Augustine is considered by many to be the greatest theologian of the Church Fathers. Like many Church Fathers, he had some horrid views on the Jewish people. And I certainly don’t believe in double predestination. But he had a lot of good things. His understanding, brought forth in “The City of God,” that no kingdom on earth can be compared to the kingdom of God was groundbreaking. This was during a time when many Christians thought that Rome was going to be eternal—it would become the new Jerusalem.
His views on Spirit encounters are also something we could benefit from today. He had three rules:
First, talk about the Spirit cannot be based on pure theory but must touch an experienced reality. Second, however, experience alone does not suffice. It must be tested and tried so that “‘one’s own spirit’ does not take the place of the Holy Spirit.” This is the critical task of theology as it attempts to discern this difference. Third, the originality of an individual theologian has to be replaced by the communal discernment of the whole church, which is guided by the very same Spirit.
This is one of the reasons that prophetic voices have been so off in recent times. While their experience may be something that was personal to them, they run to publish their words without ever testing them. I don’t think there can be any question that many so-called prophets over the past two years were experiencing “one’s own spirit” and not the Holy Spirit. Jeremiah speaks of prophets hearing the “delusions of their own minds” (Jer. 14:14). Ezekiel talked about those who “prophesy out of their own imagination” (Ez. 13:7).
The 21st century Charismatic Church puts too much emphasis on the individual and not enough emphasis on the corporate nature of the body of Messiah. The historic Church went in the other direction. The Reformation corrected this by putting the Bible in the hands of every believer and taking authority from the popes and the bishops, and giving it to every believer. Luther called this “the priesthood of the believer.”
But we have gone too far. And the result has been devastating. Great numbers of people are living in deception because certain charismatics have access to the Internet and a Facebook page. Why don’t these “prophets” submit their prophecies to the body of Messiah or at least, a council of leaders? A well-known prophetic voice once suggested to me that we shouldn’t delay releasing prophecies for six months, exaggerating the point. I stated that a review of consequential prophetic words need not take so long; it could be done in an efficient and quick manner—sometimes in just a day. I know this from experience. The person who challenged this view of getting confirmation went on to make a very public “false” prophecy—without confirmation from other leaders—that nearly destroyed their ministry.
Another reason is that when you are the one experiencing the urgency of the moment, it is very difficult to submit that word to others who are not feeling the same urgency. It takes faith to trust that God can work through them. But I can tell you this, there are many people who released public prophecies that wish they could go back in time and get wisdom from other leaders. (Not so much today, if they get it wrong, no matter how much damage they cause, they just keep prophesying because there are always a few thousand people to “like” their new prophecy and share it with their friends).
I don’t know where we’re going to be as a Charismatic body in the next 10 years. But we are in desperate need of a course correction and deeper accountability. Augustine concludes that “[T]he importance of submitting one’s experience of the Spirit to the control and testing of the church cannot be overemphasized.”