An interesting article appeared in the NYT recently titled "The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion" by Clyde Haberman. It is eye opening not because it points out that the myth of the population explosion is just that, a myth. I knew that already (and hopefully you did too). It was, and still is, the favorite cudgel of pro-abortion advocates, chemical companies selling GMO's, pesticides and birth control and apocalyptic environmentalists, doomsayers and prophets. But it is all bunk. Turns out humans aren't so easily extinguished after all.
[I guess an argument could be made that all the fear mongering caused a lot of changes that were for the positive. At least for the humanists. If you call the murdering millions of babies while making food so cheap and plentiful that those who are left are dying off from diseases related to rampant obesity "positive".]
What really caught my eye in the article was the coverage of the originator of the population explosion myth, Paul Ehlrich. He made a number of dark prophecies, including mass starvation, 65 million of which would be Americans. He predicted the demise of England and India. So desperate was the situation that in the 1970's he said that the end would come within the next fifteen years.
It doesn't take an overly observant person to see that by any definition Mr. Ehlrich got a couple of things wrong. In fact, he pretty much wasn't even in the ballpark. So bad were his predictions that if he lived in the Old Testament we would have God's permission to stone him. Oh, ok, so he wasn't claiming to speak for God. So stoning's out. But if he had said "Thus says the Lord!" we could stone him. If we lived in the Old Testament. Which we don't. So still no stoning.
Anyway, two things to point out. First, Mr. Ehlrich claims that his predictions were not wrong, just misunderstood by the uninitiated (i.e., you and I - the nonprofessional schmucks on the street). And second, people are still listening to him. The reason I find these two things interesting is that many Christians today treat the modern day "prophets" in the Church the exact same way.
According to Scripture when a prophet who is claiming to speak from God is wrong, either because what he predicted never comes to past, or he attempts to lead others away from God, then this person is a false prophet and should be killed. Allow me to quote two of these passages in full:
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 ESV)
Here the question isn't whether or not the "prophet" can actually do prophety things. He (or she) can. But these prophet has an agenda. He wishes to lead others away from Christ to follow other gods. The point here isn't about serving false gods (although that is a point, just not the major one) but that he will attempt to lead a rebellion against the one true God so that the people live in a way that God hasn't commanded them.
The other passage gives us another test of a false prophet:
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ESV)
Here if what they speak does not come to pass they are a false prophet. How easy is that?
Sadly, we know from Scripture that Israel indeed succumbed to these false prophets. From what we read in the New Testament things got little better in this regard (See 1 Corinthians 11 and 12 and Galatians for starters). When Paul was with the church at Ephesus he gave the following ominous warning:
“I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert….” (Acts 20 29-31a)
Yet we see that at some point people claiming to be apostles were busy leading the church at Corinth away from sound doctrine. Paul's concern was the same as it should be for all pastors/elders in the Church and, I believe, the very concern God had for his people and the reason behind the words quoted above in Deuteronomy:
For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. (2 Corinthians 11:2-3 ESV)
The reason false prophets are treated so harshly isn't because they are necessarily evil. Yes, under the adamic curse we are all evil and presuming to speak for God or leading people away from God are sins, but what I mean is these passages aren't making judgements upon the personalities of the false prophets. In other words, they may be genuinely nice people. False prophets come in all shapes and sizes. When reading the Law or the Old Testament as a whole, we tend to read in a very binary fashion. The people doing wrong are evil, demonic, green-eyed, greasy, drooling, skulking characters that reek of badness. Only a dolt would miss these people standing in a crowd of truly nice people (like ourselves).
I can't really tell you what a false prophet looked like in ancient Israel or even in the New Testament Church. However, I believe I might not be too far off base in assuming that people back then were very much like people today. That is, really nice people do really bad things with very good intentions. They rarely wake up one morning and declare, "Today I shall become a false prophet, say things in God's name that aren't really from God and lead God's people astray. But first some coffee!". Oh, I'm sure some false prophets truly are green-eyed, drooling, skulking characters, but I'm going to guess that quite a many of them are very, very nice people.
But that isn't the point. God isn't telling us that false prophets are despicable people and that we probably wouldn't want to hang out with them anyway. He is telling us that these people are wrong and that ultimately they will lead God's people away from him and because of this they are quite dangerous. They are so dangerous, in fact, that under the Law they were to be put to death. In short, they were not to be tolerated.
When it comes down to it the Israelite's situation was like the New Testament Church's situation which is like our current situation. There are many people out there calling themselves "prophets" who are leading people astray. Some are teaching overtly false doctrine. Others are presuming to speak for the Lord. Some are making predictions that aren't coming true. And what is the Church's response?
For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. (2 Corinthians 11:4 ESV)
Yep. We tolerate it. We make excuses, we explain away the "mistakes", we ignore the motives, we justify the false teachings, we read their books, we watch their shows, we listen to their sermons. We say things like, "Prophets today can't be held to the same standard as prophets back then. We need to give room for growth and grace". We do everything but hold people to a biblical standard of behavior; a standard God laid down.
It is time believers and especially those who are leaders start "killing" the prophets. No, I don't mean literally killing them. I mean we stop tolerating them. We point them out for what they are: false. But let me give a fair word of warning here. There are a number of reasons false prophets are able to continue doing what they do. Let me give you two of them. First, they sound good. They mix just enough truth in with the false so that it sounds like it really is from God. So if you stand up to them you will appear to be fighting God. Second, they are typically nice people (as mentioned above). So you will almost always come off sounding like a meany. You can do everything humanly possible to be as nice as possible, but in the end you will look like the bad guy. Let's face it, killing always seems kinda mean, even if done for the right reasons.
There has been a pattern repeated throughout history and it will be no different for us today as it was for those who have come before. It goes something like this: False prophet shows up. God's man condemns false prophet. People put to death God's man. Bleak, yes. But sometimes, when no one expects it, God's people actually listen and turn out the false prophet, stop listening to the lies, and turn back to worship their God in spirit and truth. No, really, it happens. It really, truly does.