Do you need help to hear from God? Some thoughts on Bethel, Selling the Prophetic, and the Prophetic Industry

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Havilah Cunnington Prophetic Personalities Course Leader

Just this week, I came across two separate ministries that were promoting a teaching package that was designed to help Christians ‘hear from God’. One was being promoted by Bethel, and the other by an independent ministry that was formerly involved in the leadership of the Apostolic denomination. The former appeared on my news feed, and the latter was preaching at a Pentecostal church I was member of. Before I go any further, I just want to state clearly, for those who are unaware, that this is the current ‘thing’ in charismatic circles. The charismatic movement goes through different fads. It continually reinvents itself. It continually latches on to a ‘thing’ and then majors on this as the hallmark of spirituality. In the early 1900s it was tongues and Spirit Baptism; in the 30s and onwards it was healing evangelists (Faith Movement); in the 60s and 70s (charismatic movement) it was back to tongues and Spirit baptism; in the 80s it was back to healing (Wimber) – with some additional new manifestations; in the 90s it was Toronto – even more manifestations (gold fillings, gold dust, barking, roaring etc.); in the noughties it was getting doped and drunk in the Spirit (Crowder and Co); and in the twenty-tens it is prophecy (Bethel, Clan Gathering (RIP); Glasgow Prophetic Centre and Light and Life etc.) ‘Prophecy’ is the ‘new’ thing.

Before I go any further, let me just set the record straight. I believe that God leads, guides, and intervenes in all sorts of ways in the life of the believer. God is supernatural. I believe in the Holy Spirit. Prior to joining the Free Church of Scotland I was a member, and involved in local church ministry, in an Independent Charismatic Church in Beith – where I was part of the core leadership team, an AoG church in Elderslie – where I also helped to plant a second one in Largs, and the Apostolic church on Skye, again where I was part of the core leadership team. Regarding the latter, I was also employed in a ministry capacity with responsibilities for weekly preaching whilst the full-time pastor was on sick leave. Throughout that time, I would say, I always tried to keep a gospel and scriptural focus alongside the ministry of the Spirit. I don’t claim to always have succeeded, at times I was drawn in to various imbalances and errors. However, my focus was always the gospel of Christ, the Word of God and the transforming work of the Spirit – and as a Free Church Ministry Candidate involved in local church ministry, those three areas are still my priority. From what I can see, the reformed heritage is not a departure from Word and Spirit, the reformed heritage is steeped in Word and Spirit.

Back to prophecy. Sometime around 2007, there was a woman in our church who was frustrated because everyone else could hear from God except her. Desirous for this experience she found help in a prophetic para-church ministry instead of the local church. At that time, the advice myself and the pastor’s wife gave to her was – “don’t focus on ‘hearing from God’, focus on your relationship with Jesus through prayer, scripture, the life of the church, and personal godliness, and hearing from God will take care of itself.” My point is this, even in that Pentecostal setting I was wary of the emerging emphasis on ‘hearing from God that was creeping in to the churches.

From what I could see at the time, ‘prophesy’ was moving away from Spirit-led utterance, towards a humanly manufactured method. All of a sudden you could learn the technique of how to prophesy. Further, the concept of prophesy as forth-telling (The Greek word for prophesy means “the speaking forth of the mind and counsel of God”) became eclipsed by the concept of foretelling (predicting the future). Prophecy, within classic Pentecostalism was as much (actually more so) about declaring the character, ways and will of God (forth-telling) as it was about predicting future events. The next thing that happened is prophecy became more about the individual than the congregation. Prophesy became less about what God was saying to his church, and more about what the prophet had to say to individuals. This developed into prophesy being all about the individual destiny of an individual, rather than God and his redemptive purpose. Prophesy became self-centred and man-centred, rather than God-centred. And this is exactly the kind of prophesying that is happening in charismatic circles today. Basically, prophesy has become a form of fortune-telling, and teaching on prophesy is simply Christianised paganism – teaching people to discern some kind of inner spirit-voice through natural senses. Houston, we have a problem.

There is much more I could write about this, and God-willing in days to come I will. For now, just let me raise two key things. The first is about the Bethel promotion of paid workshops which teach people how to prophesy.

“Discover how God speaks to you” Only $49 or $99 if you sign up as a group. Surely, hearing the Word of the Lord is fundamental? Foundational Christianity. If so, why are Bethel selling it? Bethel seem to be saying a few things, 1) The God-breathed scriptures are not enough 2) You need to discover how God speaks to you as an individual 3) For the right amount of money, we will help you feel confident you are hearing from God.

Further, this is the height of irony. Claiming that everyone can hear from God directly, but charging people $49, so they can be taught how to hear from God can only be described as ole-fashioned snake-oil salesmanship.  There are two problems here. One is, it is contradictory, if God intends me to hear from him directly, why do I need someone else to guide me into hearing from God? That is not God directly speaking, that is you acting as a mediator. The one training is the medium that helps the person connect with God. Further, (aside from the fact that I think these methods are deceptive, in that the human imagination is being mistaken for the voice of God) it is immoral. Charging for the Word of the Lord? Charging to help people hear from God? This is exactly the kind of corruption that existed before the reformation. Further, according to the Church fathers, charging people to hear from God is the mark of a false prophet. Regarding prophets, the Didache states: “If he asks for money, he is a false prophet”.

So, just to be clear, I have introduced several problems – 1) Prophecy as a technique to be learned 2) Prophecy limited to fore-telling (and no longer forth-telling) 3) Prophesy all about individuals 4) Prophecy divorced from the congregational setting 5) People being charged money for prophecy or to learn to prophesy (both are happening today).

There is also an issue about what we mean by the ‘voice of God’ and ‘the Word of the Lord’. Watson in the introduction to his book ‘you can prophesy’ says,

What God has said in the past is recorded in the Bible. The voice of the Lord did not go silent after the Bible was written. His voice can still be heard today through the prophetic ministry.

Let me just say, in case you missed that, that is incredibly inaccurate, misleading and destructive. Any church which understands the Bible and prophecy in that way has a limited life-span as an orthodox Christian church. That church is on the road to becoming sub-Christian.

The Bible is not simply what God has said in the past – the Bible is what God has revealed for us today. The scriptures are God’s word for us today. In fact, with the coming of Jesus, ‘prophets’ now take a back seat – Jesus himself is the prophetic word to the world. Jesus is our prophet.

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, (Heb1:1-2)

The gospel of Jesus Christ is the cutting-edge, now Word of God for every person on the face of the planet. What is God saying to the world? He is saying, look to the Son. It’s all about Jesus. It is Jesus who will remove the barrier of sin between us and God. It is Jesus who enables us to be reconciled. It is Jesus who gives us free access into the Father’s presence.

Further, all of scripture is the Word of God. The Bible is not just some record of what God has said, it is what God is saying.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Tim 3:16-17)

This is my beef with the modern prophetic movement, it destroys the doctrine of scripture. It deconstructs the supernatural revelatory nature of the scriptures and gives us a form of prophecy that is about as supernatural as a fortune cookie. It replaces anointed prophetic preachers of the Word with pseudo-prophets who are about as anointed as Mystic Meg.

There is much more that needs to be unpacked, but let me just finish by returning to the question: Do you need help to hear from God? Yes, but the help comes from God. He has spoken in his Word and through his Son. All you need is Jesus. Any prophet who tells you that you need a course, or a book, is wrong. Everything you need is in the Word of God and the true church of God.

I testify to everyone who hears the words of prophecy in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Rev 22:18—20)