As the apostolic / prophetic movement has become increasingly bizarre, many who were told to simply bless everything are now deeply disillusioned. In these days when renewal meetings, alleged outpourings and flamboyant leaders have reached a point of crisis, it is tempting to throw up our hands, become cynical and opt to retreat to a safer, saner spirituality. And yet we know in our hearts that we can't go back to a Christian faith without the presence, power and voice of God. Neither dead orthodoxy nor practical deism can provide a harbour for us. Some are simply walking away from the faith altogether. Is that really our only option? How do we stay open to the Spirit? How do we restore prophetic purity? How can we continue to engage in authentic experiences with God without becoming wacky? What if we were to recalibrate our faith practice and renew prophetic purity?
The apostle Paul foresaw our dilemma when he said, "Do not put out the Spirit's fire. Do not despise prophetic utterance. But test everything and hold on to the good stuff." (1 Thess. 5)
The following represents a discussion between Peter Helms and Brad Jersak which was presented at Appleseed Lodge in Westbank in early October. That evening, they pushed these buttons, made their confessions and fervently sought God for a fresh, pure prophetic encounter in community.
Our goal of is not to vent our frustrations or point fingers at ministers or ministries involved in the prophetic renewal. Such scapegoating serves only to let ourselves off the hook too easily and just as importantly, distracts us into missing the deeper dysfunctions of a system that needs deconstructing.
Our goal is two-fold. First we would seek God
in helping us locate some of the defects and dysfunctions in the prophetic
renewal streams at large. Second, we would open ourselves afresh to an
authentic ministry of the Holy Spirit. I.e. We would invite the Holy Spirit to
help us discern a way back to the living heart of the prophetic, rather than
simply discarding everything indiscriminately.
I. Deconstructing the dysfunctions
Recently, one of our own mature prophetic
ministers came trembling with this message from Jeremiah (in early August). She
said, “Something has happened; I don’t know what it is … but I feel sick. We
need to seek the Lord and examine ourselves because Jeremiah 5 is the word He’s
giving right now.” After I read the chapter, I felt sick too—we entered a time
of examining ourselves in light of the following verses:
Jeremiah 5:11-13; 5:30-31
The house of Israel and the house of
have been utterly unfaithful to me,"
declares the LORD.They have lied about the LORD;
they said, "He will do nothing!
No harm will come to us;
we will never see sword or famine. The prophets are but wind
and the word is not in them;
so let what they say be done to them." "A horrible and shocking thing
has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies,
the priests rule by their own authority,
and my people love it this way.
But what will you do in the end?
It soon became clear that whatever was up was bigger than our fellowship or our city. The Lord was pointing to a broader infection across the continent, cracks in the foundation of the whole apostolic / prophetic stream. It’s a time for deconstructing and rebuilding according to God’s plumbline. We’re reminded of Jeremiah’s call.
Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, "Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant."
So the Lord has been identifying specific structural defects across the board. While some have tried to warn us and to weed through the problems as they saw them (in the face of great resistance), only now has a broader openness to testing and correction emerged. Many in the Body of Christ are saying, “It’s about time.” What are the underlying issues that made us vulnerable to deception, delusion and abuse. How did we get so far astray? The following represents only a partial diagnosis of some of our flaws (both leaders and followers seem equally complicit).
1. The abandonment of Jesus of Nazareth (the Jesus of the Gospels in his life, character and teaching) as our anchor for truth.
In the context of increasingly bizarre manifestations and obvious mixture, too often an attitude of "WHATEVER" is communicated, such that the truth doesn't seem to matter. Doctrinal purity is often set aside as secondary to manifestation ... or even mocked. But let's remember what doctrine is: the Spirit-revealed truth about Jesus Christ and the Gospel of Salvation. These are not trivialities to be laid aside while the party goes ‘off the hook.’
At some point in the renewal, we opened a door to 'anything goes' and so it has. We've tolerated serious excess just because “the worship was good” and allowed our discernment to go out the window. One renewal leader suggests that some of our worship songs subtly shifted from who Christ is and what He has done to a focus on our own passion for him, our own claims of piety and spiritual grandiosity. This introduced a seductive element in which we allowed ourselves to dismiss the most basic discernment of obvious excesses. We became distracted and deluded by an ever-increasing need for the bizarre.
In addition, there has been a greater impatience with those who insist on aligning our teachings and practices with Christ of the Gospels, esp. when he doesn't seem to endorse our agendas. Just one example: the imperial principalities of nationalism, patriotism and militarism have been major themes that have co-opted and saturated the prophetic more and more in recent years. When prophetic conferences become political rallies, we have lost our focus on Jesus of the Bible, whose testimony is supposed to be the spirit of prophecy.
2. The abandonment of authentic relationships with one another as a core value. We fail to live in true community when we make pacts not to critique one another for fear of being seen as negative. Our “bless everything” mentality is a misrepresentation of true covenant. Where ‘covering’ and accountability was required and requested, photo-op coronations based in very little real relationship won the day. Some have confessed in retrospect that they needed to be on board and on stage because of they needed to advance our own ministry.
Authentic relationship requires that we love one another to call each other on our stuff and truly listen when so confronted, rather than leaving it to the websites of anonymous witch-hunters. But when this was attempted, some in our midst were accused of being demonized and even threatened with death at the hand of God. Discernment of this sort was forbidden and explicitly cursed.
3. A tendency by some of the prophets to reject being tested. Such testing and weighing was seen as being reserved for Bible times and no longer appropriate or welcome. This is in obvious contradiction to 1 John 4, 1 Thess. 5 and Rev. 2. But these texts are written off -- insistence on testing was seen as having an authority-issue or even quenching the Spirit. “Touch not the Lord’s anointed” became a slogan imported to tell the sheep to shut up about the abuses they saw and experienced. Contrast this to the words of Christ in to the church in Ephesus:
To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands: I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.
4. A mis-identification of the glory of God as an ethereal disembodied presence to be chased and felt with no reference to personal Christian love… This error seems to be a soft form of the ancient and now revived heresy called gnosticism. Gnosticism downplays and degrades life in our bodies in the earthly realm as subspiritual. Gnostic forms of Christianity becomes enamoured with claims of special heavenly experiences where the prophetic elite access secret knowledge of God and bring down the illusive but inebriating glory. We’ve seen this resurface with a vengeance in our meetings where folks are more inclined to look for smoke in the rafters than the presence of Jesus in those sitting next to us.
This is in contrast to Jesus prayer where the chief issue of glory is that Christ himself is glorified. Glory is not a commodity to be sought from men but an honour that the Father has given his Son. As Christ is glorified, his promise is to infuse and fill believers themselves with the glory of God, with His Spirit, with his own character, and especially with the love of God.
I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
The apostle John confronted proto-gnosticism with these words of Jesus, who said that the Father had specifically glorified him and that through the Holy Spirit, this glory would fill the church with love and bring about love-union between believers and with God. The glory of God would be in us, manifest as Christian love for each other, for neighbours and for our enemies. Rather than trying to escape the flesh and exit to another spiritual plane. Christianity is about the Word made Flesh, first in Christ, then in us. The kingdom life is found on earth as in heaven... as widows and orphans receiving care, the sorrowing comforted, those with addictions set free, the sick cared and prayed for, and so on. Rather than divorcing heavenly life from earthly life, Jesus brings them together in the Incarnation.
5. The slippery language of anointing and impartation. The anointing is treated as a commodity of spiritual power that specially empowered leaders carry and use to minister. This spiritual power can somehow be imparted to those who are anxious to come get the anointing and bring it home with them. Contrast this to the apostle John’s identification of the anointing as a living person, the Holy Spirit who lives within ALL of us and whose primary ministry is to teach us / guide us into the truth of Jesus (John 16).
1 John 2:18-19; 2:26-27
Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
I am writing
these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you,
the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone
to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that
anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.
The anointing then is not found through the impartation of special prophets and apostles. Rather, it comes from the Holy Spirit as we abide in intimate fellowship with Jesus.
6. Exalting a man or woman and creating a ‘party spirit’ (factions)
1 Cor. 3:21-23
So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.
The party spirit groups into factions around our favourite teachers and prophets, whose ‘round tables’ are reminiscent of those self-congratulating super-apostles that opposed Paul’s ministry among the Corinthians. We see and covet their anointed ministries and seek to be identified with them. We are often motivated by a fear of ‘missing it,’ whatever 'it' is. Paul says this is futile. You already 'have it' ... all that God is, has been given to Christ. And all that Christ has, is available through abiding in Him, being grafted as branches into the Vine. The anointing of the Spirit flows from His spiritual veins into our hearts through intimacy with Jesus.
If we are
truthful, many of the self-proclaimed apostles and prophets are found to be
taking the Lord’s name in vain (ascribing to God that which is not of God).
Many of our prophetic words have fallen to the ground, but this is generally
ignored or spun into a different message so that we won’t look wrong.
It really is okay to enjoy the ministries of specific leaders, but when we put them on any kind of pedestal, we are setting them up for a fall and then we resent them for disillusioning us and falling short of our expectations. That’s not fair to them. On the one hand, the entourage of the prophets and apostles need to beware of how they are creating these pedestals and then scapegoating the leaders who fall from them. On the other hand, from the leadership side, we need to be aware of how we subtly train the flock of God to do this very thing. Wherever we model a style of ministry that encourages the masses to look to the ‘anointed leader’ (the OT word for the Messiah!) to impart an anointing that is not already resident in the believer, we diminish the work of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
7. The practice of seeking an anointing
and impartation through special leaders, we often seek to bypass the journey of
discipleship with a quick fix. In fact, we tend to hope that discipleship can
be short-cutted through good things -- deliverance, inner-healing, laying on of
hands, speaking in tongues, slaying in the Spirit -- or any kind of “getting
zapped” that we think might rescue us from the path of Christian growth known
as ‘the way of the Cross.’ This is as much a cultural malady rooted in drive-thru’s
as it is a spiritual quick-fix. But some of our best prophetic voices are going
so far as to call this 'witch-craft'. We ought to check that we're not engaging
in practices that seek a miracle drug for our humanity or some magical
exemption for having to actually following Jesus!
A lot of good attended the pilgrimages we took to renewal hotspots … many of us were refreshed and refuelled for the journey, not to mention experiencing wonderful people, teachings and worship times. We often met God in profound ways as we ‘soaked’ or did ‘floor time.’ We dare not throw out the baby with the bathwater. At the same time, these are the days to check our hearts when we run all over the world looking for a kingdom that is already promised to be among and within us wherever two or three are gathered. Remember Jesus words:
One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?"
Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you.” Then he said to his disciples, “The time is coming when you will long to see the day when the Son of Man returns, but you won’t see it. People will tell you, ‘Look, there is the Son of Man,’ or ‘Here he is,’ but don’t go out and follow them."
II. Beyond Cynicism
For some, these dysfunctions lead to cynicism – but surely this is just another pseudo-prophetic response. Taking the pendulum from one extreme to the other only flips the prophetic dysfunction on its head… but it’s the same spirit, the same hubris and contempt that we think we’re renouncing. A true prophet can diagnose disease and then offer a word of hope. The cynic sees the same problems but then both surrenders hope and steals the hope of others. The former prophesies correction by the Holy Spirit. The latter prophesies despair by a critical spirit.
As much as we need to repent for the above character defects in the prophetic foundation, even more, we want to keep our hearts open to the authentic ministry of the Holy Spirit. We want Christ-centered, Spirit-communities of love that flow freely in the genuine prophetic. Instead of throwing up our hands or receding in resentment, we would exhort the Body of Christ to pursue Christ for the sake of Christ, not for the sake of experience. Christian relationship will be experiential, but it always needs to orbit and fixate on Jesus himself. The experience is not the point. Jesus Christ is the point. Signs and wonders will follow us when we follow Him. But chase the signs and wonders and we’ll find we’ve left and lost the path of Jesus somewhere along the way. We believe this has what has happened in our day. It’s time to find the compass of truth and return to Jesus.
Where shall we start? What can we do about that immediately? This is just a
1. Let's pray and ask Jesus to give us a fresh love for the truth.
These are the days
for a clear-minded focus on the essential truths of the Gospel.
So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.
The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.
We need a much higher regard for truth - truth in our relationships to God, to one another and to life itself. The truth matters ... more than a concept, an idea or a code, the truth is found in honest relationships. Further, Jesus said, I am the truth.
So now, we reaffirm that the content of our faith does matter and needs to be aligned with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles. Let's pray for a fresh love for this truth. But this won’t be a quick fix. It requires a commitment to a lifestyle in which we saturate ourselves with the very words of Jesus, submitting ourselves to those texts with which we find ourselves under His gaze. Will we allow the truth to evaluate us? Will we let Him salt our hearts with the fire of truth, sobering us up with a cleansing word? Yes! Let’s invite that truth to come with all our hearts.
2. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. We need to recall that the prophetic is primarily meant to testify to the person of Jesus and exalt Him. “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” We choose today to commit to a discipline of boldly modeling two practices in this regard:
a. That we will equip and encourage the whole church with a reminder that they ALL have the Anointing and the Anointed One (He is them, they in Him) to hear and see the glory of God in the face of Jesus for themselves. We will resist modeling the use of prophetic personalities as mediums in any sense, reminding the sheep that the Good Shepherd is calling them by name. He must increase, we must decrease. (In that order)
b. That our prophesying will first and foremost be with reference to Jesus. The point of prophecy is Jesus. To begin with, let's ask for a word from heaven about who Jesus is, as we see in Rev. 1 and at the beginning of each of Jesus’ messages to the seven churches. Second, we resolve to make every personal or corporate prophetic word ultimately about who Christ is and what He is doing in individuals and groups.
For us, this has been a message through which we hope Christ will wash out blots and iron out wrinkles in the Bride’s wedding gown. We hope it will bring new freedom to both leaders and laity from that which would hinder us from a greater openness and awakening to God’s kingdom work. We sense that if we can receive Christ’s correction and avoid cynical reactions, we’ll know a deeper intimacy with Him and a greater advance of His kingdom in the coming days.