It sounds so simple to refer to our “cult-like church” as our “former church,” but it’s not simple at all. It’s actually difficult, painful, and at times, completely confusing.
We resigned from our leadership positions a few weeks ago. Conveniently for us, at the start of the new year they began the process of revamping certain ministries anyway, so our resignation probably seemed to be just a byproduct of this revamping. But we haven’t done anything yet to officially disassociate ourselves from this congregation. Consequently, we’re still on lots of email distribution lists.
Yesterday, we received via email a transcript of a prophecy given to the church by a minister who visited this past Sunday. And I felt rising up within myself all sorts of conflicting feelings.
You see, the prophecy was really a wonderful “Word,” speaking (of course, in typically vague terms) of a powerful new anointing that was going to come upon our pastor and the “house,” how all the leaders would begin to have great peace in their homes, how a “tremendous harvest” was coming to our church, how the church folks would walk in a new authority, with everything “under their feet.”
Obviously, the service had impacted lots of people, because I received other little email notes asking where we’d been, telling us how we’d missed such an “awesome time in the Lord,” and exhorting us to attend the next service with this visiting minister, when he’d be prophesying again.
Like I said, I had lots of conflicting feelings when I read these emails.
My first thought was one of envy, like we’d really missed the boat. What a shame, that we had deliberately chosen to remove ourselves from such a great congregation of people who had such a great “anointing” to look forward to. I mean, who wouldn’t want to want to walk in authority? Who wouldn’t want to be part of a tremendous harvest?
My next thought, though, was one of cynicism. “Here we go again,” I snickered to myself. “These poor people are so naïve!” How many times before had we heard this exact same thing, about the “great harvest” that was coming to our church? Just off the top of my head, I could recall several occasions where visiting ministers had prophesied the exact same thing. One such guest minister had even declared that our church would need to move to two services within the year because there would be such an influx of new people. He’d made those of us in the audience turn around and face the balcony and speak to it, declaring that it would be full to overflowing.
Of course, that year had passed, and there’d never been a need to have two Sunday services. If anything, attendance had declined during that time period. They even started to close the balcony, so that people would be forced to fill up the main sanctuary first.
I think it’s safe to say that after several years, I’ve earned the right to be cynical about these prophesies.
But then, because I’ve been studying in I and II Thessalonians over the last few days, I also had a conscience-stricken moment as I remembered I Thessalonians 5:20, which says, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt.” Of course, that’s what I’d been doing.
This is all so confusing to me. On the one hand, you have all these dear, sincere church folks writing all these enthusiastic emails, praising the “powerful prophetic” service that they’d had on Sunday and looking forward with great anticipation to the midweek service when they’ll get to hear more of the same. They are obviously convinced that God is speaking through this guest minister.
But my wary mind whispers, “Just like ‘God spoke’ through that last guest minister about the overflowing balcony?”
I turned back to I Thessalonians 5 and re-read the whole chapter. Once again, I felt a sharp pang of guilt at verse 20. But then I continued on, through verses 21-22, which say, “Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil.”
I think it’s this lack of “testing everything” that bothers me. If having an attitude of contempt toward prophecy is against the Bible, so is blind acceptance of everything uttered in the name of prophecy.
In a conversation with my sister this morning, I told her of my confusion, my frustration over this issue: how do you both “test everything” AND still value prophecy and not treat it with contempt? I mean, I’m still enough a part of our “former church” (or, our “former church” is still enough a part of me) that, when I hear of prophesies like this most recent one, I find myself feeling pangs of fear that I’m about to miss out on something great.
But then, with this observation, my sister cut through the charismaniac fog threatening once again to cloud my judgment. She said, “From everything you’ve told me, there’s sin in this congregation. They favor the rich. In their blatant materialism, they love the world. They value prophecy more than they value God’s written Word. And there are a ton of other smaller issues of sinfulness. WOULD GOD GIVE THIS CHURCH A ‘WORD’ CONTAINING SUCH ENCOURAGEMENT WITHOUT FIRST ADDRESSING THESE SINS?”
In my sister’s wise observation, I had a very clear answer. Obviously, this prophecy, with all its talk of “powerful anointings” and “great authority” and “tremendous harvest”…well, it sounded good. I’m sure everybody in the church would like it to be true. But if you do what Paul tells the Thessalonians to do—“Test everything”—then this “Word” does not pass the simple “smell” test of Scripture.
The Bible teaches very clearly that God will not overlook sin without repentance. God is not going to bless someone (or a group of someones) with great authority or great anointing (whatever “anointing” is!) if they are engaging in behaviors or have values that are in direct conflict with Scripture.
God remains consistent with His written Word.
So, even if it seems like this prophecy does come to pass eventually, we’ll be obligated to say that it was not because of God’s doings.
“Our former church” is still, for me, a hard phrase to say. But it’s getting a little easier every day.