The Convenience of Dated Prophecy

This week I’ve been listening to a recording of a radio broadcast featuring a group of “watchmen on the wall”, individuals who see themselves as being God-appointed mouthpieces with the job of warning the church of dangers ahead – usually dangers from false teaching or false prophecy.

The recording started with stirring music reminiscent of a Hollywood blockbuster soundtrack – from one of those disaster movies where someone like Bruce Willis saves the world. The musical introduction was followed by the host introducing his guests and spelling out the reason for them meeting.

Throughout this intro I felt my innards start to contract, a feeling of discomfort that is often my reaction to twaddle spoken in the name of God. And what he was saying WAS spoken in God’s name – we were told how God did this and God said that. How the Holy Spirit showed him this and how the Spirit led them to do that…

Surely casually attributing things to God in this way is perilously close to taking the Lord’s name in vain, a contravention of the third commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.” Or maybe it’s more than “close” and has in fact overstepped the mark…

Then we move onto the guests – each of whom predictably spells out their expectations of doom and gloom for America. But less predictably (can I claim that as an unintended pun?) was the specific nature of their warnings. They made it clear it would all happen THIS year, probably around August

In the past year or so I’ve seen an increased number of DATED prophecies being broadcast. Most would be aware of Harold Camping’s failed return of Christ prediction pointing to May last year that even made the secular news. Then there was a prediction of another (and more) devastating earthquake in Christchurch NZ (God’s metaphorical shaking of Christ’s Church according to some). I seem to recall that was due in July last year (still waiting!).

Another was Andrew Strom’s flexible prediction of financial collapse pencilled in before the end of 2011. Flexible because the confirmation of that collapse has been pushed back to later in 2012 when the financial experts have had time to consider the data and acknowledge it did happen just as Strom predicted.

So much for an event that was supposed to match (or was  it exceed) the Great Depression of the early 20th century! I don’t seem to remember the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah requiring confirmation from a committee of town planners, so why need expert confirmation (a year later) in this case?

While I wonder about the apparent increase in DATED prophecy in recent times, I recognise how convenient it is to have that fixed date – so much easier to quickly prove their falsehood. No vague “sometime in the future” to deal with. Already three out of the four predictions I mentioned have been shown as false, so we should be able to move on, the people responsible can admit their error, apologise to those they led astray and repentantly move forward.

But no!

 I touched on Andrew Strom’s reaction above. He’s still waiting for the financial experts to confirm his prediction was valid.

 I don’t recall Camping’s response after his May 2011 prediction failed, but I do remember the aftermath of the Christchurch prediction. Thankfully SOME who were involved did the required soul searching, apologised, learned from their mistake and moved on. Others did not – adopting the view that their prayers helped change God’s mind and they helped to save the city from further destruction. They maintain that the prophecy was valid.

The remaining predictions of the destruction of America have until the end of the year (at most) or until August (at least) to be fulfilled. Will these “watchmen” join the growing list of recent, unrepentant false prophets? Time will tell – and not much time will be required at that!

But what can WE learn from all of this? That we should reject all prophetic claims? I hope not. Instead we should learn to take a biblical approach to prophecy, an approach given by Paul in 1 Thessalonians:

“Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good”


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