Did you ever notice that when a preacher wants to demonize a certain part of the body of Christ, you’ll hear them use the Old Testament?
And Leviticus 10:1-2 is a great weapon by which we can bludgeon fellow believers.
It’s been used before.
I don’t usually spend much energy on these kinds of things, and I certainly don’t want to enter into some evangelical debate, but I’ve been asked by different people over the last few weeks about what I thought of John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference and book. After thinking and praying about it, I thought I would respond here.
Let me say on the outset that I’ve always had the utmost respect for John MacArthur’s ministry, and I’m sure that he is doing what he thinks is best for the health and safety of the body of Christ. Although, at first blush, it appears a bit misguided to me.
And after reading his view of the Charismatic position on the gifts, prophecy, tongues, apostles, and so forth, it’s very clear to me that he doesn’t really understand it at all. And faulty premises always make for faulty conclusions.
And I’m not going to form an opinion about his book because I haven’t read it. I probably would agree with a lot of it. But I will comment on what I did hear and read about his recent stand. If you want some of his quotes and a more thorough response from a Charismatic point of view, you can read Adrian Warnock’s articles. I’ve provided a link below (or click on the picture).
So, in this light, I will respond to two of his points.
Blaspheming the Holy Spirit?
First, on John MacArthur’s accusation that Charismatics are blaspheming the Holy Spirit by believing in and using the gifts of the Spirit, speaking in tongues, etc.
What’s interesting about this is that he seems to have gotten this whole thing backwards. In this account (Mt.12:22-32; Mk.3:22-30), Jesus is accused by the scribes and Pharisees of being devilish because He DID use the gifts of the Spirit–in this case, supernaturally healing a demon possessed man. Jesus’ response is that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is when we call something that’s from God being from the devil. But MacArthur seems to think that when Jesus’ followers are doing this very thing, using the authority He gave us to exercise the power of God through the Holy Spirit, that we are ones doing the blaspheming. So, which role is he playing here? The utter irony is staggering, to say the least!
Jesus made it very clear that He was sending us to do what He did and, if you will, even greater things (Jn.14:12; 20:21). Furthermore, He told His disciples to teach us everything He taught them to do (Mt.28:19-20; Mk.16:17-20). So, what did Jesus actually do when He ministered to the oppressed, the sick and needy? What did His followers do in the book of Acts? Did they argue the Bible with them? Give them Prozac?
But, again, my point is that MacArthur has a perfect right to his view on the gifts of the Spirit, but when one starts accusing fellow believers of blaspheming the Holy Spirit for doing what Jesus did, and told us to do, that’s crossing a very dangerous and foolish line.
Just who is in the Body of Christ?
My second point is on what determines whether we are in the body of Christ or not. It’s one thing to disagree with someone’s doctrinal viewpoint. It’s even okay if you believe they’re deceived in some area. But it’s quite another to condemn them to hell.
Case in point, according to John MacArthur, 500 million Charismatic believers are not true believers. Now, he does seem to allow for his “reformed continuationist” friends to be believers, but pretty much condemns the rest of the movement to perdition.
So, where is the line on salvation? Can it be anywhere other than faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross?
And, if this is so, how does someone who believes in such with all their heart ever end up in hell? Even if they’re deceived in some other area of doctrine?
My Bible says that we are saved by grace through faith…period. We’re not saved whether or not we believe the gifts of the Spirit are for today, or even if we’re totally deceived in other areas of our faith. Did we forget this point?
For that matter, if your behavior as a believer can, in any way, send you to hell, then Christ died in vain. Because you’re also saying that right behavior will save you.
And if our doctrine must be 100% correct then, honestly, we’re ALL lost. And if we think our interpretation of Scripture is infallible, we’re an unteachable fool.
And if we can only be saved if we’re not deceived in any area of our lives, then we’re ALL lost. And if we think we’re under no deception whatsoever, we’re a deluded fool.
And if being right about all our doctrines and not being deceived matters, then where do we draw the line? For instance, Jesus clearly and explicitly stated that believers would cast out demons, speak in tongues, lay hands on the sick and they would recover (Mk.16:17-18). So, following this “strange fire” logic, should we condemn all “so-called” Christians to hell if they don’t cast out demons, speak in tongues, pray for someone and that person doesn’t recover?
There is no possible outcome that is good by going down this road. Should we be expecting an evangelical resurrection of the Spanish Inquisition next?
It’s really sad to hear this kind of accusation coming from a respected leader because it sounds like a desperate attempt to manipulate the gospel in order to scare people away from differing views in Christianity. This can only result in unnecessary confusion and condemnation among God’s blood-bought children.
Let me emphatically state again, if any of these things matter, other than believing in the finished work of the cross of Christ, then we are saved by works…whether it be by our ability to understand correct teaching, by what church we go to, by not being under any kind of deception…and apparently now, by not speaking in tongues and making sure we’re unspotted from the heathen Charismatics.
It should be instructive to us that Paul called adding anything on other than living the Christian life by grace through faith “another gospel.” (Gal.1:6-9).
Paul told us we all see and know in part now. And it won’t be until we literally see Him “face to face” that we will know all (1 Cor.13: 12). Didn’t we get this memo? For this means that we actually need to show grace toward one another and our differing views as believers.
The divisive nature of denouncing what you disagree with as heresy and false doctrine is usually defended on the premise of defending the “truth.” As Adrian Warnock points out, this isn’t a new phenomenon in church history. And no one has been more divisive than evangelicals on this premise. MacArthur is no different here. Certainly, we need to know the truth. But what do we mean by the “truth?” Oftentimes, this division is over our interpretation of the truth.
But this type of fight for truth always divides, and not necessarily in a good way. Paul called this kind of division “carnal…behaving like mere men” (1 Cor.3:1-3).
The Pharisees thought eternal life was in being right, that it was in their interpretation and study of the Word of God, but they missed the God of the Word (Jn.5:39). So they accused their long-awaited Messiah of being from the devil because His theology didn’t agree with theirs.
There was a creed for these kinds of things
If we think we’re in are such a crisis of faith, as John MacArthur seems to believe, then maybe we need to revisit the Apostle’s Creed. This creed was created for the purpose of making a clear demarcation line of orthodoxy. It provided believers with a clear statement of what we have in common, allowing for freedom and grace in the diverse body of Christ.
Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t see most Charismatic believers violating any of these central tenets of the faith.
Did we forget the main thing?
Finally, Jesus warned His first century Ephesian church that, while they were really good at sniffing out false apostles, false doctrines, etc….they had forgotten the main thing–love. He told them to repent and go back to love (Rev.2:1-5). I think that should be instructive to us here.
And Jesus seemed to think that our love for one another would be the way the world would know we’re His (Jn.13:34-35). Not by our doctrinal correctness, or our lockstep agreement on all views, how we do church, what style of worship we like, what we believe about the gifts of the Spirit, or any of those things.
It’s only God’s agape love that connects us together, in spite of our diversity and differences of interpretation. After all, Jesus said that Truth is a Person (Jn.14:6). That Person is God, and to know God is to know love. Love always trumps having to be right.
Grace to you.