In Hamlin town, long long ago,
Nobody was happy, no, no, no
Their pretty little town was full of rats!
In everything they ate big holes
And drank their soup from the big soup bowls
And even made their nests in people’s hats
Along came a fellow slim and tall,
And said to the man at the city hall,
My dear, I think I have a cure.
I’ll rid your town of every rat
But you have to pay me well for that,
And the mayor jumped up and down and cried, why sure…
--Pied Piper of Hamlin
Acts 20:30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.
1 John 2:19-20, 26-27 They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth… I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit--just as it has taught you, remain in him.
To those with ears to hear what the Spirit is saying,
God has been good to us. Great and ancient tribes of Christ’s church have been reawakened to the voice of God. In no small part, we must credit the prophets who sacrificed their reputations and suffered our stubbornness to re-open the gate, welcoming the Good Shepherd to speak to his sheep once again. And speak he has! Not as in times of drought or as a trickling tap, but with the promised outpouring which Joel foresaw… generously, inclusively, almost indiscriminately. Moses’ prayerful wish that “all the Lord's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!" (Num. 11:29) has been fulfilled again in our time, just as it was inaugurated on the day of Pentecost. The prophethood of all believers has been revived across virtually every stream of the Church with the simple promise of Christ, “My sheep hear my voice” (Jn. 10).
Now, however, an ironic twist threatens the newfound joy of hearing God. “Ironic” because as in the time of the first Apostles, I see this threat arising from some of the prophets themselves.
I refer first to what some now are calling (by the Spirit, I believe) “Pied Piper Prophets.”
We designate them this way based on a prophetic parable from the old fairy tail about the Pied Piper of Hamlin. Hamlin, in the prophetic version, symbolizes the church of Christ and the rats are a picture of how the enemy, and specifically the religious spirit, had overrun us, infesting us from top to bottom, tormenting us, and stealing our spiritual food. In desperation, we finally found our deliverance in genuine, gifted prophets. So far, so good. But as has always been the case (cf. Acts 7:52), like the citizens of Hamlin, we betrayed many of these ministers. We used them, then abused and discarded them, rejecting the very ones whom the Lord had sent to our aid.
At precisely this point, every true prophet must be tested (Jn. 15:20-21). The true prophet will follow Christ in taking the low place, that of the suffering servant, for the sake of his love for the Bride and her children. Rather than responding in bitterness or with vengeance, the true prophet remains in the town, receives his or her healing there, and then continues to serve by cleansing it of plagues through the prophetic voice. They do not wipe the dust of the town off their feet until they are asked to leave. And when this does occur, unlike the Piper—and here is the key—they do not draw the children with them.
By contrast, the Pied Piper Prophet slams the door, stomps out, and storms away. Or perhaps they are subtler than that. They may slink away, drawing a following with them. Both the Apostle John and St. Paul describe this as the mark of a false prophet. Note well: this type of prophet is not “false” because their revelation was demonic, nor because they hear inaccurately. No, they are genuinely gifted, truly Christian prophets. What makes them false is that when faced with rejection, they fell by failing in their love for the church. They not only abandon her, but they abduct some of her children (the vulnerable, weaker ones) and ultimately (though rarely purposely) lead them to some form of spiritual destruction. Fancying themselves reformers, they become railers—imagining they are justified (because the church indeed betrayed them), they revile authority, becoming deceived and leading others into isolation and deception.
At this point, it is much better to see the red flag waving and sincerely ask, “Is it I, Lord? Have I done this?” Better to admit guilt (even for minor versions of this) than to respond defensively or argumentatively. Some tough questions worthy of pursuit with God:
1. When I felt betrayed or rejected by the church (it happens), how did I respond? With love or anger? With faithful service or by shutting down or even leaving?
2. If I left, did I explain my departure to the minister? Did I leave with the church’s knowledge? With it’s blessing? When I left, did I bless that church or leave it with a curse? How did I use my tongue?
3. When I left, did I draw others with me? Did they leave with the church’s knowledge or blessing? What became of them? Are you shepherding them? Are they still involved in a Christian fellowship? Able to settle in a home church? Walking with the Lord?
4. If I have been guilty of “pied piping,” what does the Lord expect of me now? Is there repentance or restitution to be done? Relationships to be healed? Damage to be repaired? Words of blessing to be released? Prodigal “children” to be sent home?
A final note on Pied Pipers lest we stumble into their practices: they have an agenda to maintain control through prophetic dependence. What I mean is, to maintain their voice and sway in the Body, they must perpetuate an aura of mystery and power around their gift that is superior to that of the common Christian. Having introduced the voice of God to the people, who begin to hear for themselves, they feel the need to remind the sheep that their gift is different or special in some way. Rather than cheering the sheep on with, “Yes, now you are hearing and seeing as we do!” they protect their privileged place as the elite by diminishing or even belittling the truth that now we are all prophets and can all prophesy. This is driven by fear of being rejected and marginalized again—of losing control. “Equip and release” is negated once again by a two-tiered spirituality of the rank and file who hear God and those who are “PROPHETIC” (as if the former just “see pictures” and “get words” but the latter have “visions” and “get revelations”). This is directly counter to the message of Acts 2; to Jesus’ promise of the Spirit in John 14-16; and John treats it as a false teaching in his first epistle. The biblical teaching on the Holy Spirit continually opposes all forms of two-tiered Christianity… in fact, this is central to the gospel message. Even Paul, who recognizes prophets as a particular type of minister in Eph. 4 and 1 Cor. 12, sees prophecy as a gift available to any believer at any time (1 Cor. 14).
The difference between hearing God and “the prophetic” is NOT that we have two levels of hearing God. Rather, hearing is what happens when we receive a revelation. The prophetic is what happens when we share that revelation (Paul is explicit about this in 1 Cor. 14:30-31). Anyone who hears God and shares what they are hearing is prophesying.
So why are some specifically designated as prophets by Luke and Paul? Is there still a place of honor for some to be recognized as prophets among (not above) the prophetic community? YES. Just as all can evangelize but not all are evangelists (yet their message is the same), the prophets are those:
i. whose track record of hearing has been established over time as accurate,
ii. whose revelations are recognized as being relevant to the whole church,
iii. whose ministry is recognized as beneficial and ongoing in the church,
iv. whose heart is to train others how to hear and to confirm what they hear.
Such people are considered prophets and will not be marginalized because they love the church more than themselves, their gifts, or their special status. They will have a place among us without fear of further rejection because they understand both service and authority. If this is the case, they will never become Pied Pipers and we will not be afraid to call them prophets.
Those who fail to see this will continue to wow the immature and prophesy to one another at conferences ad nauseum, but will lose their voice across the Body of Christ, thus influencing nothing.