Back in the year 2000, God turned our world upside down in a small Church meeting when a prophetic woman from South Africa gave us a prophetic word that was so accurate, and so detailed that there was simply no way that we could deny it was truly from God. As for the future aspects/elements in the prophetic word, they have subsequently proven to just as true as what the Lord had shown the women about our past and present. It changed our lives and ministry completely – and I would say that the best way to "weigh" (or judge) a prophetic word in addition to obviously its accuracy, would be the fruit that it produces. Just this week a lifelong friend relayed a similar experience he had this past week with a guest minister at his church who gave him a prophetic word that was similar in its accuracy and detail.
In hindsight, I believe as I reflect back on that initial prophetic word that served to be a major turning point in our lives, I would have to say that it was more than simply a prophetic minister using her "gift" (1 Cor. 14:1), but it was actually a time when my wife and I received an impartation of a gift/gifts by means of the prophetic word. In other words, one of the ways that God gives gifts of the Holy Spirit is through what has been called "prophetic impartation". A prophetic person prophesies over someone and through it, the person receives a spiritual gift. The Scriptural basis for this is 1 Timothy 4:14 - "Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you."(NIV)
This is clearly one of the reasons, in addition to the many other reasons for the New Testament gift of prophecy, that Paul commands us, "Don't despise prophesies, but test all things. Hold on to what is good." (1 Thes. 5:20-21).
In a day when many well-meaning Bible teachers continue to misunderstand the Old Testament teaching of what characterizes a "false prophet", believing that if a prophet ever made a mistake or if their words didn't come to pass that they were therefore "false prophets" and should be killed. Not only was this application and penalty NEVER carried out in the history of God's people, but when prophets spoke words that didn't come to pass, they were NOT called false prophets. For example, the Prophet Jonah said, "40 more days and Ninevah will be destroyed" (Jonah 3:4). We all know the story. Ninevah was not destroyed. What is interesting is that Jonah's book was included in the Canon of Scripture and he was not called a "false prophet".
The New Testament also speaks about "false prophets" but in spite of what anti-Charismatic Bible teachers want to contend, a "false prophet" in the New Testament is NOT a Christian who in his/her attempt to prophesy makes a mistake. Not only was that NOT the case in the Old Testament, but it is even clearer that this isn't the case in the New Testament. In the New Testament, we are commanded to "test" or "judge" prophetic words. If New Testament believers, seeking to obey Paul's commandment to prophesy (1 Cor. 14:1), were somehow under the impression that the "one mistake and you are OUT" then you would never find a Church that would give place to the exercise of this gifting of the Holy Spirit.
The fact is, a "false prophet" in the New Testament, as was interestingly also the case in the Old Testament, always refers to an unbeliever or to a apostate who has abandoned the faith. It wasn't a believer attempting to grow in his/her gifting who made a mistake. It is EXACTLY the same thing with "false teachers". What is a false teacher in the New Testament? Similarly, it is not a Christian Bible teacher who makes a "mistake". I can't tell you how many Bible teacher I know today who would say, I use to teach something that today they believe to be wrong or false. I can think of many things that I believe and teach today that are different than what I taught 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. That doesn't make me a "false teacher". And nobody I know would consider me one. Similarly, a "false teacher" in the New Testament refers to an unbeliever or to someone who has abandoned the faith and teaches things that are leading people away from Christ.
We train and equip a lot of believers who want to grow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Some are new believers, and others are those who have been in Churches that do not emphasize the gifts or who even teach against them. Can you imagine me having this kind of discussion? "I'm excited that you want to grow in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. To learn about healing, to see if God wants to give you the gift of tongues or the interpretation of tongues. Wow! There are so many tools that God has given His Church to expand the Kingdom and to build up His Bride. BUT you need to realize something about two of these gifts. The gift of prophecy and the gift of teaching. There is a "zero tolerance" policy in the Church. Basically this is how it works. I know that God has commanded us to pursue these two gifts – to prophesy and to teach. There are many verses exhorting us to receive, to grow in and to use these gifts. The impact can be remarkable – people getting saved, unbelievers crying out that God is real, and of course the all-so-important edification and instruction of Christians. But this is the deal. If you make one mistake, you will be branded a "false prophet" or a "false teacher" and so….."
I know it sounds silly when you play out the conversation in this way. But when you see the people out there who are declaring people to be "false prophets" who are godly brothers and sisters, some of whom I know personally, it is tragic. The number of other clear New Testament commandments that these people are violating by treating their brothers and sisters in Christ in this way should horrify them. The fact that they are doing exactly what Paul commands us not to do, "Don't despise prophecies", is particularly ironic because they are the ones crying, "We are just being Biblical".
I am thrilled that in spite of a lot if immaturity that has been demonstrated in the Body of Christ in regards to prophetic ministry, that the Lord in His mercy allowed us in that meeting so many years ago to see the proper use of it by a gifted prophetic person. There is also immaturity demonstrated in the Body of Christ from Bible teachers, but somehow we all know that this is no reason to reject or to neglect the proper use of this other gift of the Holy Spirit. We are actually instructed to discern, to consider, to be good Bereans and examine the Scriptures to see if things are true. That is exactly how we should weigh/judge any and all prophetic words that are given. We weigh them against the Word of God, we pray about them, we discuss them with mature brothers and sisters and then we obey Paul's final exhortation; "Hold onto what is good" (1 Thes. 5:21).
At the end of the day, prophetic ministry is all over the New Testament. It is commanded, expected, regulated and neglecting and/or disallowing it is considered a sin. Just because something has been misused and even abused, in no way justifies its disuse. It is because it is Biblical that we as Christians should embrace prophetic ministry. I'll end this with Paul's most direct command regarding prophetic ministry that we would all do well to pray about and to obey - "Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy." (1 Cor. 14:1)