In case you hadn’t noticed, the role of prophetic ministry in the western church is going through a bit of a shake up. With good reason! There are all kinds of voices out there, saying all kinds of things. Some are from God, some almost certainly are not.
But how do we know what’s what?
The most common answer to that question would be: Did the word come to pass? Was it accurate?
While that sounds reasonable, I don’t personally believe that is the only, or even best, litmus test.
Here’s the thing—no matter how close we are to Jesus, no matter how “mature” we are in our gifting—according to the New Testament, we see in part and we prophesy in part (see 1 Cor. 13:9 ). Yet we often present our “part” as if it were the whole.
And, pretty much every time we do, we get in trouble.
Not only do those prophesying sometimes fail to present their words with humility and an awareness that they don’t necessarily see the whole picture, but those critiquing from the sidelines often insist on a standard of 100% accuracy and consistency or declare the messenger to be a “false prophet.” (Of course these are usually the people who don’t believe in the role of the prophetic in the modern church anyway, but that is a different discussion for a different day.)
Insisting that God never changes His mind and that there should never be a prophetic word that doesn’t come to pass exactly as it was initially interpreted, denies the reality of Scripture. Remember how God told Abraham to take his son up Mount Moriah and sacrifice him there? And remember how that same God stepped in and STOPPED Abraham from doing the very thing He had clearly asked him to do?
Kinda messes with you, doesn’t it? At least it should.
Beloved, His ways are not our ways. Even in the Old Testament there are multiple examples of conditional prophecies and of God intervening in and/or deviating from what had been prophetically declared. This doesn’t even begin to take into account a new paradigm in the New Testament where “all may prophesy.”
The bottom line is we are still working it out. But according to 1 Thessalonians 5:20 throwing the baby out with the bath water isn’t a viable option. We are a bunch of mostly well-intentioned but broken and frail human beings trying to comprehend and steward the Divine. We don’t always get it right. Even when we get it wrong—or partially wrong—we have different ideas about how to respond. But as long as we maintain a right heart and attitude along the way, it is all part of the process of growing in grace.
Clearly, I am no theologian. Because I’m not, I like to keep things simple. When a subject is obviously nuanced and complex, rather than trying to over-intellectualize and edit the mystery right out of it, I accept there is much I don’t understand and hold fast to what I know to be true. And in this vast and complex subject of how the prophetic should function in the current age, my personal litmus test for any prophetic word is simple:
Is it the testimony of Jesus?
The spirit of prophesy IS the testimony of Jesus (see Rev 19:10). Or, put even more simply from the NLT:
The essence of prophesy is to give a clear witness for Jesus.
Does the word provoke fear rather than awe of God? Not the testimony of Jesus.
Is there a harsh or hopeless tone? Not the testimony of Jesus.
Is the word about judgment with no hope of restoration or redemption? Not the testimony of Jesus.
Is the word presented with an attitude of boastful pride, rather than a humble confidence in Him? Not the testimony of Jesus.
Does the word make you focus on the schemes of hell rather than the victory of heaven? Not the testimony of Jesus.
I could go on and on, but you get the point. ANY New Testament prophecy needs to be viewed through the lens of the finished work of the cross. The messenger should neither be glorified nor demonized, but all authentic prophecy must point to JESUS.
I’ve heard words I disagree with that stir my heart and point to Him, and I’ve heard others that align with my personal opinions but don’t align with His heart. I care far more about whether or not Jesus is being glorified than I do with the exact right content and context. None of this is to say that prophets and prophetic people don’t need to take responsibility for the words they speak in His name. They do. That’s where the humility comes in—on both sides of the equation. I’m far more grieved about a Church that gleefully throws each other under the bus, than I am with one that sincerely, but imperfectly, walks in faith.
Church, this isn’t a moment to shrink back. This isn’t a moment to point fingers and throw darts. This isn’t a moment for posturing, positioning, or people pleasing. This is a moment for God pleasing. This is a moment for God seeking. This is a moment for humility and honor. This is a moment for examining our own hearts, not for judging the motives of others. This is a moment to make sure, that above all, our words, our actions, and the meditations of our hearts, are consistent with one thing, and one thing only …
The testimony of Jesus.
Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. -1Thessalonians 5:19-21
6 thoughts on “The Testimony of Jesus”
I’m glad you’re “no theologian,” because this is a good summary that doesn’t get technical.
In line with your point about knowing “in part,” I think there are parallels with biblical preaching (which, I’m told, the Puritans sometimes called “prophesying” though their Reformed views didn’t really imply everything charismatics/continuationists mean). In both, the speaker commands the attention of the assembled believers, there is a measure of divine authority assumed and, because of that, the speaker solicits a response of obedience to and faith in God. The speaker knows “in part,” but he IS claiming to know something he received by revelation.
No one believes that a preacher is issuing something infallible that can be equated with the written Word when he preaches. But the pastor/minister/teacher is not just offering an opinion like one of several persons having coffee together and discussing current events. So it’s not just subjective or personal.
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Amen. Good parallel. The New Testament has a lot more to say about false teachers than false prophets but no one ( well almost no one 😉) speaks of stoning a teacher because they only know in part. Hopefully we are all learning and will show grace to one another in the process. Thx for taking the time to comment. Blessings to you!
Amen, Cindy. Good connection between the testimony of Jesus on judging prophecy. Kris Vallotton says, does it have the grace of Jesus on it? Your examples are good for determining this.
As far as what’s been happening with the predictive prophecies over the last year, about Trump being reelected, and such, we do have to remember that we see in part, as you said but, at the risk of getting too technical, we also need to understand the difference between a prophetic decree and a prophetic declaration. Basically, a prophetic decree is a promise; it’s something that WILL come to pass. “God said, let there be light, and there was light.” We have no choice in the matter. A prophetic declaration, on the other hand, may have the heart of the King but it’s up to us to respond to it. These are options that God holds out to us, to take or reject. As you mentioned, these conditional promises were in the OT with Israel. Personal prophecy is usually the latter.
But when we make predictive prophecy we need to be careful we’re not making declarations, unless the Lord is saying something very clear that’s confirmed by others. We also need to own up to missing it if we do, otherwise it undermines our authority with people.
On personal prophecy, we use Dan McCollam’s workbook “The Good Fight: Prophetic Processing.” It’s excellent in diagraming and judging words given over us. It’s the best and most practical that I’ve seen.
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Amen. Good insights Mel, as always 😉 I know this is a topic with a lot of nuance and layers – although many speak as though that is not the case . Hopefully, the church IS coming into a greater corporate understanding. But for me personally the best “discernometer” is still my heart and gut (aka spirit). I guess since I’m a “feeler” that is probably always going to be my grid and my approach in writing and speaking. I save the more detailed (but necessary) distinctions for the more theologically inclined!
By the way, haven’t read that particular book (although I’ve seen most of Kris’ material) but will check it out when I have the opportunity! Blessings!
I love what you said in referencing 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21. I think this whole subject can be hard for people who have seen the bad end of the stick with the prophetic. They’ve seen it used wrongly which was hurtful. What is your advice for someone who is in this boat and how to encourage them to not throw the baby out with the bath water? How as a wife do I encourage my husband in this area, without pushing it on him or also worrying about it myself? That’s really what I’m asking 🙂