When he showed up at our Tuesday night Bible Study that spring evening in 1993, I thought it was a little unusual. But I dismissed that thought fairly quickly, reminding myself that our Bible Study group was known in our church for having in-depth discussions as well as for our riotous humor. Several others from the church had migrated to our group, so why shouldn’t he?
He sat quietly through the study, not really offering any insights and only half-heartedly laughing at the jokes we made. I again had fleeting thoughts that he didn’t quite fit in, and wondered if the group downtown might suit him better. He appeared as uncomfortable in our group as I had felt the night I’d visited the downtown Bible Study.
After the teaching portion of the meeting, the leader started to open the floor to prayer requests. At that point the visitor interrupted. “I’m sure you’re all wondering why I came tonight,” he began.
From there, he proceeded to explain that God had sent him to give me a message. According to him, God wanted me to know that He was ready to heal me physically. The healing would happen gradually, perhaps over the course of years. Furthermore, God would begin with my hands and slowly work His way through the rest of my body.
The man who led the Study knew me well, and was extremely aware that I had been moving away from Charismatic theology for about three years by that point. I could detect his amusement as he turned to me asking, “What’s your response to that, Deb?”
I answered without hesitation, “It’s hogwash.” Then I elaborated that the gifts of tongues, prophecy and healing ceased with the close of the Apostolic age. I added that Christ is certainly capable of healing people in this present age, but that all miraculous healings in Scripture happened instantaneously. Therefore I seriously doubted that God had spoken to this man.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that incident lately. I regret not telling that man that he’s a false prophet. Yeah, it would have been a harsh pronouncement, no matter how lovingly I might have worded it. And definitely, I believe that his prophecy, vision or whatever you want to call it, came out of that man’s compassion for me. Be that as it may, it was still a false prophecy.
And Scripture shows us, in more places than I can cite this afternoon, that the Lord has zero tolerance for false prophecy. In fact, when Moses prepared Israel to take possession of the Promised Land, he spent a fair amount of time warning them about the dangers of false prophets. To emphasize the Lord’s seriousness about this matter, he instructed them to treat false prophecy as a capital offense.
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. ~~Deuteronomy 18:20 (ESV)
Please be assured that I’m not suggesting that the man who gave the false prophecy at the Bible Study all those years ago be executed under Old Testament Law. I do, however, find it disturbing that he was permitted to continue giving prophecies in Sunday morning services long after that incident. (Of course, I shouldn’t have remained in that church after the Lord convinced me that Charismatic theology was in error.)
If a church insists on practicing the Charismatic gifts, they should also be consistent with Scriptural parameters in exercising those gifts. People who prophesy implicitly claim to speak for God Himself. Therefore, although I would argue that prophecy is no longer operational because the Canon of Scripture is closed, those who presume to prophesy must be held accountable by their church leadership. Even one failed prophecy should disqualify them from ever prophesying in a service again.
As the years have passed, I’ve been both saddened and troubled that this man wasn’t lovingly corrected for his false prophecy. People in that church highly respected him, and may have acted on prophecies he gave with the belief that God had really spoken though him. Worse, the poor guy lives with the deception that God speaks to him apart from Scripture. Just as he showed compassion towards me by wanting to believe God would heal me physically, so I pray God will show him compassion by leading him into sound doctrine.