The gift of prophecy and "thought voices"

Has God changed His mode of inspiration? Is He dictating letters to His church today? Is it too late for normal prophecy? It's time to take a careful look at "thought voices."

J. Robert Spangler is the editor of MINISTRY, an associate secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association, and a member of the board of trustees of the Ellen G. White Estate.
          

Our church is facing a rather interesting but potentially con fusing situation: Many people are claiming that they have the prophetic gift. Through our history quite a few have made this claim. In fact, in 1915, W. C. White reported that a dozen or more persons were doing so. Today's situation, then, is not unique—except for the number of individuals involved. Today a score or more state that they are receiving some type of supernatural revelations from the Lord.

Number 17 of our Fundamental Beliefs claims that the gift of prophecy "is an identifying mark of the remnant church and was manifested in the ministry of Ellen G. White." Note the past tense—"was." The rest of the statement says that "her writings are a continuing and authoritative source of truth which provide for the church comfort, guidance, instruction, and correction."

Ellen G. White died more than 70 years ago. Some ask if another prophet or messenger will arise in God's church today. I myself have asked the same question, especially in light of Joel 2:28, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4- To many, these passages suggest that along with the other promised gifts, the gift of prophecy is to be found among God's people now.

In both the secular and the religious world, rampant deception envelops the human race like a heavy fog. This is not surprising. Christ named deception as a major sign of His coming (Matt. 24). He said that even the very elect are in danger of being deceived. Whom, then, can we trust? Whom can we believe? Because of Christ's warning I felt compelled to investigate the prophetic claims arising within our church. I have read numerous "messages" and con ducted in-depth interviews with several different parties, attempting, while doing so, to maintain a neutral position—who wants to be found fighting the Lord or supporting Satan? Now I want to share with our readers my own findings and state my position on this subject.

The phenomenon confronting the church

The current spate of messages seems to be characterized by the following:

1. The individuals I am acquainted with who have been connected with this phenomenon are not wild-eyed fanatics. This may not be true of all who claim to be messengers, but those whom I know are sincere, dedicated Christians.

2. The purported messages come via three major methods of communication: dreams, visions, and "thought voices." (Some claim to have received a message on only one occasion; others claim multiple communications.)

3. The main theme of the dream/vision communications is that a catastrophic earthquake will wreak havoc on the entire state of California, including the Loma Linda area. According to one report, elements in this dream/vision are not to be revealed at this time. Supposedly the economic effect this earthquake will have upon the United States will precipitate action on the part of national political figures.

Other messages have come by dreams or visions suggesting that individuals relocate in a particular part of the nation. And one person humbly confesses that he is not seeking "honor or a position of leadership" but is merely sharing with others his vision of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary and the appearance of an angel who communicated with him. (This particular person has appealed to leadership for counsel regarding his experience.)

4. The majority of the messages of which I am aware did not involve dreams/visions but rather came by what is termed a thought voice. The thought voice is not audible either to the messenger or to anyone else. The messengers say the impression might begin with the words "My child, I want you to write," and then, when the individual begins to write, God dictates the rest of the message. One interviewee spoke of receiving messages from God through thought voices under varying circumstances. In view of the prevalence of the thought voice method of communication, I shall limit this article to this phenomenon.

Thought voices

The thought voice is definitely considered supernatural. The messengers believe that what they write constitutes the very words that God has dictated. It is claimed that most, if not all, of the individuals experiencing this phenomenon have been directly or indirectly involved with the exorcism of evil spirits or demons.

With the exception of two or three points, the messages contain nothing unique. The vast majority of the messages I have read could be classified as general exhortations. They give strong emphasis to the soon coming of Jesus, repetitiously and zealously urging preparation for the end, since the final events "will unfold like wildfire." Many of them also give descriptions of the Lord weeping for "My church." They contain strong rebukes to the church for being in a Laodicean state, and set forth vivid portrayals of the condition of God's people. And they make strong and repeated appeals for God's people to study the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy.

I found three major unique features of these messages: 1) Predicting a California earthquake. There is no date set when this will take place, although one unsigned letter sent to the General Conference leaders predicted a major earthquake in California at 4:00 p.m. on December 29, 1985. Obviously this was a false alarm. Others predicting the earthquake simply say that it is on its way and is very near. 2) Declaring that the judgment of the dead is now passed to the living. 3) Informing the General Conference president that "all conferences must set up seminars to teach and prepare the ministers and laypeople how to [sic] cast out demons." (This particular message castigated leadership for not preaching "the whole gospel all these years.")

Discrepancies between the messages of different messengers have arisen, with some messengers not desiring to be connected or identified with other messengers. To support their divine authenticity, the messengers strongly emphasize that nothing in the messages conflicts with the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy.

Questionable methods of revelation

Many are asking whether these individuals are inspired messengers of the Lord. This is one of those situations where friendships with, and appreciation for, the individuals cause me to treat this subject as sensitively as I possibly can. And yet I must avoid gullibility. I cannot speak for the church, but I will share with you my own concerns.

I am most seriously concerned with the method of communication. I have not been able to find anything in Scripture that would support God's using thought voices in communicating His will to mankind. When I discussed this concern with one of the leading messengers, she answered, "But how can we judge God as to the way He wants to communicate His will to us?" Shortly after this interview the individual involved claimed to have received a message from the Lord. It read in part: "                  has done some good, but he has put Me in a box just so many inches one way and so many inches another. ... If he were really and truly looking for the Lord to come soon he would not be boxing Me in, saying I should not dictate messages. But, My daughter, know this, My time for coming to earth is so very short I do not have time to allow each messenger to prepare his or her own words. The messages must move forward at a rapid pace. There is also too much danger of a messenger putting his own thoughts in a message, if I allowed him the liberty of writing My words his own way.

"The angel of the Lord guided My Ellen, step by step, in the writing of My words. But in her day there was time ahead to compile many books, so therefore, I allowed her a little more liberty, BUT I gave My angel instructions to guide what she wrote." (The capital letters are in the message, the messenger claiming that they were dictated in this fashion by the Lord.)

These paragraphs make two points: We can't "box" God in as to His method of communication. And since there is no time to rewrite the message in more sophisticated or appealing language, "divine dictation" is now necessary.

Both of these arguments disturb me. As to the first, God has used verbal inspiration (divine dictation) only rarely in the thousands of years He has been inspiring men and women to write. Would He change now, knowing it would cause doubt and confusion among His people?

The second simply does not make sense. With word processors and advanced techniques in communication, any message, secular or religious, can be edited quickly and efficiently. Furthermore, the messages I have read do not constitute the type of material that would be put in a book. When Ellen White wrote the Conflict of the Ages Series, much research and editing were required. But her testimonies, which were letters containing general admonition written to various individuals, did not demand the refinement of a book manuscript. The content of the messages under discussion, although quite inferior in quality, is similar in type to the testimonies. So the time factor argument does not stand up.

Of greater significance is the fact that because of the evidence of the Scriptures themselves, our observation of how Inspiration worked through Ellen White, and her direct and clear statements, our church has never believed that the Scriptures were given through verbal inspiration. We do not deny that God communicated with His prophets in various ways, such as through "thoughts, dreams, and visions, and through angels who sometimes delivered explicit, word-by-word directions" ("Study Documents on Inspiration and Creation," Adventist Review, Jan. 17, 1980, p. 9). But we do believe that word-by-word counsel was used occasionally, not generally.

Inspired people, not words

Ellen White describes in transparent language how Inspiration worked on the prophetic writers: "The writers of the Bible were God's penmen, not His pen. Look at the different writers.

"It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man's words or his expressions but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. But the words receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God" (Selected Messages, book 1, p. 21).

Again she emphasizes the freedom a prophet's mind has in using his own words to describe inspired concepts. "Through the inspiration of His Spirit the Lord gave His apostles truth, to be expressed according to the development of their minds by the Holy Spirit. But the mind is not cramped, as if forced into a certain mold" (ibid., p. 22).

Those now claiming to receive inspired communications from the Lord through thought voices are certainly fettered with a "cramped" mind. They are mere automatons transcribing God's dictation. Even if this were the only objection, I would be forced to reject the writings of these messengers as being inspired.

But I see other problems as well. The messages from the different messengers vary as to the quality of writing and the language used. One is written more sophisticatedly than another. In view of this, I asked the question to which I received no satisfactory answer: If God dictates the actual words and the individual messenger has no freedom to express the inspired thoughts in his own language, then why are the messages not of the same sophistication and quality? During my lifetime, secretaries have faithfully transcribed my dictation. Regardless of the speed, abilities, or IQ of the secretaries, the letters transcribed have my stamp of ownership because the vocabulary and phraseology they contain are uniquely mine. If God dictates the messages, their quality should be consistent and far superior to those I have read. (Would God dictate grammatical errors? Ellen White says that as a consequence of receiving the gift of tongues, the disciples' language, whether they spoke in their native tongue or in a foreign language, was "pure, simple, and accurate" [The Acts of the Apostles, p. 40]). In addition, I am surprised at some of the words and phrases these messages imply that God uses. According to them, God terms California "schizophrenic" and "totally possessed," and speaks of the "boob tube," "soap operas," etc. Are these really God's words, or do they reflect the messengers' way of expressing themselves?

Of questionable origin

Second, I am concerned because those experiencing the thought voice phenomenon are directly or indirectly connected with the deliverance from demons' ministry. (In future issues MINISTRY will publish articles on this subject.) None can deny the existence of demons and their present-day harassment and possession of individuals, but there is serious question over some of the methods used and claims made by those involved in deliverance ministry. Every Adventist minister ought to read carefully the 35-page report titled "Spiritual Warfare and Deliverance Ministry and Seventh-day Adventists." (For $2 you can get a copy from the General Conference Biblical Research Committee.)

I believe the deliverance ministry and these claims of having the prophetic gift correlate. In fact, the deliverance ministry seems to be the springboard from which the supposedly supernatural revelations are launched. What safeguards against self-delusion does a person have if he believes that a thought voice is God's method of communication? This question is even more significant when the person is either present at, or participates in, exorcism sessions. Could sincere individuals whose psyches are extremely sensitive to what they consider to be of supernatural origin be deluded into believing that God is speaking to them in a supernatural way?

The content of the messages also leads me to doubt their authenticity. The messengers claim that the fact that the messages do not conflict with the Bible or the Spirit of Prophecy adequately corroborates the claim that they are of God. I agree that messages from true prophets will be in full harmony with Scripture and the Spirit of Prophecy; but, of itself, that is insufficient proof of inspiration. In dealing with the visions of Anna Phillips, Ellen White forcefully made this point. "The great wonder to me is that our brethren should accept these writings because they could see nothing objectionable in them. Why did they not consider what there is in them that is of a character to be endorsed and sent forth with the power of influence which gives them their force?" (Selected Messages, book 2, p. 94). Notice Ellen White's question in the last sentence: What content did Anna Phillips' messages have that would cause some brethren to endorse them?

The same question must be answered relative to today's messages. There may be little or nothing that conflicts with the Bible and Spirit of Prophecy; however, the repetition is actually boring, and the content is largely a stream of verbose warnings of the end with virtually no concrete suggestions as to how to prepare for the Lord's coming other than by reading the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy, smashing our TV sets with hammers, and moving out of California. The warnings relative to the end-time in the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy are far more commanding and have a much more authentic ring.

Harmless doesn't mean inspired

Ellen White tenderly pointed out that she in no way wanted to hurt Anna Phillips, but she did not "dare to keep silent." Then she wrote: "You seem to think I should be able to point out just where the particularly objectionable sentiments lie. There is nothing so very apparent in that which has been written; you have been able to discover nothing objectionable; but this is no reason for using these writings as you have done. Your course in this matter is decidedly objectionable. Is it necessary that you should discern at once something that would produce harm to the people of God, to make you cautious? If nothing of this kind appears, is this a sufficient reason for you to set your endorsement to these writings?. . .

"Do not spread abroad writings of this character without more consideration and deep insight as to the after consequences of your course of action. . . .

"Fanaticism will appear in the very midst of us. Deceptions will come, and of such a character that if it were possible they would mislead the very elect. If marked inconsistencies and untruthful utterances were apparent in these manifestations, the words from the lips of the Great Teacher would not be needed. It is because of the many and varied dangers that would arise, that this warning is given" (ibid., pp. 94, 95).

This counsel is most applicable to these messengers and messages today. Consider one example. As already mentioned, one of the messengers wrote the General Conference president that he "must set up seminars to teach and prepare the ministers and laypeople how to cast out demons." According to reports, the methods used by many today in the deliverance ministry has brought confusion and division in a number of churches. It would not be difficult to envision what would happen to our church if this counsel were actually heeded. If all of the pastors and laypeople of our worldwide movement were to start concentrating on exorcism, it would lead us into fanaticism of a most dangerous and destructive type! Ellen White has given us balanced counsel that is most applicable to the point under consideration: "If we work to create an excitement of feeling, we shall have all we want, and more than we can possibly know how to manage. Calmly and clearly 'preach the word.'. . . We must not regard it as our work to create an excitement. The Holy Spirit of God alone can create a healthy enthusiasm" (ibid., p. 95).

The above quotations dealt with the Anna Phillips problem. Anna Phillips was sincerely misguided into believing she was having visions from God. Fortunately, when she received Ellen White's counsel, she accepted it, and her supposed visions immediately stopped. She became a faithful Bible worker and served the church well for many years.

Truth from wrong source

Paul's experience (Acts 16) provides another example. A slave girl with a spirit of divination followed Paul and his companions, crying, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation" (verse 17, RSV). She did this for many days, annoying Paul, and finally he turned and delivered her from the control of the evil spirit.

Paul and his companions were God's servants proclaiming the way of salvation. But although the message this poor girl was proclaiming was true, she was being used by the evil one. "Satan knew that his kingdom was being invaded, and he resorted to this means of opposing the work of God, hoping to mingle his sophistry with the truths taught by those who were proclaiming the gospel message" (The Acts of the Apostles, p. 212).

An additional caution comes from one individual originally involved in the thought voice phenomenon. She has repudiated her experience, testifying that prior to receiving the messages she had a joyful daily walk with the Lord, but that when she became involved with the thought voice she lost that experience. This led her to believe that this phenomenon was not from the Lord.

After reading a number of pages of messages from one of the messengers, Arthur White, who has had years of experience investigating cases of this nature, succinctly stated, "I do not question                 's sincerity, but I must say after giving two days of study to the writings and defense, I am convinced that her work does not meet the test of a genuine prophet and I have written in red [across the pack of messages] 'No clear evidence. This is a cheap counterfeit. Beware.' A. L.W."

May I urge our ministry to be cautious in dealing with those who claim to be messengers for the Lord. The fact that so many are claiming to have such super natural experiences may be an indication that God is about to do something special for His people. I have no doubt that in these final hours the Lord will work in a marked manner. And I believe that Joel 2:28 will be fulfilled, God's Spirit will be poured out in latter-rain power, and signs and wonders will accompany the second Pentecost.

Undoubtedly, the nearness of our Lord's return should be uppermost in our minds. We should focus on developing a deep and abiding relationship with our Lord and Saviour. We should be pleading for an infilling of His Holy Spirit so that when a true manifestation of His presence and communication takes place we will be able to apply the tests carefully and thoughtfully, and know that it is truly of God.


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J. Robert Spangler is the editor of MINISTRY, an associate secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association, and a member of the board of trustees of the Ellen G. White Estate.

June 1986

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