10 June 2024

The self-anointed prophet.

This last weekend I heard someone talk about God’s “anointed prophets,” as if that’s actually a thing from the bible. In fact it’s not.

How God makes prophets is ridiculously simple: He starts talking to someone. Might be Samuel ben Elkanah.

1 Samuel 3.6-11 NLT
6Then the LORD called out again, “Samuel!”
Again Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”
“I didn’t call you, my son,” Eli said. “Go back to bed.”
7Samuel did not yet know the LORD because he had never had a message from the LORD before. 8So the LORD called a third time, and once more Samuel got up and went to Eli. “Here I am. Did you call me?”
Then Eli realized it was the LORD who was calling the boy. 9 So he said to Samuel, “Go and lie down again, and if someone calls again, say, ‘Speak, LORD, your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went back to bed.
10And the LORD came and called as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”
And Samuel replied, “Speak, your servant is listening.”
11Then the LORD said to Samuel, “I am about to do a shocking thing in Israel.”

Might be Jeremiah ben Hilkiah.

Jeremiah 1.4-10 NLT
4The LORD gave me this message:
5“I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb.
Before you were born I set you apart
and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.”
6“O Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I can’t speak for you! I’m too young!”
7 The LORD replied, “Don’t say, ‘I’m too young,’ for you must go wherever I send you and say whatever I tell you. 8And don’t be afraid of the people, for I will be with you and will protect you. I, the LORD, have spoken!” 9Then the LORD reached out and touched my mouth and said,
“Look, I have put my words in your mouth!
10Today I appoint you to stand up
against nations and kingdoms.
Some you must uproot and tear down,
destroy and overthrow.
Others you must build up
and plant.”

Might be Ezekiel ben Buzi.

Ezekiel 1.28 - 2.5 NLT
28All around him was a glowing halo, like a rainbow shining in the clouds on a rainy day. This is what the glory of the LORD looked like to me. When I saw it, I fell face down on the ground, and I heard someone’s voice speaking to me.
1“Stand up, son of man,” said the voice. “I want to speak with you.” 2The Spirit came into me as he spoke, and he set me on my feet. I listened carefully to his words. 3“Son of man,” he said, “I am sending you to the nation of Israel, a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me. They and their ancestors have been rebelling against me to this very day. 4They are a stubborn and hard-hearted people. But I am sending you to say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says!’ 5And whether they listen or refuse to listen—for remember, they are rebels—at least they will know they have had a prophet among them.”

But in none of these instances do we see God anoint his prophets. He commissions them to speak in his name, tells them what he wants people to hear, and off they go.

Now yeah, you’re gonna hear Christians, and prophets who want people to consider them authority figures, talk about how God’s prophets have “the anointing.” And they’re gonna try to define lots things as anointing. So let’s first get that definition right, shall we? Anointing is when you literally pour oil over someone’s head. Ancient Israelis did that to people to indicate God chose ’em to lead. Not prophesy; lead. Anyone can prophesy. Not everyone can lead.

You’re also gonna see Christians point to Elisha, ’cause the LORD instructed his prophet Elijah to anoint him—

1 Kings 19.16 NLT
“Then anoint Jehu grandson of Nimshi to be king of Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from the town of Abel-meholah to replace you as my prophet.”

—and claim, “There! Right there! There’s an anointed prophet!” But Elisha’s the only anointed prophet in bible. (Unless you count King David ben Jesse, who was indeed a prophet Ac 2.30 —he did hear from God! But David was anointed to be king, not prophet.) And here’s the thing about Elisha: Elijah, his predecessor, wasn’t only a prophet, but was also the leader of the בְנֵֽי־הַנְּבִיאִ֥ים/vnéi haneviím, the “sons of the prophets,” 2Ki 2.15 a prophecy guild. He anointed Elisha to lead that guild. Not to become a prophet—for Elisha was already a prophet.

Go ahead. Poke around the bible for the prophets’ first God-experiences. Some will be dramatic, like Ezekiel’s vision. Some won’t be. Christians like to point to when Isaiah saw the LORD in temple, with the seraphs and burning coal and “Holy holy holy!” and all that, Is 6.1-13 and claim the burning coal is Isaiah’s “anointing.” But that vision is in the sixth chapter of the book of Isaiah. There are five chapters before it! Five chapters of prophecies before it. And in none of them does Isaiah get anointed to become a prophet. He just starts prophesying. Because God talked to him, and he shared what he heard.

I’m not knocking profound experiences. They’re awesome. But God doesn’t need to start with them, and usually doesn’t. More often it’s like when he first talked to Samuel. Nobody gets “anointed.” Commissioned, yes. That’s all.

Anointing, like I said, is for leadership. God still picks leaders, and has us recognize his choices; and when we do that, typically we lay hands on them and pray for them, and somebody puts oil on ’em. Sometimes it’s a dab on their forehead; sometimes we dump a whole bottle or horn of it all over ’em, like the ancient Israelis did with their kings. But again, that’s leaders. Not prophets.

And if a leader prophesies—and they can; God can talk to them same as he talks to everyone—okay then we’re actually talking about an anointed prophet. But their anointing for leadership, and their ability as prophet, are actually two different things. Two separate things. The anointing doesn’t make ’em a greater prophet, and the prophecy doesn’t make ’em a better leader. And same as every prophet, we gotta confirm these prophecies, and not foolishly assume their anointing has made ’em an infallible prophet.

So when someone starts calling themselves one of God’s anointed prophets, what we’ve got here is someone who’s either honestly unaware of how God selects prophets… or is trying to pull a fast one, and claim leadership, or demand our obedience, solely because they claim they heard God. But if they’re not already in leadership, that’s an illegitimate claim. That’s like Samuel telling Eli, “I heard God, so you should make me co-head priest.” Or Jeremiah telling King Josiah ben Amon, “I hear God, so you should make me co-king.” It’s rubbish, and if these prophets seriously expect us to believe this and catapult them into leadership, beware.

Anyone can hear God. Immature Christians included.

For those churches who are into the fivefold ministry model, they certainly consider prophets to be leaders. After all, prophets can hear God and share what they heard… so maybe our churches oughta listen to what they have to say, right? And aren’t prophets equal to pastors under this model? Aren’t they listed second in Paul’s list of fivefold ministries? Ep 4.11-12 —and pastors fourth?

In my article on fivefold ministries, I’ve already stated I think this model is unbiblical. But if you really do think it’s valid, okay: I hold the office of teacher. Even if you hold that office too, pay attention, and if you can’t find any bible verses that prove me wrong, be quiet.

First of all, every Christian can hear God. That’s why he gave us his Holy Spirit; every Christian is meant to hear God, and prophesy. Ac 2.16-18 Some of us are better at hearing God than others; some of us have a gift, or knack, or whatever you wanna call it. It’s all part of that diversity in Christ’s body, y’know. But anyone can prophesy, and everyone should seek to. 1Co 14.1

This being the case, what happens when one of these odd prophets decides they’re now equal in authority to the head pastor of their church? To me, it sounds more like someone’s trying to stage a coup. To “usurp authority,” as it’s commonly called. 1Ti 2.12 Yeah, Christians tend to talk about usurpation when they’re trying to discourage women from church leadership, but the term rightly does apply to any prophet who imagines God empowers them to overrule their pastor.

And too often, what we see in any church with “anointed prophets,” is a power struggle between them and their pastors. It might be a subtle or passive-aggressive struggle. Or it might be blatant and vocal, and ripping the church apart. But it’s there: Pastors correctly recognize they’re anointed to lead the church, prophets incorrectly think they’re anointed to lead the church, and the people of the church now gotta decide which of them they’ll heed. And if the people don’t know squat about discernment, they’ll usually go with whichever people they like more. Not good character; not how much they jibe with bible; popularity.

Sometimes pastors cave: They can’t muster enough popularity, or decide this isn’t a battle worth fighting (and don’t realize there’s a rather important leadership principle at stake). Other times they do push back, and risk alienating anyone who’s been suckered into following the prophets instead of Pastor. Ostensibly because “Pastor won’t listen to God”—by which they really mean Pastor won’t listen to the prophets.

The division these “anointed prophets” generate, should tip us off we’re dealing with rotten fruit. Namely pride.

It’s a particularly deceptive sort of pride, because it’s disguised as humility. The self-anointed prophet claims they’re only doing what God told ’em to do. Who are they to second-guess, challenge, or counter God? And for that matter, who is anyone else to push back against God? Pastors included.

But too often, self-anointed prophets confuse their message with themselves. Pushing back “against God” is really pushing back against them. Touch not the Lord’s anointed! So they reject anyone’s resistance… and that ain’t humility. We don’t force our fellow Christians to behave or obey; that’s legalism. We don’t order people to respect us and our authority; proper Christian leaders submit. We don’t try to awe the people of our churches by pointing to our Spirit-empowered superpowers, then claim these powers are God’s endorsement: They are not. God’s spoken through donkeys before, y’know. Nu 2.28 Self-anointed prophets are just a different species of ass.

How do we resist power-hungry prophets?

The antidote to this type of immature prophet, is of course mature prophets, and lots of ’em. Hopefully your church has lots of spiritually mature people who are recognized as being able to hear God. Hopefully your pastor’s one of them!

Y’see, self-anointed prophets are usually trying to take advantage of what they see as a power vacuum. If there are no other prophets around, they try to become your church’s official prophet, and try to demand leadership prerogatives. After all, they don’t see anyone else around to challenge them.

Now usually there are plenty of other prophets around. God speaks to everyone! It’s just, in too many churches, the people who hear God don’t always step up and share what God tells ’em. It’s not that they lack ability; they lack the faith, or the nerve. They don’t wanna. So when ravenous wolves don’t see any sheepdogs protecting your sheep, they’re gonna try to eat your sheep.

If your church is plagued with people who won’t share what God tells ’em, you have much bigger problems than self-anointed prophets! But it’s a problem with a fairly easy fix: Bring in some ringers. Borrow some mature prophets from another church in your denomination. (If you’re not in a denomination, borrow prophets from a similar church.) Ask the visiting prophets to teach your people about prophecy—how it really works, and how everybody can do it. ’Cause everybody can.

When there are many prophets in a church—and these other prophets correctly don’t demand attention, authority, obedience, or otherwise act like a brat—there’s our defense against usurpatious prophets. If any self-anointed prophet tries to pull the “I speak for God, so you better heed me” stunt, mature prophets will be right there to remind this joker we’re all equal in God’s eyes, meant to be equal in the church’s eyes, and if you wanna be great in God’s kingdom, stop demanding respect and start serving others. Mt 20.26

Hopefully any self-anointed prophets will recognize the errors of their ways, and stop it. Of course, some are gonna flee, and look for other churches with no sheepdogs which they can easier plunder. If your church has plenty of prophets in it, try to be a resource for those other churches too.

And if you want a legitimate anointing—if you wanna get involved in church leadership—don’t try to bypass proper Christian maturity by pointing to any special abilities God may have given you. Work on growing good fruit. The only proper qualification for leadership is good character. Get that before you pursue any anointing.