One of the most interesting concepts I learned during my university degree was called “Cultural Capital” – roughly speaking, this describes the baggage that everyone brings with them while either creating or consuming a piece of art, music, or film. The idea is that no one approaches what they’re viewing or creating as a blank slate, but brings with them baggage that informs and shapes how they view what they are seeing, hearing or creating. Whatever each person’s baggage is – current circumstances, cultural norms, past tragic life events, personal biases, etc., it will be a powerful prism that colours the way they perceive things, sometimes, without even realising.
Applying that concept to the topic of prophecy, part of my own cultural capital is informed by my growing up in Pentecostal churches, exposed to prophecy and other gifts of the Spirit on a weekly basis. Yet I was the son of parents who taught me from an early age that any prophecy that contradicted Scripture can – and must – be rejected as God could not contradict Himself – a truth that stayed with me through the years.
This was especially helpful teaching, because in those same churches, I’d seen misuses of the gifts of prophecy, ranging from the mildly funny or embarrassing to seriously harmful and disgraceful. To be honest, by the time I’d reached university age, I’d grown highly cynical. The phrase “Thus saith the Lord”, would make me switch off, my facial expression screaming “Yeeeeah, right! What manipulation are you trying to sell me today?”
I still remember one rainy English Saturday afternoon at a weekend retreat with my university’s Christian Union group, I was given a bizarre word of prophecy that I would remember for a long time. The messenger, a white gentleman roughly in his 50s or 60s, from one of the local churches, felt led by God to prophesy publicly over my fellow students, one-by-one… and then he came to me. He then pronounced that God had told him He would give me a wife, who would be a woman of my own race and culture. I don’t remember any reason given for this in the prophecy that would explain why God would make such a distinction. It was just that she would look, and sound like me.
Immediately, alarm bells rang. This seemed a strangely specific prophecy to give to a young black boy in that moment, surrounded by a Christian union group that was predominantly white. Now it certainly could happen that the person I end up marrying may share my race and culture, which would be great. However, of all the characteristics that God would want me to prioritise in choosing a wife, the only one that He cared to tell me about through this ‘prophetic stranger’ was that we would share skin colour and culture?
I still remember sitting there, trying to be respectful, while slowly seething with rage at this prophecy, unleashing a rant of epic proportions to my friends after the session was over. Now, having an ear for identifying accents, I instantly placed this ‘prophet’s accent as coming from a country that had previously a deep and famous history of racism towards black people and fears around interracial relationships – a history that would have still been alive and well at the time this gentleman was my age.
Maybe, I thought, this prophecy had less to do with God and more to do with this man projecting on me the fears and biases he was taught from childhood to this young black boy in the name of the Lord – was this his own cultural capital? Even more worrying, is my realisation over time that he may not even have even realised that he was doing this – he may have genuinely thought he was delivering the word of the Lord and being obedient to the Holy Spirit.
This topic of prophecy has long been a bone of contention amongst different theological camps in the church. However, nothing complicates an already difficult issue than the baggage we all bring to it from our experiences, church background or personal biases.
Now depending on your own cultural capital – the words “Thus sayeth the Lord…” will mean something drastically different to each reader. To some of us, it’s a shorthand for hope, for God using our fellow believers to encourage, guide or speak into our lives and bring long-awaited answers. Meanwhile, to others, it sends shivers down our spines. A shorthand for Christian con artists, manipulators or well-meaning busy-bodies, using the name of the Lord to manipulate, bully or interfere in our lives and point us in a direction that best suits their personal agenda.
It could be the fellow believer who is convinced they have heard directly from the Lord that you are to be their future spouse…whether you like it or not. It may be Prophet So-and-So who has laid hands on you and declared your future lies in selling all your belongings (while of course, donating a healthy sum of the proceeds to their ministry) and moving to the Amazon to evangelize remote tribes. Or maybe it’s a controlling church leader, utterly convinced against all reality that the Lord has shown them some secret sin or attitude in your heart that must be corrected…by your submission to them alone.
Some of these experiences could even be amusing, if they weren’t so harmful to our faith and Christian development. The manipulation of spiritual abuse often leaves deep wounds that, once scarred over, can armour our hearts against any prophecy or word from God at all. These can take years of therapy, counselling and prayer to overcome.
Every gift has the potential of immense blessing or immense harm, depending on it’s use. The same toy car given to an excited toddler at Christmas can either bring hours of joy when put on the ground, or hours in hospital when put in the mouth. Yet we do not expect Mattel or Lego to halt production immediately, nor do we protest Amazon for selling the toys. Instead, they mark the packaging with strict warnings about the correct and safe use of the toy and strongly encourage parents to read the manual.
This is why our Pastors have opened up this issue for closer scrutiny, in this much-needed series of discussions on “Ask the Pastors”. It’s important that we remove religious pretence from the conversation and have an honest look, through the lens of God’s word, at the concept of prophecy – what God intended it to be and how He wanted us to use and receive it. How to correctly judge what is being spoken over your life, and how to respond to it, if it is from God OR if it isn’t.
At Majesty House, we believe that God gave us His ‘manual’ to equip us to live for Him (2 Peter 1:3) and this manual, being the Word of God, allows us to learn both the character and the voice of God as we grow as His children. His will for you is that you are not manipulated, but empowered; that you will become so familiar with both His word and His character, that when people claim to speak on His behalf, you will know instinctively if you are hearing His word, or human agendas.
By exploring this topic, we pray you will find these discussions both healing and empowering, as we learn how to discern God’s voice together.
– Stephen Adams
Episode 1 – Introduction
Episode 2 – The importance of God’s word
Episode 3 – Do not despise prophesies
Episode 4 – God speaks to us through scriptures
Episode 5 – God speaks to us through dreams and visions
Episode 6 – God speaks to us through utterance gifts
Episode 7 – God speaks to us through the inner witness
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