Dem Pesky False Prophets (Part 2)

Clearly this is part 2 to a part 1. You are welcome to click on that HERE, if you had not read it yet.

To continue… one may assume that a true prophet would have the qualities that were suggested from Matthew 7 and enumerated in the last post.

  1. A true prophet understands him/herself. The prophet understands that he/she is called by God to speak on the behalf of God. <As noted before, this is not a good test since many false prophets, mistakenly, believe themselves to be speaking for God.>
  2. A true prophet claims to speak in God’s name (rather than some other name). Again, not the best test since many people will claim to speak in the name of God… or the Bible… or Jesus Christ… or the Holy Spirit.
  3. A true prophet does signs and wonders that provide veracity that they are true prophets— at least if they do signs and wonders. Many many prophets in the Bible did not appear to do miraculous signs, and the passage in Matthew 7 does not imply that all true prophets perform miracles. In fact, Matthew 7 points to an opposite problem. The ability to perform miracles is NOT guarantee that an individual is not a false prophet.
  4. A true prophet produces good fruit.  We will talk about this last one the most, and note that #5 won’t be included on this list (it doesn’t really fit here).

Matthew 7 suggests that the most valid of these is the 4th one. A true prophet produces good fruit. False prophets can also be productive… but what they produce is ultimately worthless or counterproductive. The issue here is then not success.  False prophets can be quite successful. So what might be some good fruit?

  • Truth. A true prophet says what is true. Truth is identified in confirming to what is true. If God is true, the Bible is true, and the Created Word is true, then what the prophet reveals must conform to it. The words of the prophet must speak of God in line with the character of God. It must also conform to canon (the Holy Bible). It must also conform to Creation. So if a prophet was one who retells the future, most don’t, the words must conform to that future.
  • Moral good.  A true prophet must be fruit-bearing… but such fruit must be a moral good. So if prophet seeks wealth or power (a la Simon Magus) then the person is not a true prophet. If the prophet places him/herself above morality, then the person is false. When the prophet appears to be working at odds to God or the church, one should be concerned. (Note of course that a prophet, like Jeremiah, sometimes preaches against God’s people to encourage them to return to God.)

So let’s consider possible false prophets:

Hananiah.  Jeremiah 28.  Did Hananiah know he was a false prophet. Not sure. He was a court prophet, meaning that he served the king. There is an inherent challenge to serve both God AND king. Nathan appeared to be able to do it. Hananiah clearly wasn’t up to the task. He ended up telling the king and leaders of Judah what they wanted to hear. Ultimately, his message was proven false. His false message also led people to do the wrong thing— keep on keeping on.

Harold Camping.  Harold Camping is a different type of false prophet. For those who don’t know, Camping made several predictions over around 17 as to the return of Christ. He would probably be described as a Christian. Most would probably use the term “born-again” to describe him. As such, we might be uncomfortable calling him a false prophet. Also, he may not have self-identified as a prophet. Instead of saying that he is an accurate sharer of God’s message. However, he did claim to accurately discover and share secrets in the Bible. In reality, he was filtering the Bible through the dubious frameworks of numerology and pretrib-style dispensationalism. Unfortunately, bad came of it. Many Christians bought into this message… and then were disappointed.  100 million dollars was siphoned into a world-wide Christian message campaign that was false. Camping sold off many of his radio stations for this (at least he wasn’t doing this for the money). Non-Christians were given added confirmation that Christians were gullible. And since the message was linked to the Bible as if the predictions actually came from the Bible (although they didn’t), so some people would understandably reject the Bible.

Sadhu Sundar Selvaraj.  This is a recent self-styled prophet in a somewhat classic stereotype (claiming special powers to foretell based on information from God). He has made lots of prophecies with very little success. But in each case there is a contingent aspect to the prophecy to cover his back side. There is nothing wrong with that I suppose. But after awhile one must wonder if he is just a faker. Certainly, he has benefited from the celebrity status accorded him by those faithful to him. Some people have been able to overlook his bad foretelling, and his bad theology (like the Prophet Joel floating around the conference that he was speaking at). But some believed one of his predictions so much, that they either (1) fooled a major network to create a false news story, or (2) a member of that network did it intentionally. Certainly not good stuff. Falsifying news stories to provide veracity to a false message is truly wrong. Instead of rehashing this painful story… please just review my previous posts on this.

“Prophecy” and a Confession, of Sorts

I was talking to my son about a logical glitch I have in a couple of my blog posts from a few months ago. He suggested that, instead of fixing them, I put a blog post about them.

English: Baptism of Christ
English: Baptism of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In one post, I was complaining about a self-styled “prophet” from America, who had made a “prophecy” that the Philippines would be a great nation and a beacon of God’s light to the world. I am purposely not choosing the exact words but you get the idea. I complained that this is not real prophecy. ALMOST ALWAYS, prophets exhort in the Bible. That is, they encourage people to good action. Even the book of Revelation is primarily exhortational. It was written to those suffering to warn them of more dangerous times, and to encourage them to remain faithful to the end (very much like the message of the Epistle to the Hebrews). The details are not unimportant, but not of primary importance. To give a “prophecy” regarding the future without exhortation is simply “tickling the ears.” It is akin to the fortune teller giving feel good information to a client. Here in the Philippines, people are much like those in the US (along with a number of warm-blooded animal species) in that they like their ears tickled. It adds to the popularity (and pockets) of the said “prophet.”

In a second post, I was complaining about a self-styled “prophet” from America (they all get over here to the Philippines eventually) who stated that a leader of a large religious movement here would be President of the Philippines… if the people would be faithful to God. Now, personally, having no interest in that individual ever running any particular organization… least of all government presidency, the prophetic exhortation encouraged me to want to be “unfaithful.” Still, I was annoyed by the message since it wasn’t testable… the “prophet” (“prophetess”) gave herself an out. If the person becomes president (hasn’t so far) she must be a true prophet of God. He the person does not become president… she wasn’t wrong, the people just weren’t faithful enough.

You will note, I placed these “prophets” in a no-win position. If there is no message of exhortation, I question that it could be a true message from God. If there is one, I question the individual’s unwillingness to truly be tested to see if what they have to say is from God.  That’s not really fair. I have to admit it.

Part of the trouble I have is with term “prophecy” itself. I would rather not see it used. Most times “prophecy” is used in the Bible, the term “exhortation” would appear to be more appropriate. Prophecies are usually not the fortuneteller type… but the word of exhortation or encouragement to be faithful and true to God. When the self-styled “prophets” (sorry… I just have to use quotation marks… can’t help it) go into fortuneteller mode… perhaps it would be better to utilize a different term. Maybe we could call it “apocalypsis.” The term is from the Latin for the revealing of what was covered or hidden. The reason for the different term would be to release us from the messy baggage of the world prophecy or prophet.

A prophet in the New Testament (and in the first century church) seemed to primarily be one who goes from church to church and preaches, encourages, and exhorts the membership to be faithful and holy. It is curious that in the Didache (apparently a first century work) prophecy was not to be questioned… but the prophet was to be tested. That seems to make no sense. Perhaps others would understand this better. To me it suggests the ambiguity of the role. Prophets were to be from God and to be received as if they were speaking God’s truth to us. Yet their message was not supposed to be innovative… but point people back to the words and life of Christ.

One passage that means a lot to me is John 15:26 – 16:4. In this, the Helper/Spirit of Truth will be sent from God the Father to testify regarding the Son. And the disciples are also to testify regarding Christ based on what they have seen and lived. There is more in the passage. A few findings from it seem to be:

  • The Disciples are to point people back to Jesus, His words, His example.
  • The Spirit of God also points back to Jesus.
  • In doesn’t seem to be a primary role of God’s disciples or the Spirit of God to be innovative but restoring people to the key truth in Christ.

Additionally notes from the passage:

  • Being a theist doesn’t mean one is better than an atheist. Atheists claim that theists can be really really evil since they can use their “god” as justification for nearly any heinous act. Jesus appears to agree with the charge of atheists here.
  • A healthy theism only exists with a true understanding of who God the Father is, and who Christ is.

I feel we need more people point people back to Christ… back to God… and less innovative speakers who start calling themselves prophets so as to be listened to. (I have made the argument among evangelicals here in the Philippines before that when pastors are not listened to, they change their title to bishop. When bishops don’t get listened to, they change their title to apostle. When apostles don’t listened to, they change their title to the “Appointed Son of God” or “Emperor of the Universe.”

So, there is my confession. I rejected prophecies because they have caveats and because they do not have caveats. Annoyingly, both arguments seem to be sound. Perhaps it is best not to think of them as prophecies at all (apocalypsis or otherwise) … but the opinions of people who want to be listened to.

Instead of using titles to try to get adherents, I believe we should focus more on pointing people to Christ… as witnessed and testified to by the Twelve, and confirmed in the Spirit of Truth.

<Bracketing my article with two VERY different perspectives below.>