Saturday, 14 December 2013

Strange Fire?

Dr. John MacArthur's recent Strange Fire conference in Southern California (and recently released book) has raised not a very small hullabaloo across the interwebs.

The conference basically examined and highlighted the errors, damage and extremes of the charismatic movement. While I can sympathise with the motivating factors behind the Strange Fire conference and do, in actual fact, support a majority of the biblical arguments propagated, I do fear that Dr. MacArthur has done himself a major disservice with his broad brush approach in denunciating all charismatics as biblically errant and consistently hungering after health and wealth instead of Jesus.

For some reason Dr. MacArthur sees the charismatic "movement" as just that. A movement. As if "The Charismatics" had their headquarters in Salt Lake City or some such thing and was run from on high by none other than a pope like figure such as C. Peter Wagner - oh wait a sec. . . ahem!

Dr. MacArthur seems to see all charismatics as being cut from the same cloth, as it were, and therefore has no compunction in tarring them all with his extremely wide and somewhat capricious brush.  If he looked closer he would soon find that 'charismania' is not a denomination and is much less monolithic than he would care to believe.

The general premise of the Strange Fire conference seemed to be that if you are not a cessationist and therefore believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit continue and are in operation today then you are in grave error and in danger of committing the unforgivable sin (Luke 12:10).

The fact that the apostle Paul exhorts us to "earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy" (1 Corinthians 14:1) seems lost on Dr. MacArthur. I presume he feels that Paul was simply addressing the church at Corinth in his day and is not relevant to us in the here and now.

Well I beg to differ. Without going into all the biblical arguments here, I'll let Dr. John Piper speak for me in that firm, succinct but loving manner that seems to come so easily to him.

Nonetheless. . .

. . . there was a lot of truth spoken at the Strange Fire conference, especially the Justin Peters and Joni Eareckson Tada sessions. The conference was obviously born out of a perceived need to address and correct the excesses of the charismatic 'movement'. As Dr. MacArthur himself said:
"I believe that we are not dividing the body of Christ in this conference.  We are trying to identify the body of Christ and show that these people aren’t part of it.."                                        (Q and A Panel Session 1)
To be completely fair to Dr. MacArthur, "these people" to whom he was referring, were not charismatics en masse (at least I don't think that's what he meant) but rather, the stars of various YouTube clips and the somewhat wacky antics of the Morning Star Ministries Holy Ghost "hokey pokey" which were shown during the Q and A session. Whereas balanced charismatics would consider "these people" inhabiting the fringe of charismania, Dr. MacArthur sees them as occupying the mainstream.

Is he right?

I have benefitted greatly from Dr. John MacArthur's teaching ministry over the years. He is an excellent exegete and one of the best expositional teachers I've heard. I would thoroughly recommend him to anyone. But I fear that all that 'goodness' might now get lost or dismissed amid the furore created by some of his more outrageous claims about charismatics.

It seems his strict adherence to cessationism blinds him to any of the truth or good that has come out of the pentecostal and charismatic world. One wonders for instance, what his response would be to the success of "Teen Challenge",  founded by the late David Wilkerson (of "The Cross and the Switchblade" fame - just as an aside, I wonder if Dr. MacArthur has read that book and if so would he be able to truly still assert that the gifts of the Spirit have ceased) who was a powerful, Christ exalting, bible focussed charismatic leader.

As a bible believing, Christ loving, reformed charismatic myself, I do believe Dr. MacArthur has a major point, but as an outsider looking in he cannot see the forest for some of the trees. For far too long we as 'insiders' have sat idly by, saying and doing nothing, as one television evangelist after another falls into gross sin and disgrace. Dr. MacArthur having witnessed our inactivity for far too long has presumably decided that enough is enough and taken it upon himself to speak out. Hence the Strange Fire conference.

Surely therefore, rather than leaving it to the likes of Dr. MacArthur who sees only the bad, is it not incumbent upon us within the soft, malleable walls of the charismatic 'movement' itself to acknowledge the actual abuses that occur, to call out excess and outright heresy when we see it and to extricate it from within our midst. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)  We should not shrink back into some sort of pseudo holy fear (a weird cultish sort of fear that many pentecostals and charismatics seem to possess) that in doing so we might be 'messing with God's anointed'.

Let's never forget, God only has one Anointed One.

No comments:

Post a comment