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Saturday, September 02, 2017

Seven Reasons I Don’t Believe You’re a Prophet

Compared to the supernatural, real life can be pretty tedious.

I still recall vividly my childish frustration with the bits of C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia books that take place in WWII-era England. I wanted the Pevensies to hurry up and get through the magic wardrobe, or climb up on the picture frame in Eustace Scrubb’s bedroom, or for Eustace and Jill Pole to open the mysterious door in the stone wall behind the gym at their boarding school, or just go ahead and use whatever method they were going to use to travel to the land of talking beasts, dwarves, witches, giants and who-knows-what; the place where all the truly exciting things were happening. England was drab, grey and uninteresting by comparison.

I think some people feel pretty much the same way about the Christian life. They keep hoping for something a little zippier to come along.

Pyrotechnics and Other Miracles

These folks read the Old Testament, the Gospels and the book of Acts and come to the conclusion that the life of faith should be full of angelic appearances, fire from heaven, prophetic utterances, speaking in tongues and miraculous healings — or any other kind of visible, inarguable evidence of God’s presence and activity.

I’m here to tell you that life as a follower of Jesus Christ in the latter part of the Church Age ain’t the least bit like that … just in case you haven’t noticed yet.

So why not?

Nobody asked, but since I opened this can of worms the other day, I thought I might do my best to lay out my case against modern “prophets” and their rather dubious pronouncements. Having a spiritual gift that makes people stand up and take notice might be cool, but there are solid biblical reasons to question the validity of such claims today.

The Case Against Modern Prophecy

We do not live in a theocracy, and the Old Testament law has been fulfilled in Christ, so I will not be buying you a backstage pass to meet the Stones if you tell me you possess the prophetic gift. But here are seven reasons I am highly unlikely to take you seriously if you do insist on it:
  1. The faith has been delivered “once for all”. It’s Jude who makes this statement, and most Bible historians agree his epistle was the second-last New Testament book written. The final book, Revelation, adds to our knowledge of the future but does not in any way reframe the Christian faith. God has spoken, and Jude indicates he’s done.
  2. Different doctrine” is a bad thing. In another very late epistle, Paul tells Timothy “no other doctrine” is to be taught. In its follow-up he adds, “guard the good deposit entrusted to you”. If your “prophecy” adds nothing to that “deposit”, it’s not truly prophetic. If it does, it’s “different doctrine” and therefore not to be taught.
  3. The apostles’ teaching is the gold standard by which Christians judge truth from error. John declares, “Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” Thus any alleged new revelation that merely reiterates the apostles’ doctrine is at best redundant, while any new revelation that departs from the apostles’ doctrine should at best be considered mistaken. (Yes, this is from yet another late epistle.)
  4. Paul says prophecies will “pass away”. “Pass away” is literally “be rendered useless” or “be made ineffective” or “be brought to nothing”. Once we agree that the teaching of the apostles is what Christians use to separate truth from error, we can argue all we like about the technicalities. Have prophecies officially passed away yet? It no longer matters: the apostles are done teaching, and new revelation serves no useful purpose during this present era in God’s dealings with mankind. Prophecy is no longer necessary, which is pretty much the dictionary definition of “rendered useless”.
  5. Paul connects the passing away of the prophetic gift with something else being “complete”. The apostle speaks of prophecy as “partial” and contrasts it with something to come that is “complete” [teleios]. I’m only one of many who believe Paul is here referring to the soon-to-be-collected written word of God. A study of the NT use of teleios shows this need not be some kind of distant, eternal perfection, but something potentially achievable within the span of a human lifetime. He tells the Corinthians, “in understanding be men” [teleios], meaning mature or fully qualified.
  6. “Scripture” as it stands is sufficient to make us “complete”. Around the same time Jude was written, Paul told Timothy that what he had already received was adequate to make him or any other man of God “complete, equipped for every good work”. What else do we need?

    (Also, don’t you find it just a little bit intriguing that so many of these references to the sufficiency of the existing word of God occur in the last few books of the Bible to be written?)
  7. Nothing that passes as “prophecy” today meets the biblical test for prophetic authority. A prophet has to get it right, and get it right consistently. When even Charisma Magazine writer R. Loren Sandford declares, “The vast majority of prophetic words spoken over my own life and ministry by recognized prophetic people have failed to materialize,” you have to start wondering exactly what he means by “prophetic”. Then when Sandford adds, “Where Scripture is mishandled, bypassed or ignored, there can be no light, no accurate revelation,” it becomes clear he is using the word very differently than you or I might.
Bottom line: it is teachers who need to study scripture to be accurate. A prophet doesn’t; he simply repeats what God has told him.

In fact, he can and should do nothing else. Ask Balaam.

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