How can a Christian discern a true prophet?

Elijah in the wilderness


For quite a few years, I have denounced a variety of false and self-appointed prophets at the website and have long had an article titled Why Be Concerned About False and Heretical Leaders?.  From time to time, I also get emails from people who believe that they are some type of prophet or one of the two witnesses or have some special prophetic message.

In August 2012, after listening to an old radio broadcast from the late Herbert W. Armstrong, I also ran across an article written by L. Leroy Neff on how Christians can discern a true prophet.  Partially because of that, I put together an article titled How To Determine If Someone is a True Prophet of God.

While that article contains a lot of scriptures, for today’s post, I would mainly like to include the positions of the late Herbert W. Armstrong, as well as L. Leroy Neff and William Ellis, and include an ending statement from me.

In a radio broadcast, with a title listed as Proof of a True Prophet, the late Herbert W. Armstrong taught the following:

True prophet…Watch and see if it {what he says} comes to pass–and you can know that man has been called {by God to be a prophet. (Armstrong HW. Proof of a True Prophet. World Tomorrow Radio program. HA535B.MP3)

Events confirming what the prophet said by one called of God is part of the proof. And that is consistent with Deuteronomy 18. Before going further, perhaps the following should be included as there has been some confusion regarding HWA and being a prophet.  Here is some of what Herbert W. Armstrong wrote about that:

I have definitely NOT been called to be a PROPHET…Emphatically I am NOT a prophet, in the sense of one to whom God speaks specially and directly, revealing personally a future event to happen or new truth, or new and special instruction direct from God — separate from, and apart from what is contained in the Bible.  And I never have claimed to be. (Armstrong H. Personal from the Editor, The 19 Year Time Cycles. The Good News of Tomorrow’s World. February, 1972, p. 1)

And I agree with Herbert W. Armstrong that he was not a prophet (though he had a lot of prophetic understanding in some areas).

It also needs to be understood that prophets do not have to perform public miracles to be genuine. John the Baptist was a prophet according to Jesus (Matthew 11:7-10), but he is not recorded as performing any public miracles. Actually, the Bible records, “John did no miracle” (John 10:41, KJV). Jesus told the Pharisees that an adulterous generation sought signs, beyond prophetic accuracy (Matthew 12:38-40).

Christians are to walk by faith and not be sight (2 Corinthians 5:7), and SEEING miracles is not the final criteria that a Christian is supposed to have. Jesus’ clear requirements for determining a true vs. false prophet was the FRUITS not some sign or miracle (Matthew 7:15-20; 24:24).

Back in 1986, then WCG evangelist L. Leroy Neff wrote a lot about how to identify a true prophet as well as what is not required:

What are the credentials?

Some people would look to a prophet’s or minister’s credentials. He would be accepted if he were educated at a recognized theological institution. Others would look for a minister’s popularity, his charisma, his personality or his speaking ability.

But the Scriptures show that God’s servants have sometimes not had these qualities or credentials. They were not graduates of the recognized theological institutions of their day. Moses had trouble speaking in public (Exodus 4: 10). Jeremiah was “too young” (Jeremiah 1 :6). Paul lacked certain speech abilities (I Corinthians 2: 1, II Corinthians 10:10). Even Jesus Himself had no outstanding personal characteristics that set Him apart from others, as the religious leaders had to pay Judas to point Him (Matthew 26:47-49).

Some would expect to find a true minister or prophet in a large and beautiful church building. Yet, during the history of the early Church, there is no mention of church buildings. Instead we read that the Church was not a building at all, but the people who were called out of this world to become the Church. The people (the Church) met in various buildings, sometimes in Church members’ homes (Romans 16:5, I Corinthians 16:19, Philemon 2). Paul preached for two years while under house arrest in rented facilities. He probably had both living quarters and a meeting hall of some kind (Acts 28:30-31).

Jesus said His followers would not be many in number, but would be comparatively few: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). (Neff LL. Imposter–or–True Prophet — Which? Good News, December 1986, pp. 10-11)

A true prophet would not need to be from a major theological institution, have the most magnanimous personality, or have a large or impressive Church, but would be the type willing to meet in members’ homes.  He also does not have to have had a ministerial background. God chooses who His prophets are. Notice something from the Old Testament:

14 Then Amos answered, and said to Amaziah: “I was no prophet, Nor was I a son of a prophet, But I was a sheepbreeder And a tender of sycamore fruit. 15 Then the Lord took me as I followed the flock, And the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to My people Israel.’ (Amos 7:14-15)

So, a prophet also does not need to come from a ministerial family, but instead can be called if he has a secular work background.

Leroy Neff wrote not to disqualify a prophet if some predictions take a long time to happen:

Then there is the prophet or minister who says something will come to pass and it apparently does not. Such a one would certainly be labeled false by most observers. This is one reason, but not the only reason, why almost all of God’s prophets throughout history have been labeled by many as false!

Consider such men as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. They sometimes prophesied for many years, and yet what they said would happen did not come to pass immediately. Why didn’t these prophecies come to pass?

The answer was that it was not yet God’s time for their predictions to come to pass. At the proper time, sometimes years or decades later, the prophecies were fulfilled. And in some cases, what they prophesied has not yet come to pass even in our day, but will be fulfilled in God’s time. There is a time, after ample warning, when God will finally say, “None of My words will be postponed any more” (Ezekiel 12:28).

There are other examples where God’s true servants expected certain events to occur in their lifetimes. During his earlier ministry, the apostle Paul apparently expected Christ to return during his life (I Thessalonians 4:17, I Corinthians 15:51). Later, he realized that it would not occur until later (II Timothy 4:6-8) . Paul was criticized and labeled “false” by accusers, but the members of God’s Church knew he was a true servant of God. (Ibid, p. 11)

It also should be noted that while the Apostle Paul considered himself to be a prophet, not all of his speculative predictions were accurate. He once claimed:

10 I perceive that this voyage will end with disaster and much loss, not only of the cargo and ship, but also our lives (Acts 27:10).

And while his speculation was mostly accurate in that situation, it was not completely accurate, as there was no loss of lives. His position became completely accurate when he claimed to speak as God led him as opposed to his perceptions:

21 Men, you should have listened to me, and not have sailed from Crete and incurred this disaster and loss. 22 And now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For there stood by me this night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve, 24 saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must be brought before Caesar; and indeed God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me. (Acts 27:21-26)

So, delays and speculations do not make one a false prophet.

Getting back to Leroy Neff, he continued by asking and providing insight into an interesting question:

Would Christians reject Christ?

If Jesus Christ were to come again in our day, live the same way and teach the same message He did almost 2,000 years ago, many of His “followers” of today would reject Him as false.

Why? Because He would not live the same kind of life they live. He would not observe the same religious days they observe. He would · not eat many of the foods they eat. His teachings about and from the Old Testament would be considered Jewish and unchristian by some who reject that part of Holy Scripture. He would not fit the mold of what many consider to be a true Christian.

In short, they would reject Him as a heretic and the leader of a new sect, just as some labeled his servant Paul “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5) . Undoubtedly some would call His religion a cult, as some label His true religion today. (Ibid, pp. 11-12)

Truly, most people will not listen to a true prophet of God in this age. And, even when God grants power to His two witnesses, most in the world will not only not listen to them, they will be deceived enough to support an army that will fight against the returning Jesus Christ (Revelation 16:13-14; 19:11-19)!

How would one recognize a true prophet? Leroy Neff continued with:

So far we have mostly seen how not to recognize a true prophet. How, then, can you tell a true prophet from a false one? That is the important question we must now answer from the Scriptures, and not from human reason

Paul warned the Corinthians: “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted, you may well put up with it” (II Corinthians 11:3-4).

The New International Version translates the last phrase, “You put up with it easily enough.”

We read elsewhere that. Jesus Christ is God. This passage should make it plain that a minister or prophet can preach Christ, but it can be a different Christ – a different God than the one of the Bible.

How can this be? If the message is different from that of the Jesus Christ of Scripture, and different from that of the original apostles, then the minister or prophet is preaching how to “go after other gods which you have not known.” It is therefore vitally necessary that we prove which ministers preach Christ’s same Gospel and which preach a different gospel and a different message.

Isaiah makes it clear

“To the law and to the testimony!” proclaims Isaiah 8:20. “If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.”

This expands on what we saw previously. If a prophet or minister does not speak according to God’s Word, according to His law and His testimony, there is no light in him, or, in other words, no truth in him. His message is false. Many claiming to represent God try to “do away” with God’s laws and commandments. They only accept a part of God’s Word and reject the rest…

A true prophet or servant of God will speak according to God’s law. He will speak according to God’s commandments. His way of life will be that of a commandment keeper, not a commandment breaker. He will not just be preaching a gospel about Christ, but he will be preaching the same Gospel that Christ and the original apostles preached – the good news of the coming Kingdom of God on earth.

That is the way to determine who are impostors and who are God’s true prophets, ministers and teachers. (Ibid, p. 12)

A true prophet is one called of God, teaches the same gospel that Jesus taught, has had hands laid upon him (cf. 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6; Hebrews 6:2), keeps the commandments of God, AND has predictions that come to pass. Jesus (Mark 1:14) and Paul (Acts 28:30-31) taught the gospel of the kingdom of God (see also The Gospel of the Kingdom of God was the Emphasis of Jesus and the Early Church and What is the Gospel?). Even if one appears to be “an angel from heaven,” unless the true gospel is being taught, Paul says such a one should be “accursed” (Galatians 1:9).

Notice one other trait of a true New Testament prophet from the 1965 Good News magazine:

Whenever a man is ordained to an office of greater service in God’s Work hands are laid on him. In the ordination ceremony God’s ministers lay their hands on those being ordained, and ask Almighty God-the Head of this Church-to continue to work in their lives…

The laying on of hands serves the purpose of setting apart anyone or anything in God’s sight, for a SPECIAL USE OR PURPOSE…

God gives special gifts-special powers of His Spirit-to those who are set apart by the laying on of hands. Remember that it was by the laying on of hands that Timothy received the added ability, called “prophecy” by the King James translators…

This proof-in-action of your willingness to submit to God’s human representative-God’s minister -for anointing and the laying on of hands is “acting out” your willingness to accept the spiritual Government of Almighty God Himself over your physical life (Ellis, William H. Why We Have the Laying on of Hands Ceremony. Good News. April-May 1965, pp. 11, 14,15)

A true prophet is under God’s authority. A true New Testament prophet has had hands laid upon him/her and/or received special anointing. You can not anoint yourself or come up with doctrine that contradicts the Bible (cf. Revelation 22:18-19) like at least three self-declared supposed COG “prophets” (Gerald Flurry, William Dankenbring, and Ronald Weinland) and false predictors (like Harold Camping) have falsely done)–“Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

Thus far, none who have ever contacted me and claimed to have been a prophet of some type have had hands laid upon them to give them the type of anointing that a true prophet of God would likely have had in this church age–if God was selecting them. Hence, if the anointing from a true minister has not happened to you, understand that I do not now accept that you are a prophet or one of the two witnesses.  Laying hands upon yourself is not enough.

In my case, in November/December 2011, I prayed that if I truly had a prophetic role from God that He would have something happen during a planned mid-December 2011 trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to confirm it or deny it if that were His will. As it turned out, on 12/15/2011 hands were laid upon me in Charlotte. The minister who did so prayed that I would be granted a “double-portion” of God’s Holy Spirit. The minister told me that he had not ever done this before but he felt that it was reminiscent of the time that the prophetic and ecclesiastical leadership mantle passed from the Prophet Elijah to Elisha (2 Kings 2:9-13). This minister had been unaware that I had prayed that God would have me anointed or somehow identified for a prophetic role on that mid-December 2011 trip if that were His plan for me and I had never discussed my possible prophetic role with him prior to this anointing. This 12/15/11 anointing appears to be the first biblically-appropriate prophetic anointing in the Church of God in many decades, if not many multiple centuries. And the legitimacy of this anointing has been proven by subsequent events–though many do not seem to understand how God works at times. And yes, I will add that I believe that I do have the appropriate prophetic fruits that Jesus discussed (Matthew 7:15-20) and that those truly interested in the truth can see this if they truly wish to prayfully look into this.

The article How To Determine If Someone is a True Prophet of God provides additional information for those wanting to see more scriptures from the Bible about prophets in the New Testament.  Sadly today, many seem to wish to believe more in unbiblical traditions and opinions of men than what the Bible actually teaches on the subject of New Testament prophets.  What about you?  Will you believe or will you somehow allow yourself or others to talk you out of it (cf. Matthew 13:22)?

Would you follow the lead of one that did meet all of the biblical prophetic requirements as he tried to follow Christ? If you heard about one, what would you really do? If you believe in biblical church governance and do not accept any self-appointed “apostles,” should you not consider the Continuing Church of God as its top human leader has meets the prophetic criteria?

The title of the sermon I gave last Sabbath was How to determine if someone is a true prophet of God and it is now available at the ContinuingCOG YouTube channel.  Some may also find it of interest.

Some articles of possibly related interest may include:

How To Determine If Someone is a True Prophet of God There are many false prophets. How can Christians determine who is a true prophet? This article contains a scripture-based checklist to assist with this determination.
How to determine if someone is a true prophet of God This is a sermon on YouTube addressing a subject that most in the Church of God do not seem to have looked into very much.  It discusses scriptures and dispels some improper assertions that some associated with the COG have made about prophets in this time.
Elijah: Past and Prophesied Information about the original Elijah and some information about the Elijah-related prophecies.
The Elijah Heresies Does the Bible teach that there will be a future Elijah? Must it be Herbert W. Armstrong?
Why Be Concerned About False and Heretical Leaders? There have been many false leaders–here is some of why you should be concerned about them.
Who Are The Two Witnesses? What is their job? What does the Bible reveal? What has the Church of God taught on this subject? Might even Roman Catholic prophecies give some clues here?

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