The Christian blogosphere is ablaze over John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference. I wanted to weigh in on John MacArthur and the whole issue.
In general, I like to dialog about the charismatic movement about as much as I like to dialog about politics or the latest trends in plumbing. It is such a beaten up dead horse; this was a burning (pun intended) issue 30 years ago and most of the world has moved on from this controversy. This is like the zombie undead issue that keeps lurching around but won’t die.
Charismatic Camp Needs a Spanking
For the record, I agree that there has been a great deal of weird and untruthful excess in the charismatic world, and that the fruitful work being done among charismatic ministries is mostly happening because of the work of the Holy Spirit in people that wouldn’t be characterized as specifically charismatic.
I have for many years thought that the idea that there is a second baptism is not quite scriptural. In fact, some if not many charismatic churches tend to have a lack of concern for scriptural accuracy and truth, and this is a huge problem. I have attended several charismatic churches over the years, and some are worse in this way and some are much better. Most charismatic churches have distanced themselves from being truly wacko, especially these days, but significant numbers remain very very weird. It probably really is time for someone to come right out and say, “I know you guys are supposed to be part of my family of belief, but that is just wacko.”
Cessationist Camp Needs a Spanking
The cessationist (gifts of the Spirit ended with the 12 apostles) camp has some very spurious hermeneutics going on themselves, and it seems most likely that neither of these positions is accurate. If you look in the gospel of John and the book of 1 John, there is much to notice about the person and purpose and manifest work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. It is all about comfort and help and revelation and truth, and nothing about being slain or sizzling or tongues or healings or prophecies. There are other places in Paul’s writings where some of these gifts are written about, and there is nowhere where it credibly can be read as saying the gifts would end, at least not until the far future when even faith is no longer needed. It seems a little convenient that only the comfortable and acceptable gifts have persisted, gifts such as teaching and hospitality, while the less comfortable gifts such as prophecy and tongues have ceased. Where is that spelled out, 2 Opinions 12? It is really not there.
The Gospel is Ignored
So while I don’t agree with MacArthur’s position completely on this, I agree in some ways, and I think some corners of the charismatic world really do need to be challenged and even spanked for being so ridiculous. I do think some of the things being taught at that conference are somewhat helpful. There is no way the people who need to hear it most are going to receive this instruction from MacArthur of course; this is more of a way for him to encourage and shore up his own camp, and help them to feel good about what they are doing. I think it is divisive and that he is painting with far too broad a brush.
The real distinctive that is important is this: John, Paul, Jesus, et all teach us many things about the Holy Spirit, but the truly central thing they teach is that Jesus Christ died to save sinners. The real problem with the weird corners of the charismatic movement is that they deify and basically worship the weirder experiential aspects of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and deemphasize or even ignore the central importance of the gospel of Christ crucified and risen for sinners. The real problem with MacArthur is not that he is cessationist, or that he is arrogant and distasteful, but that he teaches such a strong “Lordship Salvation” message that it borders on heresy. I don’t throw the word heresy around but he has gone out of his way to make his position clear that works are essential to salvation.
For now, that is all I want to say. The real question for these two factions within the church is not, “how do they stand on the Holy Spirit”? The real question is, “how do they stand on the gospel”? In fact they stand like two monkeys in a small cage flinging poo at each other. I don’t really want to see that. I am way more interested in Christ crucified to save sinners, because I am a sinner and I need saving. What conference can I go to to hear about that?
So, more to come on MacArthur’s strange fire: Lordship Salvation.
I just wanted to add that if you can concentrate on reading this post after viewing that picture, then I am proud of you. – Jim
I haven’t followed the MacArthur situation except to casually read people’s posts about it, but I like what you say here. Where do we stand on the gospel? That is the real issue and one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention. We take too much for granted. We think, “Well, of course we’ve got the whole Christ-died-for-sinners thing down, so let’s move on to something really pressing.” And the truth is that there is nothing “of course” about it, and nothing more pressing. I wonder how many of these peripheral issues would resolve themselves or at least lose their divisiveness if we were truly focused on the gospel.
Thanks for this Jim – our pastor brought this up this past Sunday.
There is no telling how much pain Mr. McArthur’s teaching has caused people. It caused me two years of sleepless nights. Thank you for calling it what it is. Heresy.