The problem with the lack of prophetic accountability
I wasn’t going to write this because there are so many articles out there about the 2020 American election results, so why should I add to the chorus of opinions. So I hesitated, but I’ve felt the Lord now urge me to comment on a wider issue concerning it all. Not being an American, my interest in the result is not that intense, although of course I do recognise the influence American politics has on the rest of the world.
My issue here is about those who prophesied Donald Trump would win. Logically it seems he didn’t, and from all that we’ve seen so far (this is written in late November), he may not win any of his Court battles about the results either. We’ll see. Either way, my concern is not so much about any of that, but about the “prophetic” voices that so boldly claimed God had said Trump would be back in the White House, even suggesting it would be a landslide.
I could list many of those who claimed God had clearly shown them what would happen, how it would happen, and why it’s part of His plan, but I’m resisting to do that because so many others have named names and you can Google it for yourself anyway. The real issue we’re facing as believers is about those who claim to speak in God’s name so confidently about Trump’s victory but presented us with what seems to be a false prophecy. It didn’t happen and probably won’t happen. Maybe there’s something surprising yet to occur, but I’m not a prophet of God so I won’t presume to comment on that.
Actually, I’m tired of false prophecies. Tired of its repetitiveness, dismayed at the voices that claim to speak for God, very frustrated at the woeful lack of accountability, and saddened that such a special gift of hearing from God and humbly passing it onto the brethren, has been hijacked and manipulated. I’m also extremely disappointed how many believers succumb to false prophecies and don’t bother to test what’s being said. There – I’ve said my piece. As we would say in Australia, “I’m cheesed off”. (For non-British readers it means I’m exasperated, fed up, annoyed close to anger, and truly disgruntled).
My heartache about false prophecy is not simply anchored to the American election results, but to the wider amount of obvious false prophecies that are gushed out quite regularly through Christian media. When a false word doesn’t come to pass, the offending article, blog or YouTube is often blocked or removed so as not to embarrass the person who proclaimed it.
Where’s the required Scriptural accountability? Who is being challenged, and most importantly how are the false prophets being dealt with? Anyone can attack a false prophet via the internet, make a deriding comment, and take the high ground of righteousness, but what we need in the Body of Christ is a way of bringing false teachers and prophets to Biblical accountability.
We already have it in the New Testament (see e.g. Gal 1:6-9 / 1 Tim 1:20 and 6:3-5 / Titus 1:10-13 / 2 John 1:7-11), but even when it’s done correctly and wisely, most of the false prophets “duck and dive” to alter what they’ve said – they themselves don’t accept the correction even if it’s given in a Biblically appropriate manner. (“Duck and dive” is British/Australian slang, meaning to avoid a situation and not be completely honest about it).
So if a false prophet tries to sidestep accountability and say things like, “My word was from God, but it didn’t come to pass because the church didn’t believe it with faith” or “My word was correct but I missed the timing” – we still don’t have any success involving correction. Too often it seems that many prophetic ministries are willing to dodge being answerable.
I hesitate to rely too much on Old Testament texts about false prophecies, but notice what God has said in Deuteronomy chapter 18, and no it’s not the usual one about stoning a false prophet! Here it is:
“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of Yahweh does not take place or come true, that is a message Yahweh has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed. NIV Deuteronomy 18:22
I’ve underlined the part of the verse that says something quite surprising, “do not be alarmed”. Most other translations have “afraid” but the NIV has “alarmed”. This intrigued me because why would you be afraid of what a false prophet said? Surely, you’d just ignore him or maybe deride him, but you’d probably not be scared or afraid of him. So what does the word “afraid” really mean here?
Let’s unpack the word a little and get a broader understanding of what God is saying to us.
“You shall not be afraid of him”. The Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) has “fear” which is probably more accurate. It doesn’t mean don’t be afraid of him, but don’t be afraid of his prophecy because it’s empty and not from heaven. Also because false prophets had to be put to death, the people were not to be afraid of carrying out the required punishment upon that person (Deut 18:20).
Today of course we don’t go around killing false prophets, but the verse still has application for us as Christians. We shouldn’t be over-alarmed at prophecies if they turn out to be false and let it distract our faith. Concerned and disturbed, yes. It’s not that false prophecies are unimportant, but we don’t need to be over alarmed about their significance – pay no undue attention to it and focus on disciplining the messenger. To repudiate the false message is fine, but once that’s done move on to the more pressing issue, the bogus messenger. I’m not letting the false message be on no consequence, simply trying to get our focus adjusted a little.
As a result we shouldn’t necessarily be alarmed at what false prophets say, in terms of being scared of them (after all Jesus warned us ahead of time – Matthew 24:24), but we should endeavour to bring them to account. After all they’ve spoken in God’s holy Name, opened the Body up to scorn, and probably embarrassed us deeply. They should be taken to task and asked to repent.
Now let’s look at the wider issue, that of Christians being conned by false opinions or even prophecies. Even in the secular world we’re regularly swamped with people’s opinions. Many of the group discussion panels we see on TV these days purport to bring us news items but in reality, are just a group of people sharing their own opinions, usually devoid of any Biblical worldview. So right there, as Christians we have to test and filter what’s being presented to us. How much more so when it comes to “prophetic words”.
The most important question is not whether you’re hearing the voice of false prophets or teachers, because you probably already are in many ways through the internet. The question is whether you can accurately discern which voices are false. It will help if we can accept that spiritual falsity is a certainty we’ll face almost every day – in one way or another. Don’t be surprised there’s false teachings and prophecies in today’s church because Jesus almost promised it would happen!
“For false Christs and false prophets will arise, and will show signs and wonders, in order to lead astray, if possible, the elect.” Mark 13:22.
Now here’s an interesting insight about what to discern and how to do it. Most of us probably test a teaching by examining the actual wording to see if it’s supported by Scripture and in context. This is quite right, and it helps enormously, but Jesus gave us an extra way to test, and it’s to do with the whole life of the person, not just their words. In other words, their fruit, not only of the message they give, but their standard of daily living.
If they truly bring forth pure and righteous words, they will live a pure and righteous life – generally speaking. If they bring a false word, they will also bear false fruit in their daily lives. False teaching and false prophecy produce false living, and the reverse is also true. The false message or prophecy is relatively easy to produce, because it can come from the corrupt mind of a person, and indeed from the Father of Lies himself. The mouth can so easily sprout deceptive words (teaching or prophecy) if the heart and mind is not guarded and regulated by the Word of God.
The evidence of corrupt fruit from a corrupt mind will take time to expose itself, but it will happen and sometimes quite unexpectedly. A false prophet may give every indication they’re righteous, open to God and actively pursuing Him, but at a given moment when they’re under pressure or temptation, they will speak forth what’s in their heart.
Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. The good man brings out of his good treasure what is good; and the evil man brings out of his evil treasure what is evil.” Matthew 12:34.
When it comes to the question of discerning good from bad fruit, this is how Jesus put it:
“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? So every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognise them by their fruits.” Matthew 7:15-20.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism commented about this last verse by saying, “This is a short, plain and easy way whereby to know true from false prophets”.
Those who bring false prophecies and teachings may not seem to live a corrupt lifestyle and display bad fruit but given time it will become evident. False teaching can easily be known by the glaring fact that it usually doesn’t include the denial of self. Just look at some of the obvious false teachers to see how they accumulate expensive cars, houses, clothing and even jet planes. They even accumulate souls, and boast of how many attend their meetings, how many countries they’ve preached in, etc.
When it comes to false prophets it may not necessarily be extravagant cars and homes they display, but an extravagant attitude that usually shows a remarkable lack of humility. Yes, they can feign it, but their words will trip them up eventually. Trees don’t bear fruit overnight; it takes time to see what they produce – the good or the bad.
Always you’ll find a hidden flow of unrighteousness below what is often presented publicly as a pure river of godliness. Behind any doctrinal error there’ll be some form of moral compromise at work. A principle I’ve found helpful is that when a Christian succumbs to spiritual adultery (false teaching) that person will eventually also fall into physical adultery. You cannot separate outward falsehood from inner falsehood, however deceptive or subtle it might be.
Unfortunately, many believers think they can easily discern a ministry simply by reviewing what is presented to them outwardly. It might be due to the prophet’s charming personality, or the numbers who attend their church, the hits they have on YouTube, etc. After all they say, “he can’t be that wrong, he has so many followers, and look at his TV show, and he does quote Scripture quite a lot.”
That will never work in today’s society because of the way media works and manipulates things. What we need to do is patiently and prayerfully wait until we see evidence of an enduring righteous way of living, which is hard to do if you don’t have access to their private lifestyle. However the upside of today’s media coverage does allow us to see how they act publicly, how they speak and sometimes live, all of which can assist us to discern. We look for integrity, authentic humility, a good ethical foundation, transparent financial dealings, and strict adherence to marital faithfulness – all these at the very least.
Having said all that, we have the wonderful working of the Holy Spirit to sometimes bypass all that and give us a revelatory perception about the false prophet or teacher. So many times the Spirit has alerted the saints early on about such-a-such ministry well before evidence of their corrupt nature is known. Bless God for that!
Nevertheless the onus is still on us collectively as the Body of Christ to discern properly, using Scripture alone as our template through which we gauge any teaching or prophecy.
Well there it is, I’ve probably said what I needed to say. I’m not trying to attack this ministry or that ministry just for the sake of spite, neither mock those whose prophesies turned out to be false. The American election aside, we as the Church have a very real issue that needs our attention, that being the deplorable lack of accountability, particularly within the prophetic movement.
I wish it were otherwise, but it’s not. Jesus said we would experience this, so the best we can do now is to discern well, stick to Scripture, seek Holy Spirit insight, pray for those who are in such deception, and lovingly but firmly correct them where we can. Sometimes we may have to shake the dust from our feet and move out of the company of those who are resistant to correction, and definitely when the case arises, expose the false shepherds and prophets among us.
If we’re at all serious about coming to a state of spiritual maturity (corporately and individually), here is one glaring fault needing our attention. It hurts any true follower of Jesus to witness the public shame and mockery that comes our way when a leader falls from grace, or an unwise person prophesies false words and so embarrasses us all.
But God is able to deliver us from the hurt of the shame, the sting of mockery hurled at us from the world, and the sorrow in our hearts that His people have been ridiculed once more. In Scripture God has encouraged us to individually be on guard, to not fall from loyalty to Christ, but to focus on growing in grace and knowledge of Him who saved us and called us to be separated from the world system.
If we want to grow in grace, it should be the ultimate thought of our lives to do so. "For as a man thinks in his heart, so he is” (Proverbs 23:7). Let’s keep focussed on Christ, desiring spiritual growth (in accordance with the Word, not man’s methods), and not be so easily swayed by the politics of “now” or the fleeting approval of “today”. We have eternity before us, so let us be as true to Scripture as we possibly can be, neither twisting its truth, ignoring its power, or overlooking its ability to convict.
“You therefore beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that
you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
2 Peter 3:17-18