Perhaps you have heard that there is something of a movement out there of zealous Rightist Christians and Messianic Jews claiming dreams, visions, and prophecies about our current political condition. Among these are those who claim to have predicted the rise of Donald Trump as well as those who claim divinely given insight into the “spiritual warfare” behind current events and the coming election. And then there are those who swear by these prophetic folk, and implore us to pay heed, lest the prophesied disasters overtake us unawares.
Don’t for a moment imagine that these claimants are few and far between. No, such dreams and visions have become something of a cottage industry, and entire websites are flowering.
Preliminary to all that follows let me say that I am by hard-earned and much read and well-mentored process a continuationist, one who holds that the dynamics and gifts of the Spirit spoken of in the Newer Testament remain the patrimony of God’s people. I do believe in a genuine gift of prophecy. Indeed, I believe that prophetic speech, which I term “weighty words” is normal and somewhat common among those who seek to serve the will of God, in Yeshua’s Name, through God’s immanent Spirit. I myself have experienced the prophetic action of God’s Spirit, chiefly in my service to others. So don’t anyone imagine I am a foe of or stranger to these realities. Not so! But insofar as the New Covenant prophetic practice is often wrongly assessed by observers, misrepresented or misunderstood by practitioners, and woefully merchandised, then, yes, there are problems.
My major goal in this series of blogs is to challenge us all to give heed to an undoubtedly valid prophetic voice challenging all of us to realize that God’s will for us and our times may well contradict our most treasured spiritual values and expectations. After some necessary preliminaries, we will be examining Jeremiah 26-29 where this is spelled out for us.
We can only appreciate the impact of these chapters if we will first deal with three preliminary matters followed by a fourth, the Jeremiah chapters. Here are those matters:
In the NT sense, prophecy occurs when the prophesying person reports something which the Spirit has spontaneously brought to mind for the strengthening, exhortation, or comfort of one or more others. This definition is in accord with that provided by Wayne Grudem, with which I concur.
The authority of NT prophecies is different from that of the Older Testamental prophets. When Older Testamental prophets gave prophecies, these had the authority of God behind them. The persons in the Newer Testament who have this level of authority are the apostles. New Testament prophets may be hearing from God, and perhaps not. But in either case, they do not have the authority that enscripturating prophets had.
Unlike teaching which is prepared and structured beforehand, there is an element of spontaneity in Newer Testamental prophecy, and when given by the prophet, it comes as a report of something that comes to the prophet in an intuitive manner.
Paul reports at least twice that the responsibility for winnowing what is said, for separating the wheat from the chaff in the communication of prophetic words, falls to the “others” who the prophetic person addresses. For example, in the fourteenth chapter of Paul’s FIrst Letter to the Corinthians we read, “Let two or three prophets speak, while the others weigh what is said” (1 Cor 14:29). The verb behind the English term “weigh” is diakrino, which may be taken to mean to discern or to discriminate through a process of examination.
Notice that the text specifies that the persons speaking are known to be prophets in the community. Nevertheless, that does not mean that we, the hearers, are to be passive receptors and to bow to the authority of these gifted ones. Rather, we are to be active—discerning, discussing, discriminating, weighing what is said and again, separating the wheat from the chaff.
This is why Paul can say in First Thessalonians 5:19-22, “Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” In the NT sense, rather than being grandiose and authoritative, such prophecies have a tentative quality about them, and the prophetic activity of the Spirit may be but should not be carelessly quenched, discounted, disregarded, even despised. We are warned not to do that, but to examine everything carefully (the Greek in this Thessalonians text, dokimadzo, refers to smelting—separating the dross from the precious). So again, it is the community’s responsibility to sift what the prophetically gifted person is sharing. They/we are the final arbiters, not the prophetic person no matter how striking or spooky their experience or demeanor, no matter how flashy their gifts, and regardless of their reputation.
We see this even in the case of the Apostle Paul and his ministry to the synagogue of believers in Berea, who, we are told, were “more noble that the Jews in Thessalonica, because they examined the Scripture daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17). Here we have the very Apostle Paul who had been with them, spoken the word to them, and likely did signs and wonders among them. But it falls to the community to decide if these things were so—they are the final arbiters. And so are we. So again: don’t be impressed, passive, or malleable with prophetic utterances. You need the Spirit within, the Scripture in your hand, the community at your side, ice in your head, and fire in your heart. Think. Discern. Weigh. Put it all into the crucible to be tested, smelting away the dross, and keeping only what is precious, if anything.
As ADONAI says to Jeremiah earlier in the book, “If you say what is worthwhile instead of what is worthless, I will again allow you to be my spokesman” (Jer 15:19). This too is the language of smelting, of extracting the precious from the dross. A true prophet in the NT sense seeks to do this in his or her own experience with God, but the Spirit working in the community and its deliberations is the final arbiter, kindling and operating the crucible of consideration.
What this means for us is that it is never appropriate for someone to say, “Oooh, I heard this guy and he’s a prophet and he’s had these dreams! You really must come and see! You gotta visit his website!” Your response should be, “Well, we’ll see. I will check it out, and by “checking it out, I mean that you must, with reliance upon the Spirit, working with trusted and sober community members, and deeply immersed in Scripture, do some hard and analytical thinking. Separate the wheat from the chaff, determining what you are getting which is jewels, if anything, and what is jive.
But no, never, and no how should you be passive, acquiescent, and enamored. In fact, Scripture admonishes us to be alert and discerning. God calls us to be critical in our attentiveness. Remember that verb, diakrino. It reminds us to be discerning, to discriminate between the wheat and the chaff, the gold and the dross, the jewels and the jive.
But what kinds of false prophets are there to which we ought to remain alert in order for us to avoid being misled? We will turn to that next time.