Do you need help to hear from God? Some thoughts on Bethel, Selling the Prophetic, and the Prophetic Industry

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Havilah Cunnington Prophetic Personalities Course Leader

Just this week, I came across two separate ministries that were promoting a teaching package that was designed to help Christians ‘hear from God’. One was being promoted by Bethel, and the other by an independent ministry that was formerly involved in the leadership of the Apostolic denomination. The former appeared on my news feed, and the latter was preaching at a Pentecostal church I was member of. Before I go any further, I just want to state clearly, for those who are unaware, that this is the current ‘thing’ in charismatic circles. The charismatic movement goes through different fads. It continually reinvents itself. It continually latches on to a ‘thing’ and then majors on this as the hallmark of spirituality. In the early 1900s it was tongues and Spirit Baptism; in the 30s and onwards it was healing evangelists (Faith Movement); in the 60s and 70s (charismatic movement) it was back to tongues and Spirit baptism; in the 80s it was back to healing (Wimber) – with some additional new manifestations; in the 90s it was Toronto – even more manifestations (gold fillings, gold dust, barking, roaring etc.); in the noughties it was getting doped and drunk in the Spirit (Crowder and Co); and in the twenty-tens it is prophecy (Bethel, Clan Gathering (RIP); Glasgow Prophetic Centre and Light and Life etc.) ‘Prophecy’ is the ‘new’ thing.

Before I go any further, let me just set the record straight. I believe that God leads, guides, and intervenes in all sorts of ways in the life of the believer. God is supernatural. I believe in the Holy Spirit. Prior to joining the Free Church of Scotland I was a member, and involved in local church ministry, in an Independent Charismatic Church in Beith – where I was part of the core leadership team, an AoG church in Elderslie – where I also helped to plant a second one in Largs, and the Apostolic church on Skye, again where I was part of the core leadership team. Regarding the latter, I was also employed in a ministry capacity with responsibilities for weekly preaching whilst the full-time pastor was on sick leave. Throughout that time, I would say, I always tried to keep a gospel and scriptural focus alongside the ministry of the Spirit. I don’t claim to always have succeeded, at times I was drawn in to various imbalances and errors. However, my focus was always the gospel of Christ, the Word of God and the transforming work of the Spirit – and as a Free Church Ministry Candidate involved in local church ministry, those three areas are still my priority. From what I can see, the reformed heritage is not a departure from Word and Spirit, the reformed heritage is steeped in Word and Spirit.

Back to prophecy. Sometime around 2007, there was a woman in our church who was frustrated because everyone else could hear from God except her. Desirous for this experience she found help in a prophetic para-church ministry instead of the local church. At that time, the advice myself and the pastor’s wife gave to her was – “don’t focus on ‘hearing from God’, focus on your relationship with Jesus through prayer, scripture, the life of the church, and personal godliness, and hearing from God will take care of itself.” My point is this, even in that Pentecostal setting I was wary of the emerging emphasis on ‘hearing from God that was creeping in to the churches.

From what I could see at the time, ‘prophesy’ was moving away from Spirit-led utterance, towards a humanly manufactured method. All of a sudden you could learn the technique of how to prophesy. Further, the concept of prophesy as forth-telling (The Greek word for prophesy means “the speaking forth of the mind and counsel of God”) became eclipsed by the concept of foretelling (predicting the future). Prophecy, within classic Pentecostalism was as much (actually more so) about declaring the character, ways and will of God (forth-telling) as it was about predicting future events. The next thing that happened is prophecy became more about the individual than the congregation. Prophesy became less about what God was saying to his church, and more about what the prophet had to say to individuals. This developed into prophesy being all about the individual destiny of an individual, rather than God and his redemptive purpose. Prophesy became self-centred and man-centred, rather than God-centred. And this is exactly the kind of prophesying that is happening in charismatic circles today. Basically, prophesy has become a form of fortune-telling, and teaching on prophesy is simply Christianised paganism – teaching people to discern some kind of inner spirit-voice through natural senses. Houston, we have a problem.

There is much more I could write about this, and God-willing in days to come I will. For now, just let me raise two key things. The first is about the Bethel promotion of paid workshops which teach people how to prophesy.

“Discover how God speaks to you” Only $49 or $99 if you sign up as a group. Surely, hearing the Word of the Lord is fundamental? Foundational Christianity. If so, why are Bethel selling it? Bethel seem to be saying a few things, 1) The God-breathed scriptures are not enough 2) You need to discover how God speaks to you as an individual 3) For the right amount of money, we will help you feel confident you are hearing from God.

Further, this is the height of irony. Claiming that everyone can hear from God directly, but charging people $49, so they can be taught how to hear from God can only be described as ole-fashioned snake-oil salesmanship.  There are two problems here. One is, it is contradictory, if God intends me to hear from him directly, why do I need someone else to guide me into hearing from God? That is not God directly speaking, that is you acting as a mediator. The one training is the medium that helps the person connect with God. Further, (aside from the fact that I think these methods are deceptive, in that the human imagination is being mistaken for the voice of God) it is immoral. Charging for the Word of the Lord? Charging to help people hear from God? This is exactly the kind of corruption that existed before the reformation. Further, according to the Church fathers, charging people to hear from God is the mark of a false prophet. Regarding prophets, the Didache states: “If he asks for money, he is a false prophet”.

So, just to be clear, I have introduced several problems – 1) Prophecy as a technique to be learned 2) Prophecy limited to fore-telling (and no longer forth-telling) 3) Prophesy all about individuals 4) Prophecy divorced from the congregational setting 5) People being charged money for prophecy or to learn to prophesy (both are happening today).

There is also an issue about what we mean by the ‘voice of God’ and ‘the Word of the Lord’. Watson in the introduction to his book ‘you can prophesy’ says,

What God has said in the past is recorded in the Bible. The voice of the Lord did not go silent after the Bible was written. His voice can still be heard today through the prophetic ministry.

Let me just say, in case you missed that, that is incredibly inaccurate, misleading and destructive. Any church which understands the Bible and prophecy in that way has a limited life-span as an orthodox Christian church. That church is on the road to becoming sub-Christian.

The Bible is not simply what God has said in the past – the Bible is what God has revealed for us today. The scriptures are God’s word for us today. In fact, with the coming of Jesus, ‘prophets’ now take a back seat – Jesus himself is the prophetic word to the world. Jesus is our prophet.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, (Heb1:1-2)

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the cutting-edge, now Word of God for every person on the face of the planet. What is God saying to the world? He is saying, look to the Son. It’s all about Jesus. It is Jesus who will remove the barrier of sin between us and God. It is Jesus who enables us to be reconciled. It is Jesus who gives us free access into the Father’s presence.

Further, all of scripture is the Word of God. The Bible is not just some record of what God has said, it is what God is saying.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

This is my beef with the modern prophetic movement, it destroys the doctrine of scripture. It deconstructs the supernatural revelatory nature of the scriptures and gives us a form of prophecy that is about as supernatural as a fortune cookie. It replaces anointed prophetic preachers of the Word with pseudo-prophets who are about as anointed as Mystic Meg.

There is much more that needs to be unpacked, but let me just finish by returning to the question: Do you need help to hear from God? Yes, but the help comes from God. He has spoken in his Word and through his Son. All you need is Jesus. Any prophet who tells you that you need a course, or a book, is wrong. Everything you need is in the Word of God and the true church of God.

I testify to everyone who hears the words of prophecy in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:18—20)

 

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10 thoughts on “Do you need help to hear from God? Some thoughts on Bethel, Selling the Prophetic, and the Prophetic Industry

  1. I’m a little torn over this post, if I’m honest. I agree with you that there are some very concerning issues over how the prophetic is handled in some churches, although I would still regard myself as charismatic/continuationist and believe that God does reveal himself today in ways other than simply reading Scripture – ways that are subordinate to Scripture, must not contradict Scripture, and are not inerrant, of course 😉

    Equally, I do find the methods of many American churches (both charismatic and cessationist) to be somewhat distasteful when it comes to money.

    However, the idea of charging people for teaching is not new, nor exclusive to either the charismatic church or the American church. I think we need to be careful that we’re not just objecting to the charge because we object to the material. If this was someone selling a course on, say, understanding the minor prophets, would the objection still stand? Or how about that Donald Whitney, flogging a book on “praying the bible”? The cheek! 😉

    (For a quick summary of questions around the other 4 main points:

    1. I think that if we concede that (for instance) preaching is a gift that can be encouraged through teaching, it’s hard to argue against teaching in the prophetic.
    2. Most of the people I’ve heard (both those I agree with and those I don’t) would encourage both fore- and forth-telling as a matter of course. In fact, most of the training I’ve seen for the prophetic tends to lean more towards forth-telling.
    3. Whilst I concede the point that it can often become far too individualistic, I often have more of an issue with those who advocate prophesying beyond the individual – “words for the nation” etc
    4. True. Prophecy divorced from a church setting is not good.
    )

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    • Apologies that my blogs re causing you so much turmoil! lol

      I have a NT exam tomorrow, so just a brief response.

      I agree that God does not only speak through scripture. However, the distinction between the Inspired, Inerrant Scriptures and the general leading of God needs to be safeguarded.
      Consequently, the current terms “hearing from God” “the voice of God” “The Word of God” when applied to individuals and guidance are problematic.
      Granted, attempts have been made, on paper, to differentiate between the revealed word in scripture, and the extra-canonical stuff. In practice, this distinction, in my view is lost.
      Further, continuationism becomes contradictory when we say on one hand 1) God still speaks through prophecy today, just as he has always done but on the other hand say 2) prophecy is fallible. We only have a small degree of accuracy. We can’t be sure. Then we make up all sorts of silly rules – ‘Don’t prophesy about dates or mates (marriages or specific times). Don’t prophesy about sin – that’s not what prophecy is for – it’s to ‘build up’ not ‘tear down’. One word for all of that. Garbage. And nothing like biblical prophecy. That is middle-class game-playing. Nothing like biblical prophecy at all.
      There is a major difference between charging for prophesy, or how to teach learn to prophesy, and charging for things like books – although, I concede, that area can become murky too. The difference is that ‘prophesy’ if it were a valid gift in the way that they tell us it is, is simply essential for our faith.. It is foundational. The word of the Lord is a necessity. As is using my spiritual gift. To charge for this is like charging people to come to church. It’s like charging for communion. In other words, when general teaching is sold, say in the form of books, these things are always supplementary. Christian don’t need any book but THE book. However, selling prophecy is a very different thing. If it were a true gift, it should be part of the life of the church – no charge. Likewise, if functioning in prophesy is a valid ministry, this should be developed free of charge in the church – because it would be an essential function.
      By the way, regarding selling teaching, it was almost justifiable in the days of CDs and tapes. It is unjustifiable in the era of mp3s. I am horrified when I see ministries selling mp3s.

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  2. I’m enjoying the rigorous debate 🙂

    I don’t think that continuationism is contradictory, but I I think that most continuationists (by which I mean, for want of a better term, “moderate” charismatics) would argue that the use of the word prophecy in the New Testament is substantially different to the nature of a prophet as described in the Old Testament. For instance, Sam Storms’ teaching on prophecy in his book on Spiritual Gifts starts with Paul’s imperative to earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially prophecy, and then continues on in 1 Corinthians 14 to describe how that gift should be used.

    I agree to an extent about the silly rules. On the other hand, I understand why they’re in place, and I’m grateful that there are people who have deemed it wise to create a place of safety, because there are many places that don’t.

    I think you need to make a distinction between selling prophecy, and selling teaching about prophecy. I agree that selling prophecy (“give me £10 and I will send you a prophetic word”) is disgraceful. But selling teaching and training material is another matter. To go in a slightly different direction, I would argue that evangelism is essential to our faith – foundational and a necessity. But it is also something that many people have charged money for courses and books on. Those things are supplementary, much like any course on prophecy.

    As for the selling of MP3s, I think it depends very much on the nature of the teaching. If we’re talking about Sunday worship, then I’m (mostly) against. If we’re talking about conferences and training events, then I’m not, as the cost involved in running those events and recording them is not trivial, and it is often through “merchandise” that they manage to break even.

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    • Okay — revision for tomorrow ‘done’.

      1) “I don’t think that continuationism is contradictory, but I I think that most continuationists (by which I mean, for want of a better term, “moderate” charismatics) would argue that the use of the word prophecy in the New Testament is substantially different to the nature of a prophet as described in the Old Testament.”

      Can you show from scripture where it shows that OT prophecy differs from NT prophecy? I know you cite Storms, and 1 Cor 14 — but this doesn’t say that NT prophecy is different from OT prophecy.

      Further you have argued that contemporary prophecy is ‘forthtelling and foretelling’ — that is what it is in OT — show how is it different?

      If, as Grudem, and others suggest, it is different because it is less accurate, then

      A) How is this in anyway the continuation of the gift of prophecy?
      B) Why would the new covenant, which is fuller than Old covenant, have a lesser quality of prophecy?

      2) “I agree to an extent about the silly rules. On the other hand, I understand why they’re in place, and I’m grateful that there are people who have deemed it wise to create a place of safety, because there are many places that don’t.”

      Which one is it, do you agree with them, or do you not? And, if we have to couch modern prophecy in such cotton wool — in what possible sense is this prophecy? The whole point of prophecy is that God is making known his mind. We see what that looks like in scripture, and it is a two-edged sword — these middle-class ‘rules’ turn the ‘prophetic word’ into a marsh-mallow. They turn the two-edged sword into a children’s foam sword. Smacks of western culture — a culture which has safety rules for everything — take away coffee mugs with ‘warning, contents are hot’. It’s nonsense. Unworthy of the name of God.

      If God speaks today in prophecy, but it’s not like the stuff in the Bible — then keep it. It’s useless. All it will do is speak to people at an emotional level. To say that speaking of sin tears down and does not build up is just nonsense. Even the 1 Cor 14 example includes revelation of personal sin.

      3) NT prophecy is included in the NT scriptures. If NT prophecy is different, how so? How does this apply to NT prophecies which are in scripture? Do we say they are fallible? Why not if NT prophecy is not the same as OT prophecy?

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  3. I think maybe I have hobbled myself through the use of the word “substantially” 😉 I’m not sure that I necessarily explained myself well. So here are a few additional thoughts:

    1. I think we would both agree that the those things that are recorded in Scripture are infallible, those that are not aren’t. But both the Old Testament (for instance the band of prophets that Saul goes to) and the New Testament (for instance the daughters of Philip) talk of prophets for whom we have no recorded words. Does it then not follow that there is a type of prophecy that is neither false nor infallible?

    2. In 1 Corinthians 14 Paul advises that 2 or 3 prophets speak, and the others should weigh what is said (14v29). Now – you could argue that this is simply a testing of true vs false, but I think Paul would be much more forthright if he were talking about weeding out false prophets, rather than this softer advice to weigh, thus indicating that prophecy here is something that is not infallible.

    3. I think that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost, represents a substantial shift in the movement and work of the Spirit in the world. At the very least, the contrast between the encouragement of Paul for everyone to earnestly desire prophesy and the lack of recorded words from those prophets should cause questions.

    4. When it comes to “rules”, I think the question is whether or not we receive a spiritual gift “fully formed”. Are these finished articles that we either have or do not? Or are they more like muscles that need to be trained and stretched? If it’s the former, then the rules are pointless. If it’s the latter, then the rules make sense in order to create an environment in which people can exercise their gift without doing damage to themselves or others. (In that metaphor, I would regard them less as hard and fast rules, and more as guidelines for training)

    5. Additionally, some of those rules exist to provide a framework for the aforementioned “weighing”. In our church we use a simple acronym to encourage people to weigh everything – BART. It’s a sliding scale of importance when it comes to testing anything that is said (up to and including prophecy): is it Biblical (if it’s not then forget the rest of the letters 😉 ), is there Agreement from others (including seeking wise counsel, but also looking for historical agreement within the church), is it Relevant (again, a sliding scale, but generally I believe that God wants to speak into our personal situation), does is Testify in my spirit (the least important, because we can be overly emotive, but at the same time people can experience a “resonance” from God)

    That’s probably enough for this time of morning 🙂 Let the debate continue… (but after coffee)

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  4. Interesting!

    1. “Does it then not follow that there is a type of prophecy that is neither false nor infallible?” I don’t think it follows that just because there were prophecies that were not recorded that this means they were not infallible. There was at least 30 years of apostolic Oral tradition that has not been recorded, that does not mean it was not infallible. Like-wise, John tells us there were many things that Jesus taught and did that was not recorded, (enough to fill the whole world and more, with books) but I doubt you would say that this implies Jesus said fallible things. So, I think point 1 is special pleading.

    2. Paul’s commands to weigh/judge prophecy: “thus indicating that prophecy here is something that is not infallible.” You rightly point out that this could mean the prophecy is false, rather than weeding out what bits are true, and what bits are false. I find this a weak basis for something as important as present day infallible prophecy. If we take everything that the OT and NT says about prophecy, I find it hard to conclude that 1) God intended for a form of prophecy to continue that is not infallible. I just don’t see how that is even remotely helpful.

    Further, the context of 1 Corinthians is important. It is one of the earliest NT books. These Christians did not have the full apostolic teaching. They did not have the canon. That is very significant. Prophecy, in that context is very different to what is happening today. Prophecy in that context would look like what we have in the NT. That is the kind of quality and content prophecy would contain. None of this, “I see a waterfall”!

    3. — see point two about the context

    4. Why does Paul not give us these kind of guidelines? Pretty big omission.

    5. I actually quite like your BART thing.

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  5. 1. So are we saying that there is infallible prophetic utterance outside of Scripture? That seems like dodgy ground to me 😉

    2. And yet Paul clearly says in 1 Corinthians 13:9 that we “know in part and prophesy in part”. He also says in 1 Thessalonians (another early letter, yes) that we should “not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”

    4. I think you could say that about large parts of Paul’s writing!

    5. Thanks 🙂 It came from a sermon that I preached when I was 18, although I can’t take credit for it – you could argue it was inspired 😉

    I’m getting a little confused here as to whether or not we’re debating here over complete cessationism vs continuationism, a continuationist position that doesn’t include prophecy, or a continuationist position that does include prophecy, but wants to define prophecy in a very specific way?

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    • 1. ??? I take you jest?
      2. All revelation is partial. A fundamental doctrine of God is the truth that God is incomprehensible. Yet, despite being incomprehensible, he is knowable. The whole glory of Christ is this, he reveals God. He lifts the veil. He makes that which was hidden plain. Prophecy, at least the modern theory of prophecy, is to introduce more fog. It eclipses the clear Word, with an unclear word. I honestly think this is nothing more than a bit of excitement for middle class westerners. The clue is in the ‘safe’ perimeters that are created around the teaching. Safe risk is a mark of modern man.
      4. On the contrary, 2 Tim 3:16 The God breathed scripture contains what we need to be equipped. If it aint in the book, we don’t need it. Otherwise, scripture is not sufficient.

      Last Para:

      Ha ha ha ha!

      Well my blog post is about recent developments (post-third wave) ‘prophecy’ — of which Bethel is a clear example.

      Basically, I’m saying, I was far more comfortable with classical Pentecostalism’s approach to prophecy which understood it is a Spirit-led utterance (a gift of the Spirit), rather than a method to be mastered. The current ‘learn how to hear from God’ stuff is far removed from scripture, and genuine Christian spirituality. At best it will lead to self-deception, and prophecies which are borne out of human imagination, at worst it can open people up to the demonic. And possibly, there will be some real stuff in the mix too. But the real stuff, in my view is tarnished because it is submerged in a lot of junk.

      Contemporary Christians are immersed in a humanistic worldview. They lack a worldview which is shaped by the history of God’s dealings, the big story of God’s redemptive purpose, clear Christology, Biblical soteriology, and the doctrine of God and so on. Consequently, most contemporary prophetic expressions are a reflection of this muddy worldview. Hence, I find a greater prophetic voice amongst conservative catholics and protestants. The reason being, they have actively resisted some of the contemporary cultural pressures such as feminism, humanism, relativism etc. Before I left the charismatic scene, I became a bit disturbed that the Free Church — who did not lay a major emphasis in prophecy — in the way that charismatics do — were sounding more prophetic than me and my charismatic crew who were huddling together in wee meetings, laughing on the floor and getting pictures of dolphins and wales.

      My view would be, anointed preaching and application of the word is prophetic. And occasionally, God breaks into our lives, individually and collectively, in a ‘prophetic sense’ in terms of direction and guidance. But that is more likely to happen when we are Christ-focused, living out the normal Christian life, than it is by pursuing prophetic agendas — that kind of pursuit will always end up off balance. Church history proves that.

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      • Thanks for a very thought-provoking discussion. There is certainly much that we are in agreement on, probably more than we don’t 😉 I’m still not 100% convinced that there isn’t a need for us to be able to “mature in our gifting” (regardless of whether the gift is prophecy, or preaching, or something else) but you’ve certainly given me plenty to think and pray about over Christmas 🙂

        I do, however, agree totally that anointed preaching and application of the Word is prophetic (although I personally wouldn’t equate it with the “gift of prophecy”) and that the charismatic church in particular has been severely lacking in both it’s understanding and practice of this gift. (Mind you, I would also argue that much of the more conservative church has been equally lacking, especially during the modern era where preaching became much less prophetic and much more professorial to the detriment of those in the congregation)

        Have a Merry Christmas!

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