Official Prophets (Ministers) and Independent Prophets (Ministers)
A prophet is someone who proposes to speak for the LORD and therefore represents God. In the Old Testament we observe two kinds of prophets:
- Official prophets who served on the king’s court wherein they advised the kings of Israel or Judah, such as Nathan during David’s reign (2 Samuel 7:1-17, 12:1-14 & 1 Kings 1:22-23).
- Independent prophets who functioned outside the official sanction of the king, like Elijah, who opposed Ahab, the king of Israel (1 Kings 18:16-21).
Both types are good and necessary but — as with anything — each can be corrupted. When corruption enters the picture, abuse is always nearby (abuse is the misuse of power).
The potential pitfall for official prophets is that they can easily become “yes men” in an effort to maintain their position and recognition. The obvious challenge for independent prophets is their immediate lack of human accountability and potential for unorthodox positions, meaning unbiblical teachings.
A good example of the former would be the 400 “official” prophets of Israel that righteous Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, recognized as dubious:
5 But Jehoshaphat also said to the king of Israel, “First seek the counsel of the Lord.”
6 So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain?”
“Go,” they answered, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”
7 But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?”
1 Kings 22:5-7
Jehoshaphat was the righteous king of Judah whereas Ahab was the wicked king of Israel, although Ahab had a sincere season of repentance around this particular time (1 Kings 21:25-29). Whatever the case, it’s clear that Jehoshaphat didn’t trust these 400 “official” prophets who served Ahab. He discerned that they were worthless “yes men.” So he inquired of Ahab:
7 …”Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?”
8 The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah son of Imlah.”
“The king should not say such a thing,” Jehoshaphat replied.
9 So the king of Israel called one of his officials and said, “Bring Micaiah son of Imlah at once.”
1 Kings 22:7-9
Micaiah (mih-CAY-ah) was an independent prophet who was unknown to the king of Judah and disregarded by Ahab because he refused to tickle the king’s ears with untruths. Notice how Micaiah responds to the messenger who was sent to get him:
13 The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably.”
14 But Micaiah said, “As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.”
1 Kings 22:13-14
As you can see, the envoy pressured this independent prophet to agree with the words of Ahab’s numerous official prophets, but Micaiah nobly stressed that he could only convey what the LORD gave him to say. Observe what happens next:
When he arrived, the king asked him, “Micaiah, shall we go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or not?”
“Attack and be victorious,” he answered, “for the LORD will give it into the king’s hand.”
1 Kings 22:15
Micaiah was implementing sarcasm here, amusingly mocking Ahab’s 400 “official” prophets. He then proceeded to tell Ahab and Jehoshaphat the truth, which you can look up yourself.
Uriah the priest during the reign of wicked Ahaz, king of Judah, is another sad example of a minister who weakly just goes with the flow in order to maintain his position and keep bread & butter on the table. Ahaz went to Damascus to meet the king of Assyria wherein he noticed an altar to Asshur, worshiped by the Assyrians, and sent Uriah in Jerusalem sketches of the pagan altar and corresponding orders concerning idolatrous worship. The account culminates with this sad statement: “and Uriah the Priest did just as King Ahaz had ordered” (2 Kings 16:10-16).
Keep in mind that Uriah was supposed to be a priest of the LORD and that the previous king of Judah and the following king were righteous (the father and son of Ahaz respectively). Wouldn’t you think that the head priest closest to the throne would defend staying faithful to Yahweh and adamantly object to gross pagan idolatry in God’s Temple? Not in this case. Uriah might have been an “official” minister of the LORD, but obviously not in his heart or practice. We see similar “official” ministers today in various compromised sects. Whatever dubious doctrines & practices are approved by the authorities of their sect they just wimpily go with the flow.
In contrast to Ahab’s 400 prophets and Uriah the priest, Nathan is an example of an official prophet who refused to become a pathetic “yes man.” He boldly spoke the truth and confronted error when applicable, come what may (2 Samuel 12:1-14).
In contrast to righteous Elijah and Micaiah, a good example of an independent prophet becoming corrupt is the nameless old prophet who lied to a younger prophet — simply referred to as a “man of God” — about an angel supposedly visiting him and giving him instructions that deviated from the LORD’s personal instructions to the younger prophet (1 Kings 13). Foolishly believing the older prophet’s lie and disregarding the Lord’s direct instructions resulted in his death (verses 18-25).
Official Ministers and Independent Ministers in the New Testament Era
The history of Israel and the patriarchs in the Old Testament serve as examples to us, the worldwide Church (1 Corinthians 10:11 & Galatians 4:24). God’s kingdom reigned on earth in the Old Testament via the physical nation of Israel whereas God’s kingdom reigns on earth in the New Testament period via the spiritual nation of the Church (1 Peter 2:9). We’re currently living in the New Testament era, of course.
Israel was led by prophets, judges, kings and priests while the Church is led by apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, which means fivefold ministers (Ephesians 4:11-13). ‘Minister’ means “servant,” by the way, so the Church is led by servant-leaders.
Just as Israel had official prophets and independent prophets, so the Church has official ministers and independent ministers. Official ministers in the Church are those who function within the structure of a particular camp/sect/denomination. These ministers receive their credentials through schools in these groups and function within them. To one degree or another, their allegiance is to these groups, but hopefully to God & His Word first and foremost.
Independent ministers, by contrast, function outside of sectarian tags even if they get their credentials through a particular group or via a school that serves Christians from several sects that operate under the category of, say, Evangelicals. Of course, some genuine independent ministers don’t have proper public credentials at all, but neither did the original apostles; they simply walked with the Lord.
I personally was ordained at a special service in 2006 and received a diploma from a reputable Bible college in 2010. When I got these credentials I put ’em in my closet and continued to do what I was already doing in service of the Lord. Actually, they’re displayed on a wall; I’m just making a point.
Just as the physical nation of Israel was split into sects after Solomon’s reign, that is, Judah and the Northern Kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12) — and, for a brief period, Benjamin separated to essentially fight for homosexual rights (Judges 19-21) — so the spiritual nation of the worldwide Church is split up into sects, some good, some bad and many somewhere in between.
Even if you’re part of a particular sect — and there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s where the Lord leads you to grow/serve — it’s best to strive to be as non-sectarian as possible, which you can read about here. Where and how you function & serve in the body of Christ is determined by your stage of spiritual growth, as well as the Lord’s calling and the Holy Spirit’s leading.
Strengths & Weaknesses of Official Ministers and Independent Ministers
Assuming the camp/sect in question strives to be Bible-believing and Bible-preaching, official ministers are reliable sources of Christian ministry, but they’re naturally prone to the flaws of their camp/sect, whatever those might be. In cases where the Scriptures clearly don’t agree with a particular doctrine or practice of their sect, they’ll likely side with their group above the Scriptures since it’s convenient and that’s where they get their bread & butter, so to speak, not to mention their position/recognition. Few official ministers are willing to risk losing these things, although Martin Luther did so when he boldly posted the 95 theses on the Wittenberg Door and eventually split from the Catholic sect.
Another downside of ministers functioning solely within the framework of a particular sect is that they can become spiritually inbred with the corresponding rigid sectarianism. Their ministry — e.g. their sermons — are prone to cop a “same old, same old” vibe with little freshness. As a result, they can become uninspiring.
The strength of independent ministers is that they’re less interested in the official doctrines/practices of a particular sect and more interested in what the God-breathed Scriptures actually teach. They can shake things up for believers in a positive way. It goes without saying that receiving from independent ministers can be refreshing and invigorating. Actually, the Word of God and anointed ministers should always shake us up in a positive manner (I’m obviously not talking about abusive non-ministry tactics, like a wicked spirit of condemnation, which sucks the life out of believers). The potential weakness of such ministers is that their quirks and lack of immediate governing structure can lead them astray into dubious doctrines/practices.
Diotrephes (dye-OT-rah-feez) was a pastor within the apostle John’s circuit of assemblies. He clearly wanted to become more independent in ministry, which is fine, but he started walking in the flesh to carry out this goal, which isn’t good. Observe what John said about him:
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will have nothing to do with us. 10 So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, gossiping maliciously about us. Not satisfied with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
3 John 1:9-10
Diotrephes was likely the head pastor of the fellowship. After all, who else but the pastor would have the authority to prevent leaders of John’s stature from coming and ministering? Who else but the pastor has the power to excommunicate? Unfortunately, in Diotrephes’ desire to become more independent in ministry, he took a grossly carnal turn — slandering leaders and unjustly excommunicating believers.
Christ was an Independent Minister
For the record, Jesus was an independent minister. Sure, he was a Judaic believer who regularly attended synagogue, but he didn’t identify with the various Hebrew factions of the 1st century: Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Essenes, Zealots, etc. Being independent and devoted to God & the Scriptures first and foremost, Christ wasn’t biased based around sectarian allegiances. Interestingly, while he warned his listeners about the corruption of the Teachers of the Law, he didn’t hesitate to commend one Teacher of the Law when appropriate (compare Mark 12:38-40 and Mark 12:28-34). In other words, just because a person belonged to a group he denounced, Jesus was able to give merit where it was due. We should do the same.
Likewise, independent ministers today are decidedly Christian, but they don’t necessarily identify with a specific group, like the Assemblies of God, Baptist, Reformed, Nazarene, Church of Christ, Word of Faith, Lutheran, Methodist, Episcopal, Catholic and so forth. There are much smaller sects in most local areas. This is not to say that independent ministers won’t minister within the framework of any of these groups. They can and do. It’s just that they refuse to allow the doctrines/practices of these groups to inhibit their service in the Lord.
When official ministers allow independent ministers to serve at one of their services they usually have to get the permission of the higher authorities of their particular sect. If not, there can be repercussions. For instance, the Assemblies of God require pastors to obtain permission to allow ministers outside of their sect to minister at a service. In the mid-2000s a Nazarene pastor I know allowed an independent prophet to minister at several services in his assembly, but this prophet was a Charismatic, i.e. he believed and functioned in the gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). Apparently that’s a no-no for Nazarenes because the pastor swiftly got kicked out of his denomination and moved to Canada to pastor another fellowship.
Who should you Receive from—Official Ministers or Independent Ministers?
Why not both since the Bible includes both types in the Old and New Testaments? Learn to “eat the meat and spit out the bones,” whether you’re receiving from an official minister or an independent one. This is a modern rephrasing of something encouraged in the New Testament (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).
Be aware of the strengths and potential weaknesses of both official and independent prophets. Reject the problematic or dubious, but receive the good. If you’re not sure something is scriptural put it on the back burner, so to speak, until you acquire more detailed information to draw a proper conclusion. But don’t just blindly accept whatever your camp/sect/assembly says is true, because it might not be. Keep in mind that all fivefold ministers are human beings with individual quirks. All of them have a downside, all of them. There’s no such thing as a perfect minister, just like there’s no such thing as a perfect church/camp/sect.
However, the minister should be free of sin as a lifestyle and it’s important that they show evidence of the fruit of the spirit on a consistent basis (Matthew 7:15-23 & Galatians 5:19-23). They must be completely free of major sin and, when they miss it in smaller areas, they should be humble enough to admit it and spiritual enough to quickly ’fess up, receive forgiveness and move on (1 John 1:8-9).
If you sense an abusive, accusing or rigidly legalistic spirit with little evidence of fruit of the spirit, head to the hills, whether it’s an official minister or an independent one. This is what Christ instructed us to do (Matthew 15:14). Since pride is sin numero uno, arrogance is the worst indicator. I’m talking about a pompous, boastful, condescending spirit that refuses to ever admit they’re wrong and loves to manipulate.
Lastly, the doctrines (teachings) a minister teaches/preaches should be as biblical as possible because the Holy Scriptures are the LORD’s blueprint for authentic Christian doctrine & practice. Ministers should be held accountable to what God’s Word teaches based on sound hermeneutics.
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