Chain letters. That’s what they’re called. I hadn’t seen them for quite a long time – but they were popular in our youth, those happy, carefree days when anything remotely authoritative would command our compliance.
Such letters might contain a promise of a financial breakthrough. Or, a blessing for good health. Or, maybe even good examination results. In short, you will get something you’ve always wanted, but you must not break the link – you must within a short period of time forward the same “prayer” to similar-minded people. In for a penny, in for a pound.
Was I surprised to get an e-chain letter recently, which concluded thus: “Take 60 seconds and send this on quickly and within hours, you will have a multitude of people praying to God for each other. Then, sit back and watch the power of God work in your life for doing the things that you know He loves… you must send to 15 people. In 15 minutes you will receive something you have long awaited”!
It was tougher in the old days, when one had to laboriously hand-copy the letter (or type on the trusty Smith Corona), fold it into an envelope, affix a stamp and bring it to the Post Office for onward passage. Today with all the social media tools, this can spread instantaneously like wildfire and take on a life of its own. Good advice from Suzanne Trevellyan: “Please, resist the urge to forward these letters. Report the email as spam and trash it.”
Nobody knows who started it. Nobody has been held accountable for it. But if the promised blessing doesn’t arrive, you’re to blame. Lack of faith or, sometimes, just pure laziness. There’s no customer service counter to entertain your unhappiness or disappointments.
So-called prophecies have plagued Christian circles for hundreds of years. But when the predicted event does not eventuate, those prone to believe just wipe the slate clean. And not unlike puppies pursuing every passing car, they’re off and after again.
Wikipedia has helpfully compiled their list of “suspects” but these few suffice for a sampling:
“Herbert W Armstrong, the founder of the Worldwide Church of God, told members of his church that the Rapture was to take place in 1936, and that only they would be saved. After the prophecy failed, he changed the date three more times.
“Jim Jones, the founder of the People’s Temple, stated he had visions that a nuclear holocaust was to take place in 1967.
“Jeane Dixon claimed that Armageddon would take place in 2020, and Jesus would return to defeat the unholy Trinity of the AntiChrist, Satan and the False Prophet between 2020 and 2037. She had also previously predicted the world would end on February 4, 1962.”
Just for good measure, only last year someone solemnly and confidentially “passed on” the prediction that our world would come to an end in September 2017.
“Fake” prophecies give the others a bad name. Surely among the thousands, some must be authentic and trustworthy. God does give us early warnings. There is no need to be caught unawares. To proceed with caution is the prudent way; seek the counsel of the wise and proven - especially those who have nothing to gain from the prophecies. Don’t throw the baby out with the proverbial bathwater by shunning all prophecies.
In turn, here’s a prediction coming true with ample evidence in our church circles today: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” (2 Tim 4:3-4, KJV)
Now, let’s break this chain!
Dr Andrew Goh is the honorary editor or IMPACT Magazine