Prophetic Propositions are either Pablum or Poison.


Prophecy bugs me. You’re probably aware of this if you’ve followed my blog for long at all. I’ve written about it before here, here and also here. But in all these posts, I think I’ve skirted the issue because I didn’t want to offend Christian friends, or appear laughable at my non-Christian ones.  The dirty truth is, as prophecy is conceived of by the contemporary Church, I think it produces gross misdirection to Christians at best, and harmful or even fatal guidance at worst.

People want direction in their lives. I don’t think anyone can deny that if we all knew the future, it would be more simple to make decisions. I’ve been watching the Fox program Touch, about a young autistic boy, who can see the mathematical variables of each event in the world, and their repercussions. He is unable to talk, and communicates only to his father (former Lost Boy Kiefer Sutherland) by giving him a significant “number” at the beginning of the episode. This number is the key to a chain of events set in motion that brings the world back into balance and harmony. There is more to the story than that; suffice it to say at this point, this mute boy sees the future, delivers the message, and as a result, the world becomes a better place.

So to, like Touch, people familiar with Pentecostal or charismatic churches may have witnessed a prophecy, or been to a prophetic seminar or conference. At the most fundamental level, there is a message from the Lord, delivered by a member of the congregation, or by a Prophet (in the case of conferences), which lead people to a better understanding of the will of God (guh — don’t even get me started griping about the will of God and the contemporary Church. That’s a whole ‘nother blog topic…). The prophetic utterance usually begins with the phrase “My people,” uttered by a lay-person.  It usually occurs during worship service, when the congregants are presumably the most “in tune” with God.  “My People:” Then a pause. Then a message that almost invariably mirrors the verse from 2 Chronicles 7:14 (quoting the King James version of the Bible here): “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.”  I’ve heard variations on this exact “prophecy” dozens of times in my years spent in Pentecostal churches.

A prophetic conference is usually more specific.  An invited preacher/leader will give messages to specific people in the church: “Brother so-and-so: I feel that God has called you into the Ministry.” or “I am getting a feeling that someone here, tonight, is struggling with finances (or sexual sin, or hurting from abuse or…).” Then a vague solution is uttered.

There are rules and times for prophetic utterances.  The Bible speaks of “false prophets” and that evasive and almost magical concept, “discernment of spirits” (the apostle Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 12). Wikipedia states it truly in the following quote:

Discernment of spirits is particularly important among Pentecostal and charismatic Christians because of their emphasis on the operation of all the spiritual gifts within their churches. It becomes necessary then to be able to determine whether the exercise of a spiritual gift (such as prophecy or an interpretation of tongues) comes from the Holy Spirit, an evil spirit, or merely the human spirit. They believe that every Christian is able to judge and responsible for judging whether such an occurrence is helpful and edifying to the church; however, they also believe that there are those individuals who have been given the spiritual gift of discerning of spirits by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is important to note that the discerning of spirits does not involve the judging of people. The gift of discerning of spirits is also believed to be necessary in distinguishing demonic possession from mental or physical illness.

In a liturgical sense, we are allowed to deliver Prophecies at certain times, and not at others. It is perfectly acceptable to prophesy during Worship. Not so much, during the Offertory. Never, during the Sermon. As to prophecy, it is important for Pentecostals to see whether a person’s message holds up to Scripture. If these criteria are met, generally you’ll hear a whispered flurry of “hallelujah” and “Praise Jesuses.”

Believe it or not, non-Christian friends, this is what I grew up doing.  I’ve even delivered a few messages myself, back in my heyday. And believe it or not, Charismatic Christian friends, I’m doing my darnedest to be fair in my assessment of our religious heritage.

I mentioned abuse earlier. one of my other posts talked about my fears of abuse in Prophetic situations.  Leadership can say what they want in a prophetic context: we are urged to “submit” to their authority. It’s even written in the Bible, and what more authority does one need than the Voice of God? That kind of limitless power, given to a single person, is dangerous. I’ve listed, on one of the earlier posts I reference, a few real-life  examples I’ve personally witnessed. A “prophetic word” in 1988 nearly led to my suicide. Was the prophecy scriptural? yes. Was the prophecy a psychologically sound one? absolutely, completely not. Maybe that’s why I’m so leery of the things.

Here ya go. Color the Apostles receiving the Tongues of Fire and you, too (or your children) might receive your very own Prophetic utterances. "Don't be bitter, Brian." you say. Oh? Why the Hell not?

I find it odd, when there are prophecy seminars, that the vast majority of prophetic utterances delivered by the Prophet, are unerringly vague to a fault. “I sense someone struggling with sins of a sexual nature?” Really? In a congregation of 150? What are the chances! OK, admittedly, sarcasm doesn’t come across so easily in writing, but you get my point. “The Lord wants you to join the ministry.” Would you listen to a total stranger who told you to change your life’s direction? No. You’d give the words rational thought. LONG thought.  If you even gave it a moment’s notice. What if an acquaintance at work said “the reason your children died is because you aren’t following god’s path!” You’d punch that person in the face! It’s even worse if you’re listening to an itenerant prophet, because suddenly the burden of proof lies no longer on the speaker (they’re free to leave as soon as the conference is done), but the onus falls on the shoulders of person who received the “word.”

OK. I’m done. I’ve called it like I’ve experienced it.  Prophecy, as it stands in the current Pentecostal church, is either meaningless and vapid “feelgood” utterances, or utterly and petrifying life-changing events that may or may not hold up to scrutiny. And amid that, lives can be made, or destroyed. Maybe I’m not angry about prophecies, but because of the intense lack of discernment. I don’t know. Just had to vent. The Lord hasn’t given me “a Word” in a long, long time, and I’d just as soon keep it that way.

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9 thoughts on “Prophetic Propositions are either Pablum or Poison.”

  1. Thanx for mentioning “Touch” – I am watching my first episode now.

    Though I disagree with their new age theme that “Numbers point to Cosmic Pain which must be resolved”, I still find it entertaining — such nonsense resonates in all of us like many delusions.

    Concerning Prophecy — I hear your good points:

    Prophecy is often a way for a sect within religion to break free of orthodoxy whose epistemology is limited to established sacred texts or interpretations. It is their way of saying, “We want a voice — a new voice” , so they invent the clothing of prophecy to get what they want.

    Part of that voice also demanding like the orthodoxy — it says, “Look, do it this way.” So both orthodoxy and prophetic traditions can be suppressive using their own epistemological manipulations.

    Your last sentence is hilarious.

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Sabio. I had never considered the point of prophecy being a reframing of orthodoxy for a people who “need a new voice” and I suppose in a larger sense, it is exactly that. I am mostly griping about the small-time fortune-tellers who pass themselves as prophets “in God’s name” however; those who always seem to stop short of telling us where to invest our money, but have no qualms telling us that Jesus will heal our granddad’s blindness if we were only to have enough faith. Funny how there’s always a “catch” to the prophecy, and how that catch (far from being the grace of god that they preach about from the other side of their mouths) is utterly dependent on our actions; and also that the “prophet” gets a free pass if the prophecy doesn’t take place. The prophetic team is in another county, or state, counting their coins.

      You’ll find that “Touch” is, well, touching. Also, it’s unabashedly multilingual, a bit multicultural, and spins people in a mostly-positive light.

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  2. There was a proph…, er, professor at Bethany who (when not having enough lecture material for the day?) often encouraged students to share prophecies in his classes (at least until the bell rang–as you noted, there are rules for when the spirit may move prophets to speak). I remember one episode when a student next to me was called upon to speak. When he declined, the professor again encouraged him to speak up, telling him that he knew that the spirit of god had given him “a word” for the class. The student again declined, stressing that he really didn’t have a word from god. When we were finally released from that day’s ministrations, the student told me that he had been thinking about doing the laundry when the professor first called upon him. Perhaps he was just being humble but I was more inclined to believe him over the other guy.

    After leaving off going to Ass’es of God churches in 1988 (it took just a little over year of BBC, plus some things witnessed while on church internship, to encourage me to find the exit (and not the one in the back left of the chapel you probably saw me frequently use), I spent time recovering in various Presbyterian and RC churches before being received into the Eastern Orthodox Christian Church on 4 Feb. 1995. I did a lot of reading on my way to Orthodoxy, and a couple of chapters in one of the books I read, Fr. Seraphim Rose’s “Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future,” directly relate to your blog topic today. Fr. Seraphim and his legacy is somewhat controversial among Eastern Orthodox Christians. However, his writings on pentecostalism and the charismatic movement in “Orthodoxy and the Religion of the Future” are more insightful than devisive. More than anything else I read, those couple of chapters helped still the echos of the braying prophecies that had been jarring in the back of my mind since the last time I ducked out the Bethany chapel door and started coffee break a bit early.

    And now for something not completely different: Balaam’s donkey, now that’s an ass whose “word” I’d be inclined to listen to.

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    1. Hi Loren! I started coffee early several times with you, although it took me until 1990 to really give up on the farce that was Chapel. It’s amazing how many people we could fit in Ken Light’s Ford Fiesta.

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  3. I had some gals prophesy I’d have a dancing ministry. Yeah. Still waiting on that one. I do find, however, that as you mature you are able to discern what is of God and what is just…something else entirely. But that comes with 1) knowing yourself and, 2) knowing God.

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  4. I like to go to prohetic conferences. It’s interesting to see when the ‘prophets’ don’t know the people they are prophecying over, but I do. I fond it interesting that the prophets (or God, through the prophets, depending on your belief) always seem to speak about who the person is, to confirm that they know what they are talking about. After that, They begin to speak to the future. The ‘prophets’ who know what they are doing seem to gain the trust of the audience this way. Susan and I have been prophesied over twice, and this was the pattern in the ‘official’ prohecy times
    We have also had a number of nut-jobs prophesy over us some crazy stuff. Like you, biblical…yes…reality…not even close. I find these people are speaking from thier own experience or worse, trying to manipulate us.
    I found one of your last sentences the clearest direction I have heard abpout prohecy in a LONG time. it seems that followers nowadays suffer from an “extreme lack of discernment”. Prohesy is NOT supposed to be giving direction, it should CONFIRM WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW. If it doesn’t confirm what you already know, and it’s still biblical, the correct reaction would be…”meh…we’ll see who’s right” (and to quote Princess Bride here…”and who is dead”)
    I Like David’s reaction to prophecy the best. He gets called into his dad’s house fresh from the stinky sheep, some old guy pours oil on his head and dubs him the new and rightful King of Isreal. Fantastic…what does he do? Goes back to the sheep and let’s God take care of it. No confirmation…no movement. If it’s not confirmed, then it wasn’t God…
    Thank for your insightful post.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Jonathon. I’d also add that it often seems we are so viscerally aching for direction, that we will look for it anywhere – even from strangers whose credentials are dubious at best – and accept it anytime. Hurting people are the ones most susceptible to “bad” prophetic utterances.

      I’ll never attend another prophetic event again. I’m sure God, in his/her infinite wisdom, will find a way to forgive me, and if I need a talkin’-to, God will send somebody I actually trust, or drop a meteor on my skull or something.

      Prophecy reminds me of roasting marshmallows over an open flame as a kid. Remember how delicious they are? golden brown and melted on the inside… then you hold them too close to the flame, and you get a gigantic bomb of broiled carbon and hot white sugary liquid. You’ll be damned if you’re gonna let it go to waste – so you shove it in your mouth anyway, sure it’ll taste just as good as you imagined… It never is… And by then, it’s too late and you’ve already burned your mouth for the rest of the weekend.

      Just like prophecy. The idea of it is SO good… so yummy and perfect. that tantalizing glimpse into your future… We’ll even eat the crappy, distorted, and blackened prophecies. All it does is burn you from the inside as you suffer. Yet we’re still too attracted to the idea of the ‘perfect’ prophecy not to swallow them whole and scorch your insides…

      I don’t even know what I’m talking about. But now I want a marshmallow!

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