CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

False Prophets: Lessons for Today?

Dec 1, 2003

It has often been noted that the most liked people in the Old Testament were the false prophets. How come? Simply because the false prophets told the people what they wanted to hear. Did the masses want to hear about prosperity and wealth? Then the false prophets spoke about prosperity and wealth. Did the masses want to hear about peace and safety. Then the false prophets spoke about peace and safety.

It is easy to be welcomed and well-loved, if you tell people what they most want to hear. However, if you tell people what they need to hear, instead of what they want to hear, then you will not be so well-received. In fact, it is unlikely that you will be invited back.

Consider some of the Old Testament passages that speak of this problem:

“These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instruction. They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions’.” (Is. 30:9-10)

“The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (Jer. 5:31)

“From the least to the greatest, all are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit. They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. ( Jer. 6:13-14)

“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace,” they say, when there is no peace.” (Jer. 8:11)

“Then the LORD said unto me, The prophets prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them: they prophesy unto you a false vision and divination, and a thing of nought, and the deceit of their heart. Therefore thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that prophesy in my name, and I sent them not, yet they say, Sword and famine shall not be in this land; By sword and famine shall those prophets be consumed.” (Jer. 14:14-15)

“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘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. They keep saying to those who despise me, “The LORD says: You will have peace.” And to all who follow the stubbornness’.” (Jer. 23:16-17)

Jesus also warned of this tendency:

“Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:22, 23, 26)

That is the dilemma which contemporary Christian pastors and teachers face. Will they be true to the word of God, even if it makes them unpopular, or will they compromise and dilute the word, to stay in the good graces of their congregations?

One needs to not overstate the case, but there is some truth to the idea that if no one ever complains about your message, no one ever criticises your talks, then perhaps you need to re-examine the content.

We can all think of obvious candidates for false prophecy. Think of John Shelby Spong, for example, who pulls in large crowds, telling people not to worry about the controversial parts of the Bible. Don’t worry about the deity of Christ, or of hell, or of prohibitions against homosexuality, etc. No wonder he’s so popular.

But there are more subtle ways that even good evangelical Christians can soften their message or withhold some of the truth. In the desire not to offend or appear intolerant or a wowser, do we omit certain themes or subjects in our preaching and teaching? Do we fear to speak out on homosexuality, or abortion, or other ethical hot potatoes, for fear of alienating or offending someone?

Of course we do not want to deliberately be offensive or insensitive, We must speak the truth in love, and treat everyone with respect and courtesy. But we must also proclaim all of God’s truth, not just those parts that are easily palatable. As Paul told the elders of the church at Ephesus, Acts 20:27 “I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27) We too must proclaim the whole counsel of God, no matter how unpopular it may be.

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7 Responses to False Prophets: Lessons for Today?

  • I left the Pentecostal church movement after about 15 years of attendance not because I became a cessationist but for the very reason you mention above. Rarely was anything ever said about controversial subjects like “homosexuality, or abortion, or other ethical hot potatoes, for fear of alienating or offending someone”. Christians cannot hope to be ‘salt and light’ if we are not prepared to say things that some people are going to find offensive.

    Ewan McDonald, Victoria

  • Jesus, Peter and Paul would fail many homiletics classes today because they violated the rule against offending their audiences!

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • I have found the churches I have attended to be more focussed on their building programme, the upcoming CD release, who would be the next worship leader, friday night’s concert, etc. etc. than the homeless down the street, the abused around the corner, and the disintegrating families within their congregations

    Today the term grace is used as an allowance for people to ‘do what they believe they have to do’ instead of the power God provides for us to live a holy life and to carry out his commandments.

    I am having a real problem remembering if there was more than one message about homosexuality or separation/divorce or abortion in almost 20 years. Maybe I should have been outside finding the destitute, the diseased and the down-trodden instead of warming a seat.

    Garth Penglase

  • Yes Bill, this message resonates loud and strong with me.

    I grew weary of being told about “the anointing” of the Pastor when all he wants to do is talk about his “anointing” and his programs. Schemes to build his empire replace sound preaching and teaching and popular doctrine replaces biblical doctrine.

    I have been exposed to this sort of nonsense on several occasions and believe it to be a classic sign of a false prophet.

    We were required to follow whatever he said or did without question because of this “exclusive” anointing.

    Apparently this sort of thing is widespread throughout the church today.

    All born again believers are anointed in the sense of being set apart by God for God and the bible says we are to judge all things according to the standards of the Word of God. Therefore it is time to leave when Pastors talk like this rather than preaching the Word of God.

    I thank the Lord that I have now found a Pastor who values the Word of God and is prepared to preach it faithfully. We live in a time when people will not tolerate sound doctrine so we need to support faithful expositors of the Word of God to the best of our ability.

    Wayne Capell

  • I agree completely with you Garth. The problem with with the Church of Christ is we build a building and that building becomes more important than key instructions Christ left us with. “Go and make disciples of all men”, “look after the widow and the orphan and do not forget the poor”. Instead we want to be spoon feed every time we go to church, we want the best seats in the house and we want our ears tickled just enough to get us through to the next time. Christ also said to, “love one another as I have loved you”. We become so churchified and moulded that we become a Christian clone of each other. God wants us to be completely unveiled in this area and realise that the Church is not just in the four walls but out on the streets, living in commission housing, sleeping in cardboard boxes and every one we meet every day. We need the pure Word of God not a watered down milk bottle. I agree with you Bill, I have spoken to some people about the way Australia will not in the future be so free in its way of religion to have those people look at me like I had horns and then said to me “I believe that we are going to have it easier”. Tickled ears with a resounding gong did not go down well.
    Francesca Collard

  • The big problem in the modern church is that Prophacy is linked to money. The visiting guest speaker, reknowned for his prophetic gift, also gets to take home a bag fat cheque. Is he likely to give a hard word or a rebuke? Not likely. The other thing I’ve seen is the visiting prophet stays with the local pastor or at least socialises extensively with him during his visit. People are discussed, agendas muted, attitudes put forward etc. How can the prophet stay true to the word God is giving him? Even the purest of heart can’t help but be influenced by the agendas of the local pastor. If he doesn’t he won’t get asked back next year. Having said that I have know some guest speakers who know in their spirit that something is “on the nose” in a church. But rather than giving a word of correction would rather speak the opposite in and preach words and messages to inspire the church to be better than it is. This is the pure prophetic but very rare. Most prophets just sing for their supper.
    Noel Were

  • And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:24-31)
    To Earnestly Contend For The Faith Does Encompass Arguing In Defense Of It
    The obvious answer to the question “Did Jesus Ever Argue Doctrine” is: Yes; absolutely, yes. In fact, we see an example of this right from the text I just cited above from the Gospel of Mark, which happens to be the end of a series of arguments Mark tells us Jesus had been having with Jewish religious leaders. It’s only because the visible church with its Rodney King theology, fearful of conflict, has decided to follow the whimsical ways of our effete culture that Christ’s confrontational style has been hidden.
    So instead people turn to fickle fools advancing the teachings of demons spewed from the deceitful spirits operating within the sinfully ecumenical Emergent Church aka the Emerging Church—with its postmodern version of liberalism i.e. Emergence Christianity (EC)—like Adam Walker Cleaveland to tell them incredibly stupid things like Jesus Was Wrong, and/or they will turn to EC dreamers like Samir Selmanovic, whom you may recall from Emerging Church Leader Samir Selmanovic Worships With Witches, and who tells us he “has been integral to the birth of the emerging church movement, serving as a member of the Coordinating Group of Emergent Village.”
    Wayne Capell

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