By Eddie L. Hyatt
Prophetic ministry has great potential for blessing and building up the people of God. But when abused and misused, it has the same potential to trouble and destroy. In order to derive the greatest benefit from prophetic ministry, we need both the guidelines of Scripture and the lessons of history to point the way.
Warning Sign 1:
When prophecy is used to enhance the status of a movement and its leaders.
1517-1537 was a very exciting time for many Christians in Europe. A great spiritual reformation was under way, and many believed that God was restoring the church to its original purity and power. Many believed that out of this restoration would come a great revival and harvest that would usher in the coming of the Lord and the end of the age.
In the midst of this end-time, revival atmosphere, individuals began to arise proclaiming themselves to be special end-time apostles and prophets endowed by God with miraculous power to usher in His kingdom upon the earth.
One of the most prominent of these “apostles” was Melchoir Hoffman, a powerful preacher and teacher who gained a large following. His status was further enhanced when a prophetess saw in a vision a white swan swimming in a beautiful river. It was revealed to her that the swan was Hoffman and that he represented the fulfillment of God’s promise in Malachi 4:5 to send Elijah before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
Warning Sign 2:
When prophecy becomes the means for determining the will of God.
Another individual prophesied that Hoffman would be imprisoned for six months in the city of Strassburg and, after that, his ministry would spread over the whole world. Based on the prophecy, Hoffman moved to Strassburg where he began to preach and teach throughout that city.
The first part of the prophecy was fulfilled when the Strassburg authorities arrested Hoffman and had him imprisoned. Obe Philips, who participated in this movement and its tragic ending, says that “he went willingly, cheerfully, and well comforted to prison,” convinced that the latter part of the prophecy would now soon come to pass.
While in prison, Hoffman wrote many letters which Philips says came every day describing “how his actions, his visions and revelations affected him.” One individual prophesied that at the end of his six month imprisonment, Hoffman would depart Strassburg with 144,000 true apostles endowed with such miraculous power that no one would be able to resist them.
Elated with such prophetic predictions, Hoffman declared that he would take no food other than bread and water until the time of his deliverance. Six months passed, however, and he was not released. More time elapsed and he found it necessary to break his fast. He eventually died in prison, a very disillusioned man. Philips says, “Everything that he so boldly professed from the prophets and prophetesses, he, in the end, found it all falsehood and deception” (Philips, 221).
Warning Sign 3:
When prophecy is preoccupied with images, numbers and symbols.
Prophetic dreams and visions flourished in this movement. These dreams and visions predicted many remarkable things related to the establishing of God’s kingdom and the destruction of the wicked. Much of this information was given in symbolic form which had to be interpreted by those who were “spiritual.” Philips says:
One came dragging a wagon without wheels, another wagon had three wheels, one wagon had no shaft, some no horses, some no recognizable driver, some had but one leg, some were lepers and beggars, some wore a tunic or a cloak with a lappet of fur. All this they could interpret for the brethren in a spiritual sense (Philips, 211-212).
These prophecies, dreams and visions predicted remarkable successes for the people of God, including a super-empowerment of the Spirit by which they would be enabled to overcome the wicked and establish the kingdom of God in the earth. In his very moving account of these matters, Philips says:
Now when these teachings and consolation with all the fantasies, dreams, revelations and visions daily occurred among the brethren, there was no little joy and expectation among us, hoping all would be true and fulfilled, for we were all unsuspecting, innocent, simple, without guile or cunning, and were not aware of any false visions, prophets, and revelations. (Philips, 213).
Warning Sign 4:
When those prophesying are not open to testing and/or correction.
During this time, two new apostles arrived in Philips’ hometown of Leeuwarden. They declared that they had been commissioned to the apostolic office with such signs, miracles, and workings of the Spirit that words failed them to describe it. They also declared that, “In a short time God would rid the earth of all shedders of blood and all tyrants and the godless” (Philips, 216).
Philips says that they frightened the people so that no one dared speak against them for fear they would be speaking against the commission and ordination of God. “For we were all guileless children and had no idea that our own brethren would [unwittingly] betray us” (Philips, 216).
Warning Sign 5:
When prophecy becomes a replacement for the Scriptures and common sense.
The tragic end of this prophetic movement came when, based on dreams, visions and prophecies, a number of these visionaries went to the Catholic city of Munster, and took it by force. Based on prophecies, they renamed it the “New Jerusalem.” The Catholics, however, quickly regrouped and regained control of the city. They wasted no time in inflicting a terrible slaughter on those apostles, prophets and their followers who believed they were setting up the kingdom of God on the earth.
This 16th Century prophetic movement highlights the need to “test the spirits” (1 Jn. 4:1) and to judge prophetic utterances (1 Cor. 14:29-33; 1 Thes. 5:19-22) according to the Scriptures. For the most part, these were sincere, seeking people who suffered much pain, grief and even death because they neglected this Biblical admonition. May we learn from their example and not repeat their mistakes.###
Dr. Eddie L. Hyatt is a seasoned minister of the Gospel, having served as a pastor, teacher, missionary, and professor of theology in the U.S. and Canada and having ministered in India, Indonesia, England, Ireland, Sweden, Poland, and Bulgaria. His ministry is characterized by a unique blend of the anointing of the Holy Spirit with academic excellence and over 40 years of ministerial experience. For more information, visit his website: www.eddiehyatt.com
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