About Those Prophecies of Trump’s Re-election

Posted by R. Fowler White

During the recent election cycle, many continuationists (who believe, among other things, that the NT gift of prophecy continues today) reportedly predicted former President Trump’s re-election, and those prophecies failed to come to pass. These failures have led certain continuationist leaders to issue strongly-worded rebukes to those whose predictions proved false. Other leaders have called for renewed humility, and still others, while also calling for humility, have denied that any penalty is applicable. As an alternative to penalties, the failed but humbled predictors are told that they should admit their inaccuracies, recommit to exercising discernment, and, to prevent future such failures, submit themselves for review by and accountability to church overseers.

I don’t bring up this topic to debate (again) whether the gift of prophecy continues today. I raise it to reflect on how the churches should treat the prophesiers and their overseers. I’m particularly interested in the claim that there’s no need to apply any penalty. That response, it seems to me, presupposes the absence of relevant standards and sanctions in Scripture. And, in fact, some leaders tell us that there is nothing relevant in either the OT or the NT for what the recent prophesiers did. We can’t take up the full sweep of that argument in this format, but I’m not convinced, and I’m sure others aren’t either. In the NT, we do read of prophetic ministries in the churches that failed. Christ’s letter to the church in Thyatira (Rev 2:18-29) presents just such a case, and it’s not presented as an isolated concern. Pointedly, Christ makes Thyatira an example from which “all the churches” should learn (2:23). Of course, the issue at Thyatira is not necessarily identical to recent failures, but it is analogous to them and relevant in ways that we should consider. So let’s take a look.

To begin, it’s striking to notice Christ’s opening and closing commendations to the Thyatira church. They were a congregation where love was bearing fruit in service, and where faithfulness was bearing fruit in endurance (2:19). They had congregants who held fast to what was true and good and abstained from what was false and evil (2:24-25; cf. 1 Thess 5:21-22). How, then, did an unsound ministry emerge in such a church? The clues are reasonably clear: the church had not corrected one of their own who was calling herself a prophetess and was teaching what was false and evil (2:20). Instead, the church had tolerated her ministry and had done so long enough to see her multiply herself in a troubling number of the congregants (2:20, 22-23). The negligence was such that it had spurred Christ Himself to do what the church had not done. He had warned the self-identified prophetess to repent and had given her time to do so (2:21a). Subsequently, He had uncovered her refusal to repent (2:21b). Finally, He had determined to afflict her and her followers with temporal punishment (2:22a) and even final punishment if they did not repent (2:22b, 23b). From the details of Christ’s letter to the Thyatira church, then, we learn that they had failed to deal properly with a prophetess whose ministry had become a notorious contagion in the church. They had taken no action through the formative-preventive oversight of instruction, nor through the corrective oversight of admonition, suspension from the Lord’s Table, or excommunication. In short, the church’s inaction was blameworthy. Why? Because Christ hates what is false and evil in His visible church, and so He commands all His congregations to carry out the oversight necessary to foster what is true and good. Wherever and whenever we do not give that oversight, we can expect the Lord of the church to do what He deems necessary, because He intends to reclaim guilty Christians, to deter others from sin, to turn away God’s wrath from His own, to purge leaven from our midst, and, above all, to vindicate His honor and the holy profession of His gospel.

In saying all this, I am not contending that those who made false predictions about the election should be prejudged as guilty of a particular sin and therefore liable to a particular penalty. I am contending that there are now, as there were in the NT era, relevant standards and sanctions in Scripture to apply to prophesiers and their overseers. I am contending, for example, that, because the fifth and ninth commandments still apply to us, congregations should at least investigate such issues as whether the recent predictors bore false witness (with or without intent to harm), whether they were in submission to church overseers, and whether church overseers adhered to a proper process of review and accountability before the predictions were made. If violations did occur, then penalties would presumably need to be determined and applied. These concerns would appear to be consistent with the implications of the lesson of the Thyatira letter for “all the churches.”

7 Comments

  1. February 8, 2021 at 11:02 pm

    […] Read More […]

  2. LELAND MCCARTNEY said,

    February 17, 2021 at 11:03 am

    The problem, Dr., with your prescription, is that many of these self proclaimed prophets are accountable to none but themselves, and herein lies the problem.

  3. rfwhite said,

    February 17, 2021 at 11:10 am

    Welcome, Leland. I agree with your observation about the problem. I would underline what I say in the post, however: for those who remain accountable to no one but themselves, Christ will deal with them, in this life or at His return.

  4. Randall Bachman said,

    February 22, 2021 at 11:33 am

    Can we rightly say that any ‘minister/ministry’ that is not under the oversight of a church is not really part of the visible church? And as such, the visible church should warn its members against being part of such a minister or ministry? Without the oversight of Christ’s church any ministry is really doing its own thing and is not properly part of the Bride of Christ. The recent Ravi issues also come to mind as an example, as well as para-church ministries such as cru, and even some independent mission boards. All of them are dangerous even if sometimes they do good things. WCF 25.2 “…out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” would seem to fit those of us who are confessional.

  5. rfwhite said,

    February 22, 2021 at 1:01 pm

    4 Randall Bachman: Welcome. I would agree in general. I add “in general” because I take it that we’re both presuming that the ‘minister/ministry’ is not in an extraordinary circumstance where the congregations and courts of the visible church are “so degenerated, as to become no Churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan” (WCF 25.5). I really appreciate your reference to WCF 25. In that light, it occurs to me that you’re reminding us to take seriously that it is “unto the universal, visible church [that] Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world” (WCF 25.3). That said, I expect we both are aware of church courts that approve their ministers to work in organizations that are independent of the visible church, so long as they have full freedom to fulfill their official ministries of the Word and sacraments and as they also report on the same as required by the church courts of which they are members. That practice seems to be in keeping with the spirit of the WCF. Absent any kind of church oversight, however, the individuals and the organizations increase their vulnerability to error and to Christ’s chastisement.

  6. John Taylor said,

    February 22, 2021 at 6:11 pm

    If the death penalty commanded for false prophets in Deut. 18:20-22 no longer applies, I would like to know the scriptural reasoning.

  7. rfwhite said,

    February 23, 2021 at 11:34 am

    6 John Taylor: Welcome. As I understand it, the death penalty commanded for false prophets in Deut 18 (and 13) prefigures the spiritual warfare of Christ and His church. There are two sides to that spiritual warfare: retributive and restorative. Start with the retributive side. Any sin is an injury against Christ and His church, and He will apply the relevant penalty in this life, or the last judgment, or both. The church as an injured party may or may not be active as Christ’s agent in the retributive side. In the case of the Thyatira false prophetess and her followers, the church was not Christ’s agent in applying the penalty. Ordinarily, however, the church is to be involved through its disciplinary process, which may culminate in excommunication (Matt 18; 1 Cor 5). When the church excommunicates offenders, it declares them separated from Christ and His church, in the hope that they will eventually repent. Excommunication, however, is a death notice. The state of excommunication means that offenders are not only outside the church and consigned to Satan; they are also dead to Christ and His church. Through excommunication, they have, in fact, been mortified as members of the visible church body. Beyond excommunication, if Christ (not the church or the state) so determines, the retributive side of His spiritual warfare in this age may include death for unrepentant excommunicated outsiders, as it did in the Thyatira case. The retributive side also applies at the end of the age as Christ imposes the penalty of the second death on false prophets (Matt 7), including those who remain unrepentant after excommunication.

    As we talk about excommunication, it is also relevant to consider the restorative side to the spiritual warfare of Christ and His church. The “church militant” follows Christ in His conquest of the nations by the Spirit and the Word. As the church prayerfully wields the sword-Word of the gospel, elect outsiders are united with Christ in His death and resurrection through repentance and faith. That is, united to Christ, they are dead to sin and alive to God (righteousness). This same death and resurrection will apply to excommunicated outsiders if they repent. So, though excommunication puts offenders into the position of being outsiders who are dead to God and alive to sin, union with Christ makes them dead to sin and alive to God.

    To recap: the death penalty commanded for false prophets in Deut 18 (and 13) prefigures the retributive and restorative sides of the spiritual warfare of Christ and His church. The retributive side applies during this age in two ways: ordinarily as the church excommunicates unrepentant false prophets and their followers, and extraordinarily as Christ puts them to death as unrepentant excommunicated outsiders (as He did at Thyatira). The retributive side also applies at the end of this age as Christ imposes on them the penalty of the second death (Matt 7). Until the end, however, the restorative side of the death penalty also applies as through the power of the gospel repentant outsiders are united with Christ in His death and resurrection.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: