What is an overview of criteria used by different denominations to identify authentic prophets?
A broad coalition of Pentecostal denominations and movements recently (April 2021) created a Prophetic Standard Statement signed by major leaders (see the Initial Signers) containing guidelines to discern who are true modern-day prophets as well as appropriate use of modern-day prophecies. While there is room for disagreement, this is one of the clearest position statement from the Pentecostal sector.
Quotes from the statement (emphasis mine to highlight the criteria):
WE RECOGNIZE the unique challenges posed by the internet and social media, as anyone claiming to be a prophet can release a word to the general public without any accountability or even responsibility. While it is not possible to stop the flood of such words online, we urge all believers to check the lives and fruit of those they follow online and also see if they are part of a local church body and have true accountability for their public ministries and personal lives. We also urge prophetic ministers posting unfiltered and untested words purportedly from the Lord to first submit those words to peer leaders for evaluation.
WE BELIEVE that all spiritual leaders, including those serving as prophetic ministers, should be vetted and qualified by their respective churches, networks, or movements based on the standards of leadership set forth by Paul the apostle as found in 1 Timothy 3:1-8; Titus 1:5-9.
WE BELIEVE that all spiritual leaders, including five-fold ministry prophets, should be above reproach and should live a life worthy of their calling (see Eph. 4:1-3). Consequently, we believe that prophetic leaders whose lives violate the moral and ethical standards of the Word disqualify themselves from the ministry irrespective of how much influence or anointing they have.
WE ALSO AGREE that the greatest requirement for all leaders in the church, including prophetic leaders, is to endeavor to reflect the character of Christ and to utilize their gifts out of love for God, His people, and the lost (1 Cor. 13:2; Rom. 8:29).
WE VALUE humility, integrity, and accuracy in prophetic ministry in order to protect the faith and trust of those who hear a word that is stated to be from God. It is a sacred thing to claim to speak for the Lord and, in keeping with the words of Jesus, to whom much is given, much is required (see Luke 12:48). And just as those who teach are held to a higher standard of accountability (see Jam. 3:1), so also those who prophesy should be held to a higher standard. They can have a powerful influence over people’s lives for better or worse, because of which we urge sobriety and circumspection together with faith and boldness.
... if a prophetic word is delivered containing specific details and dates in which the stated prophetic word will come to pass and that prophecy contains no conditions to be met in order to be fulfilled, and that word does not come to pass as prophesied, then the one who delivered the word must be willing to take full responsibility, demonstrating genuine contrition before God and people.
... New Testament prophets, along with other New Testament ministry leaders, do not lord it over their people or demand submission and faith. Instead, in humility, they serve the flock (see 1 Pet. 5:1-4).
WE THEREFORE RECOGNIZE distinctions between a believer who gives an inaccurate prophecy (in which case they should acknowledge their error), a believer who consistently prophesies inaccurately (in which case we recognize that this person is not a prophet and we urge them to stop prophesying), and a false prophet (whom we recognize as a false believer, a lost soul, calling them to repent and be saved).
Because God’s gifts and calling are irrevocable (see Rom. 11:29), we understand that a person who has been prophetically gifted might be able to function in that gifting even though they are no longer in right relationship with God. That is why it is imperative that we judge a prophet by the fruit of their life and ministry rather than by their gift, also recognizing that there are some who started right but will be rejected in the end (see Matt. 7:21-23).
A representative Wesleyan perspective could be captured by this 2005 dissertation by Keith P. Bohley (Asbury Theological Seminary) The Gift of Prophecy in the United Methodist Church. Quote from Chapter 4 (Findings of the Study) Section "How Prophets and Prophecies are Validated" :
In responding to the question of how prophets are validated, each of the individuals interviewed said it had to do with the accuracy of their prophetic statements. When a word or prophecy is given that is accurate a strong validation occurs. All three churches trained and encouraged people to flow in the gift of prophecy. Pastoral leadership was identified as very important in encouraging members to deliver prophecy in the proper setting. With solid safeguards in place, an atmosphere was created that encouraged the prophet to risk speaking what the Lord had given them. This safe environment allowed those interviewed to bring forth a prophecy and know that it would be carefully weighed by others around them. This weighing proved to be another way of validating the prophecies that were delivered. When prophecy passes the test of the Spirit, Scripture, and human weighing, validation of the spiritual gift is obtained. The strongest validation remained the response of the individuals who received prophecy. Each of the individuals interviewed had received prophecy spoken into their lives. Realizing the power of a word of encouragement and hope helped to establish a format for the delivering of prophecy. While almost all of those interviewed would have indicated having made some mistakes in their prophecy, each of the individuals who saw themselves flowing in the prophetic gift were strongly validated as they prayed over or gave information to individuals that they would have had no way of knowing except from God.
A majority of Reformed churches hold that after the close of the canon there is no longer a prophetic office. A representative position statement is this 2007 pamphlet by Rev. Thomas Miersma published by the Loveland Protestant Reformed Evangelism Committee: Temporary Offices and Temporary Spiritual Gifts: A Defense Against Pentecostalism. Quote:
To claim, as the Pentecostals do, that God has now restored these special gifts is without Scriptural foundation. False references to the latter rain in the land of Canaan taken from the Old Testament prophets are just that, false references that twist the Scriptures. To maintain that these gifts have either continued or been restored in the church opens one up to all the medieval nonsense of Rome, to miracles of Mary, weeping statues, and the apocryphal stories of the medieval saints. It also opens the door to the lies of the Mormons and other cults of additional revelation.
Historic Christianity has always rejected such claims as deceitful delusions. The Reformation of the sixteenth century was in part about removing these abuses and superstitions from the church, which is one of the reasons why Luther, Calvin, and the other reformers also opposed the false visions and prophets associated with many Anabaptist groups.
But this view is not held by everyone within the Reformed sector of Christianity. Some, most notably John Piper, still holds the possibility of true prophecies. Quote from a 2013 Ask Pastor John episode #215 What Is Prophecy Today:
- Prophecy Will Pass Away
And here is a third one ...
So this text is a pretty clear argument, I think, that the gift of prophecy and tongues will continue until Jesus comes back. And it seems to me that the reason they pass away it says is precisely because they are imperfect. They are not Scripture-level authority, because 1 Corinthians 13:9 says, “we prophesy in part,” just like a little child trying to reason and think and talk. And when he grows up and becomes a man in the age to come, he won’t need that kind of help anymore.
Those are three reasons that I would say that the gift of prophecy is here until Jesus comes and that it doesn’t mean the kind of Scripture-level, inerrant, infallible, authoritative speech that some take it to mean.
We can use the report of the Commission on Theology and Church Relations of the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod January 1972 The Charismatic Movement and Lutheran Theology for a representative position of the Lutheran sector of Christianity, although non-LCMS denominations may not agree. The LCMS position is open but not to the same degree / certainty as in the NT era (cf. sections II.D and III.A.2). Not surprisingly the criteria given was rather general (cf. section III.C.3).
Quotes from the report:
II. BIBLICAL ANALYSIS
D. The Gifts of the Spirit Today
... The church must not conclude that because the Christian community in apostolic times had members who could speak in tongues, therefore the church today must possess similar gifts or it is somehow incomplete. It must not contend that because the church of the apostles had in its midst those with the ability to perform miracles of healing, therefore the church of the twentieth century must have members with similar gifts or it lacks an essential characteristic of the body of Christ. To be sure, the Lord may choose to give such gifts; but He gives to His church according to His good and gracious will and in keeping with His promises.
The Christian church today will accept with joy and gratitude any gift that the Spirit in His grace may choose to bestow on us for the purpose of edifying the body of Christ. It will recognize that the Lord does not forsake His church but promises the abiding presence of His Spirit. The church, therefore, will not reject out of hand the possibility that God may in His grace and wisdom endow some in Christendom with the same abilities and powers He gave His church in past centuries. It will take care lest it quench the Spirit by neither praying for nor expecting God's presence and power in building His
church. But it will also take seriously the admonition of the apostle to "test the spirits to see whether they are of God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1; 1 Cor. 12:10) 
III. CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
**A. A Response to Issues Raised by the Charismatic Movement Within Lutheranism.
2. The Promise of the Spirit
... Whether baptism in the Holy Spirit was a once-for-all event that occurred solely on Pentecost or an experience that would be repeated in the Christian church throughout the centuries cannot be determined with certainty. But it is quite clear from Scripture that "the gift of the Holy Spirit" has been promised to all generations of Christians. (Acts 2:39) While we Christians rejoice in this gracious promise, we should recognize that this gift of the Spirit does not necessarily include the promise of all extraordinary spiritual gifts that were once given to the apostolic church, such as speaking in tongues, miracles of healing, or prophecy.
3. Test the Spirits
Christians who are convinced that they have received a
charismatic experience should earnestly seek to evaluate it and determine its validity not only on the basis of personal feelings and emotions but especially in the light of God's holy Word. Followers of the Lord Jesus must take seriously the warnings of Scripture to "test the spirits to see whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1), lest we be led astray into a path that is injurious to our Christian faith and
hope. Scripture particularly urges Christians to test occurrences that give the appearance of being valid signs and wonders, with the reminder that in the last days false prophets will arise who will seek to lead God's elect astray by such means. (Matt. 24:24, Mark 13:19-23; 1 Cor. 14:29)
Scripture suggests various ways in which Christians may test the spirits that have gone out into the world.
- (a) What do they say with regard to Christ? Do they steadfastly and clearly bear witness to His divine person and His work of salvation? Do they give greater attention to the cross and resurrection of our Lord than to various phenomenal experiences?
- (b) What fruits do they produce within
the Christian congregation? Do they fulfill the simple service of Christian love among the people of God? Do they help edify the church, the body of Christ?
- (c) Do they accept what the Spirit of God teaches through His prophets and apostles in Holy Scripture? Do they accept what the apostle Paul has written "as a command of the Lord"? (Cf. 1 Cor. 14:37. Note that the apostle states in the next verse: "If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.")
(to be continued)
This gift continues to the present, conceived as a charismatic gift (or Manifestation gift, cf. 1 Cor 12:7), motivational gift (cf. Romans 12:6-8), or ministry gift (cf. Eph 4:11-12). See an article published by a Catholic Diocese of Lafayette (Louisiana, USA) Gifts and Charisms.
Eastern Orthodoxy teaches that John the Baptist was the last of the prophets although they don't teach that the spirit of prophecy is dead. Quote from the Orthodox Wiki article Prophet:
The End of Prophecy
This, however, is not to say that the spirit of prophecy is dead in the Church; there are many instances of saints and other Orthodox receiving prophetic dreams or visions. The term "prophet" itself, though, is generally reserved for Old Testament figures.
How come they do not always agree on who is an authentic prophet and who isn't?
In the first place, they don't agree whether the NT prophetic office was considered temporary (before canonization) or permanent (persists until Jesus comes again).
In the second place, if the gift continues, they don't agree whether
- God anoints a specific person today with the prophetic office (Pentecostal), or
- God only gives scattered prophecies to certain individuals like to some saints (Eastern Orthodox), or
- God gives certain charism to certain individuals, but not office (Catholic, Wesleyan), or
- They are not sure (Lutheran)
Then they don't agree as to the nature of the gift:
- Some conflate prophecy into other roles such as preaching or building up others.
- Some conflate prophecy into the Holy Spirit's giving personal direction to individual Christians, but some differentiate the two functions
- Some will characterize it as new revelations
But most seem to agree that
- it should not be exclusively seen as fore-telling but mostly forth-telling.
- it should benefit the group, not the prophet's power or financial gain
- it should not be used to manipulate (i.e. by warning their followers that judgment will fall on them if they fail to obey)
Finally, they don't agree as to the accuracy standard that a prophecy should be tested, whether it is to the level of Old Testament where all prophecies have to pass before a prophet is deemed authentic. Although most denominations that are open to modern prophecies will not use that strict criteria some are more strict than others.
With the above disagreements to the elements pertinent to the criteria, it is no wonder that different Christian groups don't agree to the overall criteria for determining whether a claimant is an authentic prophet. In my opinion, it all comes down to the tradition's interpretation of specific Bible verses. But reviewing the quotes from various denominations's position documents show many points of similarities such as
- fidelity to the Bible
- look at the fruits produced in the community
- look at the character of the prophets whether they conform to the character of Jesus Christ