Edit: According to my Mom’s comment below, I conflated two guys in the charismatic movement named “Dick” in my memory. I have revised this post to reflect the history accurately, and while I still maintain the “prophecy” by Dick Joyce was false, I withdraw any such suggestion about the late Dick Mills, who passed away last month.
My parents were involved in the Charismatic Movement in the 1970s when we lived in Southern California. Much of my own suspicion about claims of supernatural happenings in Christian circles, actually comes from my experience with the Charismatics. There’s a longer story there, and maybe someday I’ll tell more of it…suffice it to say for now that the vast bulk of all I’ve ever encountered claiming the miraculous work of God smells to me of delusion or fraud or both–not, please understand, because I believe God couldn’t do miraculous works today, but rather because I rather think he usually doesn’t, and more importantly that an awful lot of snake oil gets sold by Christians claiming otherwise.
Anyway, back in ’72 or ’73 we encountered this guy named Dick Mills when he spoke at our church in Upland, California. He had a rather interesting ministry in that he claimed that when he met an individual, God would bring to his mind one or more of the many Bible promises he had memorized (and the man had a phenomenal memory), and with it give them a prophetic word that was uniquely suited to that individual. Both Mom and Dad were given words by Mills during that service, which they believed were later shown to come true. I haven’t asked them recently what their take on these experiences are 40 years on (Mom & Dad, you’re welcome to comment…I’d love to know), but this is my story anyway and not theirs.
Some time later, Mom and Dad went to a Charismatic conference (I believe it was called a “Holy Spirit Conference”) somewhere back East, and when they came home, they came with a tape of one of the sessions at which somehow another speaker named Dick Joyce had asked them both to stand up in what I gather was a rather large audience, and had given them a very specific prophecy regarding their four sons. I clearly remember the message they played for us…Dick had told them that the Lord intended that of us four boys, one would become a powerful public speaker for God, two would be involved in Christian music ministry, and one would be, though “antisocial by the world’s standards,” a “conceptual thinker” about matters of faith. I also recall that at least one later time Dick met our whole family at another event, and he remembered and reiterated this theme.
I grasped for this “word from the Lord” at the time. It was a period of profound disappointment for me, where I saw all this activity around me that claimed to be the Holy Spirit working, and yet I always found myself feeling like the hungry little kid pressing his nose against the window of a restaurant where the happy patrons inside were enjoying a sumptuous feast. This, I thought for a while, was the one place where God had actually directed some of this stuff to me. I wanted that, and for a while I hung onto it.
So, forty years on and at the death of the prophet, what of his prophecy? I’m in public health and government, my next brother down is a university chemistry professor, the next is an international businessman, and the youngest is a middle school science teacher. Career isn’t everything though. Can we be fit into any of those four categories? Well, I suppose this blog might call me out as the conceptual thinker, but I’m hardly antisocial and am happy to speak in public. None of us are remotely connected to music whether secular or sacred (and only two of us are particularly musical, me being one of the two). Number three in the lineup is definitely a well-regarded public speaker, but it’s in the field of international economics, finance, and intellectual property. Those may be articles of faith to some, I suppose, but. . .
The Bible makes some pretty harsh statements about prophets whose prophecies don’t come true. Deut. 18:22 says: “when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.” Earlier in the same passage (verse 20) God is even harsher: “But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.” I never heard Joyce speak in the name of another god, but by this yardstick, he spoke presumptuously (in fact, to suggest God has a personal word for nearly everyone you meet seems to me presumptuous on the face of it).
There may be times that Joyce truly brought a word from the Lord to other people than me. I cannot testify for them. But while we’re not dead yet, it would seem to me that 40 years on it is highly probable that the very-public prophecy given about my brothers and me was false and presumptuous. Dick Joyce was, by my testimony at least, a false prophet.
Why do I tell you this story? Two reasons, I suppose. First because it’s one small window for those of my friends reading this blog, as to why I tend to be pretty suspicious of miraculous claims of any sort. My cynicism has been a long time in growing, and it’s hard-earned. But more importantly, I tell it because I think it is vitally important that we be careful not to misrepresent our own works (or our good luck) as God’s miraculous intervention. Giving glory and thanks to God for blessings experienced is good and right. But I see a tendency among many Christians to mistake warm or ecstatic feelings for the presence of God, and to chalk up every positive occurrence to God’s miraculous intervention. The unfortunate corollary to this way of interpreting life, however, is that the person who’s depressed or whose life isn’t going so well, feels abandoned by the same God that’s supposedly “blessing” the fortunate. This tragic interpretation can lead that unfortunate person to doubt the whole enterprise…I know well, because it’s been me on more than one occasion.
God may in fact do stuff in the church of today like we read about in the Book of Acts, sometime and somewhere. But if he ever does, it won’t take manufactured faith to see it. Until then, we would do well to be a little more circumspect in our claims of divine intervention.