Beware of Lying Prophets

In my church life I regularly rub shoulders with charismatic and pentecostal Christians, most of them members of Freedom Fellowship, the faith community who is featured regularly in my books. There's also a lot of charismatic and pentecostal Christians out at the prison as well.

As many have observed, charismatic and pentecostal Christianity has become a haven for some pretty twisted and toxic beliefs related to politics. David French described some of this back in February in a post entitled "The Seeds of Political Violence Are Being Sown in the Church." Here's French describing the connections he sees between Christian nationalism, support for Donald Trump, and Pentecostal Christianity:
MAGA Christian nationalism is concentrated in the churches most removed from elite American culture, including from elite Evangelicalism. While there may be some Christian nationalists in seminaries, or in the pews of big, highly-educated suburban churches, or in the leadership of America’s largest denominations, you’re far more likely to find the true believers in exactly the kind of nondenominational, independent, and often-charismatic churches that populate the list of ReAwaken America tour stops.

Pentecostal Christianity, despite its immense size, is about as far from elite American culture as Mercury is from Mars. And this means it’s quite distant from elite Evangelical culture as well. Right-wing blue-check theologians and pastors who speak disdainfully of warnings about Christian nationalism because it’s not something they see in their churches never darken the door of a Pentecostal church.

They’re almost wholly unfamiliar with the world of “prophets” and “apostles” who have helped fuel much of the fervor for Trump. It’s no coincidence that Paula White, a pentecostal pastor herself, was Trump’s spiritual adviser. Trumpism penetrated pentecostalism early. I do not mean to say that all pentecostals are Trump supporters, much less Christian nationalists. But you can’t understand the Trumpist Christian core without understanding its pentecostal connection.

....MAGA Christian nationalism is often rooted in purported prophecies. I’ve spent every single day of the Trump era living deep in the heart of Trump country, surrounded by Trump-supporting friends, and attending church with Trump-supporting Christians. If there’s anything I know by heart, it’s the “Christian case for Trump.” I’ve read all the essays. I’ve heard all the arguments. It’s in the air out here.

There’s the pragmatic or prudential cost/benefit analysis—he’s a bad man, but his judicial appointments are good. There’s the cultural argument about threat—the left has grown so terrible that we have to punch back. But there’s also another argument entirely, one that’s impossible to discuss rationally—that Trump is divinely anointed by God to save this nation from imminent destruction.
I've seen this in my own context as well.

But I don't really want to debate here Donald Trump and Christian nationalism. If you're a Christian and a supporter of Donald Trump you have your own reasons. My interest today, rather, is the powerful role that "prophets" and "apostles" play, as French points out, in charismatic and pentecostal spaces. These self-styled "prophets" and "apostles" have a huge, and regularly unhealthy, influence upon these communities.

What concerns me about the outsized role and power of prophecy in charismatic and pentecostal spaces is how little attention is given to discernment. There is no check, no capacity for pushback. If my opinion or belief is described as a prophetic "Word from the Lord" it gets a pass. 

The reason I find this acquiesce in the face of prophecy so exceedingly strange is how often the prophets of God are flat out wrong in Old Testament. A great example of this comes from 1 Kings 22, where God puts "a lying spirit" in the mouths of the prophets. 

Another example comes from Jeremiah 23:
The prophets follow an evil course
and use their power unjustly.

“Both prophet and priest are godless;
even in my temple I find their wickedness,”
declares the Lord.
“Therefore their path will become slippery;
they will be banished to darkness
and there they will fall.
I will bring disaster on them
in the year they are punished,”
declares the Lord.

"Among the prophets of Jerusalem
I have seen something horrible:
They commit adultery and live a lie.
They strengthen the hands of evildoers,
so that not one of them turns from their wickedness.
They are all like Sodom to me;
the people of Jerusalem are like Gomorrah.”

Therefore this is what the Lord Almighty says concerning the prophets:

“I will make them eat bitter food
and drink poisoned water,
because from the prophets of Jerusalem
ungodliness has spread throughout the land.”
And how about this from Ezekiel 13:
The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: ‘Hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! Your prophets, Israel, are like jackals among ruins. You have not gone up to the breaches in the wall to repair it for the people of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the Lord. Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. Even though the Lord has not sent them, they say, “The Lord declares,” and expect him to fulfill their words. Have you not seen false visions and uttered lying divinations when you say, “The Lord declares,” though I have not spoken?

“‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign Lord. My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord."
I mean, with warnings like these in the Bible--I'm particularly fond of the malediction describing the prophets as "jackals among ruins"--how could you ever unconditionally and uncritically trust a prophet? Some discernment is needed. Some caution and circumspection.

And yet, if you spend any time at all in charismatic and pentecostal spaces, this capacity for discernment is wholly absent. And that makes these communities prone to all sorts of deviance and quackery. 

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