Before we finish with the subject of modern prophecy, I do plan to deal with the question of Spurgeon's opinion on private revelation. (This is one of only three or four issues on which I would dare to disagree at all with the Prince of Preachers, and it turns out to be a fairly minor disagreement.)
I'll also recount how Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield disagreed on the question of private messages from Godand how Cotton Mather's faith was nearly shaken when he believed God had guaranteed him specific answers to certain prayers, but then those answers never materialized. I also intend to comment on Henry Blackaby's paradigm for being "led" by the Spirit in Experiencing God. If interest in this subject is sustained long enough, I may also point out some examples of how subjective impressions "from God" are the basis for some of Bill Gothard's most questionable teachings.
But everything in its time.
Today I want to pick up on something I said yesterday: I remarked on how commonplace and how easy it is for modern prophets to reinterpret, twist, and radically reshape their own prophecies in their blind desperation to manufacture "fulfillments" for bogus forecasts.
Want a specific case in point?
One of the best-known and most notorious examples of this began in the late 1970s, when Oral Roberts claimed he saw an enormous vision of Jesus, 900 feet tall. Roberts said the colossal apparition ordered him to build a hospitala 60-story structure in south Tulsa. It was to be called "The City of Faith."
Roberts built the building, but no more than three floors of the skyscraper were ever used as a hospital. More than a decade after the original vision of the 900-foot Jesus, 80 percent of that immense building was still vacant and had never had any tenants.
The promised cure for cancer never materialized, either.
By January of 1987 the City of Faith was burdened with so much debt that Oral Roberts announced to the world that the Lord had visited him again. This time, he said the Lord told him that unless Oral raised eight million dollars to pay off the debt within two months, the televangelist would die. The great Oral Roberts Death Watch of 1987 became one of the biggest religious news stories of the year.
In the final hour before the deadline, a dog-track owner in Florida gave Oral Roberts a check for the money he needed. (I suppose at least part of the complex prophecy was therefore "fulfilled" when Oral Roberts survived.)
But to this day, Oral Roberts insists that all his predictions about "The City of Faith" were legitimate prophecies. Genuine messages from God. In 1989, Roberts explained to Charisma magazine that despite appearances, the City-of-Faith fiasco completely accomplished everything God really intended all along. Roberts said God had finally given him a new message that explained the whole thing:
God said in my spirit, "I had you build the City of Faith large enough to capture the imagination of the entire world . . . . I did not want this revelation localized in Tulsa, however. . . . "
As clearly in my spirit as I've ever heard Him, the Lord gave me an impression. "You and your partners have merged prayer and medicine for the entire world, for the church world and for all generations," He said. "It is done."
I then asked, "Is that why after eight years you're having us close the hospital and after 11 years the medical school?"
God said, "Yes, the mission has been accomplished in the same way that after the three years of public ministry My Son said on the cross, 'Father, it is finished.'" ["Oral Roberts: Victory Out of Defeat," Charisma (Dec. 1989), p. 88.]
So in the mind of Oral Roberts, his massive failed prophecy, which was played out across the front pages of the secular press, was no embarrassment at all. In Roberts's imagination, his white-elephant monument to modern false prophecy is comparable to the finished work of Christ.
If you can twist your interpretation of the divine plan after the fact like that, there is no reason ever to regard any prophecy as false.
I could give a long list of similarly famous failed prophecies. Benny Hinn made a whole string of them in 1989. As he looked forward to the nineties, Hinn claimed God had shown him several important events that would surely come to pass within the decade. Fidel Castro would die sometime in the 1990s, Hinn prophesied. He also said the homosexual community in America would be destroyed by fire before 1995. A major earthquake was supposed to cause havoc on the east coast before the year 2000.
None of those things happened, of course. But it has not stopped Hinn from making more fantastic prophecies. In 2000 he predicted that Jesus would appear visibly, in person, at one of Benny Hinn's own healing crusades. It hasn't happened yet, but thousands of Hinn's followers are convinced that it will. And the expectation has boosted attendance at all of Benny's meetings.
An almost invincible gullibility has infected the modern charismatic and evangelical movements, creating an environment in which virtually anyone can make any bizarre prophecy he wants. If it turns out to be wrong, people will either forget or reinterpret the prophecy. And if the prophet happens to get one prediction right or even partially right, people will eagerly publicize that one correct guess as irrefutable proof that the prophet is inspired by God.
That type of "prophecy" is in no sense a "gift" from God. It is superstitious charlatanism, no better than the palm-reader in the ramshackle house with neon lights who bilks people out of their life savings by pretending to see the future.
Note: I am not now making any argument about cessationism vs. the continuation of miraculous gifts.
Whether you are a cessationist or not, you ought to be able to see that fatuous predictions which never come true are false prophecies, not legitimate spiritual gifts. And false prophecies are irrefutable proof that the mouthpiece who utters them does not really speak for God. If the contemporary churchincluding both charismatic and cessationist believerscannot come to grips with that fundamental reality, then the only spiritual gift anyone ought to be seeking is the gift of discernment.
Frankly, we have an overabundance of professing prophets and tongues-speakers these days, and precious few men with real discernment.