PROPHETS AND PROPHECY IN TODAY'S CHURCH
By Rev. Jim and Carolyn Murphy
PART ONE - PROPHECY
I begin this chapter by giving Webster's definition
of prophecy again: prophecy “in [the] New Testament, [is the] gift of
speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit; predictions of the
future under the influence of divine guidance; [the] act or practice of
a prophet. Any prediction. Something prophesied or predicted.
Specifically, the divinely inspired utterance or utterances of a
prophet; a book of prophecies.” Simply put, prophecy is God speaking to
Let me say most emphatically at the outset of this
chapter that no current prophecy that is truly from God will ever
supersede, override, or be in conflict with, Scripture. Genuine
prophecy will always stand the test of harmony with the Scripture.
Regardless of whatever other tests we apply in this book, every genuine
prophecy will be in accordance with Scripture. If it is not, it is to
be rejected outright.
In this passage the Apostle Paul specifically tells
us that prophecy must be judged. Even Paul, after being supernaturally
taught his doctrine by revelation from the Lord Jesus Himself,
submitted what he had learned to judgment by those who were mature in
the Lord. Paul wrote:
Since Paul, who was caught up into heaven and taught
his doctrine by Jesus Himself, submitted his doctrine for judgment,
dare we not submit our prophecies for judgment?
Thus we know from Scripture that prophecy should be
judged. But four immediate questions come to mind: 1) Why should
prophecy be judged?, 2) Who should do the judging? 3) What criteria
should be used to judge prophecy? And, 4) How do we judge prophecy?
We will deal with these four questions in order.
Usually when a prophetic word comes forth in an
assembly, a holy quiet falls over the congregation. There is the
assumption, particularly among young Christians, that God is speaking
to His church. But the truth is that it may not be God who is speaking!
The Bible teaches us that there are three sources of
God through the Holy Spirit:
“Do not listen to what the
prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They
speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.”
Satanic or demonic spirits:
There will always be the spiritually less mature
people in the church. Many who hear prophetic words and do not know of
these three possible sources tend to receive every spoken word as “from
the Lord.” The new or not yet seasoned Christian needs to be protected
from prophetic error. It is primarily for their protection that
prophecy is to be judged.
All prophecy must be judged, including prophecy
given in private gatherings when one person communicates a prophetic
word to another individual person. I have found that in a church where
the gift of prophecy is prevalent, it is hopeless to try to stop
private prophecy from occurring. The best thing to do is to teach the
congregation the necessity of submitting all prophecy for judgment.
This is especially so when the “prophet” says something like, “No one
else will be able to understand this word . . . this is for you alone.
You must not tell anyone about this word”! A well taught congregation
will be alert to this danger.
There are three categories of people who are
responsible for judging prophecy: prophets, pastors/elders, and
individual Christians. I believe the primary responsibility falls on
the first two categories, other prophets and pastor/elders.
The Apostle Paul instructs us, “Two or three
prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is
said.” (I Cor 14:29 NIV). Here Paul burdens the prophets first and
foremost with this responsibility. But the pastor and elders are also
responsible for what happens in their assembly, especially in the
absence of a prophet.
For this reason it is incumbent upon the pastor, or
whoever has control of the pulpit at the time a prophecy comes forth,
to indicate to the assembly whether or not the word spoken should be
received as from the Lord. When I am in the spiritually responsible
position in the assembly, I always comment on any prophecy that comes
forth to indicate my acceptance or rejection of it. If it is from God,
I encourage obedience to that prophetic word. If this is not done, then
every individual Christian, even the less mature, must judge for
himself . . . and often that judgment is incorrect!
Let me list five quick tests by which those in
leadership can judge a spoken word:
Is it in accord with the Scripture?
Is it in concert with the spirit of the service?
Is there a witness of the Holy Spirit in your spirit?
Do you have confidence in the person speaking?
What is his
or her level of maturity?
What is the discernable collective judgment of the other leaders
When I pastored, my congregation was trained to
understand my actions. During the prophecy I would let the Holy Spirit
bear witness to the prophecy. Using the five suggested tests listed
above, I would usually catch the eye of prophets or elders who were
present to receive their silent signal of acceptance or rejection. If
the prophecy was of God, I would go to the pulpit after the utterance
and encourage the people to receive the word, recounting the main
points of the prophecy.
However, if I (we) believed the prophecy to be from
the human spirit I made no move. My silence was a signal to the
congregation that the church leaders had not received the prophecy as
from God. This was especially so the first time an individual
prophesied. If it became the habit of a person to prophesy from his or
her own spirit, as that person's pastor, I would counsel him privately,
instructing him how to prophesy properly. Do not publicly rebuke such
people unless the prophecies continue. And the first admonition should
be in private.
If I (we) discerned the prophecy to be from a
demonic spirit, I would immediately move to the pulpit and interrupt
the prophecy. I would then announce that we, the leaders of the church,
did not receive the prophecy and I would instruct the people to
disregard what was prophesied. I have had to do this only on two
occasions. Though it may seem harsh to the individual prophesying, the
responsibility for the collective congregation far outweighs any
embarrassment to one individual.
When prophecies come forth that take time to
fulfill, we have the luxury of being able to take more time to analyze
and judge them. But even then the judgment criteria most often applied
seems to be whether or not the word prophesied comes to pass. This is
particularly true in directive prophecies concerning future events or a
future course of human action. Let me state here most emphatically that
whether or not a prophetic word comes to pass is not, I repeat, not,
the only criteria for judging that prophecy!
There are at least three passages of Scripture on
this point that help us determine the validity of the prophecy. Let's
look at them:
Here, the judgment criteria is simple: if it doesn't
come true, God didn't speak it. But that does not mean the opposite is
true, if it comes to pass, then God must have spoken it. We know from
Scripture that demons can produce prophecy that will come to pass!
Let's look at another passage of Scripture:
Here the judgment criteria goes beyond whether or
not the word comes to pass. Why? Because this passage assumes that the
event or thing prophesied did come to pass. This passage adds another
criteria by which to judge. It is the direction the speaker is
attempting to lead the people. If it is away from God, then it is not
of the Lord.
The overriding question in judging a prophetic word
must be, “Where did the prophecy come from?” or “What is the source of
the prophecy?” The same sources are still available to us today as were
available to Adam: the Tree of Life or the Tree of Death (The Tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil).
In determining the source of the prophecy, we ask,
did the prophecy come from the 1) Tree of Life (God), or 2) The Tree of
Death (the human will and/or satanic/demonic)?
I relate the source of prophecy to the basic choices
given Adam in the Garden of Eden, partake of the Tree of Life and live,
or partake of the Tree of Death and die. There is a third source of
prophecy that I include in the “dead tree” category. It is that
prophecy out of the speaker's own soul or spirit. Of the three sources,
only God can produce [the tree of] life.
An excellent example from Scripture helps us
understand this principle. Remember the incident involving the Apostle
Paul and Silas when they were holding meetings in Philippi. Each day,
as they passed through the market place on the way to their meetings, a
woman followed them shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High
God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” (Acts 16:17 NIV).
The Scripture says that Paul was troubled by hearing
her day after day. Why? Was it because what she said was not true? No.
Every word she spoke was the absolute truth! Paul was troubled because
the source of her information was demonic.
He cast the source of her prophecy (the demon) out
of her! I think this passage is very interesting and revealing! We see
from it that even the test of a prophetic word being scripturally
accurate or “truthful” cannot be the final test of prophecy. The final
test is always where did it come from?
If we are to test prophecy by its source, the
question then becomes, “How can we tell the source of a prophetic
word?” James 3:13-18 answers the question.
But the wisdom that comes from
heaven is first of all pure; then peace loving, considerate,
submissive, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.
Peacemakers who sow in
peace raise a harvest of righteousness. (Jas 3:13-18 NIV).
Remember the six categories of prophecy we examined
in Figure 3-1? They were edification, exhortation, comfort, predictive,
rebuke and directive. If a prophecy is in the edification, exhortation
or comfort category, we need to ask: What is the prophecy producing?
What is its fruit? Is it producing confusion, bitterness, envy, selfish
ambition, boasting, or denying the truth? Is there uneasiness, doubt,
or concern in your spirit? If so, the source of the prophecy is not
God. As James tells us, it is either earthly (of the human soul or
spirit) and unspiritual, or it is of the devil--the Tree of Death.
Or is the prophetic word peace-loving, considerate,
submissive, merciful and full of good fruit? Is it impartial and
sincere, does it “raise a harvest of righteousness”? Is there joy,
peace and an “amen” in your spirit? If so, it comes from God, the Tree
However, if the prophecy falls in the categories of
prediction, rebuke or guidance, James' scriptural exhortation is not a
foolproof judgment criteria.
We all know that we Christians are not perfect.
Occasionally the Lord uses prophecy as His instrument to guide or
rebuke us because of our sin. It is quite easy to see that if a person
is in need of a rebuke from the Lord, then he or she would not receive
the prophetic rebuke as “peace-loving, considerate, submissive,
merciful and full of good fruit,” nor would it be “impartial” to him.
The same applies to one who receives prophetic guidance from the Lord
of an unpleasant nature such as the prophet Jonah received. I refer you
also to the prophetic words of rebuke sent to the Church in Laodicea:
Those whom I love I rebuke and
discipline. So be earnest, and repent . . . .” (Rev 3:15-19 NIV).
The above principle may also at times apply to
prophetic words of prediction since predictive prophecy may be either
pleasing or unpleasing. Israel was happy to hear prophecies predicting
their future restoration to glory, but they refused to receive
prophecies predicting God's discipline for their sin.
So we ask, “If the prophecy is predictive, rebuke or
guidance, how may we know the source? How may we judge it?”
I believe the best judges of these kinds of
prophetic words are objective, mature believers who know the person (or
group) to whom the word is given, and who know enough about the
circumstances surrounding the prophetic word. Here again, one sees the
absolute necessity, as well as the benefits, of having a prophecy
judged by other mature Christians.
There are also times when the Lord will send a
prophet to deliver one of these kinds of words to a church or
denominational group. In this setting, probably the best judge of the
correctness of the word would be the collective leadership of the
church or larger group. The pastor alone is usually not the best judge
as he may not want to do what the word directs. But if the pastor or
leader has surrounded himself with other mature believers who are not
afraid to speak their mind, then this group should be able to judge the
word. Of course, the leadership always has the option of taking the
prophetic word to an outside person or group to also seek their counsel.
Very often a seemingly harsh word which is both a
rebuke and directive is given. This can be for either a group or an
individual. An example of this kind of word to an individual is when a
Christian man is not being a proper husband or father, the Lord may
well send a prophetic word to him laying out his sin and directing him
to do better. Certainly this kind of word rarely brings the fruit of
love, peace, joy, etc. to a wayward husband's spirit. But, as he tells
his pastor, wife, or best friend about the word, they can readily see
its truth and can then lovingly affirm and reinforce it.
In like manner, the Lord may on occasion send a word
of direction or rebuke to a church that comes against a direction that
the church leadership has taken. There may even be sin in the church
leadership that is ignored or overlooked. Certainly such words of
rebuke or direction would not bring James' “love and peace,” would it?
But other church leaders from outside that church will readily see such
a word as from the Lord.
When judging prophecy one more factor must be
considered. Most all prophecy we hear today is a “mixture.” By mixture,
I refer again to the three sources of prophecy: the divine, the human,
and the demonic. Hopefully, most of the prophecy we hear today is a
mixture of the divine and human. God speaks through a human instrument
which of necessity allows the speaker's humanity to be heard. Certainly
the prophecy will contain the speaker's perception of God's word,
quality of voice, accent, figures of speech, etc. These all become part
of the spoken word.
We often can have a mixture of the speaker's own
perception of God's word. Mixtures of human and divine are acceptable.
The more experienced the speaker becomes at prophesying, the more pure
the prophecies become--less human and more Divine. It is like eating
fish, we judge and then “eat the meat and leave the bones.”
But there is also a mixture of the demonic and
human. Demons like to play “god.” If the human vessel is not a mature
Christian who is well grounded in the Scripture, he or she may, from
time to time, be duped into speaking a “prophetic word” which has the
demonic realm as its source. This is particularly true if the speaker
has strong pride and/or an unteachable spirit. Remember Paul and Silas
and the slave girl who followed them? Such prophecies sound good to the
undiscerning ear. But to the mature hearer, the demonic source is
quickly revealed. For this reason, those who prophesy with a demonic
mixture will seldom do so in the company of many mature Christians.
They favor a small group or private prophecy--one on one--and often
caution the hearers against submitting the prophecy to others for
judgement saying things like, “Others won't understand this word . . .
it is only for special people. You're special.”
If any portion of a prophecy is demonic, the entire
prophecy is to be rejected. Why? I don't believe that there will ever
be mixtures of Divine and demonic because I do not believe that God
will jointly participate in anything of a demonic origin. Thus, at best
we have a mixture of human and demonic. There is absolutely no point in
accepting any of that combination because there is nothing of God in
it. This is true even if Scripture is quoted during the prophetic word.
If that kind of prophecy comes in an assembly, a public declaration of
rejection must be made.
To simplify the judging process I have diagrammed
the process in Figure 4-2 and 4-3.
Let me conclude this chapter with a brief discussion
of the tone of voice or mannerism in which a prophetic word may be
Occasionally a prophetic word comes forth with an
apparent harshness or it even has an angry tone. I have heard many
Christians categorically reject such words because they “weren't
delivered in love. “My Jesus is a loving Jesus” they would say. “He
would never speak like that.” Wrong! While it is true that Jesus is
loving, He did take a whip on two occasions and cleanse His temple! And
remember His “seven woes” address to Israel's religious leaders!
(Matthew, chapter 23). Are we to imagine that Jesus doesn't do that any
more? Are we to imagine that there are equally sinful situations in His
church today and He responds only with loving mercy? The Bible does say
that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb
No, a harsh tone of voice in which a prophecy is
delivered is not a proper basis upon which we may reject it.
I have known of Christians to reject prophecies
delivered by a person who has distracting or offensive mannerisms.
These mannerisms may include such things as poor grammatical speech,
speaking with a “whiny” voice, frequently repeating such phrases as, “I
say unto you,” and so forth.
When I first began to hear prophecies, all who
prophesied spoke in King James English because the King James
translation was the dominant Bible of that day! In fact, in those days,
I heard some Christians reject prophecy because it wasn't delivered in
King James English. “It couldn't be the Lord . . . it wasn't in King
One who tends to reject a prophecy because it was
delivered in an unpleasing manner needs to read Isaiah, chapter 20. For
three years the Lord sent Isaiah to deliver His word stripped of
clothing and barefoot:
The King James translation says Isaiah was “naked.”
Verse four in the NIV seems to concur. Now I ask you, would such a
prophecy delivered in your church on Sunday morning by a naked prophet
be offensive? I imagine the answer is, “yes,” it would. Does that make
it a false prophecy? No, not necessarily. We simply do not have a
license to reject prophecy because it is delivered in a manner we find
Now I am not condoning offensive mannerisms. I am merely stating that we must be careful that such mannerisms, in and of themselves, do not cause us to reject prophetic words. If we are in the habit of rejecting such words, we may well be rejecting the word of the Lord.