I was just studying a topic and came across, once again, Mr. Armstrong’s plain and simple explanation of what it means to have the office of Prophet. Ironically, it is given in a statement he makes explaining that he, himself, was not a prophet. And given that Christ prophesied that there would be “many” false prophets in the world as the end approaches (Matt. 24:11) — including those aiming to deceive God’s own people, specifically (v.24) — I think the clarity of his words is terribly helpful.
In the February 1972 Tomorrow’s World (nice title!) magazine on page 1, He said (bolding mine):
“Emphatically I am NOT a prophet, in the sense of one to whom God speaks specially and directly, revealing personally a future event to happen or new truth, or new and special instruction direct from God — separate from, and apart from what is contained in the Bible. And I never have claimed to be.
“There is no such human prophet living today!
“The Bible is the written Word of God — and, for our time now, it is COMPLETE! Never have I believed or claimed that God reveals to me new truths not contained in the Bible — in addition to, or apart from the Bible.”
That description of what it means to occupy the office of Prophet is both simple and completely consistent with the lives of those who held that office in Scripture. I’ve seen the definition of a Prophet messed with many different ways by individuals who were, essentially, trying to craft lists of “qualifications” they could claim apply to themselves, and, in doing so, do great violence to the Bible — contorting it with all their might to make it say something that it simply does not say. (More specifically, contorting it to make it say something about them.)
But Mr. Armstrong’s clear, simple, biblically consistent definition transcends all of that gobbledygook and makes it plain — in fact, highlights the plain truth about the matter.
Also, it should be noted that this illustrates a point that some have confused in using older quotes or radio programs from Mr. Armstrong (terribly butchered, by the way; question those “…” when you see them) and those he commissioned to write for the Work. There is a difference in being called to do some of the things that prophets of old have done: warn, preach, “cry aloud and spare not” (Isa. 58:1). As Mr. Armstrong did, we do in the Living Church of God. We do it on the telecast, in our magazine, in public presentations, in our online videos — really, in a variety of ways and means. When Mr. Armstrong spoke at times in the past about being a “true prophet” (as in one particular radio program that comes to mind), this is what he often spoke about, and it related directly to the Work he was doing and was called by God to do. However, listening to those whole radio programs or reading those entire articles (instead of the selections cherry-picked by those selling themselves), he makes the distinction clear: on one hand there are those called to do as the prophets of old did (crying aloud with what we see in the Bible God says is to come to pass, with special insight into the true meaning of those prophecies), as Mr. Armstrong did and as we do, and then on the other hand there are those who did that while occupying the actual office of Prophet — such as Isaiah & Jeremiah in the Old Testament and Agabus in the New, and the daughters of Philip — to whom God communicated directly things. When one applies Mr. Armstrong’s comments and those in old Church writings that apply to the former to prove they are of the latter, they deceptively abuse both the intent and spirit of those comments and writings and they contradict the plain truth about the matter that Mr. Armstrong’s comment above makes so clear.
That’s why Mr. Armstrong said “in the sense of…” In the lesser sense of someone crying aloud and sparing not, preaching the truth of biblical prophecy to the world, yes, he functioned in a generalized role as “prophets” did, as do many, including Mr. Meredith, Mr. Ames, those pastors doing public presentations, etc. BUT what he did not do was actually occupy the office of Prophet, nor did show those particular fruits. His words in that brief statement showed the distinction between those simply doing a prophet’s work of inspired proclamation and warning to the world (done by him and others) and actually being an office-holding Prophet in the Church (not done by him, according to his own statement).
So, to highlight his simple point: Someone who holds the office of Prophet would be someone to whom God speaks directly, revealing to that person a future event, never-before-known truth or information, “separate from, and apart from what is contained in the Bible.” It is a necessary condition. This would be the necessary fruit that distinguishes his office from other offices.
That is, it isn’t simply a matter of interpreting the Bible properly or of identifying modern individuals indicated in Bible prophecy. It is communicating revelation directly from God apart from the Bible.
Actually, this is clarified in Mr. Armstrong’s own examples and actions. Those who would wish to make the office of Prophet about having unique and special insight concerning biblical understanding or seeing who in the world is represented in the Bible would find themselves doing (or claiming to do) no more than Mr. Armstrong did in his own life. And, as he said clearly and simply, that isn’t enough to make you a Prophet like, say, John the Baptist, Elijah, or Agabus.
For instance, I’ve seen Self-Appointed Prophets claim that the ability to “predict” some things and to understand the prophecies of the Bible are the fruit of a prophet. Cherry-picked scriptures (against Isaiah 28:9-10) are sometimes used to support this idea. Mr. Armstrong’s life and work — he did both, himself — contradict that statement, however, and clarify the meaning of those scriptures (as do other scriptures), and his personal example highlights to us that this is not enough to grant one the title of Prophet. He did those things and was not, himself, a Prophet. In fact, he did those things far more impressively than any of the pretenders I see in today’s crop of fake “prophets” and, yet, recognized that such things did not qualify him to bear that title.
(Note: This is all aside from discussing the fact that many Prophet Wannabes list “successful predictions” that are far from actually being actual, successful predictions in any meaningful and relevant sense of the words. I’ve seen various lists of “predictions” and put them to the test. Literally not a one has ever passed the test like they claim to do. None. Always examine such lists closely; the failure to meet the standard of “Prophet” is usually pretty clear. The points I am making here are broader than this, but it’s still a good point to make as an aside. I have simply never seen a list of “predictions” or a video from a “Prophet” making such predictions that are of the sort sufficient to qualify them as a Prophet. Ever. It would be exciting to see one, but I haven’t seen one yet.)
Those individuals today who claiming the title and office of Prophet are, judging by Mr. Armstrong’s biblically consistent words, sadly self-deluded or purposefully being false (I prefer to believe the former).
John the Baptist is a good case in point. I’ve seen some point to his ministry as a prophet as an example of their own prophetic “ministry,” since John is known for no particular miracle that he performed and (of course) the Self-Appointed Prophet here and there referencing him has no (real) miracle of his or her own to point to, either.
Yet John the Baptist clearly passes Mr. Armstrong’s definition. Consider John 1:29-34.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.”
And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and [it] remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.”
Not only did John see the dove descend on Christ and supernaturally know what that dove was, but John says clearly that God, to use Mr. Armstrong’s words, specially and directly revealed to him that this was to be a sign to him about who would be baptizing with the Holy Spirit (v.33). This was not a matter of John having understanding of prophecies given in the Bible or properly interpreting what the Bible says or even using scriptural clues to identify the Messiah (70 weeks prophecy, etc.). It was as Mr. Armstrong describes it–a special revelation of prophetic truth not contained in Scripture, communicated directly to the Prophet.
Frankly, the many out there who think John the Baptist’s example is enough to water down expectations of a Prophet such that they, themselves, might be accepted as one simply embarrass themselves when one actually pays good attention to the actual biblical examples. And, also frankly, they mock what God did through John the Baptist and other Prophets. John the Baptist’s example does not water down the expectations of what a Prophet must do. It raises the bar to match Mr. Armstrong’s description and highlights how no one today meets the criteria.
Perhaps it should be said that I am aware of individuals who claim “dreams” which they hope to convince others are such “special revelations.” Of course, we are to test such things against other criteria and, again, all I have seen continually fall short when they are examined. (That, or the claim is beyond examination, making it unable to be tested.)
As one example, I’ve heard of one who claims that he dreamed God would exalt him above the leaders of the Church when he, supposedly, had no beef against them at that time. Yet, years ago, at the very time this fellow claims he had the dream, this same individual personally expressed to me his beef and his intense frustration that Church leaders and the Council of Elders did not accept his interpretations of prophecy. Such a dream during such days strikes me not so much as prophetic as very, very human. (I should add that I mentioned to him at the time my concern for his attitude about the Church’s leadership, and maybe I could have done more to help him see it. I don’t know.) About that same time Mr. Dibar Apartian warned me over lunch, as did others, that the fellow apparently thought himself a prophet, many years before he left the Church and began claiming to be just that. Again, for such a one such “dreams” of personal glory seem easy to imagine — given simple human nature, it would almost be surprising if there weren’t such dreams accompanying such attitudes and personal ideas. Even ignoring other factors (and, wow, in that case are there “other factors”) that make it all the more clear, I’m sorry but such “revelations” are simply not convincing, and don’t even come close to fitting Mr. Armstrong’s clear, biblically informed definition.
And I mention this to highlight the example, not the person, and there are sadly oodles of additional examples out there in the universe. Frankly, being one of the presenters on the telecast I get a lot of unwanted and unrequested e-mails, letters, packets of personal prophetic Bible studies with “unique” interpretations, “corrections” of what we preach (the guy who argued that North Korea’s Kim Jong-il was the true “little horn” of Daniel always seems the funniest to me; I have not heard from him since Kim Jong-il died, of course), self-published books (several of these), charts and tables and spiral-bound collections, tales of dreams, etc., etc. — ad infinitum, ad nauseam — sent to me. (And, I should add: lots of wonderful, encouraging comments and helpful, truly Christian suggestions, as well. Thank you!) The specific example mentioned above isn’t much different. I only mention it as an example of “revelation” that simply does not pass the test when one looks at it objectively. That is, such an example of “revelation” does not pass muster based on Mr. Armstrong’s clear and simple definition of what it means to be a Prophet. It is, at best, woefully insufficient, and, at worst — well — something worse.
And I suppose I should mention other obfuscations. For example, some point to the fact that the word “prophecy” in the Bible can simply mean inspired speaking in some cases. That is both (1) very true and (2) completely irrelevant to the point at hand about the office of Prophet. We aren’t talking about inspired speaking, which “prophecy” certainly can mean; we’re talking about holding the office of Prophet in God’s Church. Often when a Self-Appointed Prophet wants to convince others that he holds such an office, he will point to the one more general meaning and then use it as “evidence” of the more specific meaning.
“Prophecy” as inspired speaking is one of the gifts mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12, and is something that can be manifested in a variety of people. (Mr. Dexter Wakefield covers this very well and concisely in his very helpful LCN article “Fruits of the Spirit” in the May/June 2014 issue, explaining about the broader meaning of “prophecy” while warning against misidentifying “Prophets” in such a context.) If such inspired speaking was a specific fruit of the office of Prophet, then I’ve known lots of “Prophets”–not only evangelists and pastors, but sermonette speakers, grandmas, children, and folks not even in the Church. In fact, even Caiaphas the high priest who plotted Christ’s crucifixion would have qualified (John 11:49-52).
In his simple comment, Mr. Armstrong makes it clear that this broader meaning, applicable to many used of God, is simply not the same as the narrower expectation of one who holds the office of Prophet. In fact, Mr. Armstrong, who certainly spoke in an inspired manner many, many, many times, disproves in his own words and example that this is a sufficient sort of “prophecy” to qualify one for the office of Prophet–an office, again, he emphatically explained he did not have, inspired speaking notwithstanding. Anyone claiming to hold the office of Prophet and claiming to be in the Church of God but referring strongly to this more general meaning of “prophecy” as “evidence” should be asked why the individual believes Mr. Armstrong was wrong in his description. (If the individual says, “Because I don’t like that definition, so I want to ignore him and use the broader meaning of ‘prophecy’ in my own case, because I really, really, really want to be a Prophet,” then thank God you have found a rare and honest man, false prophet though he may be. I don’t imagine you will hear that very often.) Maybe they will have a good reason, but I haven’t heard one, yet.
This sleight-of-hand replacement — equivocating between the specific “prophecy = direct, extra-biblical revelation from God done by Prophets” and the more general “prophecy = inspired speaking done by a variety of folks” — is one way among many in which Prophet Wannabes add smoke and mirrors to distract from the very basic essentials of what a Prophet in the Church truly must be and the characteristics one must have, hoping (subconsciously, perhaps: Jer. 17:9) to confuse their listeners into internally watering down the idea of a Prophet enough that they will accept them as one.
That, to me, is part of the beauty of Mr. Herbert Armstrong’s plain and clear statement. Read it above at the top of this post if you’ve forgotten it. It’s important.
Every Prophet Wannabe I’ve ever seen has failed this simple definition. Today’s crop is no exception. And don’t get me wrong: They often fail lots of other tests as well. (Today’s crop certainly does.) But Mr. Herbert Armstrong’s clear comment makes for a simple, time-saving initial check. No matter how much Self-Appointed Ones water down the expectations and qualifications of a true Prophet, and no matter how much they may torture the Scriptures in an irresponsible and deceptive manner to “support” their claims, for the discerning listener they always fall short. Anyone claiming such a title for themselves should be able to produce new truths and prophecies of future events that are directly revealed to them by God, separate from what is already revealed in the Bible, and not simply interpretations of the Bible and end-time prophecy. Real Prophets, like John the Baptist, can boldly say, “God told me such-and-such” without hiding behind wimpy words. In fact, they have a responsibility to do so. Plain and simple. Mr. Armstrong’s statement was right then, and it still is.
There are other fruits that a Prophet will have, to be sure, but without this one a “Prophet’s” claim to the title is easily and quickly seen as a lie. Sincerely believed by the one claiming it, perhaps, but still a lie. (Few people lie better than those who sincerely believe the lie.)
And it will make a difference one day. While the current crop of living Self-Appointed Prophets aren’t terribly convincing, the devil doesn’t give up and there will be more. I suspect that those to come will make the current crop of wannabes look like amateurs. Not content to have the confused world under his sway, Satan’s goal is to deceive even God’s elect (Matt. 24:24), and God doesn’t warn against such things for no reason. He warns about real dangers. Mr. Meredith talks about this in his 2012 article, “Beware of False Prophets!” in the September-October 2012 Tomorrow’s World magazine, and it’s worth a read if you haven’t before.
Alright, break’s over — back to the real world. 🙂 I know the above was a bit rambly, but it was a helpful meditation for me, and I believe Mr. Armstrong’s simple words in that statement are important. In the face of what’s out there in the wild — long (oh so, so, so long) Internet articles, big booklets full of exclamation points and purposely vague self-references, and dramatic television productions before excited congregants meant to convince others of the writer’s/speaker’s status as a “Prophet” — Mr. Herbert Armstrong’s simple, clear, plain statement provides a nice, concise, biblically consistent smell-test. If it doesn’t pass that smell-test, don’t bother. It’s always helpful to know the plain truth about something.