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.
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.