Prophecy Pt1 - Unaccountable Prophecy

Prophecy Part I:
The Dangers of Unaccountable Prophecy

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” Henri Bergson
“The greatest friend of truth is time, her greatest enemy is prejudice, and her constant companion is humility.”

Charles Caleb Colton

“It is one thing to show a man that he is in error, and another to put him in possession of truth.”
John Locke

“Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it may be outraged by silence.”
Henri Frederic Amiel

“The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is.”
Winston Churchill
In our last blog, Simplicity in Revelation: Trusting the Power of God’s Word, we spoke about the importance of communicating spiritual truths with clarity and brevity. We emphasized the sacred trust of sharing what God has entrusted to us and warned against diluting revelations with unnecessary embellishments. We also urged stewardship of God’s revealed word with discipline and humility, advocating for faithful transmission of truth unencumbered by personal distractions. How many times have we said or have we heard someone say “God said” or “God told me” as if we are sure we know fully what God is saying? We humans are not always the most reliable messengers. Emotions, experiences, desires, biases, and perceptions can cloud our judgment, and misinterpretations are all too common (see our blog Shedding the Colored Glass: Discovering Clarity). We cannot just claim divine inspiration without some serious backup. In an age of spiritual confusion and deception, it is more crucial than ever for believers to cultivate discernment—the ability to recognize truth from falsehood, and wisdom from folly. This discernment is especially important when it comes to evaluating claims of prophecy or revelations purported to be from God. The Bible warns against being led astray by false christs and false prophets (Mark 13:22-23). So, how can we know if someone is truly speaking for God?

Setting the Scene
A troubling event played out decades ago involving a self-proclaimed prophet. This ‘prophet’ held strange theological perspectives, filtering everything through his personal lens. He existed as a lone wolf, believing submission to others was unnecessary. The saga began when this ‘prophet’ delivered a prophetic word to the leaders of a local church. With due diligence, the elders prayerfully considered the prophecy but found no witness aligning with the message. They submitted the word to those outside of the church they held themselves accountable to, again, no witness, so they opted to shelve the word. Angered by their discernment, the ‘prophet’ took the same word he said was specific to the first church to different congregation. There, they invited him to share his word with the people, and he soon began drawing comparisons between the two communities, sowing discord in the first assembly that had shelved his prophecy. When the elders confronted him about this divisive behavior, upholding the Word of God as the measure for all prophecies, the ‘prophet’ arrogantly and ironically claimed his words carried more weight than Scripture because Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4, ESV). As God had spoken these words directly to him, it carried more weight and importance than any verse from the Bible. Unable to reconcile with this unrepentant individual, the elders warned him, and when he did not desist from his behavior, advised the church to distance themselves from such a divisive influence, in keeping with biblical instruction (Romans 16:17). Some people left with the ‘prophet,’ and the ‘prophet’ issued another proclamation of condemnation and judgment upon the local church, declaring God would remove their “lampstand” within 30 days. (Revelation 1:20 uses the symbol of a lampstand to portray a church, and represents the role of the Church as a light in the world, revealing the truth of God’s Word and spreading His message.) Yet, two decades later, that faithful church continues to thrive, and the ‘prophet’ continues in obscurity—a sobering testament to the emptiness of his claims and the wisdom of the church’s biblical stance.

The Biblical Standard for Affirming a Prophetic Calling
This story underscores a significant challenge facing the modern church in which self-appointed prophets operate outside proper accountability to sound doctrine and legitimate spiritual authority. In stark contrast, the New Testament model for recognizing and affirming a genuine prophetic ministry rests on key theological foundations. Apostolic authority, as exemplified by Paul, was foundational to the early church, with true prophets confirming the apostolic message. We see this pattern in Paul's letters, where he asserts his apostleship and expects his teachings to be acknowledged as commands from the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:37). Additionally, within the early church, prophets operated within a framework of accountability, working in tandem with apostles and elders. Acts 11:27-30 demonstrates this pattern as church leaders in Antioch affirmed the ministry of the prophet Agabus. Similarly, Acts 21:10-14 portrays Agabus being recognized by elders in another city. This practice of operating under recognition and oversight provided a critical layer of accountability, confirming the validity of their calling and message. Accountability to spiritual authority is indispensable because it guards against unchecked prophetic voices sowing confusion or promoting aberrant teachings contrary to sound doctrine (Acts 2:42). These biblical principles for affirming prophetic ministry stand in stark contrast to the self-appointed ‘prophet,’ and the story illustrates the chaos and division that can result from unaccountable ‘prophecy.’ When a self-proclaimed prophet rejects the discernment of godly leaders and sows discord among believers, they have violated the biblical standard for prophecy.
Beyond the scrutiny of leadership, a genuine calling is not self-proclaimed but discerned, tested, and ultimately recognized and affirmed by the broader church community. As believers collectively discern the prophet’s character, lifestyle, and whether their words edified the Body and aligned with Scripture, a collective witness would emerge—either affirming or rejecting their prophetic ministry. This process provides a critical layer of accountability that safeguards the church from deception and error from self-appointed prophets disconnected from the larger community of faith. In Deuteronomy 18:22 (ESV), Moses declared, “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously.” This principle is echoed in 1 Samuel 3:19-20 (ESV), “And Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba knew that Samuel was established as a prophet of the Lord.” Specific, testable prophecies that accurately come to pass can serve to validate a prophet’s divine calling and message. However, as vital as this evidence may be, it must be coupled with the other biblical markers—conformity to Scripture, godly character, accountability to leaders, and affirmation of the church. A few isolated fulfilled predictions do not automatically confirm someone as a true prophet if they fail to meet the broader qualifications outlined in Scripture. False prophets are not a new the Old Testament warns against them (Deuteronomy 18:20-22, Jeremiah 23:16-32). In the New Testament, Jesus cautions against false prophets, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15-16, ESV). Building upon the foundation of recognizing and affirming prophetic ministry according to biblical standards, we now shift to the ongoing nature of prophecy before we explore the discernment of prophetic words.

The Ongoing Nature of Prophecy
There is a prevailing belief that the completion of the Bible renders prophecy obsolete, advocating for Scripture’s sufficiency within the church. Proponents of this view often quote
1 Corinthians 13:8 (ESV), “Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.” However, a thorough examination of Scripture unveils an alternative viewpoint. When we consider the verse in its broader context, we discover crucial insight provided by Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:9-10: “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away” (ESV). Paul likens our current state to childhood, immature and incomplete, and the ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’ state he refers to is not synonymous with the completion of the Bible but rather with the return of Christ, where we will see God face to face and know fully as we are fully known (verse 12). Acts 2 reinforces this perspective as Peter quotes the prophet, Joel, saying, “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2:17, ESV; cf Joel 2:28). So rather than prophecy ending with the completion of the Bible, Peter indicates widespread prophetic manifestations will mark the last days leading up to Christ’s return. Now, with the foundation of our understanding of biblical standards and the role of prophecy within the church, we shift our focus to delve deeper into the nature of prophecy itself.

The Nature of New Testament Prophecy
With the completion of the New Testament writings, there is a sense that the full revelation of God’s plan has been revealed through Jesus Christ. Hebrews 1:1-2 (ESV), “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world.” Thus, unlike biblical prophecy, which carries divine authority, modern-day prophecy lacks inherent divine authority and certainly contains human imperfections. Paul makes the distinction in 1 Corinthians 14 as he separates his apostolic authority from the prophetic gift operating in the church (v.37-38). Prophetic messages are to be weighed and evaluated by others (v.29). Additionally, Paul, in discussing the proper conduct during worship in 1 Corinthians 11:5, says: “But every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven” (ESV). This verse indicates that women were actively participating in the spontaneous, mutually edifying practice of prophesying (Joel and Peter speak of women prophesying) within the early Christian community, which confirms prophecy being more distinct from authoritative teaching. The idea that prophesying is distinct from authoritative teaching is directly rooted in the fact that women can participate in prophecy while maintaining the distinction regarding authority over men. While women are valued and empowered by God, women in positions of leadership must be rooted in Scripture and not personal opinion, 1 Timothy 2:12 emphasizes that women should not exercise authority over men in the context of the church (see also 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, Ephesians 5:22-24, Titus 2:3-5. For more read our blog Women in Authority: Cultural Perspectives vs. God’s Design). Modern prophecy, although lacking divine authority of Biblical prophecy, is a gift for building up believers and the church must approach prophecy not with blind acceptance but through testing and sifting. As Paul exhorts, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, ESV). While the prophetic gift continues, our current state is imperfect and incomplete. We know in part, and we prophesy in part (1 Corinthians 13:9-13), and we are fallible in the way we think, perceive, and speak. Thus, modern-day prophecy does not carry the same level of infallibility or authority as Scripture. We must acknowledge its potential imperfections, be very careful when speaking in God’s name, and not accept a prophetic word blindly without scrutiny and confirmation.

Dear reader, the story of this renegade prophet should serve as a sobering wake-up call to the body of Christ. We cannot afford to be naïve or lackadaisical about unaccountable, self-appointed prophetic voices that arise. Such influences have the potential to shipwreck faith, divide churches, and lead people astray from sound doctrine. As followers of Christ, while embracing the ongoing gift of prophecy with open hearts, we must commit ourselves to the difficult work of biblical discernment, ever watchful for counterfeits that would lead us astray. We cannot simply accept any ‘prophecy’ at face value but must carefully weigh it against the plumb line of Scripture. Does it align with the counsel of godly leaders? Is the character of the messenger above reproach? Most importantly, does it direct people toward deeper devotion to Christ and His unchanging Word? When unsubstantiated prophecies emerge that contradict the Bible, sow discord among believers, or undermine legitimate spiritual authority, we must have the courage to reject them outright, no matter how influential or charismatic the person may appear. Our allegiance is to God’s truth alone. At the same time, we dare not become cynical and dismiss the ongoing gift of prophecy. God still speaks through His Spirit to edify, encourage, and guide His people. Our call is to “not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21). For those entrusted with a prophetic mantle, may integrity and godly fear mark each utterance, removing all pretense of self-promotion or filtered through our fallible nature. Only words borne of deep communion with Christ and aligning with the full counsel of Scripture can bear eternal fruit. May we be discerning people, quick to affirm what is true and reject what is false. May we joyfully celebrate the voices of those confirmed prophetic ministries that, in humility and accountability, point us toward greater intimacy with our Lord Jesus Christ. As we test all things, may the Lord sharpen our spiritual senses to recognize His unmistakable voice amidst the noise, guiding us deeper into the beauties of His unfailing truth. The truth will continue to stand while deception fades—praise be to God!

Next week, in Weigh the Message, Discern the Voice, we will continue our discussion on further examining how we discern authentic prophecy.

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