When “Prophets” Fail – What is Wrong?

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Before the recent election transpired, I happened across a newspaper article reporting the predictions of several well-known present-day evangelists. Each evangelist had a special “word from the Lord” that the former president would defy the polls and enjoy a resounding triumph to be elected for another term. That stirred my curiosity, so I decided to search if other “prophets” had come forth and echoed the same prophecy. I’m sure my search was incomplete, but I was amazed at how often that prediction was confirmed at the mouths of other popular ministers.

As you know, these prophecies failed.

Now what? How are we to relate to the prophets of today when so many of their supposed revelations are obviously a complete failure?

My school days were spent in public school in the South. It was fairly common that a classmate would come to school and tell us things that had been prophesied in his church the day before. As I grew older and worked in construction, workmates would sometimes challenge me that we were missing something; because our church leaders and members did not receive special revelations from God. After all, the New Testament speaks of the church members receiving spiritual gifts (1Cor 12:7-11) and among these the “gift of prophecy” is specifically mentioned.

I would sometimes feel cheated. Not only did our church services lack dramatic prophesies, we did not have other manifestations such as tongues or even commanded healings. I would sometimes wonder if we were really a true church. While I enjoyed the singing of hymns, discussion of Bible passages in Sunday School, and took notes of the well-prepared sermons, were we still missing something? Our services were mostly quietly reverent, and the focus was on learning more of God and His will for our lives.

And so, we have two sides. On one hand we have prophets speaking in the name of the Lord. On the other we have churches where such a revelation is not even expected. What do we know for sure?

• We know the prophesies given in both the Old and New Testaments are from the Lord and will be fulfilled. The Apostle Peter instructs us in his Second book, “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place…” 1:19 and “That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets…”(3:2) Knowing this, we should read and reread the ancient prophecies for they certainly shed light on our present situation in world events.

• We know prophets in the Old Testament era whose word did not come to pass were false prophets. “When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.” (Deut 18:22) A preceding verse in this same context would imply that this prophet was to be put to death. (v20)

• We know there will be false prophets in our day and their message will be enticing and deceptive. “For false Christs and false prophets shall rise, and shall shew signs and wonders, to seduce, if it were possible, even the elect. But take ye heed: behold, I have foretold you all things.” Mark 13:22-23 These false prophets will be identifiable because they are unable to live holy lives. They will have signs of iniquity in their everyday life. “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.” Matthew 7:15-17

• We know the disciples were promised they would receive the complete revelation of Truth from God through the Holy Ghost. Jesus spoke of this when He informed His disciples that He had many things He wanted to teach them but they could not “bear” it. (John 16:12-12) He promised them the complete revelation would be given to them through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. He promised the Holy Spirit would “bring all things to (their) remembrance” (14:26 the Gospels), would “teach them all things” (14:26 – the epistles) and would “show (them) things to come” (16:13 – The Revelation). We now have that Holy Spirit-gifted enlightenment in our hands-the Bible.

• We know the “gift of prophecy” was a temporary gift for the early church and when the perfect revelation of the Holy Spirit was complete and written, the gift would be taken away. The Apostle Paul addresses spiritual gifts and unknown tongues in 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. In between these two chapters he shares with us the profound blessing of charity, a permanent Christian virtue that will last throughout the church age and into eternity. In chapter 13, Paul inserts another truth, that prophecies will fail, tongues will cease, and knowledge will vanish away. Knowing that when the Apostolic age was ending the truth was completely revealed we also know “when that which is perfect is come then that which is in part shall be done away…”

• We know that other signs ceased even while the Apostles still lived. By the time Paul penned the second letter to the Corinthians, he was magnifying the superior place of grace over miracles in the Christian’s life. He testified of begging God to be healed and then of welcoming the answer that came back that it is better to find God’s grace than to be healed. (2Cor 12:7-10) Other Christians were deathly sick, or remained ill though they had begged God for healing. (2Tim 4:20)

So being given all of these New Testament principles, do we expect to receive continued extra-Biblical prophecies regarding current events?

NO! We do not believe it to be in the norm of New Testament discipleship to make specific predictions and claim it to be “a word from the Lord.” While there was a place for this, that time has passed and will not come again. Today we have “a more sure word of Prophecy”, the written word of God. We may study and preach it and we will never go wrong unless we begin to add our own suppositions to it. In fact, we are warned not to accept any other revelation whether from man or angel in our present age. “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:8-9 It is our calling to explain and expound upon the Word of God, but we are forbidden to bring any other teaching, philosophy or prediction into our message.

We do believe prophesying in the manner of the Biblical method will continue. “But he that prophesieth speaketh unto men to edification, and exhortation, and comfort.” 1 Corinthians 14:3 Preaching the revealed Word of God is our communicating the Word of Life and we intend to continue in this virtue.

We have the eternal Word of God. Let us place our complete trust in what is given to us by Holy prophets of God -- not in false prophets whose words are false words.

"The prophet that hath a dream, let him tell a dream; and he that hath my word, let him speak my word faithfully. What is the chaff to the wheat? saith the LORD. Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that steal my words every one from his neighbour. Behold, I am against the prophets, saith the LORD, that use their tongues, and say, He saith. Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams, saith the LORD, and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all, saith the LORD." Jeremiah 23:28-32 (KJV)