What is a False Prophet?

American Christianity is not short of polemics and accusations of false gospels and false prophets.

I, however, have major hesitations about using such language simply because I have more questions than answers in regards to them. And these are questions which I assume of those who make such accusations against other Christians would not be adept at answering.

Here are my questions and some further thoughts:

What constitutes a false prophet?

Is it someone who merely teaches falsely? Lots of people teach certain things falsely. If we recognize that it is by their fruit that we recognize them, what fruit constitutes as one who is a false prophet?

Is a deviation from a set principles of beliefs about Christianity enough to deem someone a heretic?

And if so, what set of beliefs are we using? I know people who call Charismatics heretics, Rob Bell a heretic, and Joel Olsteen a false teacher. Yet the standard for all those are all different. And can we recognize that “sound teaching” and “sound doctrine” are different in different circles? There is not just one understanding of scripture–who’s understanding should we use to judge? And who should judge?

And does a single deviation sufficient to claim someone as a heretic? There are many of our beloved church fathers who held beliefs which we would call heretical today but still recognize that the subsequent generations of Christians stood on their shoulders (e.g. Origen 3rd century was a universalist and believed that even the Devil would be redeemed, is he an anti-Christ? Or the fact of the seeds of Christianity in China today were planted by Nestorians, who the Catholic church deemed heretical)

Can we judge a single action or a season in someone’s life enough to speak of their entire identity as a false prophet?

People have varying opinions and thoughts about life and God in different seasons of their life. Does the pronounciation of someone as a false prophet still stand if they change their opinions? It just seems like the term is more of a set-identity term versus a seasonal term.

With that being said, I personally don’t know and I don’t think that charismatics, Rob Bell, or Joel Olsteen are false prophets / false teachers. I have more reservations about the standard by which we judge those things than I have confidence. And to be honest, it really irks me to hear the tone of confidence I hear from some Christians when they accuse another without addressing these questions.

 

Phillip Chan

Phil has been writing for 10 years. His passion is to grow in his love for Jesus to obey his purposes in our generation.

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