Prophetic Discernment in an Age of Disinformation [Part One]
© Phil Mason January 2021
In the book of 1 Chronicles, the author highlighted a prophetic company called “the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” (1 Chronicles 12:32). This was a God-given prophetic insight that enabled this prophetic company to discern the uniqueness of the times and the seasons that the people of God found themselves in and how to respond in correspondence to the uniqueness of the season.
We are told by Solomon that “there is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV). Different seasons call for different strategies and different responses. Daniel prophesied that God is the author of the times and the seasons; “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are His. He changes times and seasons; He sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; He knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with Him.” (Daniel 2:20,21 NIV)
The events of 2020 and 2021 have unquestionably ushered in an entirely new season. The question is, what are the unique characteristics of this new season? I believe we are in a season of a significant ‘reset’ in the church, as God brings His people into a greater alignment with His voice.
The battle always revolves around the stewardship of the truth.
The current season of global upheaval, both politically, socially and economically, demands an entirely new level of spiritual discernment that reaches beyond the discernment of the previous season. Only the church as God’s prophetic community on earth has the potential to step into the rarefied company of the sons of Issachar in knowing, from heaven’s perspective, exactly what is going on in the earth in any given season. Prophets function as the ‘ears’ of the church and they are responsible to announce the new season and the new strategies in response to the new season.
Amos prophesied; “Surely the Sovereign Lord does nothing without revealing His plan to His servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7 NIV) God speaks from heaven and it is the task of the prophets to corporately discern exactly what the Lord is saying to His church.
But a number of unique factors have emerged in the current season that have raised the stakes to a whole new level in the current battle for truth.
One of the things I have become certain of in this unique season is that with the advent of the digital information age we have been plunged into a global information war. We have never been here before and we are all in an entirely new and unfamiliar environment that is highly disorienting. Worldwide access to social media platforms guarantees a much quicker flow of information but it also paves the way for an explosion of misinformation and disinformation. The battle to discern truth from error has subsequently gone to a whole new level in this new season.
The Apostle John distinguished the sons of God from the sons of this world on the basis of their relationship to the Spirit of truth. “Those people belong to this world, so they speak from the world’s viewpoint, and the world listens to them. But we belong to God, and those who know God listen to us. If they do not belong to God, they do not listen to us. That is how we know if someone has the Spirit of truth or the spirit of deception.” (1 John 4:5,6 NLT)
The apostles and prophets of the New Testament were uniquely anointed to train the people of God in discerning truth from error.
The battle in these days is to discern the voice of the Lord in the midst of a cacophony of voices, even within the church. God has set in place certain safeguards for the surefire discernment of His voice. One of these safeguards is our placement into the safety of a Spirit-filled prophetic community. Paul insisted that it is only “together with all the saints” that we can come to a comprehensive and certain knowledge of truth. (Ephesians 3:18 NIV) John said, “those who know God listen to us.” That is a big statement!
The ‘us’ to whom he was referring was the company of apostles and prophets upon which God has built His New Testament church. “We are His house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus Himself.” (Ephesians 2:20 NLT) The only way to keep our heads above the season of this new global information war is to immerse ourselves into prophetic community where the voice of the Lord is discerned together.
The ascendency of postmodern relativism has given rise to widespread misinformation and disinformation and it is these subjective claims to ‘truth’ that have ushered in an information war where everyone on the planet has to ‘run the gauntlet’ of a plethora of lies. There has never been a time in history where so many people simply don’t know what to believe anymore.
One of the features of the information age is the weaponization of information.
In 2019 Richard Stengel published “Information Wars: How We Lost the Global Battle Against Disinformation and What We Can Do about It.” His book traces the use of Russian disinformation in the 2016 US Presidential election campaign and the counter-disinformation campaign designed to obfuscate the revelation of Russian interference. That was a classic ‘information war!’ Subsequently, a number of books have been published on the theme of disinformation and counter-disinformation. This is the season we are in. Many people simply don’t know what to believe anymore because the information age has turned the world into a global battleground of competing political agendas and we are all caught in the crossfire. We are literally drowning in a sea of political propaganda that fills the airwaves with both left and right wing media outlets disseminating conflicting political narratives that compete for our allegiance.
Politics is all about power. Politicians are always manoeuvring and scheming to gain greater earthly power over their political adversaries. Politicians consistently engage in the cunning use of political ‘spin.’ They put a deliberate spin on information in order to persuade and control the way people think about a particular hot-button topic. Political parties all participate in political propaganda in order to gain power and this propaganda always plays upon people’s fears. To be equipped in discerning the times and seasons we have to recognise the power of political propaganda and the use of both misinformation and disinformation.
Disinformation is different to misinformation. Misinformation, by definition, is “false information that is spread, regardless of intent to mislead.” Someone who inadvertently spreads misinformation may themselves be simply misinformed. They have got their facts wrong and they are accidentally spreading false information.
On the other hand, disinformation means “false information, disseminated by a government or intelligence agency in a hostile act of tactical political subversion.” It is also used more generally to mean “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.” Disinformation is a tool of power politics to deliberately sway people to adopt their political position through the dissemination of propaganda and lies. Disinformation is as old as Satan’s temptation in the Garden of Eden.
That was the first example of disinformation for the purpose of misleading and deceiving. Eleven times in Genesis we read the words, “God said…” before the serpent uttered the challenge; “Has God indeed said….?” (Genesis 3:1) Satan is the “father of lies,” and disinformation is his key weapon. The use of disinformation becomes fertile soil for the spirit of witchcraft, or the deliberate control of the hearts and minds of the masses. Disinformation is a deliberate attempt at thought control. Paul said, “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?” (Galatians 3:1) Another translation says, “Oh, foolish Galatians! What magician has cast an evil spell on you?” (NLT) Lies can be a potent force for political advancement.
Disinformation trades in deception and is fuelled by the deliberate intent to deceive. Part of the widespread phenomenon of disinformation is the explosion of so called ‘fake news.’ Fake news is untrue information presented as genuine news. The rise of social media has facilitated the deliberate dissemination of fake news stories. Fake news reduces the impact of real news by intentionally competing with it. We are inundated daily with fake news stories designed to confuse and disorient people. Some politicians resort to using the term ‘fake news’ to describe any genuine news story that disseminates negative press coverage about them. They seek to cover up unfavourable media coverage by writing off the news story as a piece of ‘fake news.’ Politicians frequently engage in ‘smear campaigns’ against their political opponents. They always seek to cast their political enemies in the worst possible light. Accusing one other of fake news is a deliberate obfuscation of the truth and it happens all the time in mainstream politics.
Both left-wing media and right-wing media frequently accuse one another of disseminating fake news. The politicization of the language of ‘fake news’ sews widespread confusion into society. The deliberate creation of fake news is driven by a spirit of deception. This is all part of the flood of deception that is sweeping the earth and behind this agenda to lie and deceive is Satan, the father of lies. “The serpent spewed water out of his mouth like a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away by the flood.” (Revelation 12:15) This is the season we find ourselves in. Satan targets the church with his own disinformation campaign! Living in the midst of such a toxic and vitriolic information war, the church is often tossed to and fro by manipulative political propaganda and deliberate disinformation.
Staying free of all this ought to be our goal.
The question remains: can a Christian engage in the political process and remain undefiled by the spirits of deception that flourish in such a heated and hostile environment, where dragging political opponents down through deliberate disinformation becomes the primary goal of the political process? If love is meant to be the defining characteristics of the true followers of Jesus can we afford to get swept up in a deliberate agenda to depict other human beings as the ‘enemy?’ Love is the first thing to be thrown overboard when Christians get dragged down into earthly political battles. Time and time again I have seen good people getting drawn into open hostility toward perceived political enemies. We are called to win others to Jesus and to the truth through love, not politics.
If a Christian chooses to get swept up in earthly political battles my suggestion is to hold on tight to love as the highest virtue of all and to keep your eyes open to the spiritual powers that flourish in the political sphere. Being established in mature love ought to be a primary prerequisite for engaging in the political world. There are many lessons to take away from the season we are in. The sons of Issachar not only understood the times and seasons, they also knew what the people of God ought to do. In other words, they knew how believers ought to walk in the context of the uniqueness of the season.
In the second part of this series, I want to explore further how we are called to walk in the midst of the information wars and the age of disinformation. If my thesis is correct, that an accurate understanding of the times and the seasons necessitates an awakening to the role that disinformation plays in the shaping of popular culture, we need an entirely new operating system to navigate the times so we don’t get swept along by the currents of popular culture.
If you’ve enjoyed this article, keep an eye out for Part Two in ‘Prophetic Discernment in an Age of Disinformation.’