Beloved, test the spirits!
In a recent exchange of comments Bill Gnade (Contratimes) and I (among others) have been discussing the whole matter of "testing" prophecy. Actually, Bill was commenting on a quote from the book Full Gospel, Fractured Minds:
Hundreds of times I've seen believers awed and impressed by the one who claims a 'word of knowledge.' Yet hundreds of times I've seen the same believers bored at the words of knowledge that were mined through arduous prayer and study.Bill and I agreed that in pentecostal/charismatic circles it's considered bad form to cast doubt on someone's "prophetic" vision or word of knowledge. Bill said,
It is indeed deemed "bad form." And yet when one points out St. Paul's brief exhortation to the Thessalonians, "Test everything," even if the thing being tested is a "word of knowledge," it is interesting to see the confusion that arises: How do we test a thing, and what does it mean to "test?"Well, I suspect Bill has his own ideas about this, but I thought I'd just mention a few things here, apropos this question.
First, the Thessalonians passage. It's quite relevant. Paul is wrapping up his letter to the Thessalonian church. He writes in summation,
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thes 5:16-22Amazing! Yes, we are not to despise prophecy. We are, to put it positively, to welcome it. But despising is not the problem I am addressing here. Please note: right along side these general instructions to rejoice and to pray, we are instructed to "test" prophecy. This is apparently a solemn responsibility. I would add that many have been led astray because the churches have simply not trained their people to test or discern.
For example, I recently heard about a woman who claimed that God had instructed her not to pay her taxes. This, I suppose, is an easy case. We know that Jesus said, "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's." [Matthew 22:21] And we know also that Paul said, "Let every person be subject to the governing authorities." [Romans 13:1] So I think we have good reason to seriously doubt that woman's claim to a "word of knowledge."
So the test is against Scripture. The test is NOT--and this bears frequent repetition--that the word or revelation was accompanied by a feeling of peace, "release," or anything else. The test is not our own hearts, which are infinitely deceptive. The test is, first and foremost, Scripture.
I recently quoted A. W. Tozer's list of 7 key questions for testing the spirits. That's a great resource in these matters, and great material for small-group discussion, in my opinion. I highly recommend the complete article, entitled How to Try the Spirits. And recently I've come across yet another take on this matter. A group called Presbyterian Reformed Ministries International urges us to found our discernment on 4 Biblical questions. These are:
1. Does it give Glory to Jesus Christ in the present and in the future? [John 14:26; John 16:13-14]Finally, there is the explicitly stated "test" of the apostle John, who wrote:
2. Is it consistent with the intentions and character of God as revealed in Scripture? [John 2:22; 2 Tim 3:14-17]
3. Do other people who are filled with the Holy Spirit have a confirming witness?[1 Cor 14:29]
4. Is there confirmation in objectively verifiable events or facts? [Deut 18:21-22; Isa 55:10-11]
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 1 John 4:1-3The devil is a deceiver. He roams about, seeking whom he may devour [1 Peter 5:8], but first he must lure them from the safety of the shepherd's flock. This is why discernment must be thoroughly taught and understood. Paul said that the ideal is that we grow up into maturity, so that we won't be "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." [Eph 4:14] Deceptive spirits are at work in this world, and they are able to mask themselves as children of light. [2 Cor 11:14] The enemy thrives on straying sheep, and indeed he knows our weaknesses better by far than we know them. Many false prophets there are, and they've led many astray. I have seen it happen. It is a frightful thing. "Beloved, test the spirits."