Quick Thoughts on the New ‘Prophetic Standards’

A group of Pentecostal and charismatic leaders put out guidelines on how the gift of prophecy should be handled, motivated in large part by the movement’s terribly haphazard response to the Trump presidency. Christianity Today has an excellent article explaining the background.

There’s much to commend about the statement: it subordinates prophecy to scripture in authority, affirms that prophecy is redemptive and fundamentally about Jesus in nature, that prophets should be in submission to the church and councils of elders in the exercise of this gift, and that prophets are only qualified in the exercise of the gift if they have godly character. These are all excellent standards and Pentecostals and their churches will be much, much better for it if they are followed.

But I’m not optimistic. Believing that prophecy is new revelation from God in addition to scripture inherently invites competition with scripture, even if the content of the prophecy does not prima facei contradict the Bible. Holding that God provides new revelation means that the prophet is the steward not just of scripture, accessible to all, but of something secret and mysterious. The new standard insists that prophets need to be in submission to other charismatic offices for interpretation of prophecies, but anyone to whom God specially speaks directly will inevitably be elevated by people. That is exactly what has happened in recent years. While a few penitent prophets signed the new standard, the individuals really making a fuss and misleading the church aren’t going to get onboard.

The standards acknowledge that the internet has given a platform to every yahoo out there, but fails to reckon with why those yahoo prophets would be followed by the people in their non-yahoo churches. Sure, the prophet may get the prophecy wrong, but sometimes prophecies are ‘conditional’, ‘mysterious’, ‘symbolic’, not always inerrant, and sometimes prophets just make mistakes.  You can say all day long that such-and-such a prophet should be ignored because they’re not submitting to the church or not exhibiting the right kind of character, but if your people already believe that God is speaking directly to this prophet, why would those be good reasons not to listen? Especially if the prophecy does not contradict the letter of scripture and “our own spirits bear witness with it”. Scripture is no longer the only rule of faith and practice, but a rule, competing with someone’s own sense of what they think God is saying to another person.

And it’s not like these guys take godly character all that seriously: a quick perusal of the initial signatories reveals several prominent pastors whose conduct (should have) disqualified them from ministry, Mark Driscoll included. All the talk of standards for prophecy is as serious as their standards for godliness, which is to say, not at all.