What Makes a False Prophet?

I feel as though I’m going out on a bit of a limb here.  These kinds of posts are the ones people get called crazy for.  Christians like calling people false prophets. It makes them feel superior to those they disagree with, as if, because they pronounced it, those people are out of favor with God. We need to figure this out a little better.

So, for over 2000 years, Christians have been calling each other heretics. Literally. From the third century onward, bishops who disagreed with one another called one another heretics. As time went on, these accusations turned deadly, leading to men and women burned at the stake, or tortured to death in the hopes of finding more heretics.  Heretic isn’t quite so kind a word around here these days, so we just have changed our language to say “misguided” or “fallen away from Christ.” Let’s be clear about one thing, though: false prophets do exist today within Christianity, and they are not as easy to spot as we would like.

So what makes a false prophet?  To understand that, we must understand prophecy and its nature.  In reading 1 Corinthians 14, we learn that prophecy exists for believers a spiritual gift designed for edification, perhaps also for warning, should the church not be doing God’s will.  They invoke God’s name and speak on his behalf to build up the body of Christ and encourage them forward in their actions and toward the will of God.  This is something I believe still happens today; I believe that the Holy Spirit speaks through individuals to build up the body of Christ and encourage them forward.  I also believe that many have used this gift not to do God’s will, but their own.

Here is what I believe makes a false prophet: one who invokes the name of God for their own personal gain.  Really narrows it down, huh?

This happens throughout Scripture.  One of my favorite false prophet stories in the book of 1 Kings 22, where King Ahab of Israel is conversing with King Jehoshaphat of Judah about possibly going to war with Syria.  All of his prophets are saying to do it (probably because they’re on Ahab’s payroll), but Jehoshaphat isn’t quite convinced. He asks Ahab if anyone would speak against him. I can picture Ahab sighing heavily, and saying “Well, yeah, but this guy’s ALWAYS against me.” (Probably a good indicator that Ahab didn’t like doing what God told him to). Anyway, they bring this guy forward, who just so happens to be Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah. Micah tells him to hold off, claiming that God doesn’t want him going to battle, and that there is a “spirit of deception” amongst his other prophets.  He states clearly that God will bring him to his death in battle, and like any politician would, Ahab doesn’t listen, and throws Micah in prison.

Guess what happens? Yes, Ahab is killed in battle.

This is what a false prophet will do: they will convince the church (or, perhaps, a leader of a nation) that what they are doing is God’s will, whether or not God is actually saying it.  They use their position as a supposed prophet to their own gain, whether to promote a spiritual or political agenda.  One of my professors used to tell me story of times at the Assemblies of God General Council where men would attempt to defeat motions by standing up and saying “Thus sayeth the Lord!” Televangelists and megachurch pastors today speak doom on presidential administrations for not following what is their interpretation of scripture. Are they really speaking for God, or for some false god they have invented for themselves?

Problem is we all do this on a regular basis, even with ourselves.  Sometimes, if we really want something bad, we’ll tell ourselves that God wants us to have it, despite that nagging feeling that maybe we aren’t entirely sure God does want us there.  Effectively, we’ve all falsely prophesied, thinking we knew better than God what would edify us.

How do we avoid it?  Simply by paying attention.  Read you word, consult leaders, consider other viewpoints, before going ahead and determining what is the will of God, and do not let your emotions and desires come between you and the voice of God, who knows what His will is, and will bring it to fruition with or without the help those who claim to be his people.  Weigh what people say against His word, and against how he has acted in the past, and I think you will find false prophets that you never expected to see.

See y’all Friday.

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