John MacArthur set off a firestorm of debate in November when he launched his Strange Fire book and conference flatly charging the charismaticchurch with irreverence to the Holy Spirit, heresy through prosperity teaching and other offenses.
Now charismaticBible scholar and theologian Michael L. Brown is offering an in-depth response in an e-book entitled Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire. Indeed, the book confronts one of the most explosive current debates among Christians.
“We feel there’s a real urgency to get this message out,” says Tom Freiling, director of Excel Publishers and founder of Xulon Press. “That’s why we’re releasing Authentic Fire as an e-book. MacArthur unfairly criticizes charismatics in his book, and the body of Christ deserves a response. There’s no better scholar and author than Michael L. Brown to make the biblical case for charismatic theology.”
In direct contrast to the “collective war” launched by MacArthur, Brown makes a biblical case for the continuation of the New Testamentgifts of the Spirit and demonstrates the unique contribution to missions, theology and worship made by the charismatic church worldwide.
Brown also calls for an appreciation of the unique strengths and weaknesses of both cessationists andcharismatics, inviting readers to experience God. And he demonstrates how charismatic leaders have been addressing abuses within their own movement for decades.
“This project is innovative on many levels,” Freiling continues. “First, the author wrote the book miraculously in less than one month—all 420 pages with hundreds of endnotes. Second, we designed, typeset and produced the e-book in a mere two weeks.”
As a lifelong Pentecostal-charismatic, I recommend that every Pentecostal-charismatic leader read Strange Fire by John MacArthur. I say this because we need to see how the bizarre “spiritual” behavior and doctrinal extremes by some in our movement are viewed by those on the outside, and used to whitewash the entire movement.
We have done a very poor job of addressing these problems from within, so I do not doubt that God has raised up a voice that is fundamentally opposed to our movement to address these extremes. If God could use a pagan Babylonian king to discipline His people in Israel for their sins (see Jer. 25:8-11), could He not use a merciless fundamentalist preacher to point out our shortcomings?
That being said, MacArthur’s latest book does not represent an honest search for truth. It is obvious that his mind was already made up when he began his research for Strange Fire, and he found what he was looking for. He presents a circular argument, beginning with a faulty premise and proceeding with selective anecdotal evidence that determines the outcome.
He begins with a commitment to cessationism, i.e., the belief that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were withdrawn from the church after the death of the 12 apostles and the completion of the writings of the New Testament. That being the case, then modern expressions of spiritual gifts must be false. He then utilizes the selective anecdotal evidence to buttress his presupposition, which leads him back to his starting point of cessation.
It seems that MacArthur wants to believe the worst about the movement of which he writes. At times I felt he was embellishing the bad to make it even worse. For example, Oral Roberts was not a Christian brother with whom he had profound differences but a heretic who did much damage to the body of Christ—“the first of the fraudulent healers to capture TV, paving the way for the parade of spiritual swindlers who have come after him,” he wrote.
Make no mistake about it, MacArthur is not out to bring correction to a sector of Christianity with which he disagrees; his goal is to destroy a movement he considers false, heretical and dangerous.
MacArthur is either unaware or purposely ignores the historical evidence for the continuation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit as was presented in my book, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity. He ignores clear statements of church fathers such as Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Tertullian and Augustine about healings and miracles in their time. He uses Augustine’s statement about tongues being “adapted to the times” as an argument that the gifts had ceased. He ignores, however, Augustine’s later works, including Retractions, in which he acknowledges the ongoing miraculous work of the Spirit and tells of miracles of which he is personally aware.
MacArthur’s biblical argument for cessation is also very weak. He relies primarily on Ephesians 2:20, where Paul told the Ephesian believers that they were being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. He then argues that the gift of apostleship was only for the foundational period of the church, which in his mind is the first century. He goes on to say that the other gifts of the Spirit passed away with the gift of the apostle.
This, at its best, is convoluted thinking that goes far beyond what the text actually says. Paul’s point in this passage is not to teach cessationism, but to show the common faith of Gentile and Jewish believers in that both are built on the same foundation, which is Jesus Himself, and this fact is witnessed to by the Old (prophetic) and New Testament (apostolic) writings.
MacArthur’s disdain for women and their prominence in the Pentecostal-charismatic movement spills over when he refers to 1 Corinthians 14:34, which carries the admonition for women to be silent in the churches. He then says, “Given the nature of typical Pentecostal and charismatic church services, simply following that final stipulation would end most of the modern counterfeit.” He fails, however, to address the fact that Scripture itself states that women will have a prominent voice when the Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh, as Peter so eloquently stated in Acts 2:17-18. The prominence of women, therefore, may be seen as an indication that the modern Pentecostal-Charismatic movement is a genuine work of the Holy Spirit.
In summary, we who embrace the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the Church and the world must not flinch or compromise our commitment because of Strange Fire. At the same time, may we be diligent to address the errors and extremes that always creep in to any Spirit-filled movement, whether the church in Corinth, early Methodism or the modern Pentecostal-charismatic movement.
Eddie L. Hyattis a seasoned minister of the gospel, having served as a pastor, teacher, missionary and professor of theology in the U.S. and Canada and having ministered in India, Indonesia, England, Ireland, Sweden, Poland and Bulgaria. His ministry is characterized by a unique blend of the anointing of the Holy Spirit with academic excellence and over 40 years of ministerial experience. Visit him online at eddiehyatt.com.
Fundamentalist pastor John MacArthur is a gifted preacher, author and lover of Scripture. His Grace to You radio program points countless people to the Bible, and his Master’s Seminary trains hundreds of ministry leaders. He’s a staunch Calvinist, but that doesn’t make him any less my brother in Christ.
Unfortunately, MacArthur can’t say the same about me—and that’s sad. In his new book Strange Fire, he declares in no uncertain terms that anyone who embraces any form of charismatic or Pentecostal theology does not worship the true God.
My brother in Christ has written me off.
In John MacArthur’s rigid world, anybody who has sought prayer for healing, claimed a miracle, received a prayer language, prophesied, sensed God speaking to them, felt God’s presence in an emotional way or fallen down on the floor after receiving prayer has already stepped out of the bounds of orthodoxy.
MacArthur says charismatics think they worship God but that actually we are worshipping a golden calf. “Every day millions of charismatics offer praise to a patently false image of the Holy Spirit,” MacArthur says early in the book. “No other movement has done more damage to the cause of the gospel.”
He doesn’t just write off fringe elements of our movement; he skewers the original founders of Pentecostalism and even goes after Baptist author Henry Blackaby for teaching that God can speak to people today.
MacArthur, who is 74, urges evangelical Christians to engage in a “collective war” to stop the spread of the charismatic movement, which he describes as a “deadly virus,” a “deviant mutation of the truth” and a “Trojan horse” that has infiltrated mainstream Christianity. MacArthur writes, “Charismatic theology has turned the evangelical church into a cesspool of error and a breeding ground for false teachers.”
No one familiar with MacArthur is surprised by Strange Fire, since it is really a rehashed version of his 1993 book Charismatic Chaos. Unfortunately, some charismatics have given MacArthur plenty of new ammunition to support his case that we are all a bunch of sleazy con artists and spiritual bimbos. Our movement is new and fraught with problems, so MacArthur doesn’t have to look hard to find examples of troublesome doctrine. But instead of offering fatherly correction, he pulls out his sword and hacks away.
I’m no five-point Calvinist, but I will make five points here in response to MacArthur’s book:
1. Not all charismatics and Pentecostals have embraced errors or excesses. To MacArthur’s credit, he quotes charismatic leaders who have addressed legitimate abuses and errors in our movement. But then he writes us off with a broad brush. Actually, the majority of our movement is not in error, even though we all know of doctrines and practices that need correction. There are millions of healthy charismatic and Pentecostal churches around the world that are winning the lost, launching missionary endeavors and helping the poor. And charismatics and Pentecostals are fueling the global growth of Christianity—even with our flaws.
2. We must leave room for the present-day power of God. MacArthur believes God’s miracle-working power stopped around 100 A.D. He says healing, tongues, prophecy, visions and other supernatural manifestations described in the New Testament don’t work today. MacArthur is particularly irked that charismatics emphasize speaking in tongues (which he calls “gibberish”); he also complains that we have a “perverse obsession with physical health” (in other words, if you get sick, just accept it because God doesn’t heal anymore). But the New Testament doesn’t tell us that heaven flipped a switch and turned off the Spirit’s power. That is MacArthur’s opinion, not a biblical doctrine.
3. The church needs a fresh emphasis on the Holy Spirit. MacArthur says charismatics are guilty of an unhealthy focus on the Holy Spirit. He claims that the Spirit points only to Jesus and that we shouldn’t seek the Spirit’s power or presence because He likes to stay in the background. My question: If that is true, why did Jesus teach so much about the Holy Spirit? And why is the Spirit’s powerful work so clearly highlighted in the book of Acts and the epistles? It’s true that the Spirit wants all the credit to go to Jesus, but we are making a huge mistake if we ignore the Spirit or limit His power. The church today needs God’s power like never before.
4. There is a difference between biblical correction and judgmentalism. Anyone who reads this column knows I speak out regularly about whacky practices in our movement—from prosperity doctrines to necromancy to adulterous pastors who say God told them to divorce one wife so they could marry another. I believe we must address sin in the camp. But there is a difference between confronting specific sins and condemning a whole movement to hell. John MacArthur’s book has crossed that line.
5. We should love MacArthur anyway.Strange Fire lists numerous ways charismatics are misusing or abusing the Holy Spirit, in MacArthur’s view. But he forgets to mention that one of the important works of the Holy Spirit is to unify and connect the Christian community in deep fellowship. The New Testament urges us to “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3, NASB), and we are also told that love is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit. But Strange Fire was not written out of a heart of love.
Still, there is no need to retaliate against MacArthur. He is our brother because we all believe in and worship the same Savior. The best thing we can do in response to this extremely unkind book is to love our brother in spite of his unfortunate bias against us.
J. Lee Grady is the former editor of Charisma and the director of the Mordecai Project(themordecaiproject.org). You can follow him on Twitter at @leegrady. He is the author of The Holy Spirit Is Not for Sale and other books.
When I began blogging through last week’s Strange Fire conference, I had no idea how big an impact the event would have. Even while attempting to transcribe John MacArthur’s opening address, I was not convinced I wanted to dedicate three days and eight or ten articles to it. But once I began to see and hear the reaction, I determined there would be benefit to listening in, writing it down, and in opening it up for conversation.
I attempted to make my summaries as objective as possible—simply sharing what each speaker had said without offering my own opinions. Today I want to circle back one more time to share a few final reflections on the event. Here is what I am thinking several days later.
A WORLDWIDE ISSUE
This is a worldwide issue and I need to ensure I see it that way. We need to ensure we see it that way. Those who listened to the conference heard again and again just how many charismatics there are in the world—somewhere around 500 million. Conrad Mbewe made it clear that in many places in the world, and especially in the developing world, to be a Christian does not mean that you trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, but that you believe in and practice something akin to the miraculous gifts. Charismatic theology is a North American export that is making a massive impact elsewhere in the world.
There is a challenge here for myself as a Reformed, North American believer: I have a very narrow view of the Christian world—a too-narrow view. MacArthur made it clear that he did not host this conference in order to critique the Wayne Grudems and John Pipers of the world; if these men were representative charismatics, Strange Fire would have been a non-event or, at the least, a very different event. He hosted the event because there are hundreds of millions of people around the world who make the fraudulent practice of fraudulent gifts the heart of their expression of the Christian faith.
This is the time to address that issue. There is a call here for all of us to build on and even improve what MacArthur began and much of the onus here falls on charismatics to do this from the inside. As Clint Archer concludes, “All true believers are on the same team, and we’re all against the abuses and excesses of masquerading unbelievers. Conservative Continuationists need to start their own version of the conference to police the excesses as best they can, or they should muster a cheer while the Cessationists do it.”
A POLARIZING ISSUE
The charismatic/cessationist issue is polarizing. Before Strange Fire I did not know just how polarizing it could be, though I suppose others did know, and this is why we have been loathe to address it. Based on the reaction to the event and the discussions back-and-forth, it seems clear that this is an issue many of us feel as much as it is an issue we believe by reasoning it out from Scripture. It is one of those issues where we see our own position with utter clarity and look to the opposite position with shock that they can believe something so absurd. Those tend to be the most dangerous issues of all because they can turn sour so quickly and easily. In the face of such a polarizing issue, I need to consider how I can maintain unity in the faith while still holding fast to what I believe the Bible teaches.
CONFIDENCE IS NOT ARROGANCE
I saw at Strange Fire that we can sometimes confuse confidence with arrogance. And it’s not just we, but me because I suspect that if the tables were turned, I might react in much the same way. I am convinced one of the reasons so many people reacted badly to the event is that MacArthur and the other speakers are so sure of what they believe. They spoke with confidence about their understanding of what the Bible permits and what it forbids. Some of the reaction from those who were offended seems to imply that certainty is incompatible with humility. If this is what they truly believe, they have succumbed to dangerous and worldly thinking.
Trevin Wax goes into some detail on this and says, “If you agree with MacArthur, the best way to engage critics is not to defend him as if he were the pope, but to back up your claims by appealing to Scripture. If you disagree with MacArthur, the best way to engage the conference is not by railing against the man, but by showing specifically the ways you think he caricatured your position and by providing a calm, sober affirmation of continualist claims, backed up by Scripture.” And again, “let’s not judge the conference speakers as wrong simply for gathering together and taking a stand against doctrines they believe to be false. As Christians, we may be continualists or cessationists, but we are not relativists.”
THERE IS MISUNDERSTANDING
I have long believed that many of the issues related to charismatic and cessationist theology owe to misunderstandings between the two sides. The reaction to this conference—the many discussions through social media and elsewhere—reveal that we need to do a better job of understanding one another, of affirming common ground, and of determining the importance of our differences. As a convinced cessationist, I was troubled to hear caricatures from charismatics about quenching the Holy Spirit, about elevating Scripture above God, about excluding all possibility of miracles, and so on. All of these caricatures show an uncharitable and unhelpful misunderstanding of cessationism. I am sure many cessationists were equally unfair and that I, myself, do not understand the continuationist position as well as I should. The simple fact is, until we rightly understand one another, we are in a weak position to bring critiques. But I know I am prone to do it anyway, to argue out of ignorance. I have to challenge myself here to be quick to listen and slow to speak, and when I do speak, to speak through the Scriptures.
WHAT WE BELIEVE (NOT WHO)
This is a late addition to the article (a half hour after posting it), but I wanted to express it. We always face the danger of making our theology about who we believe rather than what we believe. The last thing we want or need is “I am of MacArthur” and “I am of Grudem.” I am sure this is the very last thing those men want. So even while we take our cues from the men we admire and the men who may think better than we do, let’s be sure that we are all Bereans, that we are all going back to the Bible to determine what we believe. Let’s be known for what we believe far ahead of whom we believe.
THERE IS MORE WORK TO BE DONE
Strange Fire was an event that primarily targeted the worst of the charismatic movement. As I said when I offered an early look at the book, it is more about Benny Hinn than Bob Kauflin. While the Reformed charismatics may be a valued and significant part of the New Calvinism, they represent only the smallest fringe of the wider charismatic movement. What still remains to be done is to interact with the best arguments of the best of the charismatics and to address this from within the Reformed resurgence. This would be a very different event with a very different purpose and I hope someone will sponsor it before long.
Only time will tell of the long-term impact of Strange Fire, but as I think back to the past few days, I find myself grateful for it. I suppose that may be easier to say as a cessationist than a charismatic, but I believe the event and its aftermath will prove beneficial. I continue to pray that God would use it to to strengthen His church and to glorify His name.
Author’s Note: Recently I became aware of the buzz surrounding a new book, soon to be released, by a prominent cessationist who has been around for a long time. I was asked by the Pneuma Foundation to write a review of this book for its Pneuma Review publication. I thought it important enough to share with all of you. Here it is.
Strange Fire by John MacArthur is basically an attack on anything and everything related to thecharismatic movement and the various movements descended from it, as if the whole of it were composed of one monolithic set of doctrines and practices that all of us espouse. It invalidates anything that smacks of the supernatural or of emotion freely expressed in God’s presence.
MacArthur pours his vitriol—and I mean vitriol—through the filter of his own prejudices and theological presuppositions in a way that blinds him to the differences between the various movements within thecharismatic stream and causes him to deny the existence of the majority of us who do not agree with or practice the abuses he objects to. In doing so, he ignores or reinterprets, through very poor exegesis, the clear teaching of much of the Scripture as well.
Ironically, as he formulates his attack, he builds upon concerns that many of us in the movement share. I share his concern over abuses in prophetic ministry, aberrant doctrines, fallen leaders, manipulative fundraising, acting out in fleshly ways that are not of the Spirit and fakery on the part of some associated with the movement. As an insider, I confront these things as well, seeking what is genuine and calling for biblical grounding. MacArthur commits grievous error, however, in claiming that these abuses characterize the movement as a whole. They do not.
For example, I am a charismatic and have been from my childhood in the 1950s. I am also a 1976 graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary. Consequently, I have been steeped in exegetical principle and the doctrines of the historic faith from a time when Fuller described itself as “reformed” in its theology. Consequently, I do not embrace aberrant theologies.
Reading MacArthur, you’d think all charismatics espouse prosperity teaching. We do not. You’d think we are all Word of Faith adherents when, in fact, they constitute a small minority and promote a doctrine many of us oppose. I actually wrote a rebuttal of those two doctrines in my own book Purifying the Prophetic.
On a side note, in his introduction, MacArthur asserts that Fuller Theological Seminary abandoned the doctrine of biblical inerrancy in the early 1970s. I was there from 1973 until my graduation in 1976, and I can state categorically that Fuller at that time held to inerrancy. MacArthur is wrong on many fronts and should be held accountable for what is either blatant intellectual dishonesty or just inexcusably sloppy research.
In reading MacArthur uncritically, you’d think that all charismatics focus in unbalanced ways on manifestations and behavioral aberrations like barking and animal sounds. We do not. Over the years, I’ve spent at least a cumulative five months in meetings at the Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, now known as Catch the Fire, serving for 14 years in leadership as a regional coordinator and international council member. Never in all that time did I hear an animal sound. I think MacArthur must be reacting to what he has heard from other revival critics rather than his own eyewitness experience. This, again, constitutes intellectual dishonesty and sloppy research.
MacArthur states, “I’ll start believing that the truth prevails in the charismatic movement when I see the leaders, who are the people who are most exposed to its principles, looking more like Jesus Christ.”
Yes, some very few of us have been guilty of seeking or walking in anointing without character. Our exercise of church discipline in response to their failings has often been deficient. Tragically, some of those failures have been seen in people with prominent ministries, and as a result we have all had to wear the mud we didn’t deserve.
The truth is that the foundation of the Toronto Blessing, for instance, was and is the kind of transformation of character to conform to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29) that has produced people like Rolland and Heidi Baker. In their ministry in Mozambique, not only are many thousands of orphans given homes and countless thousands of hungry fed, but thousands of churches are planted, hundreds of thousands come to Jesus, the dead are raised, the sick are healed and the lame walk. The vast majority of lesser-known leaders in the renewal go quietly about the business of doing those same things in the places where they labor all over the world. The fallen leaders and those operating with less than the character of Jesus to whom John MacArthur actually objects are not my leaders and never were for a majority of us.
In bashing spiritual gifts, MacArthur characterizes the gift of tongues, for instance, as “babble,” relegating it to the flames of “strange fire,” seemingly ignoring the clear teaching of Scripture on the various uses of it. It was evangelistic on the Day of Pentecost, but Paul in 1 Corinthians 14 clearly defines its use in corporate prayer (with interpretation) and for private personal edification, saying, “I wish that you all spoke in tongues.” The 120 did, in fact, speak in tongues on the Day of Pentecost. Paul did, in fact, franchise its disciplined use in gatherings in Corinth and clearly described it as praying with an unfruitful mind for personal edification. Nowhere does the Scripture say that any of thesupernatural gifts would cease.
MacArthur cries out against people falling into senseless trances but seems to miss that this very same thing happened to Daniel, who broke into physical trembling when the angel touched him after he awakened from what was clearly a trance state. MacArthur seems to miss that the priests at the dedication of Solomon’s temple couldn’t stand up under the weight of the presence of the glory of God. And didn’t the disciples appear to be drunk on the Day of Pentecost? Speaking in foreign languages would have attracted little attention in a city where many thousands of Jews from different regions of the world had gathered for the feast, so it had to be their drunken behavior under the power of the Spirit that drew the comments. Through the filter of his cessationist theology, when these things happen today, McArthur calls them “strange fire.”
This book isn’t about strange fire. It’s about putting the fire out.
R. Loren Sandfordis the founder and senior pastor of New Song Church and Ministries in Denver, Colo. He is a songwriter, recording artist and worship leader, as well as the author of several books, including Understanding Prophetic People, The Prophetic Church and his latest, Visions of the Coming Days: What to Look For and How to Prepare, which are available with other resources at the church’s website.
As I write these words, the Holy Spirit is moving mightily around the earth, saving lost sinners, bringing rebels to repentance, healing sick bodies, setting captives free and, above all, glorifying the name of Jesus. According to pastor John MacArthur, however, this is actually “a farce and a scam.”
In his new book Strange Fire, he claims that this work of the Spirit actually represents “the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity,” and he calls for a “collective war” against these alleged “pervasive abuses on the Spirit of God.”
Yes, Pastor MacArthur has branded the charismatic movement a “false church” and is calling for an all-out war against it.
For a man of his stature, a man who has done so much good for the body of Christ, this is a tragic error, a decided step in the wrong direction and a rejection of both the testimony of the written Word and the work of the Spirit today.
For the last several months, I have requested a face-to-face meeting with Pastor MacArthur to discuss our differences, but that request has been denied (either by him or by his team). Tomorrow, Oct. 16, he will begin a three-day “Strange Fire” conference, preparing the way for the release of his book next month. (I received an advanced review copy from the publisher; all quotes here are from the introduction and should be checked against the final text of the book.)
In this book, Pastor MacArthur argues, “The ‘Holy Spirit’ found in the vast majority of charismaticteaching and practice bears no resemblance to the true Spirit of God as revealed in Scripture,” even accusing the modern charismatic movement of “attributing the work of the devil to the Holy Spirit.”
In fact, he claims that leaders of the movement are “Satan’s false teachers, marching to the beat of their own illicit desires, gladly propagat[ing] his errors. They are spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans.”
This is divisive and destructive language based on misinformation and exaggeration, as Pastor MacArthur attributes the extreme errors of a tiny minority to countless hundreds of thousands of godly leaders worldwide.
I have worked side by side with some of these fine men and women myself, precious saints who have risked their lives for the name of Jesus, giving themselves sacrificially to touch a hurting and dying world with the gospel, literally shedding their blood rather than compromise their testimonies—yet an internationally recognized pastor calls many of them “Satan’s false teachers … spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans.”
May the Lord forgive him for these rash words.
He claims, “As a movement, they have persistently ignored the truth about the Holy Spirit and with reckless license set up an idol spirit in the house of God, blaspheming the third member of the Trinity in His own name.”
So Pastor MacArthur, in writing and obviously with much forethought, is accusing hundreds of millions of believers of blaspheming the Spirit, thereby pronouncing them to be sinners damned to hell, since blasphemy of the Spirit is an unforgivable sin (Mark 3:29).
Words fail to express how grievous this is.
He claims, “In recent history, no other movement has done more to damage the cause of the gospel, to distort the truth, and to smother the articulation of sound doctrine,” going as far as to say that “charismatic theology has made no contribution to true biblical theology or interpretation; rather, it represents a deviant mutation of truth.”
Aside from the sweeping inaccuracy of these charges—just a reading of one book, like Dr. Gordon Fee’s 992-page volume God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, demolishes his position—what is truly painful is the knowledge that Pastor MacArthur’s conference and book will do far more harm than good, driving hungry believers away from the Spirit’s work today and failing to bring needed correction to the real abuses that do exist because he has so overstated his case.
Although it would take a short book to respond to Pastor MacArthur’s Strange Fire, here are five rebuttals that need to be made:
1) Pastor MacArthur draws attention to bizarre practices like “toking the Ghost” (as in “getting high on the Holy Ghost”) or barking like dogs, things I have never seen in 42 years in charismatic-Pentecostal circles around the world and, in reality, practices that are no more representative of charismatics than Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church and his “God Hates Fags” signs are representative of Baptists.
Those reading MacArthur’s book, however, would come to the completely erroneous conclusion that such bizarre, virtually unheard-of practices were the norm.
2) Pastor MacArthur points to some of the shameful, inexcusable scandals that have taken place among charismatic leaders, using this as proof that the Holy Spirit is not at work in our midst. Aside from the fact that Paul knew better than to do with this the Corinthians—he recognized what the Spirit was doing while correcting their errors and fleshly sins—Pastor MacArthur fails to realize these scandals are connected to celebrity and pride more than charismatic doctrines and practices.
He also fails to realize that charismatic and Pentecostal leaders have addressed these issues for decades (until this day)—he wrongly claims that virtually no one dares to correct these abuses—and, more importantly, he downplays the many scandals that have plagued cessationist leaders as well. (There is even a website devoted to exposing Southern Baptist sexual predators.)
3) While attributing gross doctrinal error to charismatics—in a pre-conference video, pastor Steve Lawson claims the fundamental problem with charismatics is their lack of serious engagement with the Word—Pastor MacArthur himself is guilty of poor exegesis of the scriptural passages that point to the ongoing, miraculous work of the Spirit today.
He also ignores the fact that the great majority of those opposing his message on “lordship salvation” are cessationists, many of them preaching a very loose “once saved, always saved” doctrine that Pastor MacArthur himself opposes.
4) In his own pre-conference video, Pastor MacArthur makes the absolutely false claim that 90 percent of charismatics worldwide are Word of Faith—it is actually a fairly small percentage, one which includes almost none of the major Pentecostal denominations. And so he mistakenly attributes an extreme prosperity doctrine to the vast majority of charismatics worldwide (meaning, the false belief that Jesus died to make us rich, as opposed to the true belief that God meets the needs of His people and blesses us to be a blessing to others).
Pastor MacArthur also takes the poorly chosen (or downright erroneous) words of a few Word of Faith leaders regarding the deity of Jesus and claims that this represents most (or all) charismatics. Again, nothing could be further from the truth.
5) The subtitle of Pastor MacArthur’s book is “The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship,” yet it is the charismatic movement worldwide that is frequently the most devoted to worship, producing a steady flow of powerful new hymns and songs and hosting gatherings that last for hours or days, just devoted to worship and adoration of the Lord.
But because these gatherings are marked by biblically based displays of emotion and joy and passion, Pastor MacArthur writes them off as aberrant.
In the end, what saddens me the most is that this servant of the Lord fails to recognize what the Spirit is doing today. And so, rather than joining with his charismatic brothers and sisters to help spark renewal in the many dead and dying churches (many of them cessationist!) and to help reclaim the younger generation with the realities of a risen Savior, Pastor MacArthur has placed himself in opposition to much of the Spirit’s work, thereby hindering the spread of the gospel more than helping it.
This also means he will not be able to help us rebuke error and deception and abuse, since he will turn off his intended audience with his inaccurate claims and extreme rhetoric.
And so, even though it seems futile at this point, once again, on the eve of the “Strange Fire” conference, I appeal to Pastor MacArthur to reconsider his ways, to re-examine what the Word really says about these issues, to travel to the nations and see firsthand what the Spirit is doing, and to sit with charismatic leaders to seek the Lord together for His best for the church and the world.
It’s not too late, sir, to humble yourself under God’s mighty hand, and I humble myself before you as I write these words, reaching out to you once more in the name of Jesus and urging you to recognize and embrace the Spirit’s true fire today.
Source: CHARISMA NEWS.
Michael Brown is author of The Real Kosher Jesus and host of the nationally syndicated talk radio show The Line of Fire on the Salem Radio Network. He is also president of FIRE School of Ministry and director of the Coalition of Conscience. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrownon Twitter.