Much of the Christian media was abuzz this past weekend with news of a popular movement for Christian prophetic reform. Christian conservative pundit David French discussed the movement in his weekend newsletter here.  Ruth Graham, the evangelical correspondent at the New York Times, released a series of tweets about the reform movement. Religion Unplugged posted their own press release here.

A broad spectrum of leading evangelical celebrities has promoted this Christian reform movement and petition. It is a response to the lingering and humiliating effects which the Trump years inflicted upon vast swaths the America’s Christian landscape. Many popular and influential Christian ministers and “prophets” raced to submit their loyalty and devotion to the bombastic American President. They all too eagerly offered their obeisance to President Trump despite his cascade of moral failings and provocative anti-Biblical policies.

Far from being embarrassed by the political leader, these prophets hitched their bandwagons to his power and promises for conservative policies. Beneath the covering of the spiritual entourage and endorsements provided by evangelical celebrities, the President slid safely through scandals with porn stars, impeachment votes, humanitarian crises, repeat episodes of incompetence, and even a siege on the nation’s capital. Through it all, President Trump maintained his highest approval ratings among American evangelicals.

false prophets
Helena, Montana – Nov 7, 2020: Woman wearing red Make America Great Again hat praying at Stop the Steal rally in support of Donald Trump, perceives that the election was stolen by Joe Biden.

Proclaiming God told them that President Trump would undoubtedly win a second term, many so-called prophets capitalized on tension within the 2020 elections. Somehow, thanks to the spiritual endorsement of these godly men and women, President Trump became “God’s man” within leading Christian circles.  Several went so far as to anoint President Trump’s cry of a “rigged election” as a Word from God and added that ultimately God and President Trump would triumph over the forces of darkness aligned against him.

Washington, DC / USA – October 25, 2020: Christian singer Sean Feucht hosts a “Worship Protest” on the National Mall during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Today, in our fifth month of the post-Trump era, as the former President plays golf, these career ministers are left with the embarrassing exposure of their false prophetic decrees, not to mention extremely disoriented followers. Many Christians have noted that prophets who incorrectly explained that God told them Trump would be reelected also failed to hear anything from God about a global pandemic. Those who dared speak of the pandemic said it would end quickly. The nature of the prophetic and the speaking of God has not surprisingly been overcast in the shade of doubt in the aftermath of this scandalous era.

Enter the recent popular call for reform of the prophetic standards in America. The main focus is for greater accountability among those who call themselves prophets. Error needs to be identified and addressed, even, and perhaps especially, when it is committed under the banner of the prophetic word of God.

As a believer, these stories are of particular interest to me, especially when they gain notoriety within popular culture. It does not take a prophet to recognize the Christian church is plagued with corruption today. The loyalty and sycophancy to President Trump was a symptom of more significant problems – not the problem itself. While reform among these churches and ministries is needed, that is a far more difficult thing to achieve than a petition, and a press release can accomplish.

After reading the statement of beliefs presented by this reform movement, I do not see a lot I disagree with. The concepts are not the problem. Implementation is the problem. The reform movement has called for greater accountability and prophetic standards that wider groups should judge, not simply validated by the rate of clicks on websites or retweets on social media. That is all fine and good, but who will make that judgment? The frustrating barrage of false prophetic voices featured prominently on social media and popular Christian media outlets did not arise out of a vacuum.  A corrupt religious system empowered them and gave volume to their pandering, nationalism, and anti-Christ messages and behavior.

Who Are the False Prophets?

Interestingly, measuring the validity of a prophetic Word by its ability to come to pass is not the defining Biblical standard for true or false prophets. The prophet Isaiah spoke volumes of prophetic counsel in his lifetime, and most of those words remained unfulfilled until generations after his death. Some of Isaiah’s words are still waiting to be fulfilled, yet Christians know he was obviously a true prophet. If a council were to have judged Isaiah’s prophetic words in his lifetime by which words came to pass and which words did not come to pass, Isaiah would have failed the standard.

Conversely, the prophet Balaam (Numbers 22-24) prophesied only accurate truths regarding Israel, and yet he is remembered throughout the Old and New Testament as a false prophet. Balaam saw the correct future and proclaimed it, but that false prophet governed his life by a value system centered around money and personal enrichment.

In the life of Jeremiah, the powerful prophet was confronted by the false prophet Hananiah (Jeremiah 28). Jeremiah presented an unpopular gloomy message regarding what God was about to do to His people and the nation. Hananiah cursed Jeremiah and asserted himself with a more popular nationalistic message promising that God would make Judah great again. One of these prophets spoke the truth and suffered for it. The other prophet spoke what was popular and what tickled the people’s ears, and he was celebrated for it. One was a true prophet, and the other was a false prophet.

The measure of a true or false prophet, from a Biblical standard, was never about their ability to foresee the future correctly. That was a measure of their gift, and both true and false prophets have gifts. The nature of the prophet was defined by their value system and their commitment to God above any loyalty to this world.

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Washington, DC – January 6, 2021: Pro-Trump protester with Christian Cross seen during rally around at Capitol building

The current calls for reform within the church and the prophetic movements are emphatically necessary, but the measures of those reforms are woefully inadequate. The fact that many false prophets proclaimed, on the authority of God’s word, that Donald Trump would win reelection is not a sufficient standard for exposing these men and women as the false prophets that they are. The more significant error of these false prophets is their hearts that betrayed faithfulness to God in the name of nationalism, patriotism, popularity, and financial gain. Their fraudulent prophetic decrees were the fruits of corrupt hearts, lives, and values that have operated far too long in the lawlessness of American churches and the broader system of Christianity. That systemic corruption extends far beyond Donald Trump and politics. These hearts and values were celebrated in American Christianity by more than the prophets.

Forest, Virginia / USA – August 21, 2020: A homeowner displaying his political affiliation and religious devotion on his front lawn in Forest, Virginia.

The silly and frivolous so-called prophetic words that predicted the reelection of Donald Trump in 2020 are easy targets for those who see the speck in their brother’s eye but miss the plank in their own eye. In 1 Peter 4:17, we are told the judgment of God starts in the house of God. A religious system that has embraced nationalism, patriotism, individualism, and various strains of an anti-Christ spirit is right to shudder in shame in the aftermath of the 2020 elections. Shame and embarrassment regarding false prophets are only the beginning of problems the American church must confront.

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JB Shreve is the author of "How the World Ends: Understanding the Growing Chaos." He has been the host of the End of History podcast since 2012 where he helps believers understand how the world works and how our faith fits. He has degrees in International Relations and Middle East Studies. His other books include the Intelligence Brief Series. Regular posts and updates from JB Shreve are available at www.theendofhistory.net