Many sects, Christian and otherwise, place crucial importance on the words of their ‘prophets’; men or women whom they feel speak God’s word to them, and whose teaching must therefore form the basis of their belief and practice. This attitude is held by many religious sects, Christian and otherwise. I believe that since the time the New Testament was completed, there have been no inspired prophets. The gift of prophecy was possessed in the first century church, but it was withdrawn once the New Testament was completed (1 Corinthians 13:8), and will be given again when Christ returns (Joel 2:28). We are living in the last days, just before the Lord’s return, and therefore if He is going to give us the gift of prophecy, it follows that we do not now possess it.
The true Church (and there is only one true body of Christ) was built upon the foundation of the brothers in the first century who had the gifts of apostleship and prophecy (Ephesians 2:20; 3:5 cp. 1 Corinthians 12:28). The true Church has been in existence since the first century; it does not therefore rely upon prophets who recently arose for its foundation. Many of the ‘new’ sects were only relatively recently established, on the basis of the words of their ‘prophets’. But this was centuries after the one and only church, the body of Christ, was built up upon the foundation of the apostles’ teachings in the first century. There have been true Christian believers from the time of the first century. Their salvation depended upon understanding and believing the teaching of the early Christian prophets and apostles, faith in the true Gospel, baptism into Christ and living in Him afterwards. Their salvation and relationship with God didn’t depend upon any of the newly arisen ‘prophets’- for they simply didn’t exist. It follows from this that the ‘prophets’ of the last two centuries, even if they are genuine, are not so eternally important.
Likewise, Christian sect members would surely accept that a man reading his Bible in, say, China, or on a small island somewhere, would be able to be saved without knowing about their prophets. If he understood the true Gospel from his private Bible reading, and was baptized into Christ- the only Name given under Heaven in which we can find salvation (Acts 4:12)- then surely he would be saved? Again, it is evident that knowing and listening to the new prophets isn’t essential for salvation. Those who disagree with this are effectively saying that we can only be saved through contact with their prophets; and therefore only some people living in the 20th Century will be saved. This is evidently not right. The true church, the one body of Christ, is comprised of believers from all nations over all time. It’s head is the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:15; 5:23)- not any human founder.
But there is a more essential reason for our concern with the claim to have prophets, who prophesy God’s word with the gift of prophecy as in the first century. 2 Timothy 3:16 teaches that the man of God can be perfected by his response to “all scripture”. All that is necessary for the spiritual life is contained in “all scripture”- doctrine, correction, instruction in righteousness, it’s all there. The Scriptures- the Bible writings- were written by God’s spirit inspiring men (2 Peter 1:18-21). Those Bible writers prophesied, ‘forth-told’, they told out, the word which God’s Spirit had inspired them with. These words were written down and form the “all scripture” which we have in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Once this “all scripture” was available when the New Testament was completed, then there was no need for men to be inspired with the gift of speaking and writing down God’s word. Thus the Comforter, “which is the Holy Spirit”, enabled the disciples to remember the things the Lord Jesus said and did during His ministry- so that they could compile their records of the Gospel (John 14:26). Such a Spirit gift had no relevance for anyone else apart from the first century disciples. If the new prophets really have God’s Spirit and speak in His behalf, then their words are as authoritative as the Bible itself. If we were to write them down, as some of the ‘prophecies’ of, e.g. Ellen White or Mary Baker Eddy have been, then those words would have to be treated as the Bible. Yet “all scripture” was completed in the first century. If it wasn’t, then no Christian from then until the time of the new prophets had the completed word of God concerning doctrine, instruction in righteousness etc. which 2 Timothy 3:16 speaks of. And if God’s word is progressively revealed whenever a new prophet speaks, this means that we don’t now have “all scripture” and therefore we don't have the complete instruction which is necessary for the man of God to be completely equipped.
However, it is significant that many new ‘prophets’ seem to have a policy of not writing down their prophecies. Yet if they really have God’s Spirit, why not? This makes us suspicious for two reasons:
1. One of the reasons for possessing the gift of speaking God’s word was in order to write the Scriptures.
2. If prophecies are not written down at the time they are given, then the only record we have of them is the words and recollections of others. Men will tend to only remember some things; for example, they may forget all the things ‘prophesied’ which never came to pass, and they may in their minds distort the words that the ‘prophet’ said, perhaps many years ago, in order to make it appear that a current event was prophesied. Thus when some sects split as a result of human feuding, it is claimed that the sect’s prophets had prophesied this. But there was no talk of this prophecy before the event happened.
When we Biblically consider how the Holy Spirit gifts operated in the early Christian church, it becomes apparent that there are large areas of difference between this and what the new sects claim.
u For example, some groups generally don’t claim to speak in tongues. Many congregations have ‘prophets’ who prophesy but nobody who speaks in tongues. This is because they correctly realise that Biblically, “speaking in tongues” means speaking in foreign languages which can be understood by the hearers (as on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2)- not the ‘mumbo-jumbo’ gabbled by many Pentecostals today. But 1 Corinthians 12:7-21 teaches that in the early church, there were a variety of different gifts of the Spirit. One had the gift of healing, another prophecy, another of tongues. Paul taught that each of these gifts was necessary, just as surely as in the body, the hand cannot operate independently of the foot. It is a nonsense to say that a church has the Spirit gifts as they were possessed in the first century, but have congregations which have only one of those gifts (i.e. prophecy).
u Some groups have women using the gift of prophecy in the church. The prophetesses of the Old and New Testaments used their gifts of prophesy to either teach other women (e.g. in the case of Miriam) or to teach unbelievers the Gospel. 1 Corinthians 14:34 teaches that a woman must not use the gift of prophecy in church meetings; they are to be silent (1 Timothy 2:11,12). And 1 Corinthians 14:37 goes further, and says that anyone who truly has the gifts of the Spirit will acknowledge that this is in fact true.
uThe Spirit Gifts would lead believers into “all truth” (John 16:13). Yet the different groups all have different doctrines, yet they all claim to have the gift of prophecy. Whichever group you belong to, just accept that there are some people who really think that their prophets are from God, who are in fact mislead. Presumably, this is what you think of the other groups to which you don’t belong. But just consider: all such groups might be just as wrong. If other people in other groups can be sincerely in the wrong and mislead by their prophets- there’s a possibility that you might be, too.
We mustn’t just accept anyone who claims to be a prophet, and obey him as if he is speaking God’s very own words to us. We must test those who claim to have the Spirit (1 John 4:1). John goes on to say that the mark of a false prophet is the doctrine which they teach- he doesn’t say that we are to test for the genuine prophet by checking whether he can make predictions about the future, or whether he can tell us about our past lives. Deuteronomy 8:13-15 says the same: even if a man can predict the future, don’t accept him as a prophet. Check whether he really teaches according to God’s commandments. In Isaiah’s day, there was a group of true prophets, lead by Isaiah as their spiritual father. But there were other false prophets, also claiming to foretell the future. All the people of Israel were invited to test what these people said according to the already existing word of God, and then reject the false prophets, even if they seemed credible in other ways (Isaiah 8:14-20). The whole group of believers at Thessalonica were told to prove (the same Greek word translated ‘try / test’ in 1 John 4:1) all prophesies, and not to despise true prophecy (1 Thessalonians 5:20,21). We must all obey God’s word, and therefore we each have a responsibility to test the claims of those who ask us to obey their word because they think it is God’s word. In the Old Testament, there were many false prophets who claimed to speak God’s word, when in fact they only spoke their own word. And Israel were condemned for just believing these men without testing them (Isaiah 9:15,16). So you must examine the teaching of the prophets against the Bible- yes, you personally must do this. You can’t leave it to anybody else; for you personally must find and obey God’s true word. Here are some things to compare:
- We are free from keeping any of the Jewish food laws (Romans 14:1-4; Colossians. 2:14-17). Yet Adventist and other prophets insist that some foods are unclean still.
- We are free from the duty of keeping any festival or special day (Colossians 2:14-17). Yet some prophets encourage the keeping of some festivals.
- Jesus Christ is the chief apostle and founder of the Church (Hebrews 3:1); but some sects teach that their prophets are. We should call no man on earth our spiritual father or master (Matthew 23:9). Most seriously, the one Church was founded by the Lord Jesus Christ through His death and resurrection- not by any prophet of the 20th or 21st century (Matthew 16:18; 26:61; Hebrews 3:3). No other foundation can be laid apart from that which was laid in the ressurection of the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 3:11).
Many prophets don’t like being tested by their congregations. This is probably one reason why they have a policy of not writing down their prophecies- because they cannot withstand the careful scrutiny which God’s true word can. But to safeguard them from serious analysis, they have developed several theories- each of them quite contrary to Bible teaching.
1. Only a true prophet has the right to question or denounce a false prophet. The congregation must not think of doing this.
Comment: We have shown in the above paragraphs that every member of the congregation was under a duty to test each prophets’ words
2. A prophet who has made true prophecies or told a man about his past life must therefore be true in all he says.
Comment: Being able to tell people events in their past lives isn’t something only done by Christians. Many non-Christians claim to do the same. This is no proof in itself that a man is a true prophet.
There are many examples of where prophets gave a true prophecy but then said or did something which was not true:
- Abraham and Sarah were both prophets but at that time they both lied in various ways (Genesis 20:7; Psalm 105:15).
- You can have the gift of prophecy but still fail to be in God’s Kingdom (Matthew 7:22; 1 Corinthians 13:2).
- 1 Kings 13:11-29 contains the story of one of God’s true prophets who also lied.
- Saul prophesied with the gift of the Spirit, but also lied and hated, and was not accepted by God (1 Samuel 10:10-12; 19:24).
- Nathan was a prophet but he wrongly assumed God wanted David to build a temple. But then God’s word came to him and corrected what Nathan had said; thus he was a true prophet, but not everything he personally said, as a man, was therefore from God (2 Samuel 7:3-11 cp. 1 Chronicles 22:8).
- Jonah was a prophet, but rebelled against the word he prophesied (Matthew 12:39).
- Balaam spoke true words of prophecy when he himself was a wicked man and a soothsayer, or fortune teller (i.e. a false prophet as well; 2 Peter 2:16).
These passages all show even if the new prophets do really have the gift of prophecy, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they all they say is to be accepted without question as being correct. Nor does it mean that they will be saved or are pleasing to God.
3. A prophet who prefaces his words with the statement that ‘this is the word of the Lord and not of man’ must surely be telling the truth.
Comment: Not necessarily. There are many examples of where men spoke in the name of Yahweh, and yet spoke the very opposite of God’s word. Have a read through the following passages: 1 Kings 13:18; 22:5,6; Jeremiah 28:2. God foretold that there would arise men who would claim to speak in His Name but would speak falsely (Deuteronomy 18:20). Members of ‘prophetic’ churches are perhaps making the same mistake as the people of Israel in Jeremiah’s time; just because a man stood up and said ‘This is what the Lord says’, they believed him and followed him, even though the man was teaching only what they subconsciously wanted to hear anyway. And for doing this, and thereby rejecting God’s true word as it was revealed in the Scriptures which they did have available to them, Israel were rejected by God (Jeremiah 14:14; 23:31-38; 27:15; 29:9). Likewise there was once a man who knew God’s true word, but believed another man who said ‘This is what Yahweh says...’, when he was telling him lies. Because he just blindly believed that man- he was eaten by a lion (1 Kings 13:18).
We don’t really need prophets today: because we have “all scripture” in the Bible, and this is all we need to be fully equipped in the Christian life and to attain salvation by grace (2 Timothy 3:16). The whole Christian community is a kingdom of priests (1 Peter 2:5,9); we all must speak forth God’s word as we understand it from the Bible. The Lord Jesus warned that in the last days, there would be many false prophets (Matthew 24:24). We must each be on the watch for them, and therefore we each individually have a responsibility to analyse the words of those who tell us they are God’s true prophets. And be aware that people prefer to have a prophet, rather than truly study and preach God’s word for themselves (Micah 2:11). But there’s no short cut. We simply must study the Bible for ourselves (study, not just read it or carry the Bible to church every Sunday...). Many prophets demand we accept them as prophets because they can tell some people about events in their past, and can apparently predict some events. But we have seen that these aren’t necessarily signs that a man is from God. The fact many non-Christians can do just the same, just as convincingly as the new ‘prophets’, is proof enough that these ‘abilities’ aren’t any strong reason for accepting them as from God. And you must be aware that many primitive religions are in principle the very same as the new sects, in that they also feature people who can predict some future events, and somehow know the thoughts of people. These people, who have these strange and inexplicable powers, then seek to gain power over the people. They form a congregation, and bring their followers into a position where they have power over them, demand great loyalty from them, and put themselves into a position where they cannot be questioned by the congregation, but must simply be obeyed. Many an African village is controlled in this way by a witch doctor or magician. The new prophets seem to be following the same principle. And in essence, so do Adventists- for they claim Ellen White to be their prophetess who can’t be questioned. And so do Jehovah’s Witnesses, with their claim that the publications of the 144,000 in Brooklyn, New York must be unquestionably accepted- even if, over the years, they contradict themselves. And so does the Catholic church, with it’s claim that when the Pope speaks ex Cathedra, he is speaking the words of God- even though his words may contradict those of earlier Popes, who also made the same blasphemous claims. And so with the hosts of Protestant churches whose pastors claim to have the Holy Spirit, and therefore imply that their congregations must accept their teachings and follow them...
Where Do We Go From Here?
We really must break out of this attitude. We mustn’t have this primitive attitude to our God and His Son and His word, the Bible. We must study it for ourselves, and be unafraid to question those who claim to speak or to have spoken God’s word in recent times. Many of the new Christian sects members have come to some true conclusions regarding doctrine (e.g. that the trinity is not a Bible teaching). Maybe this is a stepping stone to a true relationship with God. Because we put it to you: now you need to analyse the words of your prophets, compare them with the Bible, study the Bible teaching about prophets and the Holy Spirit gift of prophecy; and then go forward to greater truths and eventually come into a true relationship with God and a certain Hope of being in His Kingdom.