Jer. 23:16-17 π Amos 6:1 π Mt. 3:8 π Mt. 6:10 π Mt. 11:7-9 π Mt. 16:18 π Mt. 24:3 π Mt. 24:4 π Mt. 24:5 π Lk. 24:45 π Jn. 1:1-3 π Jn. 5:39-40 π Jn. 10:27 π Jn. 14:23 π Jn. 14:24 π Jn. 16:13 π Acts 4:31 π Acts 7:48 π Acts 9:10 π Acts 13:2 π Acts 17:24 π Acts 21:11 π Rom. 14:17 π 1 Cor. 2:14 π 1 Cor. 3:11-17 π 1 Cor. 4:20 π 1 Cor. 5:10 π 1 Cor. 14:26 π 1 Cor. 14:33 π 2 Cor. 6:17 π Gal. 5:20; 2nd π Eph. 4:7 π Eph. 4:11 π Eph. 4:12 π Eph. 4:13; 2nd π Eph. 4:13-16 π Eph. 6:17 π Heb. 1:3 π 2 Pet. 1:20-21 π 2 Pet. 2:1-2 π Rev. 2:4 π Rev. 2:6 π Rev. 2:15 π Rev. 3:18 π Rev. 4:8
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from Where Did the Prophets Go?; Proof That Prophets Exist Today" by James Noll (Outskirts Press, Denver, Colorado, 2009)
When one comes across a book like this, it is difficult to know what to say first. The author has a zeal and strong desire to further the kingdom of God (p. 61) yet this desire is overshadowed by several elements that almost drown out his zeal and perhaps even the main point of the book. The book is an exploration of a truth (for which no fault is to be found in that fact alone) yet the book does not accomplish the purposes of the author - to "educate" and "settle a debate" (p. iv), to "prove" his belief that prophets do exist today. (p. v., 30) Perhaps the most charitably accurate description one could give of this book is that it is unfocused and the author's quest for the full counsel of God regarding prophets is incomplete.
Contained within the book are several nuggets that are quite edifying and useful. Chief among these are the tests by which we should measure all the sayings of every man who dares to say, "Thus says the Lord..." (or any other linguistic equivalent - p. 50-51), the author's personal testimony to the life-changing power of Christ (p. iii-iv, 62), the Biblical basis for modern prophets (p. 52) and the demand for unity in the people who follow Christ. (p. 20) All these are evidence that the Spirit of truth is stirring the author's mind and prompting him to a deeper understanding of the way of following Christ. May the author continue his pursuit of Christ and God past all the excess baggage he still carries with him.
The book's deepest flaws are a mirror of the deepest flaws in our current practice of churchianity. Perhaps the most serious flaw is that it presents the fivefold ministry as a cluster of offices stacked one upon the other. (p. 37-39) That this type of pyramidal authority structure is Nicolaitan ( Rev. 2:6 , 15; top ) has not yet occurred to the author. Various other comments throughout the book clearly demonstrate that the author has not yet heard many things from the Lord regarding the nearly apostate, counterfeit gathering of people in the name of Christ that men still commonly call "church."
Noll writes, "There are dozens of stories of pastors who have fallen because one of these false prophets has infiltrated the church and has created inroads into the leadership structure and has wreaked havoc. ...we need to be aware of this and protect our churches from it." (p. 49) In contrast, Jesus said, "I will build My ekklesia (English "church") and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." ( Mt. 16:18 ) Yet one of these "false prophets," using "carnal" weapons of mere persuasion, is able to single-handedly topple the leadership structure of dozens of "church" "pastors." Hmmm. Weapons that supposedly belong to "the gates of Hell" are quite effective against the "church" leadership structure. Hmmm. Noll has fallen into the trap of blindly labeling the prophet a false one and fails to see that any leadership structure so weak and vulnerable could not possibly be Christ's ekklesia but is instead a false, man-made and demonically-inspired counterfeit "church" built on Nicolaitan (delegated, representative) usurped authority or the denominational pillars of dissension and heresy (sectarianism with or without error - Gal. 5:20; top ). Even though Noll says, "There is a flaw in the modern Church" (p. 33 - a severe understatement if ever there was one!) and "The Church at large is in dire straits" (p. 32), he has obviously not come to terms with how deep down that "rabbit hole" goes.
The book is somewhat handicapped in answering its main question because the author is not a prophet. Noll makes no claim to be a prophet (p. 55) - he does claim a history in the use of prophetic words (chapter XI) and demonstrates at least some desire to be a prophet "if the Lord so allows." (p. 55) This causes the book to have a "kid drooling outside the bakery window" feel to it and does not enable the reader to penetrate into the depths of the prophet gifting. This is not a criticism of the book - merely a recognition of the difficulty one faces with this particular subject. Any prophet willing to proclaim his status as a prophet just to let us inside his head and gifting is likely to be well on his way to departing from the pure way of righteousness.
And this may well be the second most serious flaw in this book. There is absolutely no coverage of the idea that a prophet may start well and drift off into bondage to false ideas and deceiving spirits. The list of "proven modern day prophets" (p. 52-53) is a case in point. Some of those people started out simply hearing from the Lord and humbly speaking whatever the Master gave them to say. But some have succumbed to the idea that they were called to some permanent ongoing popular prophetic "ministry" that built "churches" according to the demonically-inspired, humanly-sustained traditional "church" paradigm. Noll wrote a wonderful description of the lives of the real prophets:
"They were loners and did not have many close friends. Their predictions quite often involved things people did not want to hear so they were pretty much unpopular. The people basically denounced them and frowned upon them when they were around. They lived with great personal pain. ...prophets were a lonely bunch and many found themselves as recluses living a very simple monk-like lifestyle. (p. 5, 7)
Too many on Noll's list of "proven modern day prophets" fail to meet this description or no longer meet this description as their "prophetic ministry" has made them quite popular. Hmmm. One still must go out into the "wilderness" away from the "church" prostitute to find the true prophets ( Mt. 11:7-9 ) - one will not find the true prophets among those who are at ease in Zion. ( Amos 6:1 ) Easy Street is where one finds the false prophets who prophesy peace, safety, prosperity and blessings, those who bring us to spiritual ruin. ( Jer. 23:16-17; top )
It is indeed most disturbing that Noll makes no reference to even the possibility that the demonic can produce a counterfeit of the prophetic and prophet giftings in genuine believers. This absence is quite likely due to the distinct probability that Noll himself is such a deceived vessel himself.
Noll writes, "A real prophet does not give his private interpretation of the prophecy," and "A real prophet can be recognized by their fruit." (p. 50-51) While the evidence within Noll's short book is inconclusive, let us examine what evidence is there and analyze what it suggests.
In his chapter regarding his experience with the prophetic, Noll's "training sessions" left him in the limelight, not Christ, as he fascinated the audience by "reading their mail." (p. 56) All of Noll's prophetic words are foretellings about people's lives - information one might turn to horoscopes for and at least one of his prophetic "success stories" is lauded in terms of increased "church" attendance - "She integrated herself into our singles group and became a regular participant of our gatherings." (p. 56) In preparing this review (which was originally requested by Noll) when I questioned Noll about his private interpretation regarding the "mad and disgruntled sheep" encounter (p. 58-59), Noll responded to my personal emails with anger and threats very reminiscent of the hypocritical Pharisees and Jews of Jesus and Paul's day. Noll literally refused to even consider or discuss the very real possibility that there could be another equally feasible explanation to his encounter and angrily withdrew his request for a review of his book, even threatening me with a lawsuit! Yes, Mr. Noll, every true prophet is to be examined, weighed and judged by the fruit he produces - even yourself.
The book suffers greatest from the author's bondage to the "church" paradigm. As a result of this bondage, several bold statements from the author (true enough in their own right, perhaps) are robbed of the power they might otherwise contain. Chief among such statements is:
"...there is one all-consuming principle that we must understand. It is so important that we as Christians must wholeheartedly believe in this or we will always miss the mark and minister ineffectively.
This principle is that everything we do MUST be about advancing the kingdom and leading people to Jesus Christ so they can be saved.
Without this focus, we are just clanging gongs and babbling religious zealots. There is no purpose to our lives and we are frowned upon by people who would rather we just go away. People don't care how much we know until they know how much we care." (p. 61, emphasis in original)
Perhaps here too is one of the clearest instances of the lack of focus of the book. The author had previously told us that the predictions of the prophets quite often involve things people don't want to hear and thus the people frown on them when they're around. (p. 5) But now the people frown and want the speaker to go away because they see them as clanging gongs and babbling religious zealots. (p. 61) It is true that loveless prophets are (at best) immature or (at worst) apostate but it is also true that carnal people - including "pastors"! - will dismiss even the most loving prophets because the truths they speak infringe on their projected images (especially that of their expert religious "infallibility"), their power structures and their cash cows (the "tithes and offerings"). The truth remains that we must all return to the simple idea that the kingdom of God cannot be advanced by any carnal means!
But what is the kingdom of God? This is a most important question - one never addressed by this book. We need to recognize that the message preached the loudest and most persistently at every "church," particularly in America, is essentially a different "gospel." The message goes something like this:
"Come hear our guy preach and see how we act and think. Then, if you like what you see and hear, you can come back as often or as little as you like and you can do as much or as little for God as you like."
This is simply lawlessness (doing what is right in one's own eyes) in the name of Christ and God.
Jesus, on the other hand, preached the gospel of the kingdom of God. "Repent - the kingdom is here!" was His and all the disciples and apostles' teaching. "Bear fruit worthy of repentance." ( Mt. 3:8 ) "Your kingdom come - Your will be done..." Jesus said ( Mt. 6:10 ), showing us that these two are one and the same thing. The kingdom of God is found wherever men seek first and foremost God's will. "The kingdom of God is not in word but in power," Paul wrote. ( 1 Cor. 4:20 ) "The kingdom of God is not about food or drink [those things important in men's eyes], but righteousness [what is right in God's eyes] and peace and joy [the results of God's powerful presence in our lives] in the Holy Spirit." ( Rom. 14:17 ) Men, acting apart from a direct relationship with the Holy Spirit, can do nothing to build Christ's kingdom. ( 1 Cor. 3:11-17; top )
In another instance of being unfocused, in discussing Jesus' role as a prophet in Matthew 24, Noll writes:
"This example is meant to show that Jesus was 'modeling' the form of prophecy. Although He was ultimately warning them about the 'things to come,' He was also showing them the potential for using this gift as a warning sign. The people that thronged around Him always wanted 'a sign.' But Jesus said the only sign they will get is the sign of Jonah the Prophet. This prophecy to the scribes and Pharisees is unusual in that Jesus referred to the Old Testament prophet Jonah and his prophecy to Nineveh. Perhaps it was something they could relate to, seeing that Jesus was still creating His ministry. The Sign of Jonah is a type of Christ's resurrection which was soon to come, the ultimate sign. As for the verse about the Queen of the South, this is in reference to the Queen of Sheba, who did not have permission to visit Solomon, but went anyway." (p. 19)
Whatever point the author is trying to make has gotten lost in all the confusion (of which God is not the author - 1 Cor. 14:33 ) In Matthew 24, we dare not separate the purpose from the passage and make it a mere lesson in prophetic form. The Spirit that moves the prophet is bound to no form - should we use Agabus' tying himself up as the form which all prophecy should take? (see Acts 21:11; top ) Then why Jesus' in Matthew 24?
And though Jesus refused to give a sign to the Jews in Matthew 12, here in this passage of Matthew 24 where the disciples ask, "What will be the sign of Your return and of the end of the age?" ( Mt. 24:3 ), Jesus does not mention Jonah or the Queen of Sheba in this passage at all nor does He hesitate to reveal to His disciples the sign they request to know but rather He promptly and straightforwardly tells His disciples what the sign of the end of the age will be: "Take heed that no one deceives you." ( Mt. 24:4 - emphasis added) Deception, rampant deception - men claming to have His anointing will deceive many ( Mt. 24:5 - can you say "pastor"?) They "will secretly bring in destructive heresies [sects, divisions, denominations]...and many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed." ( 2 Pet. 2:1-2 ) The prophetic warnings are clear indeed if God has given you eyes to see and ears to hear. ( Rev. 3:18; top )
In another instance of making a bold statement only to have it watered down by the "church" paradigm, Noll writes:
"If today's church would follow the doctrines of the Bible, stop trying to please men, and stop making up silly traditions for the church to follow, they would see, do and experience the things that the saints of old saw, did and experienced.
Most modern Churches don't even look anything like the way the first century Church looked. Read the synoptic Gospels over and over until you get it. Then read all of Paul's letters.
The Church mustn't change because of the people; the people must change because of the Church. If the modern Church is doing what the first century Church did, the people will see the miracles." (p. 33, 35, emphasis in original)
What "silly traditions" might we need to stop making up? Things like "pastors" standing behind pulpits, routinely sermonizing audiences to spiritual sleep in a building that creates many false impressions about Christ and God and which diverts resources away from the orphans, widows and the least of Christ's brothers? This obscene counterfeit usurps and steals the place of the real "fivefold" ministry of Christ among His true saints. Nowhere is this more true than in the mega-"church" where one man is the only one allowed to exercise any spiritual gifting (compare 1 Cor. 14:26; top ) and no one even considers the possibility that the spirit by which he speaks might be a demonic spirit!
What did the first century believers have that the modern "church" does not? A personal relationship with Christ by the leading of His Holy Spirit - in a word, they still had their first love, Christ. (see Rev. 2:4; top )
"Prophecy has always been scrutinized by members of the mainstream church as 'weird' and rightly so. People have a very hard time getting their heads around the concept that a human can actually hear the voice of God." (p. 45)
Weird? And "rightly so"? Why is that? Jesus said it very clearly: "My sheep hear My voice." ( Jn. 10:27 ) The New Testament is replete with examples of the specific leading of the Holy Spirit. ( Acts 4:31 , 9:10 , 13:2 , etc.) Noll goes on to say, "Many don't even want to think about it and shut it out without even mentioning it." (p. 45-46 - emphasis added) On what basis can we say that those who routinely shut out the voice of Christ and God are His sheep? His sheep hear His voice, love Him and obey Him ( Jn. 14:23 ) - those who are not His sheep do not hear His voice, do not love Him and do not obey Him. ( Jn. 14:24; top ) How much clearer can this be said? Let those who have ears hear!
What did the first century believers not have that the modern "church" does have? This could be a long list! First would be what we now commonly call the New Testament! Second, they did not have a representative (vicar, deputy, bishop, "pastor") who stood in the place of Christ over the local assembly. (Read up on Ignatius of Antioch!) Third, they did not have like-minded commuter clubs (denominational "churches") whereby the followers of Luther could avoid and feel superior to the followers of Campbell, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Fourth, they did not have "church" buildings (see Acts 7:48 , 17:24; top - so why is the "church" building called the "house of God"? Which "God"?) nor pulpits, pews, steeples, routine sermons, tithes, offerings or ushers - none of the usual "church" trappings can be found in the first century nor in the rightly divided New Testament.
There are hints in the book that the author is committing another error - the error of following and even worshiping the Book rather than being led into all truth by the Holy Spirit. ( Jn. 16:13; top ) The quotes previously examined point in this direction.
"If today's church would follow the doctrines of the Bible..." (p. 33)
"Read the synoptic Gospels over and over until you get it." (p. 35)
In another place, Noll writes, "At the end of this book there is a list of scriptures that will illuminate your mind to see the reason I believe the way I do." (p. 46)
In describing when the fivefold "offices" (yuck!) will end, Noll tells us that unity "of the knowledge of the Son of God" ( Eph. 4:13; top ) means that "all churches and Christians must be in agreement about the 5 W's and H of Jesus (Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How). Also all churches must have one doctrine, meaning the Bible for what it was meant to be." (p. 27)
It has been rightly observed that strict adherence to "doctrinal dogma" has resulted, not in unity, but further division. The doctrine of baptismal immersion, for example, has resulted in the denominations of the dunkers and the denominations of the sprinklers. The doctrine of tongues has resulted in the Charismatics (Montanists, Irvingites, etc.) and separated followers of Christ from other believers ever since. While there certainly is a time and place to "Come out and be separate" from all forms of "Christian" idolatry ( 2 Cor. 6:17 , compare 1 Cor. 5:10; top ), dividing over doctrinal differences has most often only been nothing but a snare of the demonic.
Jesus said, "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life - and these [Scriptures] are the things which testify about Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life." ( Jn. 5:39-40 - emphasis added; top)
And we do well to remember that the disciples - who had personally witnessed the crucifixion and themselves been inside Christ's empty tomb - still required Christ to "open their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures." ( Lk. 24:45 ) The natural man - no matter how well "churched" or schooled in the doctrines of the Bible - still does not and cannot receive, understand or grasp (though he can wield them as a weapon against his flesh and blood victims!) the things of the Spirit of God. ( 1 Cor. 2:14 , Eph. 6:17 ) Too many Bible scholars spend all their lives rooting around in the Book and never come to see the difference between it (the Bible) and the Word (Greek Logos). One is a by-product of trees and the work of men and would burn if dropped in a fire. The Other, the Word, is the transcendent Being who is "the express image of God's Person who upholds all things by the word of His power." ( Heb. 1:3 ) He is the One who was and was with God, who participated in Creation ( Jn. 1:1-3 ), the One who was and is and is to come. ( Rev. 4:8; top )
Luther became increasingly dogmatic regarding his own theology to the point that he divided from Zwingli saying, "You are of a different spirit than we." Absolutely true. Luther was of the spirit of Luther and was thus entirely unable to enter into the Spirit of unity which is Christ. Rampant denominationalism (division) has followed ever since because men will not forsake their own intellectual (or demonic!) private interpretations (interpretations gleaned apart from the direct work of the Holy Spirit - 2 Pet. 1:20-21; top ) so that they might come to Christ by His Spirit of truth and find real life.
Whether the author has failed to make this distinction between the Bible and the Word is uncertain - but there are enough clues throughout the book to raise the question. At the least, there is enough ambiguity to leave one wishing the author had taken the time and effort to consult with an editor or at least another brother or sister (none are mentioned as having any contributory role) to bring clarity to an often confusing and unenlightening text.
Because the author embraces much, if not all, of the "church" paradigm, his ability to lay out for us the significance of historical events is diminished. He attributes the cessation of tongues, prophecy and prophets to the fear of man (as purportedly expressed by Origen whom the author paraphrases but doesn't quote on point or cite the source for his paraphrase - p. 28). Noll asks the right question - "So where did this silly 'cessation' doctrine come from?" (p. 27) - but he doesn't give an accurate, in-depth answer. The cessation doctrine was concocted to explain away the relatively giftless, powerless condition that has prevailed from the second century on - a time frame that coincides exactly with the installation of bishops in the place of Christ over the local assemblies. (Nicolaitanism)
In another instance of fuzzy historicity, Noll writes:
"The Church at large is in dire straits. There are hundreds of denominations and cults and factions and para-church organizations, etc. No one seems to agree on any of the doctrine of the Bible. Some churches are conservative, some are liberal, and some are middle-of-the-road. Why is this? I have an explanation. When the close of the canon of scriptures happened and the early church agreed that no more inspired writings had come forth, they decided to 'close' the door on new writings. This may have been inspired or maybe it wasn't. I don't know for sure because I wasn't there. It is, however, agreed on throughout the Church as fact." (p. 32)
This is muddy waters at best. Denominationalism, which historically occurred after the Reformation of the 16th century (though, of course, there were some sects and dissensions throughout even early church history), is simply the rampant, routine and "accepted" practice of the sins of dissension and heresy. ( Gal. 5:20; top ) The canon of Scripture (which books ought to be called Scripture and which should not) was closed in the 4th century. The canon was not really accomplished by the whole Church of that time but by the representative bishops. And interestingly enough, two false prophets, Marcion and Montanus, were the chief instigating cause behind the canonization. But whatever point Noll was trying to make here about church history showing the cause of division is lost in his dizzying intellectualism of a spiritual concept.
The "church" paradigm is perhaps nowhere as apparent as when Noll, in exegeting Eph. 4:13 (top), writes, "The saints must be perfect. Not likely in the near term. Enough said. It also means Jesus has taken His church away and we are with Him." (p. 27)
Come again? Paul wrote that when Christ "ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men." ( Eph. 4:7 ) The gifts He gave are the commonly-called "fivefold ministry." ( Eph. 4:11 ) The reason He gave the gifts to men was to equip the saints for the work of serving God and one another ( Eph. 4:12 ) so that we would all come to the spiritual maturity (not absolute perfection as Noll implies) found in obediently walking with Christ. ( Eph. 4:13-16; top ) But since the modern "church" cannot produce real spiritual maturity, Noll reasons, Paul must be speaking of a condition after the "rapture" (another questionable "church" teaching!). That is, Noll is saying, Christ gave the fivefold giftings to bring about spiritual maturity, but since spiritual maturity is not being produced, Paul must mean something else. No - the "church," being the apostasy, the great falling away from the faith that counterfeits, displaces and replaces genuine life in Christ, has no place for the fivefold ministry (that would upset the Nicolaitan status quo in the pulpit and at division headquarters!) and it is for this reason that the "church" has no ability to produce genuine spiritual maturity. The "church" will not submit to the voice of the true prophets any more than to the voice of Christ because what Christ and His prophets have to say hurls the truth directly into the face of what the ear-scratching and ear-tickling "pastor"-teachers are saying in the "church" pulpits!
Noll's book, built on a sound premise - that the prophets of God still live, walk and work among us - is certainly several steps beyond the usual drivel and pablum dispensed from many a pulpit. But the revelations the author has received from God are filtered through the "church" paradigm - much as one pours fresh clean water through crushed, cooked beans to produce coffee - and the result is a skewed, unfocused, incomplete rendering (even for an introduction to the idea of prophets among us) of the full counsel of God. It is this reviewer's assessment that the author is far too reliant on his college degrees and credentials and has not yet spent enough time sitting quietly at the feet of the Master. It is my prayer that the author will quietly remedy this lack in the immediate future.
Let he who has ears hear.
I'd love to hear comments and/or questions from you! Email me!