Plain truth about “Prophets” from Herbert W. Armstrong

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.

Techniques of Non-Prophets: Wax Fruit

Yum! My favorite: WAX!
Yum! My favorite: WAX!

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:

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…

Buildings

“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.

Dreams

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.

Internet results

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.

“Fulfilled” Prophecies

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.

Special ceremonies

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.

What’s this “bowl” thing I keep hearing about? (Plus: Thanks, non-heathens!)

So... how do I know if it's "super"?
So… how do I know if it’s “super”?

Wow–what a weekend! Counselings and baptisms and services and Bible studies and a new workshop yesterday. And then, this morning, I keep hearing about this “bowl” thing. What’s up with that?

OK, seriously, I know what it is: the Super Bowl. So, who won, anyway? The Texas Rangers? The Vancouver Canucks? The Ealing Trailfinders?

OK, I continue to jest. I just like to pretend to be more enlightened and erudite than others by claiming ignorance about the Super Bowl. It’s a thing I do. 🙂 Though we didn’t watch it ourselves (I think at that time I was watching my kids play a LEGO-based video game), the news is hard to avoid this morning that it was apparently a bit of a runaway game. James Taranto of the WSJ posted on Twitter last night, “Now I understand the expression ‘beating a dead horse.'” And, sure enough, I see that the final score wasn’t pretty.

Look! My Beautiful Wife found the Orange Bowl!
Look! My Beautiful Wife found the Orange Bowl!

Someone at services yesterday asked me if I had ever heard of a particular internet denizen’s feeling that watching football is inherently sinful, and I had. (If I recall, that fellow likes to claim Mr. Armstrong as an “authority” for his fatwa on the matter. Hopefully, he will one day, for his own sake, rediscover some of the truths Mr. Armstrong taught that he has cast aside for his own self-aggrandizement and treat them half as seriously.) I’ve heard other, similar arguments before. All of them seem to suffer the same mistakes, and none of them prove their intended point: that somehow watching a sport with tackling is inherently sinful and that, without sufficient justification, every verse in the Bible about violence must apply to it. Frankly, it’s the same sort of poor reasoning that anti-alcohol “Christians” use to attack using wine on Passover by applying all verses related to drunkenness to even sober-minded alcohol consumption. Like the “tackling is always violence” reasoning, such arguments represent poor logic and examples of failing to rightly divide the Word of Truth. I’ve written several posts that mention football, some prompted by a question from one of the widows in a congregation of mine and by a fun discussion we had in Spokesman Club sometime back. In the spirit of the season (ha ha), here are some links in the event anyone is interested:

In other news, many thanks to the many of you who took the time to tell me that you appreciated my recent post on “Christians and Heathen Prophecy”! That was very kind of you!

It was really my work on the 2012 goofiness that got me onto the topic. While most everyone I spoke with appreciated the 2012-related material, there were a few rare exceptions. For instance, one fellow took great displeasure at what I wrote about 2012 and frequently let Dr. Meredith and the evangelists (who have the patience of Job!) know his displeasure. (FWIW: His issue seemed to be not a matter of doctrine, but more of an anger that we published the conclusions of actual Maya scholars on the subject, when he had his own personal, pet theories he was going to publish. Thankfully, for the sake of our credibility, we stuck with reality. The fellow in question has sadly left the Church since then over other personal ideas, though I pray he will one day come to himself.) However, as my writings on 2012-ism continued to show up, I began to see more and more interesting things (for the record: always from folks outside of the Church). Once, for instance, one of our TW viewers wrote to the other presenters to explain to them that I was “a very great apostate” for using the television to slander Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce, astrology, and what he called “the 2012 prophets.” He seemed to care very much about our program (enough to write the other presenters and warn them about me), yet here he was all caught up in trying to use these heathen sources to learn about the future–the very sort of thing we condemn fairly regularly on the program. I also had someone, surely very well-meaning and certainly respectful, send me an e-mail (actually, more than one, I think) explaining that he loved the Churches of God (he shopped around amongst them, apparently) but that I was wrong in my 2012 article when I said people should avoid astrology and such heathen sources. He actually tried to argue that God approves of astrological divination to some extent.

There were a few other incidents–again, always, I believe, with folks outside of LCG, though one DVD advertisement about the St. “Malarkey” prophecy may have been an exception–all of which began coming to my attention when I began writing about the 2012 hoopla. So I suppose I have 2012 to thank for it. It truly is the gift that keeps on giving! 🙂

By the way, in the event that anyone doesn’t see the distinction: Writing about the 2012 garbage and debunking it, pointing out the St. “Malarkey” pope “prophecy”, showing how the private Catholic writings of Hippolytus are twists of the truth, etc. are not sin. I can’t find a single passage that could reasonably understood to condemn such–in fact, prophets and preachers in the Bible do similar work in places. But to wallow in such heathen sources in order to divine new information about the future in the hopes that some of the demons may have provided dark insights is sin. The Bible is terribly clear on that, as the verses I referenced make plain. A innocent confusion between the two would certainly be understandable, but any who would allow their personal pride and addiction to the occult to cause them to equate the two are in a dark place, indeed. (Saying that I am simply condemning “referring to” such prophecies and then attacking that idea is a straw man argument and the sign of a desperate person who knows the Bible isn’t on his side.)

Some of you who thanked me also expressed the hope that someone they knew, here or there, who were caught up in such demonic folly might be directed to read the post and wake up. I have to say that I’m not sure you should get your hopes up. Pride was a big enough snare to take down the devil (1 Timothy 3:6). It seems to be working on those who are big fans of the devil’s writings, as well. Anyone who is devoted to “improving” God’s prophecies with demon-inspired writings, for instance, and comes out of it convinced that he is a Prophet and one of the Two Witnesses–concluding that the demons are writing about him, personally–is someone who will need a two-by-four much larger than a single blog post is likely to provide.

Yet, I don’t mean to be negative, and perhaps you would rightly tell me “shame on you” for saying that you shouldn’t get your hopes up. And, honestly, I do have hope. Not that a blog post of mine out here on the back forty and the back waters of the Internet would make “the difference,” necessarily, for someone so caught up in demonic iniquity. But I do have hope in God’s two-by-fours. 🙂 And I have hope in His love. He loves that fellow who was a fan of Edgar Cayce and Nostradamus. He loves the fellow who wrote me and felt that Christianity and astrological divination were not at odds. He loves the self-appointed prophet out there who is busy sinfully divining things from Catholic prophecies about the color of clothes he should wear as one of the Two Witnesses, what the devil’s plans are, etc. And His love is a big deal. Really, when you look at it, it is the big deal.

So, while I don’t have much hope that my blog post would make “the difference” for many who are deeply addicted to such things, I do have hope.

Anyway–I’ve gotten off track! 🙂 The whole point here at the end was to thank many of you for your positive comments and your kind encouragement. So, thanks!

Christians and Heathen Prophecy

Heard someone’s perspective on this recently, and it seemed a good blog topic. Frankly, it’s been on my mind for a long time, so this is likely going to be a long one. You might want to get some coffee–I can’t guarantee it will be exciting enough to keep you awake…

Is it OK for Christians or Christian teachers to cite heathen prophecies–that is, to refer to them? Of course it is. There is nothing wrong with simply referring to them. We’ve done so in the Tomorrow’s World magazine, for instance, when Pope Francis I was elected. We mentioned the so-called St. Malarkey… (oops! sorry…) Malachy “prophecy” of the list of popes building up to the supposed final pope “Petrus Romanus.” The list, by the way, is surely fraudulent and is easily demonstrated to be a rather inaccurate “prophecy” likely motivated by Catholic politics (actually, the Wikipedia article on it is not bad; I personally think that Louis Moréri had it right), but it is still a curiosity and there is nothing wrong with mentioning it. Also, Mr. Meredith mentioned as 2012 arrived that, given the hoopla surrounding the date drummed up by ninnies and “spiritualists,” it would be interesting if demons took advantage of the year and the sentiment, though nothing on a grand scale happened at all (breathless commentary and predictions by non-prophets notwithstanding). And in the past, Mr. David Jon Hill authored an article for the Good News magazine about how some heathen, Catholic prophecies looked like deceitful perversions of the true prophecies of the Bible. (Some say he wrote two different articles, but on reading them it is clear that he did not. It is one article published twice with some “sprucing up” done to the later version to add contemporary news information.)

There is nothing wrong with simply referring to heathen prophecies, especially if it is to show them for the junk they are. Jeremiah exposed Hananiah in Jeremiah 28, just as Micaiah does to Zedekiah in 2 Chronicles 18, both pointing out that lying spirits were at work in the false prophecies of their contemporaries. (I note here that they did not use the false prophecies for anything; they simply exposed them for what they were: lies.) We have no record of Peter, Paul, or the other apostles doing anything too similar in the New Testament–Paul quotes the “prophets” (poets) Aratus and Epimenides in his speech at the Areopagus (Acts 17) and in his letter to Titus (Titus 1) but does not quote any real “prophecies”–but we can comfortably say, I believe, that if a false prophecy were being actively spread in their presence that needed to be addressed, they would have no problem addressing it.

But the context in which I heard about this question recently presented it as a straw man to attack. The problem isn’t simply referring to heathen prophecies in such manners. The problem is wallowing in them and seeking to obtain new prophetic information from them. The Bible makes God’s abhorrence of such activity plain and ties the use of heathen prophetic sources in that manner to false prophets misusing the name of God. I’ve heard many excuses from those addicted to divining new details about the future from heathen prophecy, and none of them pass muster. Let’s look at some, and I will mention the things we need to keep in mind among my responses.

Excuse: But sometimes the devil may inspire true prophecy! If we use the Bible to discern truth from error, perhaps we can learn new details about the future from what the devil may have inspired.

Answer: The devil loves excuses like that. But it doesn’t fit the Bible, and for multiple reasons.

For instance, in Acts 16, a demon-possessed slave girl keeps following Paul and Silas and proclaiming, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” We note that (1) the “spirit of divination” that possessed the girl may have been accurate sometimes, as her owners apparently made a very good profit from her “fortune-telling” (v.16), and (2) she was actually saying something true! Paul and Silas were servants of the Most High God and they were proclaiming the way to salvation!

What was Paul’s reaction? After all, some would say that this girl’s comments added to their credibility.

But rather than allow it to go on and on, Paul couldn’t withhold himself any longer and he commanded the spirit to leave the girl, in the name of Jesus Christ. In essence, he said, “Shut up!”

True servants of God do not need the testimony of demons or demon-inspired prophecy. God’s word can stand on its own just fine.

Does it matter if heathen prophecy is true? Does that mean that it is OK to play with it and to try and sneak information out of it, past the devil’s nose? To build new knowledge on it? No, it simply does not. No one can read Deuteronomy 18 and come to any different conclusion:

“When you come into the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not learn to follow the abominations of those nations. There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you. You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you.” (Deut. 18:9-14)

Can God be any clearer? The heathens have their soothsayers, diviners, etc. But the LORD your God has not appointed such for you.

If God Almighty has not appointed those heathen prophets, fortune tellers, diviners, etc. for us, then are we not in opposition to Him if we seek to pull knowledge and information about the future from their words? Even if we use God’s word to “filter” it, has He appointed that “information” for us to filter?

Frankly, that’s the same excuse many give for keeping the pagan practices of Christmas, Easter, etc. “Yes, they are from heathen sources, but we only use them in good ways and we discard the bad, based on God’s Word.” But what if God says it is all bad? What if He says that it isn’t appointed for you in the first place? Who do we think we are to say, “Well, God, don’t worry–I know what I’m doing…”?

Consider, too, Isaiah 8. Verse 19 is often quoted when it comes to identifying false teachers and false prophets, as well it should be:

“To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:19)

In fact, several self-appointed (false) prophets over the years who have come from the Church of God tradition like to quote v.19 because they feel it backs them up (which technically, it can’t do; it can shoot down others, but, alone, it can’t validate them). “After all,” perhaps they surmise, “I keep the Sabbath! I keep the Holy Days! I love the commandments! Isaiah 8:19 doesn’t apply to me!”

Ah, not so fast. Isaiah 8:19 does not exist in a vacuum. It is, actually, the climactic statement of a paragraph that gives it context. If the false prophets Isaiah was writing about were failing to keep to the law and were contradicting the testimony, where were they failing? If they were not speaking “according to this word,” what mistake were they making? The verses immediately before give the answer! Look at it again, but look at the preceding verse, not just v.19:

“And when they say to you, ‘Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter,’ should not a people seek their God? Should they seek the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (Isaiah 8:18-19)

So clear! Someone who tells you to consider what a heathen prophet is saying, because the devil may have inspired something in them that could be true–or because we can use the Bible to “decode” the heathen prophecy to our benefit–so that we can glean new, potential details about the future is, essentially, saying, “Seek those who are mediums and wizards, who whisper and mutter…”

“Hey, look at what Dead St. So-and-So said about the future! And look, here, at what Nostradummy divined! Since we know the truth in God’s Word, we can avoid the devil’s traps and maybe learn some details about his plan for the future!” Wrong, but thanks for playing… Isaiah 8:18 says that a “prophet” who wallows in such mire is to be avoided (again, the words of Dead St. So-and-So and Nostradummy “are not appointed for us,” God says — Deut. 18:14.) How ironic that some out there addicted to divining new information from heathen prophecies will quote Isaiah 8:19 when their violation of v.18 shows that v.19 actually condemns them.

In fact, the very idea that we should somehow “mix” holy, biblical prophecy with the heathen prophecies of pagans and apostates in an effort to divine new details about the future beyond what God’s Word reveals should be nauseating to us. Paul said very clearly, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:14-16). What communion, indeed! The idea that Christians–let alone anyone claiming to bear Christ’s standard as a “leader” of Christians–would make a common practice to mingle the unclean and the clean, the prophecies of Christ and of Belial, in an effort to somehow divine additional knowledge and extra-biblical details of future events is simply vomitous. Paul’s command in that passage is quite the opposite and is very clear: “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you” (2 Cor. 6:17).

Be separate! Come out! Do not touch what is unclean! Hardly the same as, “Well, go ahead and dive deeply into the devil’s prophecies looking for new details about the future, as long as you use the Bible to, you know, sort it all out and stuff.” Ridiculous, isn’t it?

I’m spending a lot on this excuse, but let me make a personal observation based on a woman I spoke with once. She was a woman who had been very deep in the occult and demonism. She was seeking to get out of those things, but old friends of hers were often trying to get her back into them. Once, she said, some of her friends mentioned a book they had gotten that explained people could supposedly capture a demon and trap him in your basement so that you could use him for your purposes but he would be unable to harm you if you stayed out of the basement. Her response, based on her experiences, was instructive. She saw through the foolishness of her friends’ claims, and said, “That’s the thing with the devil. He tricks you into thinking you have him and you can safely use him. But it’s always the other way around: he has you.”

Those who think that, armed with their Bibles, they can wade into the prophecies of heathens to glean new possible details about the future have fallen into the devil’s trap. Deuteronomy 18 and other passages make it clear that God does not give us permission to use His Word to help us divine new, extra-biblical details about prophecy from the realm of the devil, and we are spiritual morons if we think that God is bound to honor our actions and bless our understanding if we seek to do so.

Enough of that one — let’s look at a different excuse…

Excuse: But the Apostle Paul used the writings of heathens to relate to heathen cultures. Shouldn’t we strive to be “all things to all people”?

Answer: Yes, it’s a great idea to strive to be “all things to all people,” but it is not an excuse to sinfully wallow in heathen prophecies seeking to divine extra-biblical insights into the future, which Paul never, ever did.

Why in the world would someone think Paul dabbled in interpreting heathen prophecy to divine details about the future?

It is certainly true that Paul sought to approach his listeners from their point of view. In my opinion, from what we have recorded, he was a master. We see him arguing in the synagogue with the Jews from the Scriptures in Acts 13. And we see him in the Areopagus arguing with the gentiles from reason and logic in Acts 17, even though his goal was a biblical one (to help them realize that God disapproves of idolatry).

To that end, at the Areopagus he apparently quotes a couple of heathen poets: Epimenides and Aratus. Here is the passage in Acts 17:26-28:

“And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

Aratus of Soli (Wikipedia)
Aratus of Soli (Wikipedia)

The statement “For we are also His offspring” from one of “[their] own poets” seems to come from Aratus, who wrote in his Phaenomena:

“Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbor are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring…

While it is possible that it may be a poet other than Aratus, by Paul’s own words it is some heathen poet.

Also, Paul says “some of your own poets,” indicating that he may have been referring to the comments of more than one. And, in fact, the statement he makes right before that, “for in Him we live and move and have our being,” does match precisely to a pagan poet–indeed, a specific paragraph (“stanza” for sticklers) of a pagan poem–we know from a different part of Scripture Paul was familiar with: Epimenides. Here is the paragraph from Epimenides’ Cretica:

“They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.
But you are not dead: you live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being.

Epimenides of Crete
Epimenides of Crete

Not only does the last line (in a passage also about Zeus) match Paul’s own words, but the additional line I placed in bold, about Cretans, will be familiar to those who remember Paul’s words to Titus: “One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons'” (Titus 1:12).

So, Paul did, indeed, use turns of phrase from the culture of the Greeks in his efforts to preach the truth to them. When Paul said that he strove to “become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22), he wasn’t kidding.

But to conflate Paul’s wise and effective approach with consorting with the devil’s prophecies and seeking to divine new prophetic details from them is to abuse both the man and the Scriptures–and for several reasons.

Here’s one (and not even the biggest): As one writer I read many years ago noted, it is foolish to take these statements as evidence that Paul studiously poured over the writings of the heathens to put these statements together. These statements were very possibly (even probably) very commonly known and recognized statements of the day. Not only is this idea bolstered by the observation that both of Paul’s quotes come from the very same paragraph of Epimenides, but it is also bolstered by common sense. (Admittedly, common sense is in short supply today, but still…) How many of us can quote, “Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou, Romeo?” or “Et tu, Brute?” without being even half-way diligent students of Shakespeare? How many of us talk about the (admittedly disputed) Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times,” without having studied Chinese culture? How many know the proverb, “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” without having gotten a Masters Degree in Klingon culture?

It makes sense that Paul was not using some obscure poems and uncommon texts to appeal to the crowd but, rather, was using statements that would have been commonly heard at the time–all the better to warm the crowd to his message, by using turns of phrase that were common knowledge with which they were all familiar. No diligent study of Greek poetry (let alone prophecy) necessary at all.

But that isn’t even the most important point. Even more damaging to the excuse is the fact that these couple of quotes are FAR from examples of Paul using pagan prophecy to divine additional details about the future. They are not even close. As we’ve already highlighted, such attempts at divination would be forbidden by God, and Paul clearly does nothing of the sort. To try and dissect heathen prophecies–human-inspired at best and demon-inspired at worst–to discover new, extra-biblical details about the Two Witnesses, or the Beast Power, or the final Antichrist, etc. and then to point to Paul’s quotes of Epimenides and Aratus as supposed “examples” is a hideous perversion of what Paul actually did and an insult to the Apostle.

Rather, what would be the real equivalent of Paul’s quotes from these men? Easy enough! I’ve heard some in the Church quote from the famous and well-known poem (or “proem” as it may be, since some tellings do not rhyme), “Footprints in the Sand” (or just “Footprints”). C’mon–you know you know it! A person is walking with Christ along the beach, symbolizing his walking with Christ, and at times there is only one set of footprints instead of two, etc. It’s a moving depiction, commonly known in our culture, and easily accessible to those in our culture. Using that poem to help explain the comfort Christ provides in difficult times would be an example of what Paul did. Also, using a choice quote about God or manhood from C. S. Lewis in a sermon might be an example–taking advantage of a good turn of phrase that would carry weight in the culture, but without endorsing everything the man said or wrote. Mr. Armstrong’s quoting Huxley on occasion would be an example.

Here’s an example from Jerome, a Catholic “luminary,” I could quote: “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” And it’s true! Such a turn of phrase could be helpful to reaching some Catholics, perhaps. No problem.

But what all of these, along with Paul’s quotes, have in common is that they are not what the perverse purveyor of pagan prophecies claims is “OK” in the name of being all things to all people: Attempting to divine additional, extra-biblical details about the future from heathen, ungodly prophecies.

To one who says that we should be able to dip ourselves into the muck of heathen, potentially devilish prophecies to hunt around for new insights into how the future might unfold and who point to Paul’s couple of quotes as supposed “examples,” I would ask: “Please show me where Paul has done as you do by delving in great depth into obscure and generally arcane heathen prophecies to divine additional potential details about future prophetic fulfillment in contradiction to God’s Word?” There can only be two possible responses to such a question: silence or lies.

So, the excuse maker would be 0 for 2! Let’s consider another excuse one might give…

Excuse: Well, the Church of God has derived new prophetic details from heathen prophecies before! Look at David Jon Hill!

Answer: Actually, no, the Church of God has not. If you think that you are either self-deceived or being deceitful…

Don’t take my word for it. Read Mr. David Jon Hill’s 1961 Good News article for yourself. Click here for a PDF copy of the original article. It is a good read, and it’s point is a good one: There are some heathen prophecies out there that look as though they are perversions of true, biblical prophecy — painting the conquering Messiah as the Antichrist. (Many people have noted the same thing about “aliens from space” movies, like “Independence Day.”) It’s a great article! It was reprinted later in a 1964 Good News with an updated introduction.

However, that article is not only a rarity (one article and one updated reprint in more than half-a-century’s worth of articles), it is also not at all what some are doing with heathen prophecy. That is, it is not an attempt to divine a host of new prophetic details from extra-biblical prophecies. Notice what is actually done in the article… It never divines “new” prophetic details about the future from the heathen sources. Mr. Hill is consistent: He establishes what will happen from the Scripture and biblical prophecy, and then only uses the heathen sources (mostly Hippolytus) to show how those things can be twisted to deceive. He never uses Catholic “prophecies” to determine a menagerie “new possibilities” about the future, sticking only to God’s Word for such things.

The idea of swimming in one heathen prophecy after another like a rat in a sewer is simply not a practice seen in the publications of the Church of God over the better part of the last century and certainly not in the Bible. About such an obsession, some may wish to argue that their perverse fascination should be acceptable, but we can use the words of the Apostle Paul: “But if anyone seems to be contentious, we have no such custom, nor do the churches of God” (1 Cor. 11:16).

And we don’t. Again, we’ve referred to heathen prophecies (ancient frauds like the Malarkey…(there I go again!)…the Malachy “Prophecy” and modern frauds like the non-Mayan non-pocalypse), and there’s nothing wrong with pointing them out as curiosities, as frauds, as hoaxes, as counterfeits, etc. But seeking to derive new prophetic knowledge from them? Determining that one of the Two Witnesses will like wearing dark suits or the name of his hometown or whether he will be thin of fat? Sorry — that’s divination. And God is clear: It isn’t appointed for us.

One last excuse comes to mind, for now…

Excuse: Paul says that we shouldn’t be ignorant of the devil’s devices! By exploring all of these pagan prophecies, we can come to understand his plan better–in fact, we’re actually obeying Paul’s command by doing so.

Answer: Wow. That is just… Wow. The devil must be giddy that you actually think that. Is that really what Paul is telling us to do? Let’s look at that…

First, instead of just grabbing a convenient verse and paraphrasing it in the way we believe it will suit us best, let’s read the actual verse in its context:

“Now whom you forgive anything, I also forgive. For if indeed I have forgiven anything, I have forgiven that one for your sakes in the presence of Christ, lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices” (2 Cor. 2:10-11).

Taking this statement and turning it into an endorsement of using pagan prophecies for delving into future events is vastly more than a simple “stretch”–it does violence to Paul’s words and pridefully turns them into license for sin. (We’ve already established: God says that those diviners, soothsayers, fortune-tellers are not appointed for us, remember?)

Yes, we are aware of his devices, and lies are definitely among his devices, including lying prophecies. But does that mean that we should give ourselves license to ignore God’s Word, delve into the arcane details of heathen prophecies, and try to divine additional details about the future? Who would be so insane as to suggest that this is what Paul meant?

For instance, among Satan’s devices is to pull us away into sexual lust. Must we study and explore all the perverted means by which Satan does that? Every enticement, every perversion, every–whatever? Or is it simply necessary to know the truth about godly sexuality and to ensure we are fortified in what God’s Word has to say about it? Isn’t that sufficient? As in recognizing counterfeits, isn’t the key to know the truth thoroughly and not to memorize every possible counterfeit? (Hmmm… I’ve seen a telecast that talks about that…)

In fact–and I will try to talk more about this when I wrap up this post–other than the fact that it is sin to wallow in the mire of diviners and soothsayers, one of the strongest reasons why we should not try to filter details out about the future from the devil’s prophecies is precisely because we know his devices! Let me explain…

The devil is a liar. He is the father of lies. Jesus describes lying as an essential part of the devil’s very nature, saying that “there is no truth in him” (John 8:44-47). However, that does not mean that he is unwilling to use the truth. In fact, a great quote comes to mind: “The devil will tell a thousand truths to sell one lie.”

I’m not disputing the idea that the devil’s prophecy contains both truth and lies. The devil is unimaginably skilled at using truths in the service of lies. Of course there will be elements of truth in his lying prophecies. Those things that contradict Scripture will, of course, be lies. But those things that do not contradict Scripture aren’t necessarily truths, either. All of it is part of the spider’s web. And those who are not ignorant of his devices will avoid the web altogether. They will not fall for the lie that the fly can decide which parts of the web are safe and which parts of the web trigger the spider. They don’t believe, in pride and vanity, that they can tease the relevant truths out of the lies and not be tainted and caught in the trap.

That is the path of fools–those who claim to know the devil’s devices but clearly do not truly understand them. Such fools think they can use the devil for their own purposes, even press him into service for God. But the young woman I talked to is right: You think you have him, but he has you.

God’s advice is universally the opposite in Scripture: Put distance between you and the devil. Don’t dance with him, thinking that you are leading. Don’t play games with him, thinking that you are winning. Don’t linger in contact with him, thinking that you remain clean. Those who think they can do otherwise are flies in the web, and by telling those around them, “See, look at what I found!” all they do is get those who pay them any mind entangled in the devil’s web with them.

Yes, Christ gives us victory over Satan and his demons. Yes, there are times when demons must be confronted, just as Christ did. But the purpose for confrontation is to cast out–“out,” as in “away.” We never say, “Demon, be gone! But, you know, not too gone… Hang around a little so that I can squeeze a few facts out of you at my own discretion, OK buddy?” We just cast them out.

The devil wants us to do otherwise. He wants us to see some of what he has done, or some of what he inspires within the latitude God allows him, as useful to us in some way. That way, rather than cast it completely aside, we will hold on to it a bit. “Sure it’s the devil’s, but it can be made useful if we’re careful, right?” No. Not right.

Jesus said that Satan had “nothing in him” (John 14:30). When the devil offered Him a shortcut to world rulership, Jesus shut Him down and wouldn’t touch his offer for a moment (Luke 4:5-8). He didn’t strike a bargain. He didn’t use the devil for anything. He lived uncorrupted by the ruler of this world, and He died uncorrupted by Him. It is His example we are to follow.

We don’t dive into the prophecies and visions of heathens and pagans in order to try to divine the devil’s plan. We avoid getting caught up in such things and binding ourselves to them because we are already aware of his devices. And we know that such foolishness is exactly what he would want us to do.

Really, think about it… Imagine you have your Bible open on your study desk as well as a book of Catholic, Buddhist, New Age, [fill in the blank] visions, divinations, and prophecies, while you try to use God’s Word to help you tease out some true tidbits and details about the future in addition to what God’s Word reveals. Which do you think is likely true…

(A) Satan the Devil is watching you figure things out and is cowering and trembling in a corner, saying, “Oh no! Oh NO! He’s going to figure out parts of my plan! Oh whatever shall I DO?!?!” Or…

(B) Satan the Devil is watching you as a big grin starts to form on his face?

I’m sorry, but to me the answer is obvious.

But apparently it isn’t to others.

It is easy to imagine someone who has delved very deeply into the prophecies of heathens, far beyond the boundaries of what God would ever allow–perhaps, caring more about the private prophecies of Catholics than even Catholics do. I could easily imagine such a one. I can imagine him beginning to see himself in those “prophecies”–with the obscure word here and the pleasant coincidence there combining with the prideful self-esteem he already held toward himself, but enhancing it… strengthening it. Next thing he knows, he is looking for other passages that could confirm his suspicion that he is a Prophet–even one of the Two Witnesses. “I’ll use the Douay translation there–I like the way it spells that word more like my own last name… That literal description fits me there!… That description there doesn’t, hmmm… BUT, it could be speaking symbolically instead of literally, so it actually could fit me!…” He doesn’t actually think those words, of course, but those are the whispers of his Jeremiah 17:9 heart. The crazy dance would go on, with him and the devil. As time goes on, he would believe that he is using God’s truth to whittle away the lies and reduce the devil’s prophecies down to useful, precious, additional little understandings and details, but–in actuality–like someone wading through the muck of the sewers looking for some morsels of undigested food, he would find that some efforts aren’t worth the price you pay. As Paul warns us, little leaven leavens the whole lump, and the corruption would spread. Thinking he could use the Bible to help him sort the truth from the lie in the devil’s prophecies, it would work the other way around, and the corrupt touch of the devil’s prophecies would begin to infect his own understanding of the Bible. In time, it would be almost impossible for him to see anything clearly anymore.

You think you have him. But he has you.

Very easy to imagine… Thankfully, if I were ever to get delusions of grandeur and think I were one of the Two Witnesses (haven’t yet, by the way!), my wife would be quick to pitch in and douse the flames of my insanity. “Don’t get the big head,” she would say. “I’ve seen you in your underwear.” Yes, she actually does say that sometimes, and we laugh when she does, but it always does the trick! 🙂 [French essayist Michel de Montaigne also had a quote that helps put in perspective those who think they are high and mighty, but it is a bit crude to write in a post in a family blog.]

But not everyone has a wife kind enough to put him in his place when needed and remind him that, “No, the Bible is not actually talking about you. And, no, those Catholic / Buddhist / Alien / Whatever prophecies aren’t talking about you–put them down, leave them alone, and back away.” And, admittedly, if I were so inclined to delusions of grandeur, it might be that nothing she said could keep me from such lies. We all have free will. The devil, aided by our personal ambitions and our Jeremiah 17:9 hearts, can do a lot of damage to us if we choose to let him. And, sadly, some do.

I’ve gotten off track a good bit. Suffice it to say: We avoid the trap of trying to decipher the prophecies of heathens to entice new prophetic truths out of them because we are not ignorant of the devil’s devices, not because we need to indulge in them to discover his devices. That is simply not sane. At the very least, it isn’t biblical.

Frankly, the idea that we must gluttonously feed on the prophecies of deceived heathens in addition to the Bible in order to fight the devil more effectively sounds very devilish, indeed. I won’t fall for that. Will you? Are you ignorant of his devices?

In summary:

Anyone who engorges himself in a multitude of the prophecies of those deceived by the devil in order to discern new tidbits of prophetic understanding is violating Scripture, disqualifying himself according to Isaiah 8:18-19, corrupting his understanding, and falling for the devil’s tactics while deluding himself that he is somehow uncovering them. Self-delusion is almost certain to follow. Those who so engorge themselves are not working to be all things to all men. They are working to be of no use to anyone but the devil. Saying that, “Well, the end times are here, so we now need to do these things,” is a lie. God’s commands don’t change.

Yes, the Church of God has noted from time to rare time that there are such “prophecies” out there. It has noted them as curiosities. It has shown them as false and deceptive. It has noted that the devil has counterfeited the truth in some of them. And it has spent far more of its time on other things. It has not made a habit of wallowing in such “prophecies” and in the words and writings of heathen seers and deceived mystics in a satanic effort to divine numerous additional details about the future from such sources, in defiance of the commands of God Almighty in His Word. It has not returned like a dog to its vomit or a washed sow to its mire, after escaping such pollutions through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (cf. 2 Peter 2:20-22). Who in the world would wish to set aside the mercy of God in order to do such a thing?

God says plainly and simply that such things are not appointed for us (Deut. 18:14). And if God has not appointed them for us, then who has?

No, wallowing in the prophecies of the heathen to discern new prophetic possibilities is not for Christians. May God have mercy on those who give themselves over to doing so. It is a mercy they will surely and sorely need.

Techniques of Non-Prophets: Arbitrage through Tautology

This is a photo of the final antichrist OR it isn't! So, does that make ma a Prophet? (photo by ross_hawkes)
This is a photo of the final antichrist OR it isn’t! So, does that make me a Prophet? (photo by ross_hawkes)

I have thought for some time that it would be fun to make a tongue-in-cheek series of posts titled “How To Be a Convincing False Prophet 101” in which I list common techniques of Non-Prophets or S.A.P.’s (Self-Appointed Prophets) to appear powerfully predictive and prophetic when, in reality, they are absolutely not in any way.

However, I have been trying to reign in that impulse to be tongue-in-cheek so often. It isn’t an evil impulse in and of itself, but it does risk spraining the tongue and bruising the cheek if done too often. But the information about the techniques such Non-Prophets use is still worthwhile, so today I list one: “Arbitrage through Tautology.”

In my studies as an actuary, arbitrage opportunities in investment were one of the elements we examined, looking at how a perfect theoretical market allows no arbitrage. Arbitrage is essentially a risk-free profit opportunity. It should never exist in a perfect market, because there is supposed to be an inviolable relationship between risk and reward: No risk = no reward; greater risk = greater potential reward (or failure). Wikipedia (“Always right, except when it’s not!”™) describes arbitrage very simply: “the possibility of a risk-free profit at zero cost” In that way, the name fits the technique I am about to mention perfectly: Non-prophet arbitrage is the possibility of risk-free “prophecy” at zero cost. (Except the cost isn’t truly zero, since it destroys your credibility among those who are paying attention…)

Consider the following statement — a mercifully paraphrased version of a statement actually seen in the wild: “The next pope will either be the final antichrist, help pave the way for the final antichrist, or will resist the antichrist.”

Wow! Sounds powerful and prophetic! Except that it is neither powerful nor prophetic. It is actually contains virtually no information whatsoever and is a risk-free pronouncement since it is virtually a tautology — that is, a statement that must be true and cannot be false. In rhetoric, a tautology is a statement that is constructed in such a way that it appears to be saying something when, in the end, it really says nothing. For instance, had someone said last year, “I can tell you one thing, either President Obama will win in 2012 or else he won’t,” he would, in the end, be saying exactly nothing. Of course the President will either win the election or he won’t. In the late 80s, the proper response to such a statement was, “No duh.” (And I note that James Taranto of the WSJ’s “Best of the Web Today” feature consistently mocks such statements in the news under his regular “Out on a Limb” feature.)

This explains why statements about the pope such as that one are neither powerful nor prophetic in any way. They are, instead, what experts call “super-duper wimpy” (a technical theological term).

Let’s look at it: “The next pope will either be the final antichrist, help pave the way for the final antichrist, or will resist the final antichrist.”

Given that the pope is in charge of the Roman Catholic Church, this statement is virtually a tautology — a statement that cannot be false in any way. For instance, consider the universe of possibilities:

1) The next pope is the final antichrist. Done! Non-prophet is “proven” correct.

2) The next pope is not the final antichrist. Is still correct! Look at possibilities:

2A) The next pope continues Catholic teachings as they are. Done! Time moves forward, the stage continues to be set for the final antichrist, and the way continues to be paved! Non-prophet is “proven” correct.

2B) The next pope changes things. Well, if he changes them in a way that would make things more like what one would picture concerning the final antichrist: Done! The way continues to be paved, only faster. But, if he changes them in a way that would seem to resist the sort of arrangement that the future final antichrist would want: Still done! His actions resist the direction of the final antichrist. In both cases, non-prophet is “proven” correct.

Really, how can such a statement be false? It can’t be. No matter what happens, the “statement” is correct. It’s risk-free and completely non-prophetic. It’s a gutless statement that makes a mockery of the biblical office of Prophet.

Now, it isn’t that statements such as that don’t have a function in instruction, such as in clarifying the universe of choices for a person in terms they can understand. I do it all the time with my kids. But when it comes to prophecy, they are pointless. One might as well go to Disneyland, point at the guy wearing the Mickey suit and say, “If he lives long enough, Mickey Mouse either will be the final antichrist, will support the final antichrist, or will be against the final antichrist.” Given that in the context of biblical prophecy, neutrality is not an option, such a statement is going to be true no matter what happens in the future. And when a pronouncement is just as true of Mickey Mouse as it is the pope, you don’t have a Prophet in your midst.

And, importantly, when someone makes such a statement and then points back to it (“See, I said that the next pope might pave the way for the final antichrist!”), they are making no substantive claim whatsoever. Though claiming prophecy-proving fruits, in reality they are making no claim at all. Their previous comment was completely devoid of information, so they were making a risk-free statement: Creating a cost-free, risk-free arbitrage opportunity for themselves. Not exactly the biblical model for prophetic statements. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s neither prophecy nor even carnal “prediction” — it’s just wasted words.

Yet, as I mentioned, it isn’t truly cost-free. When such statements are made, those who are thinking will notice and will understand the spirit that motivates them, and it isn’t a “prophetic” one. And the Non-Prophet will lose credibility. At least, we should hope so.

I’ll consider posting more such deceptive techniques in the future, and regrettably “Arbitrage through Tautology” is only one of many. The Bible says that there would be many false prophets in the end times seeking to deceive God’s people and coming in Christ’s name (e.g., Matt. 7:15-20; 24:4-5, 11; 2 Peter 2:1; et al.), and they may be sincere — not just deceiving, but self-deceived, as well (cf. 2 Tim. 3:13), since Jeremiah 17:9 applies to all of us — but as Mr. Armstrong frequently said, one can be sincere but sincerely wrong. Frankly, such wishy-washy, risk-free tautologies aren’t necessarily crafted by people out to deceive in many cases — often the statement is simply an outgrown of the person’s own inner doubts and the fact that they are not, actually, a prophet. So in expressing all the possibilities they need to express in order to ensure they will be correct, the result is a tautology that never will be — the only kind of guaranteed “prophecy” a plain old, human, carnal mind can come up with.

Making statements and pronouncements that sound impressive but, in reality, are wishy-washy and cannot truly ever be false because they cover every realistic possibility does not a Prophet make. But for a Non-Prophet wanting to look prophetic, they do great.