This morning I sat across the table from a charismatic faith healer. He excitedly told a story of encountering a paraplegic in a park. As his story goes, back then, he was not yet mature in his belief that “it is always God’s will to heal; healing in this life is promised in the atonement; we just need to grow in faith to be able to receive it.” So, when he saw the man in the wheelchair, he couldn’t muster the courage to approach. However, after passing the man several times as he strolled his laps around the park, like a vulture circling his prey, he finally garnered the intestinal fortitude to descend upon the man and offer to heal him in Jesus’ name.
The man welcomed the idea. So the faith healer took off on what would be his first adventure in trying to offer the prayer of faith. He prayed and prayed. But the man wasn’t healed. The faith healer was temporarily disheartened. What he saw with his eyes didn’t seem to match what he believed in his heart. As the faith healer eventually got in his car and drove away, he comforted himself with a thought: “I could see in the man’s eyes that I offered him hope of being healed and that was what he needed that day.” I wonder if the look in that man’s eyes changed as hope faded while he watched the faith healer drive off into the distance.
Another proponent of this kind of faith healing, Steven Furtick, the popular pastor of Elevation Church, wrongly interprets Mark 6:5 in a way that lends itself to incidents like the one in the park. Says Furtick,
“The power of God was in Jesus, the healing power of God, the restoring power of God, the same power that made demons flee was in Nazareth, but Jesus could not release it. Because it was trapped in their unbelief. And there’s one thing that even Jesus can’t do. One thing that even the son of God can’t do. Even Jesus cannot override your unbelief. I see y’all looking at me like, ‘Is that true? I thought He could do anything.’ It said, ‘He could not.’ He wanted to. He was prepared to. He was able to. The power of God was in Nazareth, but it was trapped in their perspective.”
The Greek word in Mark 6:5 is edynato, which is a negation of dynato, meaning power. Edynato does indeed mean “to not have the power” or “to not be able”. But in what sense? Hebrews 13:8 teaches us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” so there is never any want of power within Himself. He was every bit as powerful on that day in his hometown of Nazareth as He is any day and anywhere else in the Universe. We’re talking about the One through whom all things were made (Hebrews 1:2).
To be “not able” in Mark 6:5 referred to submission to the will of the Father, a will He also shared. It didn’t refer to subservience to the will of the men of Nazareth. It was the Father’s will in Mark 6 to pass over the wicked hearts of the people of Nazareth. Jesus “could do no mighty work there” only in the sense that God did not will to grace them with sign gifts to confirm Jesus’ messianic claim. His purpose was often to do miracles in the presence of faith, and in this particular case, He purposed to meet a lack of faith with an absence of miracles. It was His divine prerogative, not a constraint external to Himself, that limited Him from doing mighty works there.
Jesus didn’t marvel at their unbelief because His usually reliable superpowers were suddenly neutered by their kryptonite-like unbelief. Jesus marveled that the people who watched him for decades as He lived among them still didn’t recognize His true identity. Indeed, apart from the miraculous lifting of the veil (2 Corinthians 3:14-4:6), no one sees Him for who He is. It’s amazing how blind all people are apart from grace. The real miracle is that He ever chooses to open the blind eyes of underserving people like ourselves.
“Growing in faith to receive your miracle” is not a biblical description of spiritual maturity. Growing in faith does not mean increasing in ability to receive what God “wants to give” but which He is somehow prevented from giving on account of human unbelief.
Here’s a better definition of maturity: suffering well. God has dominion over all things, including our suffering (1 Peter 1:1,6,7,10-12, 3:17, 4:11, 4:19, 5:11). Suffering is for a little while, whereas glory in Christ is for eternity (1 Peter 1:4,13,24, 4:13, 5:10). Growing in grace by taking to heart apostolic teachings, like those of 1 Peter, is the true path to spiritual maturity.
Studying “the will of God” in 1 Peter is very helpful along these lines. “Thelema” is used 4 times (2:15, 3:17, 4:2, 4:19). The usages alternate between 2 different senses in which God has a “will”. The revealed will of God (2:15, 4:2) are the prescriptions of God that we are commanded to live by. These are the things that are revealed to us. It’s our job to obey His will, in this commanding sense of the word. The secret will of God (3:17, 4:19) refers to God’s decree. This includes everything that God has determined to come to pass. We don’t live with knowledge of such things (like the identity of the elect, the day of our death, whether or not God will heal a particular ailment). That’s why we call it the “secret” will of God, drawing on language from Deuteronomy 29:29. It’s our job to trust His will, in this sovereignty sense of the word (James 4:15).
Spiritual maturity means living according to the revealed will of God while trusting Him with His secret will. Rather than fretting all the time about whatever circumstances God will allow to come into our lives, maturity is concerned about pursuing holiness. Holiness is not an option, but a command, a necessity, and a joy (1 Peter 1:13-21, 2:11-12, 4:1-6). This, I think, is the kind of growth in the faith that Peter was concerned that we have. Grow in godliness by the pure milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2).
My paralyzed Uncle Herb was, in my estimation, one of the most mature Christians on earth during his latter decades on earth. He never mustered faith to receive a healing. He trusted God’s plan, even where that plan included suffering. He remained joyful. He used to write out copies of the Bible by hand. He prayed unceasingly. He went around town in his wheelchair evangelizing whomever he could. He watched and waited for the second coming of Jesus. Strive for that kind of maturity.
The human frame was not made to live in constant crisis mode. Adrenaline can give a needed boost in the event of a crisis, but adrenaline is a toxin in the system if it pulses there for too long. Living in perpetual crisis mode is sure to produce anxiety problems and may even result in emotional or physical breakdown.
Somehow I suspect the media isn’t worried about our wellbeing. They have news to sell, and nothing sells like a crisis. In 2020, they had four major ones for sale. Let’s consider these in a better light. Let’s ditch crisis mode in favor of giving thanks.
First, the media has been offering Covid-19 for sale as a crisis. To be fair, when it first arrived, it looked like it might be a crisis. Here was a highly contagious airborne virus that killed 3% to 10% of those who contracted it. But when the data came in, that estimation steadily diminished, first by a factor of 2, then by a factor of 5, then of 10, and now of over 100 (the mortality rate is now hovering somewhere around .1%). Average life expectancy in the USA was 70 in 1960; It was 78 in 2018 and 2019, and it’s 78 in 2020. Imagine that! The year 2020 hasn’t reduced life expectancy to year 2000 levels (77 years), 1990 levels (75 years), 1980 levels (74 years), 1970 levels (71 years), let alone 1960 levels or the twenty-some-odd years people were expected to live during the Black Plague. Christians should receive this news with an “amen, praise the Lord, Hallelujah”, but the media may never come out of their crisis mode.
Second, the media is offering Racial Injustice for sale as a crisis. Everyone agreed on who had the most punchable face in America when that man knelt on another man’s neck for over 8 agonizing minutes. But the media discovered a way to transpose that face over the faces of every cop in America. Then it was every “white” face in America. Racial grievance replaced sports as the hottest ticket in town. “White Fragility” became the biggest book of 2020 and even many churches jumped on the bandwagon, promoting books like Nathasha Morrison’s “Be The Bridge”. But Christians already have a Bridge. His Name is Jesus. His finished work already destroyed every racial dividing wall of hostility. He already made us into a new race in Himself, where there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, or any such derogatory thing as “white” or “people of color”. Christians should receive this news with an “amen, praise the Lord, Hallelujah”, but the media may never come out of their crisis mode.
Third, the media is offering Climate Change for sale as a crisis. There have been wildfires in California, an unusually high number of hurricanes, and there may even be evidence of a degree or two variation in average global temperatures in recent decades. But Christians know the God who controls fire, wind, and air. We know that He promised to never again destroy the world with a flood. And since shoreline real estate in Florida hasn’t gone down in value after all these years of the media’s fear-mongering, it appears that even the free market knows what’s really not likely to happen. Christians, of all people, should be saying “amen, praise the Lord, Hallelujah”, but the media may never come out of their crisis mode.
Fourth, the media is offering The Election for sale as a crisis. It’s the end of the world as we know it, or so they would have us believe. But Christians know the God who turns the heart of King like a watercourse. We know that God wrote US history and no matter how the media tries to rewrite what has already happened in the past, what God has written for the future is sure to come to pass. Amen. Praise the Lord. Hallelujah.
The media may never come out of their crisis mode. Indeed, they make more money when they amp things up. Maybe that’s why a lot of people look at me strange when I say that I’ve loved the year 2020. To me, the four so-called crises of 2020 never looked the part. They never really got my adrenaline up. It’s not that I simply said “meh”, indifferent to the suffering of others. Rather, I didn’t buy the media narrative that each of these things were existential threats. I wasn’t indifferent this year; I actually did quite a bit of speaking out in 2020. It’s just that what I said usually cut in the opposite direction of what the media was trying to sell. I ran the data through the filter of God’s Word. Then I refuted the narratives that contradicted the Biblical worldview. And I wasn’t the only one. Cornerstone Church has taken this approach throughout 2020. It is the way of thankfulness over against the media’s crisis and grievance industry. The waters of thankfulness are pleasant, and we hope you’ll join us here.
Stop judging. Jesus taught that, so it’s really important to stop judging. Judge. Jesus said we should judge right after He said not to judge, so it’s really important to judge. How can these things be?
It turns out that the Lord means for us to stop judging “by mere appearances” and, instead, “judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). That makes sense. We’ll make wrong judgments if we jump to conclusions, but we’re going to need to make a lot of judgments just to exist in this world, so the real issue is our moral obligation to make right judgments.
So, that leads to the question I would like to address: “Are Christians judgmental?“. I’m writing this article to those who answer “yes”, because, in my judgment, those who accuse Christians of being judgmental are themselves judging by mere appearances. If you say “Christians are judgmental”, here’s why you should stop with that, and receive the good news that follows.
To prove the point that judging is necessary, consider the judgments you are making right now as you read. “Do I like this article? Is it worth reading, or is it too long? Do I care what this guy has to say?”
Rest assured, you began forming your judgments about this article the moment you began to read and synapses began firing in your brain. It’s likely you even had your mind made up about this article—whether or not you generally approve of it—before you began to read it, based upon who the author is to you. If I were your pastor, and you voluntarily sat under my teaching of God’s Word on a weekly basis, then you would be largely predisposed to judge this to be a trustworthy article. But my intended audience here is those who happen to think that Christians tend to be judgmental people, so some of your judgment of this article is based upon judgments you formed about me as a Christian even before you started reading the article.
Now, to label someone “judgmental” is to criticize their character. The adjectival form of the noun “judgment” is not merely a statement of the fact that the person makes judgments, which is only a function of having a brain. To call someone a “judgmental Christian” doesn’t mean that this Christian is able to decide between different brands of orange juice at the grocery store. It means that this Christian has the morally repugnant tendency of looking down upon others who hold views different than their own. Judgmental connotes a major character flaw.
So, for the sake of all that is tolerant and woke, may I ask you to open your mind for this 5-minute read? Perhaps the narrative that “Christians are judgmental” is a mere judgement by appearance. If, in your judgment, Christians are judgmental, I’m asking you to not follow your heart on this one (Numbers 15:39), but read on, because the narrative isn’t right, and I can prove it. If you’re concerned to not be judgmental yourself, stop judging by mere appearances and judge with right judgment.
Let me begin by agreeing that Christians make a lot of unpopular judgments:
Non-Christian religions are false.
LGBTQ behaviors are sinful.
Heterosexual behaviors outside of marriage are sinful.
Socialism is evil.
Abortion is murder.
These judgments are hard, but are Christians judgmental for making them? Before shouting “Yes!” at your cell phone or computer, reserve your judgment until you’ve heard my side of the story. Due process demands that you do. “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). You’ve heard the accusation of judgmentalism levied against Christians who hold these views, but are you willing to hear our defense? We agree that these judgments are hard, but hard is not the same as judgmental.
Second, before I offer my defense, consider the kinds of judgments I am not defending:
All denominations besides mine are false.
Tattoos are inherently sinful.
All dancing is from the devil.
Drinking alcohol is always wrong.
Other races are lesser.
Sadly, there are Christians who make these judgments. That doesn’t make them judgmental. It makes them wrong—in some cases disgustingly so. I’m not here to defend them. Among the thousands of born-again evangelical Christians that I know, I can’t think of one who believes any of those 5 things. So, it’s a safe assumption that such judgments are not coming from us but are vestiges of an imperfect past or are caricatures of the kind of judgments the Christians of today make. Let’s be honest, it’s judgments like the first 5 I listed—and especially the LGBTQ one—that has the world calling Christians “judgmental” today.
Those two caveats stated, my defense to the charge that Christians are judgmental rests on the logical assertion that all moral judgment requires a standard, and Christians have the right one. To condemn anything as wrong in any way, whether it be racist, bigoted, dishonest, hateful, judgmental, or whatever, is to say that it fails to meet the standard. But by what standard are we to judge morality?
John Locke advanced the enlightenment view that has shaped the West—namely, that human reasoning—basic common sense—gives us the standard. Democracy builds on this idea by claiming that the moral sensibilities of the majority will be the standard upon which a moral society can be built. I support democracy, but after the West has just experienced the bloodiest hundred years in human history, and now with opinions of moral right and wrong more divided than ever, is the Lockian standard of morality really tenable?
Whereas enlightenment thinkers begin with the fundamental assertion that morality is based on human reasoning, Christians begin with the Bible as our moral compass. That is not to say that logic has no place in our moralizing. We believe that knowledge of right and wrong was built into the human conscience (Romans 2:15) when God made us all in His image (Genesis 1:26). But something went drastically wrong when humankind fell from innocence (Genesis 3), so the human conscience has become far from infallible. There are noetic effects to sin. We all have fallen natures, so even our ability to reason about morality is fallen, hence our need for God to tell us what is right and wrong. Since we’re made in the image of God, consciences can dole out flashes of light, but because we’re fallen creatures that are prone to corrupt thinking, only special revelation from God can light up the room.
Into the darkness of depraved humanity, God spoke His Word through the writings of prophets and apostles. That special revelation—the Old and New Testaments of the Bible—gives us God’s standard of morality. It is objective truth.
Now, before you give up on this argument for the simplistic reason that you don’t believe the Bible, consider the alternative. Apart from there being this God who has spoken, there is no such thing as morality. If humans are evolved fish that emerged without purpose from a primordial soup, then how one fish treats another fish doesn’t matter at all. Nothing is morally right or wrong in any objective sense. Furthermore, if there is a God, but that God has not spoken, then humanity would remain in just as much darkness as would be the case if there were no God at all. God’s character would in that case be the objective standard, but having no access to know what that standard is, humanity would still be groping in the dark.
So, my argument is that the Bible is the true standard of moral authority. Moreover, raising the stakes on this proposition, if the Bible were not the standard revealed by God, then there would be no knowable standard and there would be no basis for anyone ever making a moral claim. It would be meaningless to shame someone for racism, sexism, bigotry or judgmentalism. There could be no such thing—not objectively speaking. There could only be the emoting of walking fish, or a crybaby saying “I don’t like what you do”. Without the Bible, there is no standard.
If you really hate the judgmental things people say, then you better fall in love with the God who speaks. Without His Word, there is no standard, so you’re standing on mush as you push against the moral evils you see in this world. This world will feel like one frustration after another to you unless you get this footing.
For Christians to make judgments that non-Christian religions are false, LGBTQ behaviors are sinful, heterosexual behaviors outside of marriage are sinful, socialism is evil, or abortion is murder is merely to exposit what the Bible obviously says. The Bible is absolutely clear about each of these things. Anyone who disagrees about that can contact me to set up a public moderated debate where the folly of your disagreement will be shown for what it is. But the point is that Christians are merely agreeing with the standard. To make judgments based on the Bible is not judgmentalism but fidelity to the God who spoke. The standard-less accusations of those who disagree now carry the burden: By what standard are you assessing anything as morally wrong?
Therefore, seeing as how Christians are not judging by mere appearances, but are making right judgments based upon the standard of the Bible, Christians are not judgmental for espousing our unpopular views.
Those who make accusations against Christians in this regard are offered forgiveness for this on the basis of the shed blood of Jesus. Repent of this mistreatment of God’s children. Repent of violating and disparaging the law of God. Repent of autonomous reasoning that places oneself on the throne and regards the God who made you as irrelevant, like some relic of the past.
Jesus allowed Himself to be brutally beaten, mocked, ridiculed, hung upon a cross, and left to die in order to pay the penalty of sin on behalf of anyone who will turn to Him in repentance and faith. Place your faith in the resurrected Christ who offers salvation to all who repent and believe.
This offer is also extended to those who claim to be Christians but who reject the absolute authority of the Bible. It is impossible to retain Jesus while denying His Word. If His Word does not abide in you, then you do not remain in Him (John 15:7).
Perhaps you think that you became “woke”, while “fundamentalists” remain asleep. You fancy yourself to be more sophisticated and mature than “them”. But when you cut loose from Biblical authority, you lost with it everything that is genuinely Christian. How do you know that the reason for Jesus’ dying was to make propitiation? How do you know that He rose for our justification? How do you know anything about Jesus or His way of salvation apart from the Bible? You don’t. You are adrift. You no longer have a standard. You are in the same boat as the God-haters. You are adrift at sea with them, even if you think you’re retaining your Christian “tradition”. Unless you repent, you have no part with the Lord Jesus Christ.
The echo chamber of the world claims that Christians are judgmental. I ask those who make that claim to stop judging us by the subjective baseless preferences of your own random moral compass. Stop judging by mere appearance and make a right judgment.
Between the colonnades by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem, the waters of the pool of Bethesda were quiet most of the time. Five roofs kept any rain from disturbing the water and walls kept the wind at bay. But from time to time, something stirred the water.
Was there an angel sent by God to stir the water and heal the first person who entered the pool? Or was the stirring caused by some unknown but natural source? Was the hope of healing nothing more than superstition? We are not told.
What we do know is that the pool of Bethesda had for 38 years offered not only promise but also disappointment to a certain sick man.
Jesus accomplished in the time it takes to speak a few words what the pool failed to accomplish in 38 long years. “Get up, take up your bed, and walk” said the Lord. With that, the sick man was healed.
Today, you can visit the ruins of the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. But we don’t need to go there to experience a supernatural touch from God.
There is a supernatural Person right here in our church. While this nation clamors about the pool, watching for the latest stir, Jesus is right here in the midst of the church, always with us. And Jesus is working in our midst…”My Father is working until now, and I am working” (John 5:17).
Do we recognize who it is that dwells among us?
Do we remember what He commissioned us to do?
Do we realize what power is available to us?
Let’s not be distracted by the stirrings of the culture in which we live. Instead, let’s look to Jesus and be stirred by His Spirit. Realize what He is doing right here and now among us.
–14 people just completed the New Member class
–27 are involved with Disciples Who Make Disciples
–14 are being discipled in Christianity 101
–new people are attending the church almost every week
–the kids and youth are growing stronger and reaching out
–new community groups and bible studies are starting
–there are short-term missions and possible long-term callings
–congregational singing has been growing stronger and stronger
The culture we live in is like the pool of Bethesda. It’s worse than that. It’s a cesspool. If you look too long at it, you’ll plunge like the sick man into the depths of despair.
But look to the King of Glory, whom the world does not recognize as He walks in our midst, and your eyes will be full of light. Keep looking and you’ll see the stirring of the water, not the water of any pool, but the Living Water that He makes well up inside of you. You’ll see that He is alive, and He is here.
Something is stirring at Cornerstone Church. It is the supernatural touch of Jesus. Come Sunday with an expectant heart, with eagerness to plunge into the water of His grace.
Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, identifies his religion as Roman Catholicism, but Andrew Cuomo’s real religion is Social Justice. If his religion were Roman Catholicism, then he would sit on the three-legged stool of Scripture, Church Tradition, and the Pope’s Decrees and form his opinions from there. The sources of authority recognized by Roman Catholics would be authoritative to him. Protestants outright reject Rome’s three-legged stool, finding it unstable because two of the three legs can’t bear weight. We say, “Sola Scriptura—Scripture alone.” But if Cuomo were truly Roman Catholic, he would fight passionately to uphold the tenets of his religion.
Instead, in open defiance of Scripture, Church Tradition, and the Pope, Cuomo is willing to abort babies. He’ll strive for the mother’s “right” to kill them right up until the moment of birth. “Governor Cuomo will fight to pass the Reproductive Health Act” (1) because this fighting is his religion. Andrew Cuomo is a Social Justice warrior fighting a fundamentally religious war.
Social Justice becomes religion as soon as it becomes the animating principle of one’s life. You can tell that something is religious to a person when they are willing to fight for it with unexpected passion. If something is of the utmost importance to someone, if they get emotional when they talk about it, if they delight in its victories and lament its defeats, if they strive after it more vigorously than they do for most anything else, then it has become a religion to them. You can identify your religion by what you’re most passionate about, and many people today are most passionate about Social Justice.
Social Justice is the latest in the long line of religions born from Adam’s eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If knowledge of right and wrong does not come from outside of humanity, from the special revelation of God in Scripture, then it can only come from inside of humanity, from human reasoning. All false religions emerge from demonically-inspired human thinking. When the collective reasoning (of supposedly free thinkers) settles on a definition of the highest good, then the pursuit of it is the supposed path to life. At some point between the 1960s and today, equality was identified by the collective reasoning of Americans to be the highest good. Along came Social Justice to promise equality—and life—to anyone willing to eat its fruit.
The god of Social Justice is equality. The religious pursuit of that god across every difference in life is called Social Justice. The elimination of disparities between the races, the sexes, the sexualities, the species, the nationalities, and across any other category of differentiation, has become a religious enterprise. Rejecting the Christian teaching that God providentially makes people to differ in many ways, the flattening out of all distinctions between people becomes the highest good. Equality becomes god.
The god called equality is forever elusive, but that only provides endless fuel to the religious effort to attain it. Humans have reasoned that disadvantages are the greatest of evils, so the heroic quest to eliminate them, as endless as it is religious, has begun. America’s new majority religion—Social Justice—has taken over and shows no signs of slowing down.
The reason Andrew Cuomo supports abortion is the opposite of what he says. He says, “I’m not here to legislate religion” (2). In truth, his support for abortion is absolutely religious. His Social Justice religion tells him what to do, and his religious zeal animates him to do it. The elimination of disparities between the genders requires that women be allowed to murder the innocent life inside of them. Justice would demand the protection of innocent life. Social Justice demands the protection of a woman’s autonomy, in order that her freedom be kept equal to that of any man, who cannot become pregnant. The Moloch-like god of equality demands the sacrifice of babies, and the “Social Justicians” (3) religiously comply. By their religious zeal (picture the cheering of the New York State House of Representatives when Cuomo’s Reproductive Health Act passed), they prove that Social Justice is their religion.
When women turn out en masse and in costume to march for women’s rights in a country that doesn’t actually withhold rights from women (except for, ironically, the right to life of unborn women), we witness the passionate activism of the Social Justice religion. When support for building a wall to enforce national boundaries is called xenophobic and immoral, we hear the spiritual language of the Social Justice religion. When colleges attempt to force their employees and students to use preferred or gender-neutral pronouns, we see the zealous enforcing of the rules of the Social Justice religion. When pastors decry “toxic masculinity” and “white privilege” from their pulpits, we see the insidious seeds of the replacement of Christianity in the church with the Social Justice religion. America is no less religious a nation in 2019 than she was in 1969. Only now, Social Justice has replaced Christianity as the majority religion.
Mark Taylor captured the imaginations of many a believer in modern-day prophecy with his folksy down-to-earth style and his optimistic please-let-this-be-true political prophecies. Leading into the 2018 midterms, Taylor prophesied “a red tsunami”. Republicans would not only hold the House and Senate but would dominate the Democrats. Two days after the dust of the election has settled, what are we to make of the Taylor prophecies? When my kids demand my attention and then show me something ridiculous or silly, I like to watch and respond with a little deadpan humor, simply saying “not impressed” as I turn back to my business. They like when I do that. But when Mark Taylor demands our attention, especially after what he’s shown us so far, we can collectively say without much affection, “NOT IMPRESSED” and move on. Taylor doesn’t deserve another minute of our attention. But does Taylor’s whiff mean that there is no such thing as genuine modern-day prophecy?
For every failed Taylor prophecy, I can give you a successful one from Charles Haddon Spurgeon. In his autobiography, he recounts that on at least 12 occasions, the Spirit gave him a revelation (not through the Bible, but impressed directly onto his mind) that he subsequently spoke forth, and the end result was the edification, encouragement, or consolation of the body of Christ. Spurgeon once pointed to a man in a pew and told him precisely how much profit he had taken the previous Sunday while skipping church to work at his shop. He told another man (as thousands of people listened in) that he was wearing stolen gloves. In each case, the hearts of the sinners were laid bare. They came to repentance. The body of Christ heard the story and was greatly encouraged, and that with a healthy dose of godly fear (Acts 19:17). But Spurgeon testifies that he had no way of knowing the things he said, except that the Spirit of God revealed them spontaneously to his mind.
There are examples of both successes and failures when it comes to modern-day prophecy. Nabeel Qureshi left Islam and embraced Christ after a prophetic dream that proved instrumental. Some later prophecies about him being healed of stomach cancer proved to be failures. Could it be that experiences—whether positive or negative—are not God’s ordained means for answering the question of whether or not there exists this modern-day-prophecy thing?
Every question of faith and practice needs be answered from Scripture Alone. When it comes to this question, an article recently published by Seth Dunn took Deuteronomy 13 and 18 as the rubric through which to process this question. His application to Taylor’s prophecy was telling. “Nope. Didn’t happen. We should (metaphorically) stone him. He speaks presumptuously and is a false prophet”. Dunn is on the right track, because he is looking to Scripture to answer the question. However, he is ignoring the New Testament while wrongly applying the Old.
Deuteronomy 13:5 doesn’t tell us to metaphorically stone anyone. It tells Israel tophysically “put to death” any self-attesting prophet whose predictions fail. It doesn’t say to slay him from a pulpit, destroy him with a pen, or kill him softly with a song. It prescribes the literal killing of the false prophet.
The application of the Old Testament to the New Covenant believer needs to be done, but it needs to be done carefully. We’re not ancient Israel, so we don’t stone anybody. But we’re not ancient Israel, so Deuteronomy 13 and 18 shouldn’t be the rubric through which we assess modern-day prophecies. Nope. Shouldn’t happen. We need to carefully exegete the New Testament passages that speak of prophecy and make applications from there.
The New Testament doesn’t say that prophecies have ceased. In fact, in one didactic text, it says “do not despise prophecies” (1 Thessalonians 5:20). In another, it says, “Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1). It even goes on to tell us the purpose of these ongoing prophecies. God’s Word says that “…the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14:3). So, it is not as if we lack New Testament light to illuminate for us the answer to this question.
There is a New Covenant form of prophecy that the Spirit of the Living God gives at His discretion that is fundamentally different from Old Testament prophecy. Old Testament prophecy, often preceded by “thus says the Lord” is an authoritative message from God. It is the revealed will of God. It is the 39 books of the Old Testament that carry the same authority as the Biblical writings of the Apostles—the 27 books of the New Testament. But when New Testament authors tell the church to continue to pursue a spiritual gift, “especially that you may prophesy”, they are not telling them to produce anything to compete with their own writings. Those writings had settled and established authority (2 Peter 3:16). New Covenant prophecies are not authoritative or binding in any way.
When a Christian prophesies, the Lord may or may not have been the source. If God wasn’t the source, then it is a false prophecy. That is why we are commanded to “let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29). When God speaks, you don’t weigh what He said. You obey what He said. When Christian prophets speak, there is the possibility of error. So, you weigh what is said. You don’t despise what is said. You weigh it.
The source could be mistaken. Rather than the Spirit of God, the emotions of the Christian (well-intentioned but misguided) might be the source. Or the source could be more sinister.
But there is a second possible place where human fallibility may result in error, and that is in the reporting of the message. Here the problem is not the source, but the delivery. It is possible that a “revelation” (1 Corinthians 14:30) can genuinely be given to the mind of a Christian by the Spirit of God, but when the Christian subsequently speaks about what was impressed upon his mind, he errs in what he says. This seems to be the only consistent explanation for what we have authoritatively given to us in Acts 21-22. This is a narrative portion of Scripture. But as with all Scripture, our interpretation of the text must not contradict anything else the Scripture says about a topic. Furthermore, our interpretation must faithfully follow the author’s train of thought, which in this case belonged to Luke.
In Acts 21, there are three instances of New Covenant prophecy that hit the reader in rapid-fire succession. First, the disciples at Tyre tell Paul NOT to go to Jerusalem, which is very different from what the Spirit told Paul. But they tell him this “through the Spirit” (21:4)! That’s very confusing. Cessationists tend to ignore that Luke speaks only positively of what these disciples were saying. Luke even says they did it “through the Spirit”.
Second, the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist prophesy, but we are not told what they said. It’s very interesting that young females are capable of prophesying under the New Covenant.
Third, Agabus famously ties his hands and feet with Paul’s belt and says, “Thus says the Holy Spirit”. What he goes on to say comes true in a general sense, but errs in two important details. One, it turns out the Jews do not bind Paul. The Romans do, which becomes an issue for the tribune who did it (Acts 22:22-30). The text makes the point of who did the binding, and it was not the Jews as Agabus foretold. Two, the Jews do not “deliver him” into the hands of the Gentiles. The greek word for “deliver him” (paradōsousin) conveys the idea of surrendering into the custody of another. It doesn’t mean that another forces you to stop beating someone and takes that person away from you. It means that you turn them over. These were the only two things Agabus prophesied—the Jews do the binding, and they “deliver” Paul to the Gentiles—but, in point of fact, both of Agabus’ prophecies were technically wrong.
The hard thing about Acts 21 is that Luke does not present the prophecies as wrong, failed, hurtful, shameful, or in any negative light. Luke certainly does not go to Deuteronomy 13 or 18 and make application from there! In fact, Luke tells us that the disciples at Tyre knelt and prayed with Paul on the beach. It is a beautiful scene, as if Paul was quite comforted and consoled by their love. The children were there saying goodbye to Uncle Paul. There was no stoning—metaphorical or otherwise—taking place on the beach. Likewise, the prophets of Caesarea evidently remain in good standing.
So, the answer to our original question cannot be that God no longer gives prophecies, because—consistent with the didactic material of the New Testament—Luke recounts that He does. And errors cannot be regarded in the same way they were to be regarded under the Old Covenant.
So then, how do we tie this all together? First, the disciples of Tyre spoke “through the Spirit”, which is good. It seems evident that they genuinely saw a revelation in their minds of Paul beaten, bleeding and under arrest. They lovingly appeal for him not to go. They want to change the course of the future. They want him to sail off toward Tarsus and away from “Ninevah”. But therein was their human error. In the reporting of what they saw, they prescribed a course that was opposite “the will of the Lord” (Acts 21:14).
New Covenant prophecy is prone to error in that human reporting of a Spirit-given revelation can be an intermingling of human emotion/willfulness and that which came from the Spirit. The disciples at Tyre were right in what they saw in their mind’s eye, but they were wrong in what they said about it. Nevertheless, our text tells us that they spoke “through the Spirit”, so we (the readers) are bound by the text to believe that these disciples were no arch-heretics, deserving of stoning, but were, in fact, genuine. They genuinely spoke in such a way as to edify, encourage, and console Paul. Remember the defined purpose of New Covenant prophecy—1 Corinthians 14:3.
Second, evidently, speaking prophetically—in this sense—is NOT the preaching of the Word on Sunday mornings, because 1 Timothy 2:11-15 limits the authoritative teaching of the Word and the authoritative role of eldership to men only. But 4 daughters of Philip can prophesy. The Bible—being consistent with itself—has a category for prophecy under the New Covenant that is non-authoritative. Otherwise, what these daughters did was in violation of the Biblical prohibition of teaching or exercising authority over men. But Luke presents their prophesying as a good thing. Our takeaway is that all Christians—men, women, and children (Joel 2, Acts 2:17)—should desire to prophesy. We should all ask the Father to give us the Holy Spirit in such a way that His gifting would enable us to speak supernaturally insightful words that edify, encourage, and console other believers. We should not be afraid of speaking. Deuteronomy 18:22 does not properly instill fear in us of a gift that we are told to seek in 1 Corinthians 14:1.
Third, we are to carefully weigh what others say. Agabus saw a genuine revelation from God, and that proved helpful when it prompted Paul to say, “…I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). But Agabus’ prophecies were not 100% trustworthy. Neither is anything that anyone today says. Only the Bible is 100% trustworthy. So, it is not wrong to weigh prophecies and take edification, encouragement, or consolation from them. But it is wrong to take them as any kind of prescription from God. Live by the Word. Weigh carefully what other Christians speak into your life.
Matt Chandler was consoled by a prophetic word spoken to him that prepared him for his darkest days in his fight against cancer. John Piper spoke a prophetic word that encouraged a woman to start a Bible study on the 34th floor of the IDS building in Minneapolis. I have experienced several such prophetic revelations that edified certain believers. We are not to despise these prophecies. Neither are we to elevate them to a place of authority. The Scripture alone tells us the authoritative revealed will of God. But “pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy”.