I’m starting to have this interest in prophets. It began a couple of months ago when a friend of mine and I were talking, and she referenced some Christian speaker who was coming to town, and she referred to him as, “A self-proclaimed prophet,” and she said that with a very heavy emphasis of negativity and disgust, and she seemed to be attempting to wholly mock the fact that he could possibly be a prophet, or that such a thing could exist anymore, as if with the closing of the biblical canon came also the end of prophets (which, in actuality, would be synonymous with saying God no longer speaks through people today).
I had heard how this guy was coming to Nashville to speak, and I was rather indifferent to it. I’d been told he was a really good speaker, and I had also heard through the grapevine that he does a few things here and there with the prophetic. But I had yet to encounter a disdain like the one inherent in my friend’s tone of voice, and what struck me the most was how the main target of her ire was the “self-proclaimed” part. The reason this grabbed my attention more than the speaker’s not-so-modern-day concept of being a modern-day prophet was because of what popped into my head as soon as my friend attacked this guy’s label, and it was, “But aren’t all prophets self-proclaimed to the people around them?”
It’s as if my friend would be all about Isaiah and Jeremiah because obviously they’re not self-proclaimed prophets; they’re direct from God, but this guy coming to Nashville? Most clearly full of himself—that’s what he is. But there’s a cultural context here she didn’t seem to be bringing into play, and that is how every single prophet is self-proclaimed and has been since the beginning of time.
Sure, in Scripture we have the benefit of being a third-party in on Isaiah’s or Jeremiah’s encounter with the Lord, and we have the historical advantage of seeing how the things they prophesied did come about, but none of their contemporaries could have had the same insight we do. Actually, prophets were often regarded as the crazy type and were not very popular with the populace. Unless somebody was standing right next to Isaiah or Jeremiah when the Lord spoke to them, everybody else would do the same thing my friend did: hear about Jeremiah coming to town, roll her eyes, and label him as “self-proclaimed.” That is, unless things they were prophesying about were coming true. Then her attention might be hooked.
And this is when patience comes into play. I don’t know if this guy who came to Nashville is a prophet. I’ll admit my involuntary cultural subscription to modernity makes me skeptical from the outset. But I like what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians: “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt.” If prophecy and prophets can still exist today, that would be the work of the Spirit, so to instantly write off anyone who may legitimately be a prophet would subsequently be writing off the Spirit. Paul’s not an idiot, though; he follows up that verse with, “Test everything.” Paul’s not saying you have to embrace some sort of blind acceptance when it comes to people who claim to be prophets, so if a prophet’s bread and butter turns out to be full of falsity, then yes, he would be self-proclaimed, and then you can ignore him all you want. But if what he’s saying keeps coming true . . .
So just wait a while. If the guy who came to Nashville is self-proclaimed, he’s self-proclaimed. Big deal. You don’t need to attack him. Relax for just a moment. If it appears to be legitimate, though (i.e., God’s using him as a mouthpiece), then by all means support that ministry. Don’t heap contempt upon the work God is doing.
For some reason this topic of prophets seems linked very much to the South for me. Perhaps because there’s an odd mix of people down here who would readily believe in the legitimacy of prophecy, while there’s a significant group who would not. Could make for some exceptional conflict. I can see this growing into a story before too long, one with which I could have a bit of fun writing (I claim dibs).