Whether it be recognized or not, there is a huge integrity problem in the church today regarding who speaks for God. Charles Colson, who authored a book with the appropriate title, WHO SPEAKS FOR GOD, apparently feels that the Roman Catholic Pontiff speaks (ex cathedra) for God today, for he has advocated that the whole of the Christian church should return to home sweet Rome. Others who announce that God has restored apostles and prophets to the end time church, boldly acclaim that these prophetic and apostolic offices of NT times are once again receiving “present truth’ (in addition to biblical truth) to guide the church into its triumphant and glorious establishment of God’s rule and kingdom upon planet earth. Although he is not quoted much these days, Bishop (also prophet) Earl Paulk has stated this claim with unmistakable clarity.
“Holy men of old were moved upon by the Holy Spirit and the revelation given to them is God’s Word in the Holy Scriptures. Is God speaking any less today through holy men called of God to bring a message through revelation to this generation? …We wave our Bibles and cry, ‘This is the Word of’ God.’ Indeed it is God’s Word, but the Holy Spirit yet brings revelation to this generation today that is no less God’s Word…The prophet is not a method that God uses; but in fact is the only method he uses to speak to this generation.”
Benny Hinn prophesied to his congregation in Orlando Christian Center in 1989 regarding what God had to say in regard to the 90’s:
“The Lord tells me to tell you in the mid 90’s about 94-95 no later than that God will destroy the homosexual community of America. He will destroy it with fire.”
“The Spirit tells me, an earthquake will hit the East Coast of America and destroy much in the 90’s.”
After twenty minutes of many more prophecies, Hinn appeared to be “drunk in the Spirit”. When he came to his senses he said:
“I’d like to know what I said, I was totally gone.”
Other wannabe prophets, too numerous to mention, give unending revelations of what the Spirit has told them.
The integrity problem is that these people who speak claiming the mantle of the prophets of old are never totally accurate or even mostly accurate. When Bob Jones, the Kansas City prophet, (who was temporarily sidelined for using prophecy for sexual advantage) and others, can only boast of being 30% accurate, doesn’t this suggest that there is an integrity problem? The famed South Korean Pastor David Cho, prophesied, while in Pensacola, that the Brownsville Revival would continue until Jesus returns. The current fact is that the Brownsville Outpouring is presently imploding with staff firings, recriminations and two rival schools of revival.
We berate politicians when they make promises they choose not to keep. Remember “Read my lips?” But when someone, with no hesitation, announces the supposed very words of God which fail totally, we don’t make a murmur or bat an eye. Isn’t this an integrity problem? Moreover, don’t you suppose that the Holy One who never lies or changes, has some problems with all the inaccurate words He supposedly uttered? Do we really think that God, in the wideness of His mercy, simply sees these prophets as immature trainees? Can we really believe that God is absolutely thrilled that some of His mouthpieces have actually arrived at 30% accuracy? This assumes that God’s conception of truth is, after all, quite flexible and more akin to a postmodern understanding of truth.
The further question concerns the status of those who prophesy falsely. How do we regard them in the church? Do we give them an “A” for effort and hope they will do better next time? Here is the rub. These prophets have much in common with us. They believe Jesus is the Savior, that He died and rose again etc. In fact, they could all endorse the Apostles Creed. How many in the current environment of the church would dare call someone a false prophet? But what else should we call them? If they aren’t false prophets what are they? They call themselves prophets and they utter falsehoods claiming to speak God’s very words. Indeed, some of us have differing views of the interpretation of certain scripture (for example the timing of the Lord’s return). There is some room for differing understandings as long as we claim the truthfulness of God’s inspired Word and are always seeking to find that truth. But what about those “the Spirit told me” statements in which the authority is not derived from Scripture or an attempt to understand God’s written word? Rather the authority is stated to be that these are the very spoken words of God. When a prophesy fails who has the integrity problem? Even on the human level, how many of us would be happy if someone quoted us as saying something we never said? We get irate when someone quotes us out of context! Does the God who is truth by definition and prides Himself on being the source of all truth feel any different? Is God really pleased with his church when it seems unconcerned about this integrity problem? Does He smile when we refuse to make those who presume to speak for Him accountable? Just how concerned is God about truth claims offered in His name? Are His statements about truth flexible after all?
Wayne Grudem, a renowned professor of theology and Vineyard church member, has come to the rescue of those who prophesy falsely. In his book, The Gift of Prophesy in the New Testament and Today, he has offered a theory about NT prophecy that seems to get those “missing it” in prophecy off the hook. Grudem is biblically and theologically trained and his writings reflect that. His proposal is that NT prophecy was of a lower grade than OT prophecy. People spoke what they thought God was telling them. The prophecy could contain elements truly from God and other elements that were not. He wrote his book to put forward the above understanding. His arguments hinge on his understanding of one Greek word, diakrino. The context is I Cor. 14:29, “Let two or three prophets speak and let the others judge.” (NKJV) The word “judge” is the Greek word diakrino. Grudem admits that this word can have a wide range of meaning but he chooses a minor meaning of the word which means to “sift out.” He concludes that the “others” of this verse are not the other prophets but the whole congregation. He suggests that the words spoken in prophecy are to be sifted so that what is “of God” can be distinguished from that which is “not of God.” It is not the prophet himself who is judged but only the words spoken by the prophet. In this way no one has to be concerned with gaining the title of false prophet. Grudem admits that Paul in I Cor. 12:10 uses diakrino to distinguish between “spirits” not as sifting out but judging what in totality is from God. He admits that in Matthew 7:15-20 Jesus warns of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing and I John 4:1-6 warns about false prophets and gives a test for determining who is a false prophet. He also alludes to the “Didache” a first century Christian writing that gives specific tests to determine a true prophet from a false one. But then he simply announces that we must not take this meaning into the first Corinthian 14 passage but we must see it here as a sifting of the elements of prophecy, not judging true or false prophets. He states it this way:
“The whole congregation would listen and evaluate what was said by the prophet, forming opinions about it and some would perhaps discuss it publicly. Each prophesy might have both true and false elements in it and some would perhaps discuss it publicly. Each prophesy might have both true and false elements in it, and those would be sifted and evaluated for what they were.” (page 78)
He dismisses the idea that the discernment was about the truth or falseness of the prophet by saying “would it be by some kind of vote that a prophet would be declared either a true or a false prophet?” But, on the other hand, given Grudem’s view, stated above, could you imagine the whole congregation publicly sifting a prophetic utterance to figure out what parts were true or false, which was of God and that which was not? Can’t you just see Demetrius, a Christian slave raising his hand and saying I accept this part from God and the rest as false only to have his Christian master respond to him with a different sifting of the same prophesy? It could have taken hours to arrive at a proper decision and in some cases, they would have to agree to disagree. Grudem’s only defense for his view is that a local church would hardly threaten some of its own people with being false prophets. This has some merit. But he fails to mention that we already know that the NT prophetic office was primarily an itinerant ministry. It seems thus that when itinerant prophets arrived, the local approved prophets would judge first their words and if false they judged them as false prophets. It’s the only way the church could escape a confusing smorgasbord of supposed authentic prophetic utterances with no apparent way to reach a consensus as to what elements were from God and what was not from God.
The fact that false prophets also believed in Jesus, His cross and resurrection, was not sufficient to absolve them of their prophetic inaccuracy. That some of what they prophesied met apostolic muster could not sanction them as spokesmen for God when in that same utterance there were elements that were clearly false. Let’s illustrate. Snake venom is 90% pure protein but the 10% that is toxic can be deadly. Consequently, snake venom is not a good source of protein. The apostle Paul did not hesitate to vote up or down on those who promoted false truth claims. In Galatia, he announced that those who added to his gospel of grace are accursed. He was even ready to pronounce a divine curse upon a supposed angel from heaven that got the gospel of grace wrong. These Judaizers in Galatia had a lot in common with other believers. They were believers in Jesus, the cross and the resurrection. But to misrepresent the truth of God was a preeminently serious matter. Paul was even willing to go nose to nose with Peter on this. Putting forward a united front in a pagan world did not cause Paul to look the other way. Why was this so all fired important to Paul? Was he just trying to show off his apostolic authority? Hardly. The truth of God was at stake. He could not hide behind the verse “keeping the bond of peace” in this case. This went right to the integrity of the truth of God.
We have all read about the “whistle blowers” who, as in the instance of the tobacco industry, blew the whistle of integrity. Were they loved for it? Did they win the esteem of their work friends? Hardly! They were accused of betrayal and many were summarily fired for their efforts. How many NFL referees are loved for making the call that someone was out of bounds? Can you imagine a football game in which there were no rules or boundaries? Everyone just made up the rules as they went along. Who would prevail? The famous, the most powerful and most persuasive would end up making all the judgment calls. It’s somewhat like that in the church today. We play without biblical boundaries. We expand the out of bound markers all the time by saying that God Himself said we should do it. But then, all too rarely, along comes a “whistle blower.” He declares something out of bounds of the Word of God. Is he loved and esteemed? Hardly! He is put down as a “word bound legalist” who isn’t flowing with God’s present truth. But the only reason we need “whistle blowers” is because the church seems unable to muster the courage to judge itself. I Corinthians 11:31, “If we judged (diakrino) ourselves rightly we would not be judged.” The only reason we need building inspectors is because some of the contractors are often cutting comers. If we make every effort to do it right, do we need fear an inspection? Our anger at inspectors is perhaps because we aren’t sure of our actions. Plumbline is meant to be a “whistle blower” ministry. We aren’t overly concerned with the evaluation of the heavy hitters and the famous, rather when we are aware of something that appears to be out of bounds biblically, we will make the call and leave it to those who love truth to evaluate it. Do we thus claim perfection? Hardly. But, when someone presumes to speak God’s actual words and they prove false, it hardly takes a prophet to blow that whistle.
In our market driven spiritual economy, where truth too often is what seems to work, fill pews, sells books, often enhancing anointed celebrities, if you dare to blow the whistle of biblical integrity you will not win any popularity contests. Paul seems to have been one of those peace-breaking censorious “whistle blowing” heresy hunters. Why he even went so far as to pronounce the anathema on those who had a different view of circumcision. But, he wasn’t building an empire or selling a book. He was determined that if pleasing God meant being discredited by man (the Corinthian church) he would gladly bear that burden.