministries and Bill Hamon’s Christian International Ministries. Bill Hamon is considered by many to be the father of the modern prophetic movement and even has a school for prophets. We need to understand that any gift of the Holy Spirit, of which prophecy was one in Biblical times, was a direct enablement from the Spirit, and was never “learned.” Bill Hamon further states, regarding prophetic revelations, that:
“The prophet who misses it occasionally in his prophesies may be ignorant, immature or presumptuous, or he may be ministering with too much zeal and too little wisdom and anointing. But this does not prove him to be a false prophet ... it is certainly possible for a true prophet to be inaccurate.”(9)
A prophet who “misses it occasionally?” Can a true prophet of God be inaccurate? Can the Holy Spirit make a mistake? Surely not! This un-Biblical teaching of modern day “prophecy” in the church should be of great concern to the believer and should be exposed for what it is - great deception! God’s Word is clear concerning a prophet who “misses it occasionally.” In Jeremiah 23:30-32,39 we read: “Therefore, declares the Lord, ‘I am against the prophets who steal words supposedly from me. Yes,’ declares the Lord, ‘I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, the Lord declares. I am against those who prophecy false dreams,’ declares the Lord. ‘Therefore I will surely forget you and cast you out of my presence ...’”
We will do well to heed God’s Word that warns of “... evil men and imposters (that) will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13).Jesus Himself warned us to “Watch out for false prophets ...” (Matt. 7:15), and that in the last days “... false prophets will appear ... to deceive ...” (Matt. 24:24).
We must not let ourselves be deceived by the modern Prophetic Movement. It is full of error and false teaching! God’s Word is the final and complete revelation of God to man. God has set it as final and complete so that we can be kept safe from false teaching and the deceptive messages of the Deceiver. One of the purposes of Satan is to get the Christian’s eyes off the Word of God. These so-called “prophesies” do just that. Christians become dependant upon these “revelations” and “prophesies” as a means of dealing with their fears and worries, just as an unsaved person relies on his daily horoscope to help him cope in his daily life. The Word of God now becomes secondary because the “prophet” deals with the person’s personal and immediate future.
The Modern Prophetic Movement is not Biblical! Modern “prophecy,” as practiced in the church today, is not a gift of the Holy Spirit! It is divination! It is forbidden by God!
I am aware that it will be difficult for many who are caught up in this movement to break from this deception and to place their faith solely in the written and revealed Word of God. They need to understand and accept that it is possible to be deceived, because “ ... such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
A PROPHECY FOR MODERN PROPHETS.
“The word of the Lord came to me ... Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: Hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! ... Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. They say, ‘The Lord declares,’ when the Lord has not sent them; yet they expect their words to be fulfilled. Have you not seen false visions and uttered lying divinations when you say, ‘The Lord declares,’ though I have not spoken? ... Therefore, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign Lord. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations ...They will bear their guilt - The prophet will be as guilty as the one who consults him.” (Ezekiel 13:1-3,6-9; 14:10).
1. Charismatic Chaos, John McArthur Jnr., Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992, Pp. 26,27.
2. War on the Saints, Jesse Penn-Lewis, The Overcomer Literature Trust, England, P.13.
3. The Seduction of Christianity, Dave Hunt and TA McMahon, Harvest House Publishers, Oregon, 1987, Pp. 12,13.
4. The Beautiful Side of Evil, Johanna Michaelson, Harvest House Publishers, Oregon, 1982, Pp. 174,175.
5. Charismatic Chaos, John McArthur Jnr., Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992, P. 81.
6. Becoming a Vessel of Honour, Rebecca Brown, Solid Rock Books, Woodburn, 1990, P. 121.
7. The New Prophets, Bill Randles, Plumbline Publishing, Pietermaritzburgh, South Africa, 1999, P. 60.
8. Charismatic Chaos, John McArthur Jnr., Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1992, P. 75.