“I have a word from the Lord for you,” is a frequently made statement in far too many Christian circles today. It sounds so personal – that God would actually give a special message to someone who then passes it on to you. But can such pronouncements be trusted? Are such statements based on objective truth or subjective, man-centered impressions?
The movement not only has the tendency to blaspheme God by attributing words to Him that He has not spoken, but it undermines the true word of God. When some of “God’s words” don’t come true can any of His word be trusted? The scripture is indeed inspired by God and is true in every way and any action or statement that undermines that belief is a travesty
One question that must be explored is whether or not some of God’s words are more accurate and truthful than others. Can an actual “word from the Lord” be almost true? Can it be less accurate if spoken by someone who just doesn’t have enough faith or not enough experience in hearing from God? Does God allow His supposed prophets to be wrong a certain percentage of the time? Many proponents of the modern prophecy movement believe God allows for many missed prophecies. They even give percentages of expected prophecy failures and believe that those improve with faith and experience. The Old Testament prophets were not allowed to be inaccurate. There were no excuses for stating that they were speaking for God, foretelling events, and having those prophecies fail to come true. Deuteronomy 18:20-22 is very clear on this matter:
"But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the LORD hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him."
I wonder if such penalties were in place today if we would see all the supposed “words from the Lord.” Some claim there is a difference on the expectations placed on New Testament prophets versus those of the Old Testament. But there is no evidence to support that claim. Space does not allow us to deal with all of those arguments in this article.
The New Testament also speaks to the issue of false prophets. But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you: whose judgment now of a long time lingereth not, and their damnation slumbereth not. (2Peter 2:1-3)
Although this passage speaks to false teachers, the comparison is quite applicable. Notice that they are speaking their own words and not the words of the Lord. They also make merchandise of others. This is a practice that plays out with many of the false prophets who use their supposed positions to compel unsuspecting and well-meaning Christians to pay for their lavish lifestyles through donations.
This movement is one of the results of the Pentecostal excesses of the last century which has attempted to bring back
all the gifts of the early church. They recognize such gifts as Apostle, raising people from the dead, prophecy, speaking in tongues (usually gibberish when practiced today), healing on demand, and in some cases, picking up serpents and drinking poison, as proof of authentic, Spirit-filled Christianity. These claims vary among the different denominations and churches within the categories of Pentecostal and Charismatic. There are hundreds of variant groups within these parameters of belief. So, we must be careful not to include all churches within the charismatic persuasion under one broad brush. However, the “prophetic word” claims are found in many of these churches. A careful study of the group’s beginnings and practices will call into question the authenticity of their prophecies and practices. One does not need to be either a cessationist or continuationist to see the dangers of attributing words to God that He has not spoken.
The idea of twisting and hijacking God’s words to destroy His truth started in the Garden of Eden. When Satan asked,
“Hath God said?” he was attempting to diminish what God had spoken. By twisting or adding to God’s Word we allow Satan to continue his ugly schemes. It is truly a practice laden with humanism when people elevate themselves to such statures.
Anyone who claims to have a “word from the Lord” and leads people away from the true Word of God falls under condemnation. Deuteronomy 13:1-5 says that a prophet – even one who’s prophecies may come true – who leads people away from God shall be put to death. Putting scripture in a category of continued revelation leads to a dim view of God’s Word. It will tend to cheapen the true inspired Word and lead people away from believing the truth.
The Bible is complete and no new revelation is needed to live godly or to follow God’s will. The Holy Spirit inspired the words that we have in the scripture and He will illuminate the Spirit controlled Christian’s understanding of the Word. To suggest that the Word is not enough, and that we need new “words from the Lord” today, is contrary to the belief that the Bible is sufficient.
Consider the movements that have started due to someone believing that they have been given new revelations or direct words from God. Joseph Smith claimed to have received revelations from God, an angel, and on golden tablets. He started the heretical false religion known as Mormonism. Islam is a religion based on claims of a prophet who had views and teachings that are diametrically opposed to the scripture. The list of those who supposedly received new or added revelations from God throughout the church age is long and many have led well-meaning followers into false beliefs and eventually to hell. There have been those from the beginning of the church who have had such destructive ideas. There are current denominations and sects with false teachings that have their roots in the teachings of those who claimed to have new revelations or special messages from God. Some had dreams that they built doctrines upon. They also mix false teachings with their false revelations. Ellen G. White, Mary Baker Eddy, and Charles Taze Russell are some of the more popular names among many.
Notice that above list includes women. Careful observation will note that many of those who stand up in churches today and claim to have a “word from the Lord” are ladies. Does this follow the scriptural injunction regarding women not to teach men and to keep silent in the church? God did not use any women to write scripture and they are not to preach in the church. Why then would God give so many women newly revealed truth for the church and His followers? And yes, if God has given them his direct words it is newly revealed truth. And if not, it is simply subjective ideas that have supposedly come from God and should be labeled as such.
Some claim that giving people a “word from the Lord” is simply giving advice from God. But there is a vast difference between giving godly advice and claiming to have special messages from God. We are admonished to give counsel based on biblical teachings and wisdom. This counsel may include wisdom based on experience and the input from other godly advisors but dare not claim to be words directly given by God. Who of us can say that we have never changed our minds on something that at one time we were convinced we understood? God’s Word has the answers and wisdom for all questions and situations. It is the awesome responsibility of the followers of Christ to discern how to apply those answers to each situation.
We may have been taught that we can be sure the Spirit of God is directing us as long as the instruction or inner “feelings” does not contradict God’s Word. But this too can be deceptive. Yes, the Spirit of God influences and directs the Spirit controlled Christian. But we must always remember that we have the tendency to choose the “leading of the Spirit” that best fits our directives. When we claim that the Spirit has told us this or that, we must be just as careful that we do not attribute words to the Spirit that He has not spoken or given to us. It is better to say that we believe the Spirit is leading in such a way than to make claims or statements that may be subject to our limited understanding. This is not to diminish the importance of the Spirit-led life. But life in the Spirit relies on the revealed Truth as the dominant structure and guide for life. This should be the basis for decisions in the life of the Christian, and the peace of God will rule in our hearts. The Spirit can and will bring peace and comfort to the Spirit-filled and Spirit-led follower of Jesus Christ.
The Apostle Peter understood the subjective tendency within each of us. Peter was directed and inspired by the Holy Spirit to address his own experience compared to the Word of God. In the first chapter of his second epistle he reminds the readers of what he believes they already know. But he wants to remind them of the present truth (v.12). The truth was present at that time and it still is present tense. It was not a past truth or a future truth – or a truth that needs to be added to as the centuries pass by. In verse 3 we are told that we have been given “all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Later in the chapter Peter relates the story of when he and two other disciples were privileged beyond measure to be present at what we call the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. He uses that experience to help prove that the disciples were not following cleverly designed myths but instead the promised Messiah. However, in verse 19 he reminds his readers that there is a more confirmed method of knowing if Jesus is the Messiah. It was the Word of God as given to the Old Testament prophets.
I can’t imagine what the transfiguration must have been like. To see Jesus clothed in brilliant white, and shining brightly, must have been a life altering event. But that was not all that they saw or heard. They saw Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah. Two men who had lived centuries before them. And they recognized them. They also heard the voice of God making a statement and a command regarding His Son. Although this experience helped Peter to believe that Jesus was the Anointed One, it did not trump the scriptures and prophecies that had been inspired by the Holy Spirit. Peter, who was inspired to write scripture as well, understood the difference between experiences and inspiration. We must remember that we have a more sure Word than any experience that either we or anyone else can have.
When someone claims to have special words from God, a dream, or prophecy, how should we respond? I personally have had several times when I believe that God made things extremely clear to me through the leading of the Holy Spirit. This happened in several ways. But would I ever claim that those experiences are without any human interference in interpretation of their meanings? No. Nor would I claim that they are direct words of God. They were meaningful experiences that helped solidify what I believed God was doing or working out in my life. But they were exactly that – experiences. Experiences that do not attain to the level of the Living Word of God. We must respond to anyone’s claims with a clear understanding of the difference between experiences and God’s spoken Word.
If a person gives a “word from the Lord,” and it does not come true, what is that person? This may seem very harsh but they are not a prophet. Rather, he or she is a liar. Although they may not intentionally be lying, that is what happens. The Bible says that God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). So, if someone claims to have words from God, and they are not, who is Truth and who is not? Certainly, God is not a liar nor can He be. Again, we must be very careful that we do not blaspheme the name of God by attributing words to Him that are not His and make ourselves liars. God commands us that we dare not “take His name in vain.” Using His name to bolster our own words, ideas, or agendas, does just that. It uses God’s name in vain.
Such things should not be happening in any congregation. But when we see them happening in our own circles it should cause a great deal of alarm. It is much better to give godly advice and wisdom than to claim to have words from God. Whether it is a simple statement or a claim in a message–whether in teaching or preaching–we must leave God’s Word as already revealed. We can share our thoughts and interpretations with the understanding that we do not claim to have newly revealed words or truth. The modern prophecy movement dare not influence us. The generations to come must have a clear picture from us as to what is revealed truth and what is not. His Truth will stand forever. All other words will not.