You know the old adage about how to know when a politician is lying (his lips are moving)? Well, there’s just as easy a way to know whether or not your preacher is a prophet sent from God or is a false prophet (that is, not sent from God).
If you spend any time at all in Christian circles, you’ll know that preachers are a dime a dozen and that more are popping up each day. People being enthusiastic about God and Jesus is not a bad thing, but if their enthusiasm is for other purposes than teaching and preaching God’s Word, then what you’re dealing with is likely a false prophet.
There are as many ways to discern whether a prophet is false as there are false prophets, but three of the easiest ways are listed below. If your preachers fail one or more of these “false prophet litmus tests”, it’s best to steer clear of them, even if you’ve grown to like or depend on them.
What is a prophet?
First of all, we need to understand what a “prophet” is. A prophet is not necessarily someone who tells the future. Certainly, being able to know events that will happen in the future might be part of being a prophet, but the primary job of a prophet is to speak God’s Truth. Sometimes God will reveal a future event through his prophets, but future-telling is not the main task of a prophet: speaking God’s Truth is. What is God’s Truth? We find it in scripture. We find it in Jesus. We find it in the Commandments, which NEVER CHANGE. The Commandments may be out of fashion in today’s world, but Truth never changes.
- BREAKS COMMANDMENTS
This is one of the three main ways to know whether or not you’re dealing with a false prophet. A prophet sent from God will never purposely break the Commandments or teach others to break them. This may seem very elementary, but you would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t be) at how many Christian preachers purposely break God’s Commandments and, by word or example, invite others to do so. The Commandment nearly every false prophet openly and consistently breaks is the one about honoring their mother and father.
If I had a dime for every preacher I heard trash-talking their parents during a sermon, I’d be rich (not that I want to be rich, but you get my drift). It’s like a secret code that false preachers flash to one another, or a contest to win bragging rights about who grew up with the most abusive or alcoholic father or emotionally cold mother. I have yet to come across a false prophet (again, someone who has not been sent by God) who hasn’t in some way publicly and persistently denigrated one or both of their parents.
The Commandments are non-negotiable. We can break them because we have free will, but bad consequences will follow our breaking them. Prophets sent from God will not purposely break any of the Commandments, and if they do (as we see a few do in scripture), they’re quick to repent and never do it again. So, if you’re listening to a preacher who habitually trash-talks his or her parents, that is a huge red flag that your preacher is likely not sent from God.
- DRAWS ATTENTION TO HIMSELF
A second way we can discern false prophets is that they draw attention to themselves and their church rather than to God and Jesus. They focus almost exclusively on THEIR ministry and THEIR work, not on Jesus’ ministry and Jesus’ work. In listening to their sermons, we learn more about them than we do about God and Jesus. Sure, it’s useful for preachers or teachers to use their own life experience as examples (usually, as in my case, of what NOT to do), but the focus should always be on God’s Word. If you walk away from a sermon or a blog and the main impression that’s left with you is of the preacher, not of the Word, then you’re likely dealing with a false prophet.
- ASKS FOR MONEY
A third way we can know if preachers or teachers are false prophets is that they ask for money in exchange for God’s Word. This is a biggy and basically wipes out the entire body of Christian ministers today. Sometimes the request for money is up front (as in passing the collection basket after a sermon), or sometimes it’s through a “DONATION” button on a website or through selling “Christian” books or CDs. There are lots of ways that false prophets ask for money, including accepting a salary, a speaking fee, an honorarium, or some other type of remuneration (that is, being a professional preacher).
No prophet sent from God will ever ask for money for preaching and teaching the Word. Let me say that again so that it sinks in and you understand the enormity of the false prophet problem we have in Christianity today: NO PROPHET SENT FROM GOD WILL EVER ASK FOR MONEY FOR PREACHING AND TEACHING THE WORD. Neither will they charge a fee for performing so-called sacraments (wedding, funerals, etc.) or saying prayers on someone’s behalf, including prayers of exorcisms. They might accept money that is given to them without being solicited, but they will never solicit money. If your preacher is getting paid to preach or in some way is soliciting money for preaching and teaching God’s Word, that preacher is not sent from God.
There are other ways to know whether or not someone is sent from God (a prophet) or not sent from God (a false prophet), but the three mentioned above are very easy tests to apply. That’s not to say that preachers don’t make mistakes and learn from them; scripture is full of prophets from God who made mistakes but then repented. Mistakes come from testing, and we all make mistakes (hopefully not on purpose). But we’re supposed to learn from our mistakes, not wallow in them and continue to make them even when we’ve been shown the right way forward. False prophets rarely repent, and if they do, it’s only because they got caught doing something they shouldn’t have and are scrambling to keep the money & fame train rolling.
It can be hard to decouple yourself from false prophets. They might have a spiritual hold over you, and you might even get defensive about them. I know someone who defends the Catholic Church by admitting that although she doesn’t believe in some of the things promoted by the Church, she sticks with Catholicism because it’s like an old friend who has some bad habits but is still your friend. This is rationalizing and excusing sin. A false prophet is not your friend. Sin is not to be rationalized or excused. If you choose a false prophet over God for whatever reason, then you’ve made your choice but it’s the wrong one, you’ll suffer for it, and some day you’ll regret making it.
Just a head’s-up warning. It’s part of my job to do that.
I hope that you use the discernment that God gives you as a born-again follower of Jesus to know whether or not the people you choose to learn God’s Word from are God’s prophets or false prophets.
And I hope that you teach others to do the same, because that’s part of YOUR job.