When is a prophet a prophet?

A couple of days ago I was reading in Ezekiel chapter 13 which includes the following words: “The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are not prophesying … who prophesy out of their own imagination…. Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing. … They say, “The Lord declares,” when the Lord has not sent … though I have not spoken.”

Whether it is Ellen G. White of the 7th-day Adventists, Mohammed of Islam or Thomas S. Monson of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of which their followers affirm to be prophets, how do you know when one claiming to be a prophet really is one?

Some will encourage us to search our feelings (Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:4) but that’s Star Wars, never the Bible. Instead, God asks us to verify. Gideon in Judges chapter 6 laid out a fleece and asked that it be wet when the morning ground was dry, and then just to be sure, asked again that the fleece be dry when the ground was wet. King Hezekia in 2 Kings chapter 20, when assured by a prophet that he would recover from his illness, asked that the shadow on the sun dial move back ten steps, and it did.

For us today we have two tests of a prophet laid down in Deuteronomy chapters 13 & 18: (1) Does the prophet proclaim the same teachings as previous prophets of God and (2) if the prophet predicts a future event, does it happen? When Joseph Smith, in his First Vision, claimed to see the Father and the Son as separate Gods, he and others after him should have reflected on the words of Deuteronomy 6:4 that affirm one and only one God; a teaching often repeated. That should have been sufficient warning.

Instead Joseph Smith made thousands of changes to the Bible (and also to the Book of Mormon) to adjust their scriptures to fit their church’s evolving theology. When Joseph Smith prophesied that they would sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon in Canada (and it didn’t happen) his explanation was “Some prophecies are of man, some are of God and some are of the devil.” Again, it should have been clear that there was a problem.

The same goes for churches today. Our foundation is to be the Bible and the Bible alone (“sola scriptura”) since the Bible warns us (in 1 Corinthians 4:6) “not to go beyond what is written” (in Scripture).

Yes, I realize that people accuse those who believe in following scripture alone as looking to a “dead letter.” They say we need to trust in the Spirit. On this eve of our commemoration of the Lutheran Reformation on October 31, 1517 (498 years ago) we might respond as Martin Luther did, that some have “swallowed the Holy Spirit feathers and all” but we will trust what God has written. The Bible is not a dead letter, but living and active and powerful. In works in human hearts. Amen. May we always “read, mark, and inwardly digest” the words of God’s living word, the Bible.