I am continually distressed by “prophets” in the apostolic-prophetic movement who twist Scripture to support their teachings. Well, I thought I’d seen it all when it comes to Scripture twisting — until last Saturday, Nov. 18.
On this day, “Prophet” Steve Shultz — the publisher of the Elijah List (an e-mail newsletter) — sent out an advertisement for his new Voice of the Prophetic magazine (pictured above). Read the ad here. This ad contained a sample of the teachings you’ll receive if you subscribe to the magazine. The sample teaching, written by Shultz, is titled, “What’s the Difference Between a Prophet and a Psychic?”
Shultz’ 3 Tests for Prophets
Shultz’ answer is that there are three criteria for distinguishing a psychic from a true prophet of God.
1. A prophet claims the source for his or her prophecies is God, not some other power.
2. A prophet’s prophecies are “correct more times than they are incorrect.”
3. A prophet will seek to obey the Word of God at all times, while a psychic will not.
Criterion No. 1 is hardly helpful since many people — even non-Christians — claim the source of their prophecies is God. That doesn’t mean their prophecies really are from God. That’s why the Bible commands us to “test the spirits” to see whether a prophet is really speaking for God. 1 John 4:1
Criterion No. 3 also isn’t too helpful. What does it mean that a prophet seeks to obey the Word of God at all times? This seems rather vague and subjective. Certainly, this criterion should include the expectation that his or her teachings are faithful to the Word of God. Yet, Shultz never mentions the importance of comparing a “prophet’s” doctrines to the Bible — the most important test to apply to anyone who claims to represent God. In fact, 1 John 4:1, cited above, shows that the way we “test the spirits” that are speaking through a prophet is by evaluating the prophet’s teachings.
Blatant Scripture Twisting
Now, onto Criterion No. 2: The prophet’s prophecies are “most often accurate.” Amazingly, this criterion — which allows for failed prophecies — directly contradicts the Bible. The Bible tells us that if a prophet gives a false prophecy, then he or she is a false prophet. Yet, Shultz claims that a prophet will makes mistakes, but that doesn’t disqualify that person as a true prophet. To support this teaching, Shultz twists Scripture, quoting Deuteronomy 18:22:
“If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him.”
The standard interpretation of this verse throughout church history is that someone who gives a false prophecy is a false prophet. So, there is no need to fear this person’s prophecies because God did not send him or her. But here is Shultz’ interpretation of this passage:
“However, even if a true prophet misses it once in awhile, the Bible tells you not to be afraid of that person. Just because a person makes a mistake doesn’t mean he or she is a false prophet or a psychic. It only means they are still learning to hear accurately.”
Do you see what Shultz has done? He’s made the verse say the exact opposite of what it really says. He says not to be afraid that someone is a false prophet if he or she gets some prophecies wrong. That prophet simply needs to develop his or her prophetic abilities, according to Shultz.
What a bizarre interpretation of this verse! Read it in its larger context: Deuteronomy 18:20-22. Notice that, just two verses above the verse Shultz quotes in the very same passage, the Bible says that a person who gets prophecies wrong should be put to death. Shultz conveniently leaves out that part of the passage.
Part of me thinks that such blatant twisting Scripture has to be intentional, but perhaps Shultz is actually that deceived. Either way, God’s people should not be looking to him for teachings on the prophetic. But, sadly, some Christians are. Shultz will be a featured “prophet” at an Elijah List conference in Albany, Ore., Nov. 30-Dec. 2, titled “What is God Saying for 2007?” (Ad shown here)
I know some of my readers will think I’m attacking Shultz, but that’s not true. Keep in mind that he has attacked the teachings of historic, orthodox Christianity. I am simply defending the faith from his attacks.
There’s an important point I need to make. A lot of confusion arises when it comes to issues of prophets and prophecy because many people don’t make a distinction between the office of prophet and the New Testament gift of prophecy. Some people claim that the Bible makes no such distinction. Yet, when we examine Scripture, this distinction emerges.
Office of Prophet
When it comes to Old Testament prophets — like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Elijah — we see that they had great authority to speak God’s exact, infallible words. To disobey them was to disobey God. For example, Old Testament prophets gave new teachings and moral commands that were authoritatively binding on all God’s people. Many of their prophecies were recorded in Scripture and, as such, are still binding on Christians today. They also gave commands to kings that, if disobeyed, brought disastrous judgments on nations. They were sought for divine guidance.
New Testament Gift of Prophecy
In contrast, Christians with the New Testament gift of prophecy are never seen giving prophecies that are authoritatively binding on all Christians. They never give new commands or doctrines that become Scripture. Far from this, their prophecies must be tested by Scripture. They don’t have the absolute, divine authority we see attached to the office of prophet. In fact, their prophecies can be questioned, challenged and, when false, rejected by other believers.
Also, notably, nowhere in the New Testament do we see a prophet being sought out for guidance. That’s because, in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit came upon only specially chosen people. But, after Christ’s resurrection, the Holy Spirit now dwells within every believer — making the mediation of a special prophet unnecessary. The New Testament gift of prophecy doesn’t function to mediate or legislate, but to strengthen, comfort and encourage believers and to expose the sinful hearts of unbelievers so they will be convicted and receive salvation. 1 Corinthians 14:3, 14:24-25
Testing New Testament Prophecy
The difference between the office of prophet and the gift of prophecy also becomes apparent when we look at the tests for each. Those with the office of prophet must never give a failed prophecy. If they do, they are false prophets.
Those with the New Testament gift of prophecy, however, may make mistakes. This seems evident from 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22, which teaches a church to test all prophetic words — holding onto the good ones and throwing out the bad ones. Note: This passage doesn’t say to throw out the Christian who gives a false prophecy (like the Old Testament says to kill a false prophet). It says to throw out the bad prophecy. The reason for this difference is simple: someone with the gift of prophecy doesn’t have great authority like someone who fills the office of prophet. This person isn’t claiming to be speaking God’s infallible words (or else his or her words would be equal to Scripture). Since the authority isn’t as great, the consequences of such mistakes aren’t as grave.
Theologian Wayne Grudem defines the gift of prophecy as: “speaking merely human words to report something God brings to mind.” Since these prophecies are filtered through human words and human interpretation, they are subject to error. This is a much-diminished role from those who fill the office of prophet and speak God’s very words. The gift of prophecy, however, is still a valuable gift that we should desire, according to Paul. 1 Corinthians 14:1
The Doublespeak of Shultz’ ‘Prophets’
Yet, Shultz (and many other leaders in the apostolic-prophetic movement) teach that the movement’s “prophets” have the office of prophet, the same as Elijah or Jeremiah. They claim that nations must obey their prophecies or face judgment. They claim they can give new doctrinal revelation and that all Christians must submit to them. These teachings can be found throughout their teachings and books. (See, for example, Bill Hamon’s book Apostles, Prophets and the Coming Moves of God.)
Even though they claim all this for themselves, ironically — when it comes to the guidelines for testing those who hold this office — they turn around and claim those tests don’t apply to them. For instance, they claim that it’s OK if they get prophecies wrong — even though Deuteronomy 18:20-22 says they are false prophets and should be put to death. This is inconsistent. Shultz and his “prophets” can’t have it both ways. They can’t have the authority of the office without accepting the responsibility of the office.
I can’t address all the issues in depth here, as I would like to. These are complex issues, and we Christians need to think carefully about them. The apostle Paul warns us not to be “unaware” when it comes to spiritual gifts like prophecy because, if we are, then we can be misled into idolatry. 1 Corinthians 12:1-2 He also tells us to have maturity when thinking about these issues. 1 Corinthians 14:20 The nature of these gifts is supernatural and, because of that, they need to be practiced with much wisdom and discernment.
Yet, unfortunately many Christians haven’t thought carefully about these issues. And some leaders in the apostolic-prophetic movement are taking advantage of their lack of knowledge. I am afraid the result is that many Christians are being led into unbiblical teachings that, at the least, will stunt their walks with the Lord. At the worst, they might even be opening themselves up to demonic teachings and oppression — something I plan to discuss in future posts.
For more understanding about prophecy and the role of prophets, I recommend Wayne Grudem’s book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today (pictured here).