It has been a while since I have contributed to this series, and now that I have rediscovered my blog I thought it would be nice to submit another entry. Here are links to the first few:
- Techniques of Non-Prophets: Arbitrage through Tautology
- Techniques of Non-Prophets: The Speculation/Prophecy Two-Step
- Techniques of Non-Prophets: Got Me a Title!
Today, we briefly* cover a different one: Wax Fruit.
(* By “briefly,” I mean not briefly at all.)
Those who claim to be prophets generally feel pressed to have something to boast about–fruit of some sort. Perhaps they are stirred by Matthew 7:15-20.
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
And it is true that while God warns against inappropriate judgment, He explicitly gives us permission–even the responsibility–to be “fruit inspectors.”
In the case of Self-Appointed Prophets, their desire is to sell their “successes” as fruit demonstrating that God is behind them and that their “mighty work” is surely the effort of God and not of mere men. But, in reality, it is wax fruit: It looks good on the outside, but on closer inspection, it isn’t the real thing.
This doesn’t mean it’s a lie, necessarily. As we’ll see in the brief list of examples, below, the “fruit” may represent real results of one sort or another. But they don’t indicate what they are claimed to indicate: God’s tremendous blessings, guidance, and inspiration, just like a plate full of wax fruit offers visual promise to a hungry man but real life disappointment to those foolish enough to take a bite. (Unless, you know, wax is your thing.)
Here are some examples out there in the wild from various Prophet-wannabes and other Self-Appointed Ones…
“Look! We have a building! And its pretty! God is surely behind us!”
Ahhhhh… I don’t think so. In the cases that come to mind, such as one in Oklahoma and one here closer to my own backyard, the buildings seem more a seeking to re-build the image and trappings of an empire in the hopes that people will be impressed. The latter example, in particular, reminds me of an “if you build it, they will come” approach: “If I squeeze my congregations enough and get them to fund these buildings, maybe it will impress enough other folks that they will follow me.” And the individual behind that effort is on record as willing to destroy families for the sake of getting what he needs to continue such efforts. And concerning the former example, I have spoken to many who have come from that organization to us over the years (I consider them “refugees”) who said that they were constantly being milked for more and more funds to build the buildings–above and beyond their normal tithes and offerings. They felt liberated being with us and not hearing every Sabbath that they needed to give more (and more and more and more and more…).
In such cases, these are hardly real fruit of a God-blessed work. We don’t see God using fruit such as that to highlight the work of John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jesus Christ.
Not that we don’t see similar “Look at my awesome ‘fruit'” attitudes in the Bible when it comes to such things. One instance that comes to mind is Nebuchadnezzar’s:
“The king spoke, saying, ‘Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honor of my majesty?'” (Daniel 4:30)
You can see how well that went for him in verses 31-33.
No, buildings aren’t sufficient fruit of God’s ordination. They might be simply a good sign that you are good at guilting people out of money they should be feeding their families with. Wax fruit.
It is certainly true that God will sometimes speak to real prophets with dreams (Num. 12:6, Jer. 23:28). And a Prophet-wannabe will often be motivated to claim that his own dreams and/or the dreams of others are “fruit” of his personal selection by God.
However, the presence of dreams, alone, is not sufficient, even if they come true (Deut. 13:1-5, Zech. 10:2), and sometimes, to be sure, a dream is just that: a dream–motivated by the needs of the sleeping brain in processing feelings, emotions, memories, experiences, etc., both conscious and subconscious, while the body is sleeping.
For instance, I know of one who claims such a dream, saying that his dream could not have been motivated by personal ambition or concern, since he did not have it in mind to start his own “church” and did not harbor any particular concern about those he publicly called his leaders at the time. However, in personal communication with me several years ago, at about the same time he says he had this dream, he expressed a great deal of frustration at how the leadership of his church didn’t accept his interpretations of various prophecies, although he had tried and tried to get them to see things his way and to convince them of the “truth” and “insight” he believed he had. Given the frustration I felt radiating from him over the phone, I, frankly, would have been surprised if some of that emotion was not present in his dreams, and I would be just as surprised, given the intensity of his frustration and disagreement and, as is apparent now, his suspicions about his own “prophethood” at the time, that this burst of frustration was something new. Surely it had been building over time to come across as it did those years ago. I’m not saying that his claim that his dream was not motivated by personal ambition and frustration is purposefully dishonest — rather, I’m saying Jeremiah 17:9 is something we all have to wrestle with, and what was obvious to me may have been invisible to him (though I tried–in my own, ineffective way, I am sure–in that conversation to help him see the pride in his comments). I know many of my own faults are certainly invisible to me (which my wife and kids are happy to let me know 🙂 ).
Regardless, the point is that such things are among the waxiest of wax fruit. And the case that came to mind, above, is hardly the worst such offense.
I’ve read of false prophets hoping to pull away God’s people claiming dreams of airplane accidents, earthquakes, meteor strikes, et al. Some of them are announced right after such an event (“Did you read about the earthquake in such-and-such place yesterday! It reminded me of the dream I had just the week before!”) and others are so vague that eventually they can be claimed as tied to some event (“Remember the dream I had about an airline-related tragedy? We are watching that very prediction come true on our own televisions today as authorities look for Malaysia Flight 370!”). Regardless, it is wax fruit. Waxy wax. Super waxish.
It’s waxy enough that the Bible warns us that even if some dreams do come true, we are to look to other fruit to verify someone’s status (e.g., Deut. 13:1-5), other verses (e.g., Deut. 18:21-22) notwithstanding (Isa. 28:9-10). And often the Non-Prophet will admit this, directing you to their particular choice of “other fruit.” We’ll talk about that later, but first let’s move on to some additional examples.
“You’ve got the look” (a comment from the prophetess Sheena Easton)
There are some out there who seem to strive to look like a prophet, as if their choices of style make for fruit. It does, but that fruit is of the wax variety.
For instance, I know of one who likes to wear a sort of Jewishy shawl. What does that indicate? That he likes shawls. Maybe that he is cold. 🙂
Another I’ve seen seems to want to emulate the dark, coarse covering that was associated with prophets in the Bible. John the Baptist wore such (Matt. 3:4) which surely harkened his listeners back to the clothing of men such as Elijah (2 Kings 1:8) and Isaiah (Isaiah 20:2). Modern Self-Appointed Prophets would be looking to make such connections with their clothing not only to such prophets of old, but also to the Two Witnesses (Rev. 11:3). I’ve seen one who imagines himself one of the Two Witnesses who seems to prefer dark suits in what comes across as an effort to make such a connection, explaining Revelation’s comment of sackcloth clothing as possibly simply meaning “dark” and seeking, it seems, to attach himself to his personal divinations taken from heathen prophecies. (For a brief time after watching “Return of the Jedi” I liked dark clothes and thought they made me look cool. But I assure you, I was not one of the Two Witnesses. Neither was Luke Skywalker. I think.)
But looks aren’t fruit. Looks are fashion choices. A dark suit doeth not a prophet make. It is, indeed, wax fruit, and those who are paying attention won’t find God’s ordination “proven” in any way by such things. Zechariah 13:4 speaks of “prophets” who use their clothing to try and deceive others into thinking they are a prophet. We shouldn’t expect any less today.
This is a popular one, to be sure. I know of one fellow who may not claim to be a prophet but he does claim special ordination, so the lesson is similar, and back when he was busy making fun of using television as a means of spreading the gospel in the modern age he liked to boast about his Internet results. His materials actually claimed his website was the largest “Bible-based” website on the Internet, which I found hilarious. The claim was an easy one to make when you consider the question “Which websites would he consider ‘Bible-based’?” The answer would be, “Only his.” 🙂
But Internet “results” are not only wax fruit, they are low hanging wax fruit, as there are a number of ways to claim such “fruit” that translate into nothing much when one thinks about them.
For instance: “Our internal statistics indicate…” Wow — that’s something that can really be compared to others! “My downloads have sky-rocketed!” And what is a “download”? You’ll find that is conveniently left undefined and vague, since, under examination, it tends to fall apart. “Such-and-such rating agency says I’m awesome!” And even a lazy search of the Internet demonstrates that such-and-such rating agency is not to be trusted and should be compared to other factors. And I am told by his former members that one major organization run by someone claiming to be “That Prophet” has actively manipulated such measures in a way that makes them meaningless. (The Internet has no equivalent to the Nielsen ratings.) “We’ve had X visitors this month!” Traffic is easy. What they do with what they see on our website is harder. And, frankly, some out there are gaining traffic through dishonest means. For instance, I know of one Self-Appointed One who fishes for people on the Internet by directing misspellings of LCG and Tomorrow’s World websites to his own materials. I know another who has, for years, used our own literature and publications, massively quoted without proper attribution or links, as content on his own site (including material I have written, which makes up one of his most popular pages on search engines). Sometimes he will quote virtually entire articles from our magazine without giving the name of the author or the name and issue of the magazine, and certainly not a link to the source. To be sure, traffic is easy when your ethics are low.
What you often don’t see too often with such Non-Prophets is Internet results that are clear, unambiguous, and harder to truly “game.” (Let alone Internet results that actually represent individuals impacted by the truth — how is that measured? A question for later…) For instance, consider social media results. Subscribers to the Tomorrow’s World Twitter account currently number 47,100. That number is impossible for us to create by simply asking every member — man, woman, child, and infant — to subscribe. And by the way, I’m under no delusions: Ellen DeGeneres has 27,800,000 followers — that isn’t my point. The point is that transparent and easily verifiable measures of actual Internet impact are generally disregarded by such Self-Appointed Ones. For instance, one particular fellow (admittedly, a Self-Appointed Apostle, not a Self-Appointed Prophet, but still) likes to boast about his Internet “work” as the most advanced, far-reaching, evangelistic, super-magnanimous, better-than-sliced-bread, cutting edge, whathaveyou out there. His count of Twitter account followers? 721. That’s his personal account’s followers. The followers of his “work”? 230. (Apparently, “cutting edge” isn’t what it used to be.) Wax fruit is easy. Real fruit is hard.
Ditto for Facebook results, YouTube subscribers, and the like. It takes real people and real families with their own accounts to show up in such accounts. And you generally don’t see the rank-and-file of the Army of the Self-Appointed claiming such results. They need the sort of statistics less tied to reality, and those are often a dime-a-dozen and easy to debunk for those who know how. But they do sound impressive to those who don’t know better.
When pressed on these sorts of points, Web-focused Prophet-wannabes tend to backpeddle something fierce… “Well, you can’t count that… and they’ve been around longer… and they have more people helping… and I’m not on Facebook or Twitter or those things… and my YouTube account is pretty new… and, really, this is the only good ranking system out there (please don’t try to verify that on Google–thanks bunches!)…” Really? We’re supposed to consider “Internet results” as fruit and evidence of God’s empowering one’s impact on the world, and yet we have to discount that much evidence of–oh, I don’t know–actual Internet impact? It’s sort of like saying after a race, “Mom! I came in first! You can’t really count those eight boys that finished before me, because they ran faster, practiced more, and were generally better racers than I was. But when you take that into consideration, I won!” Just sad.
And, more importantly, even if there were more substance to such claims, they are hardly the sort of fruit that establish one as a prophet in reality instead of in fantasy. If so, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber would be the Two Witnesses. (Check here to see who the Two Witnesses are today–they change with the times!) False prophets by the dozens–frankly, probably by the hundreds–have massive Internet efforts.
Ah — the bread and butter of a “prophet”! These are common among members of the Self-Appointed Prophet Club, and understandably: If you are expecting others to think of you as a “prophet” then producing actual “prophecy” is a part of the job. John the Baptist may have done no miracle, but he did prophesy based on direct, personal revelation from God not rooted in nor simply interpretation of Scriptures (e.g., John 1:33-34). It comes with the turf.
But under examination, no one claiming to be a “prophet” today actually displays this fruit. Wax fruit aplenty, but the real thing? Nope. Nothing but empty plates.
Many will claim their list of “fulfilled” prophecies or predictions. But when examined, they just don’t do the trick. It would get into too many details to list all the ways this wax fruit is displayed, and it would defeat the purpose of this series of posts, “Techniques of Non-Prophets,” since many of those techniques are devoted to faking this very fruit of actual “prophecy” proclaiming and deserve individual posts of their own. We’ve already detailed two of them: Using statements that sound profound but which are actually impossible to fail, and making speculative statements that you can claim as “accurate predictions” later if they turn out but which can be downgraded as “only speculation” if they don’t turn out. There are so many more, and I’d rather save them for later. Suffice if for now to say that I’ve never seen a “list” of “fulfilled predictions” that actually serves to bolster a Self-Appointed Prophet’s claimed status as a “prophet.” Yes, I am familiar with that one. Yes, that one, too. Yes, I know that guy says his list is “remarkable” and unique in modern times. I’ve looked at it. It isn’t.
Not a single one of them actually comes anywhere close to verifying a person’s “credentials” as a supposed prophet of God. Really, not a one. Mr. Armstrong, himself, showed more legitimate fruit than any of them in this area, and he explicitly said he was not a prophet. We’ll discuss more of the ways in which this wax fruit is displayed as this series continues in the future in posts here and there.
In the meantime, any “prophet” out there who feels his list of “fulfilled predictions” is different is free to mail it to me. I’m looking forward to being impressed! But so far, everything I’ve seen is nothing but one plate of wax fruit after another.
This one is interesting, and the “ceremony” varies from S.A.P. to S.A.P.
I’ve seen photos of supposed miraculous ceremonies in which the preacher was somehow “lit upon” by the “Holy Ghost” to make him a prophet and in which the “Holy Ghost” looks just like a weird and not-too-out-of-the-ordinary light effect on the photographic film. Not buying that. In the COGiverse (where most would never say “Holy Ghost,” by the way), some have taken whatever liberties they can to point to a “passing of the baton,” so to speak, and to claim that a position was given to them or that they were recognized for their “gifts.” I know of one, for instance, who discusses a particular instance of a personal interaction with Mr. Armstrong as a sort of informal “ordination” to position or evidence of approval for his current efforts and the role he has taken on himself. I also know of one who took words spoken by a minister while he was being anointed for a minor illness, combined with his specific request to have his level of wisdom prayed about, and who has turned that in his imagination into an “ordination” to the office of prophet — a gift or office the praying minister never intended to convey (cf. 1 Cor. 14:32-33). (For the record, I have heard those same words that got this fellow I’m thinking of so excited spoken in similar manner by ministers before–even when they had not been specifically requested to pray for someone’s wisdom, which makes the circumstance even more unremarkable–but those involved were not under the delusion that it magically made them a prophet.) While the “ceremony” and its justification and (mis)interpretation may differ from case to case, the Non-Prophet will press it as evidence of His special calling and as God’s Stamp of Approval™ on him and his “prophethood.”
Thankfully, I don’t know of anyone daft enough to fall for such tales as fruit worthy of their attention or allegiance, but, still, it’s worth mentioning in the list, as there are those who claim such “ceremonies” as their “starting points” and who expect others to be impressed by their version of events. Too often, such moments were simply the excuse the Non-Prophet needed (and had been looking for) to finally act on his heart’s desires. And, in the end, it is wax fruit unless backed up by other evidence. And, at least right now, no one has such “other evidence” they can point to that withstands intelligent and Bible-based scrutiny.
Then what are some examples of real fruit?
Now, that’s a good question. 🙂 The Bible gives us plenty of examples of good fruit. What comes to mind most immediately when I read of Christ’s words in Matthew 7:15-20 is the fruit of the Spirit, listed in Galatians 5:22-23.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”
(It is not to be ignored that the same passage mentions contentions, jealousies, selfish ambitions, and dissentions–among other qualities–not as fruit of the Spirit but as works of the flesh (v.20). So, too, does Paul say right after the fruit of the Spirit is mentioned, “Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (v.26). Some Self-Appointed Ones have made these things a way of life, sadly.)
This fruit of the Spirit I have not seen in abundance in a single one of those claiming to be a “prophet” these days, or, for that matter, in days past.
The matter of actual, direct revelation from God (as opposed to, for instance, Bible prophecy interpretation) as a proper fruit of someone claiming the title and office of “Prophet” (not just acting as a prophet, which even carnal Caiaphas did (John 11:49-52), but actually possessing the office) is worth its own post. In short, Mr. Armstrong summarized it well when he spoke of one being a Prophet–not simply an “inspired speaker” but one holding an actual title or office as a Prophet–as “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” (Tomorrow’s World, Feb. 1972). As mentioned above, even John the Baptist, who worked no miracles, fit this description. Mr. Armstrong had this right, and his simplicity and clarity should be appreciated. Simply interpreting biblical prophecies isn’t sufficient “fruit” of the office of Prophet.
Yet this truly prophetic fruit Mr. Armstrong describes is absolutely lacking amongst any today. Some may claim it, but their claims, on examination, represent some of the “Techniques of Non-Prophets” that I’ll post about later. (Again, we already covered two of them here and here.) Such claims end up being a mockery of what God does through actual Prophets.
We could go on, but this post is too long as it is. Suffice it to say that the fruit that some have paraded over the last few decades as “evidence” of their supposed God-Appointed status is, at best, wax fruit. (At worst, it is rotten fruit, but I thought wax fruit a nicer analogy.) It can be packaged to look very good, but on examination it signifies absolutely nothing worthy of the title and office of Prophet. Wax fruit is pretty on a platter as decoration. But it isn’t very nutritious, is probably rough on the teeth, and will surely give you a stomach ache eventually.