“I would like to repent for inaccurately prophesying that Donald Trump would win a second term as the President of the United States.” These are the words of Jeremiah Johnson of Jeremiah Johnson Ministries. He, along with a few other Christian leaders, had insisted that the Lord had told them for sure that Donald Trump was going to have a second term. Yet it didn’t come to pass.
So, what are we to make of these prophets and their prophesies? If they are indeed prophets of the Lord how did they get it wrong? If they are not 100% accurate do they have any credibility at all? Does the gift of prophecy as a spiritual gift even exist today? What do we make of the prophecies of a man life David Wilkerson? These are questions that serious followers of Christ are looking for some guidance on.
In regard to prophets and prophecies, Bible believing Christians have tended to fall into three camps. There are those who completely reject prophecy as a gift for today. Thus, these prophets are seen as having no credibility and many times are written off as kooks.
Others have completely embraced the prophets and their prophecies almost uncritically. Their words are taken almost as Gospel and as equivalent to the Scriptures. This group would believe that these are men and women of God and they are in touch with God. Thus, what they say must be accepted and we must be careful what we say against them because the Scripture says “Touch not the LORD’s anointed or His prophets.”
A third response is the “I don’t know” approach. This, “I hope they are right but maybe they are wrong — but I don’t know so I’m going to freak out a bit” methodology probably is not that helpful. Certainly, there must be a more reasoned perspective.
The bad news is that these prophets and their prophecies have made evangelical Christianity look a little foolish in the world’s eyes. Foolish looking not because of the preaching of the cross which would be what should be expected. Rather, foolish because it is obvious God is not speaking to our leaders the way they say He is.
The good news is that the Bible addresses this matter in the simplest of terms. It addresses the issue of prophecy still existing. It provides guidance regarding what a prophet is and what a prophet is not in our world today. It also provides a framework for dealing with prophets and prophecies within the life of the Church.
The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, deals with almost all of this in one short section of Scripture found at the end of the letter to the Thessalonians. The Apostle’s words give us some straightforward guidance. He writes in 1Thessalonians 5:19-22.
19 Do not quench the Spirit.
20 Do not despise prophecies,
21 but test everything; hold fast what is good.
22 Abstain from every form of evil.
A few words of explanation and application are in order.
Quenching the Spirit means “to extinguish a flame.” We should not be those who simply pour cold water on something someone claims is Spirit-led just because we don’t like it. That is forbidden here.
Despising prophecy means “to look down on” or “to ridicule.” We should not reject out of hand a message someone claims to be from God just because it doesn’t jive with our thinking. This command allows that prophets and prophecy exist today. What is a prophet? A prophet is someone who declares the revelation of God. Please note that this is more forth-telling than it is foretelling.
“Testing all things” means that we “examine or take out for a test drive” the claims. We should not accept prophecy uncritically. If we are commanded to test prophecies this means that today’s prophets don’t speak infallibly. They don’t have the same accuracy and authority as the Old Testament Prophets and the New Testament Apostles who are the Christians’ equivalent of Old Testament Prophets. I like to say, with no offense intended, that they are little p’s not big P’s.
Our testing should involve a very simple formula. It should involve:
- What we know about God — our God sense; Does this prophecy sound like God? Does it square with His character? Does it reflect what He has done in the past? Does it line up with His promises?
- What we know about the Scriptures — our Bible sense; Does this prophecy square with what God has already revealed in His Word? Does it come in conflict with clear Bible teaching? Does it violate Scriptural mandates?
- What we know about the person — our people sense; Is the prophet and thus his or her prophecies credible? Are they people known for their integrity or could they have a different motive here that could make what they say suspect?
- What we know about what’s going on in the world — our common sense. Rarely are we asked by God to throw out all reason. God gave us minds to use to come to logical conclusions.
“Holding fast what is good,” means that I “make my own that which passes the test, and believe it.” We should not throw away the proverbial baby with the bath water. We must eat the meat and spit out the bones. Please note that a prophecy may only be partially true as in the case of Agabus in Acts 21:10ff.
“Abstaining from all forms of evil” almost assuredly means to distance oneself from questionable prophets and their prophesies. When we entertain them we legitimize them not just in our own eyes but in the eyes of others. That is not something we want to be doing.
With these verses in mind, what do we do with prophets and their prophecies? We can’t dismiss them. We can’t mock them or ignore them. What we can do is test them, throwing anything out that fails the test and believing and acting on what is found to be trustworthy based on our knowledge of Scripture; our knowledge of God, what we know about the speaker, and what we know about current world events. In other words, we should take seriously that which passes the test.
Today’s prophets are not like the Old Testament Prophets who spoke “Thus says the LORD.” The best they can say, unless they are quoting the Scriptures, is “Thus says the Lord I think.” If anything, they are like those of whom Paul says, “for we know in part and we prophecy in part” and “we see in a mirror dimly” (1 Corinthians 13:9 & 12). In 1 Corinthians 14:29 we read, “let two or three prophets speak and let the others judge.” This again points the need for the Church to police the prophets and their prophecies.
Because prophecy today is at best “in part” and at best, “we see in a glass dimly,” it is necessary that what is prophesied be judged — to be sifted through. Therefore, we must follow through with the Biblical principles Paul has outlined in evaluating prophets and the prophecies that come our way. If we do so we will strike the balance outlined in Scripture, not miss what God is truly saying to us and at the same time maintain our credibility and sanity.
Blessings, Pastor Dave Watson