For months, I have been deeply reflecting on the anemic state of the Church and the extraordinary capacity that so many very godly and sincere Christians have for naively believing the most outlandish things.
How can people who love God deeply and passionately and who know much Truth be so easily deceived?
There are at least four reasons for this:
Reason #1: Christians Are Used to Believing Strange Things
First, as Christians we are fundamentally predisposed to believing outlandish things. That may sound strange initially but please think about it. At the core of our faith is a conviction that a Middle Eastern Man about 2000 years ago was executed, then rose again, is still alive now in Heaven and will soon return to establish His Kingdom. And if we have faith in this Man, we will have eternal life. Pretty bizarre, isn’t it?
We also believe that Moses split the Red Sea, Joshua made the sun stand still, Jesus turned water into wine, angels and demons are real, the dead will be raised, and on and on.
Regrettably, it seems that people who have believed these core biblical truths are then willing to suspend rationality and open their hearts and minds to anything!
Of course, the remedy for this is straightforward: we should believe outlandish things when they are clearly taught in the Bible. But we should believe them only when they are clearly taught in the Bible. Otherwise, we should use the common sense that God gave us.
Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. (1 Corinthians 14:20)
Reason #2: Christians Expect to Be Rejected
Second, as Christians we are also fundamentally predisposed to assuming that we will be rejected and persecuted by the world around us.
Consequently, when some Christians believe outlandish (unbiblical) things and are rejected and ridiculed for it, they take that as a sign of God’s approval and give themselves even more deeply to the error. This creates a vicious downward spiral. Error begets rejection which begets greater error and so forth. All along, the witness of the Church is more and more damaged.
Again, the remedy for this is not complicated: we should embrace persecution for the sake of the Gospel – for the sake of our faith in Christ – but not for some foolish thing. We must clearly distinguish between the two. Our persecution must be “for righteousness’ sake.”
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)
Reason #3: A Low Level of Prophetic Revelation
Third, in the last few years, the prophetic ministry has come to the fore in very spiritually unprofitable ways. This happens every few decades. There will be a massive rise in popularity of the prophetic. Everyone is excited that “God is speaking to us!” However, after a while, it all implodes due to pride, sin, error, imbalance, etc. Then it goes out of favor for a season only to resurface again in the next generation.
Many in the current crop of “prophets” have been so monumentally wrong about such major issues and yet a large number of Christians still take them seriously, hanging onto every word as if it were the very Word of God. This will not end well. As happened in past prophetic waves, the coming inevitable implosion and backlash will disillusion many lives and destroy many ministries.
To help remedy this, we must recognize that there are various “levels” of prophetic authority. The level of authority of the revelation relates directly to its level of objectivity, or the extent to which it is not influenced by personal thoughts, desires, or feelings.
The simple graph above expresses how authority relates to objectivity. As the objectivity of the revelation increases, the corresponding authority of the revelation also increases.
There are four broad kinds of prophetic ministry, each with a corresponding level of objectivity and, therefore, authority.
- The beginning level of prophetic revelation involves prophetic impressions. These are inward impressions and can include dreams. They certainly can be from God and they can be specific and accurate. However, our own feelings and ideas can easily affect them, making them more subjective. Imagination can be the greatest enemy of true prophetic ministry. The greater the imaginative capacity, the greater the chance for creating the illusion of a “word from God” that is actually born of the person’s own imagination or own intense desire for something to happen.
The expression of erroneous inward impressions is described in sober warnings in Jeremiah and Ezekiel:
Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:16)
Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: “Hear the word of the Lord!” Thus says the Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing! (Ezekiel 13:2-3)
The vast majority of the “revelation” in the current prophetic wave is from inward impressions and carries a low level of authority. This is not to accuse anyone of being “false” – just immature. Even when such impressions are accurately from the Holy Spirit, they still carry a low level of significance and authority; they can encourage, exhort and comfort, but they should not give major direction.
- The second level of revelation involves special illumination. This is clearer than prophetic impressions. Examples are very specific inward words of knowledge or words of wisdom and some dreams (1 Corinthians 12:8). Jesus experienced this kind of revelation regularly and perfectly in His ministry:
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in His name when they saw the signs that He was doing. But Jesus on His part did not entrust Himself to them, because He knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man. (John 2:23-25)
With special illumination, there is a greater confidence that we are hearing from God than with prophetic impressions. Nevertheless, these revelations can also be influenced in a significant way by our own feelings, desires and thoughts.
- The next level of prophetic revelation is open visions. This is a higher level of revelation than inward impressions or special illumination. These are external visions. For example, an evangelist friend of mine was sitting on the floor one day, looking at the wall and praying for God to come to his city and nation. As he looked at the wall, suddenly it disappeared, and he saw an open-eyed vision. It was just like watching a movie screen. He saw many people coming to Christ in his nation in the coming years, and a great move of the Holy Spirit in which he would participate. This kind of revelation can include hearing the external and audible voice of God. Open visions are common in the Scriptures. For example:
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” (Acts 9:10-12)
- The fourth level of revelation is trances. In a trance, the prophet is actually involved in what is happening around him – he is there!
A few biblical examples are:
- Isaiah (Isaiah 6)
- Ezekiel (Ezekiel 8:1-5)
- Peter (Acts 10:9-16)
- Paul (2 Corinthians 12:1-4)
- John (Revelation)
Please notice how concrete and dramatic these experiences were. They were not inward impressions!
This is the highest form of prophetic revelation and carries the highest authority.
Significantly, the vast majority of “revelation” in the current prophetic wave is very low level, consisting of inward impressions and dreams. Such messages are fraught with subjectivity, interpretation, imagination and desire, and should be taken with a few grains of salt and then quickly rejected when they obviously fail to come to pass. You should not base your life on someone’s inward impression!
In addition, the current prophetic wave would be well served by some healthy structures and practices of accountability.
Reason #4: An Entanglement with the World’s Political System
Fourth, the current crisis in the Church has come directly out of the popular idea that the Church’s calling is to bring the Lordship of Christ and obedience to God into every sphere of life, including the political realm.
This idea sounds exciting, but it is not biblical. To put it simply, the Church does not establish the Kingdom of God upon the earth – the Lord Jesus will do that at His return!
… Then the Lord my God will come, and all the holy ones with Him … And the Lord will be King over all the earth … (Zechariah 14:5, 9)
In the meantime, our calling is to preach the Gospel, make disciples, build leaders, and plant churches among all people groups (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8). Those believers and churches will be “salt” and “light” and will influence many around them for good (Matthew 5:13-16). Every believer is called to serve God in whatever role He gives them. Some will serve God as teachers, businesspeople, carpenters, accountants and so forth ‒ and, yes, even as politicians.
But the Church is not to embrace a deeply misguided and profoundly distracting political agenda. That agenda has sapped the spiritual life of the Church. Please let us put it away and return to the centrality of Christ!
At Colossae there were false teachers who subverted that church through, among other things, some kind of angelic worship (Colossians 2:18). Paul’s response was to brilliantly exalt the Person and Lordship of Christ. In today’s context, in which many have brought worldly political systems into an inappropriate place in their churches, his response would be the same:
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:6-7)
Jesus is exalted and preeminent over all things. All things had their beginning in Him, depend on Him for their continued existence and exist to serve Him and bring Him glory. He created the entire heavenly hierarchy and all the kingdoms of this world. He is the true Ruler of all rulers. He is the true Authority over all authorities in every realm. He is infinitely greater than all of them. Why then are we so obsessed with worldly political systems?
And Jesus is the Head of the Church – His precious Bride – that is currently being corrupted and torn apart by strife over politics!
All the fullness of God dwells in Jesus and we are complete in Him! We must let no one rob us of our inheritance – of our privilege and calling to know Him and to bring others to know Him.
We must return to the passion of the Early Church for the preeminence and centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ. This is what we were made for. The Christian life is all about Jesus. Nothing is higher or more important than Him.
A Toxic Cocktail
These four forces, melded together and reinforcing each other, have created a toxic cocktail to inebriate and stultify the true witness and ministry of the Church of the Lord Jesus.
If we do not recognize and repent of our current imbalances and excesses and return to the centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ, the Truth of the Word of God and our true calling as His people, we will find our witness destroyed for years to come. It is one thing, and an honorable thing, to be marginalized and persecuted for our faith – but not for our sheer gullibility.
Is this really the Church that we want to pass on to our spiritual sons and daughters? Do we really want the next generation to inherit this chaotic and profoundly unbiblical mess? They are watching us. Recently, a young person said to me, “It is very disheartening to have grown up and looked up to these people as spiritual mothers and fathers, and to know what they’re saying and doing now.”
Dear friends, please let us sober up, return to our first love for Jesus, to the Word of God, and to the true calling of the Church of the Lord Jesus – if not for our own sake, for the sake of our sons and daughters!
 For more on prophetic ministry, please see my series of audio teachings on Healthy Prophetic Ministry at our website (www.LeaderSource.org) or on our app (search for “LeaderSource” in your app store).