For the last month I have been reading stories of individuals who made claims to have heard God speak, and these stories have centered on a common message– Mr. Trump will win the election. Monday the electoral college officially falsified this claim. I am not writing commentary on the election, that is not my place, except to say that those appointed by the President to oversee a fair election report the election was fair (including Attorney General Barr), the courts have found no evidence of wrongdoing, and the electoral college has confirmed this fact. If we are to live in a country governed by the rule of law we must accept this reality (though of course seeking to change any laws we find unjust). The fact the election has been validated in so many ways has shaken me. What has impacted me so dramatically is these self-proclaimed prophets who have issued statements from God which proved untrue. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans have accepted these claims and now we must reap the consequences.
The claims that God would give Mr. Trump re-election began in earnest in October, and despite every setback the prophets kept going. At every roadblock the President’s Christian supporters doubled down on their claims. Over the weekend, immediately before the Electoral College voted, there were rallies where prominent Christian leaders spoke of visions, dreams, and other signs and messages from God that Mr. Trump would be the winner of the election. Again and again the claim was made, and yet it never came to be. So now what? Where am I left now that Mr. Trump cannot win the election without some unprecedented [and unthinkable] new circumstances.
I recognize the struggles I have in hearing these claims, and every time I hear someone espouse one of these prophecies questions rage inside my head:
- Who is speaking to this person: God, Satan, no one?
- What happens when this prophecy is proven false? Will this individual resign or loose support?
- How does this person read the Bible?
- Is this truly what prophecy is all about?
- Does God ever speak to people? How can I be certain with these people making such wild claims?
- What association can I have with such individuals, should I carry the name Christian with them?
Then I realize that if I am having these thoughts then anyone who questions Christianity’s claims will automatically dismiss our beliefs on these grounds. If these wild prophecies are the face of Christianity, no reasonably intelligent person will be persuaded by the faith. How, if these claims bring harm to my faith, can I expect anyone outside the Church to listen to our claims? Today I understand how Jeremiah must have felt as he is predicting doom and the other “prophets of the Lord” are claiming glory for Judah (see Jeremiah 23:9-40).
This is what the Lord of the Heavenly Armies says: “Don’t listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you; they’re giving you false hopes. They declare visions from their own minds— they don’t come from the Lord! Jeremiah 23:16
Part of my difficulty with these prophets is precisely that I feel I should take them seriously. I should listen to what they are saying and honestly ask if they are speaking God’s message. I know I need to treat these individuals as my brothers and sisters, and I know that God speaks. I cannot simply be dismissive of these claims, or I have failed to listen to my family. And yet, by the end of December 14th these claims looked rather ridiculous. I am now left feeling betrayed, betrayed by people I have never met. Honestly, I never truly believed any of these prophets, I would listen but I was never convinced by the claims; however, I know individuals who were convinced and took these prophecies seriously. My relationships with individuals have suffered because of these claims. Now the Church must respond, these individuals must be held accountable for their words. If Christian communities sweep these claims of prophecy under the rug, or explain them away as interrupted by Satan, we loose credibility in the eyes of everyone outside the Church. This is why James says it is so perilous to be a teacher. Those who teach false information must be held accountable.
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more severely than others. James 3:1
Lest anyone think that these words are meant to be cruel, we need to call these individuals to repentance for their own sake. We need to hold them accountable because Jesus has already declared he will.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones [read Christians] who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a large millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned at the bottom of the sea." Matthew 18:6
These are difficult words; well meaning but ultimately false prophets are not exempt from this warning. A Christian with a large audience must be careful what words he or she proclaim as coming from God. I do not want to see individuals thrown out of the Church, rather I want them to examine the cost of speaking in God’s name. Every week, as I write and speak, I weigh the cost of my public statements. And here and now I am saying, if these prophecies somehow prove true I will publicly recant much of what I have written here and will seek to learn from the individuals who made these prophecies. The trouble I foresee is that these prophecies will prove false and the individuals making wild claims in God’s name will not recant and repent. Instead, they will be held up as examples of “genuinely Godly wisdom” and this will do immeasurable harm to the Church. Scripture takes false prophecy very seriously and the Church, as the heirs of Scripture, must also take the issue seriously as we see the Apostles.
Though I have not believed these prophets, I still believe God does speak to the Church through individuals. So, here is how I believe these prophets should behave based on 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 John 4. If one hears a message and understands it to be from God, one must first take the message to wise counselors. Allow deep people to help interpret the message and understand who is meant to hear the message. Second, do not allow messages to go beyond the people who should hear them, especially do not allow the message to invade the public sphere where it cannot be controlled. Third, hold to the message humbly, understanding false and deceitful entities my be behind the message. As I consider the claims made by many of the pro-Trump prophets, I see little wisdom and almost no humility. It pains me to speak this way of individuals who seemingly have bolstered the Church, but as I watched clips of Saturday’s rally I felt like I was witnessing Hananiah stand before Jeremiah (Jeremiah 28), or the court prophets speak to Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22).
Again I return to the theme, “if I am reacting this way what is the perception of those outside the Church?” I will not be able to shake the idea that thousands will no longer trust Christians to speak with truth or integrity because of these prophecies.