The strange thing about strange fire

Photo source: Adrian Warnock

Photo source: Adrian Warnock

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).

Grace to…who?

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.

About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 40 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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44 Responses to The strange thing about strange fire

  1. loopyloo305 says:

    Amen! Personally I think that being in a place where the Holy Spirit is moving is frightening to some people and I wonder if they fear that it will move in them or if they fear that it will not! God bless and thank you for the post!

    • melwild says:

      Thanks. Yes, we don’t like what we can’t control. And then we point to excesses or lack of maturity in operating this way so we can dismiss it. Unfortunately, that’s human nature rather than the nature of Christ.

      I appreciate the comments. I had written this over a week ago and thought about not posting, but then decided it needed to be said. I have one more crazy week in the Godspell production (which is going great) then will be back in the swing of things here. 🙂

    • chaya1957 says:

      It is also likely that if one follows the biblical paradigm and recognizes and encourages the use of each member’s gifts for the common good, this diminishes the control of leadership. You may find that among those who believe in the exercise of spiritual gifts today only allow the exercise of those gifts by the top brass and disallow and/or degrade those with gifts of discernment.

      • Mel Wild says:

        Yes, it’s very unfortunate if leadership only allows leaders to exercise the gifts. That again is fear-based. Paul said all should be participants in the edification of the body, although leaders are given to provide direction and instruction for the profit of all.

      • loopyloo305 says:

        That is always a possibility, power is seductive! God bless you!

    • robgard says:

      I think you’ve hit it on the head! As Bill Johnson remarks some people seem to have more faith in Satan’s ability to deceive them than in God’s ability to preserve and guide them! I was ministering in a market town last night and a woman was expressing just these sorts of fears when she was reflecting on John Wimber’s ministry to the UK in the 1980’s!

  2. waltsamp says:

    Great post, Mel. However, what is a comment without a quibble. You write of Christ’s finished work on the cross. I would add “atoning” just to make sure we don’t think his sanctifying work is finished in us or anybody else. I think you are very right about love being the core of Christianity. I hope lots and lots of people read your blog and remember it is Christ’s job to judge and ours to love, just has Christ first loved us.

    • melwild says:

      Amen. I appreciate your “quibble.” 🙂 Thanks for pointing that out. And, yes, we all belong to Christ. We’re part of HIS church that HE is building. And the primacy of a healthy relationship has to be love, not on having to be right or even being in total agreement. With love comes grace for our differences.

  3. jeffrossman says:

    Simply perfect. We ought to contend for the truth we understand. God knows my eyes have been opened on various subjects over the years. I now champion things I once scorned – and vice versa. But I, like you so beautifully stated here, have NEVER condemned those with whom I disagree. Even my anti-Calvinism blog (though admittedly incendiary) acknowledges that those same Calvinists with whom I disagree are my brothers and sisters. They may be on the opposite end of the spectrum theologically, but still within the bounds of orthodoxy. Why MacArthur seems to insist that Charismatics/Pentecostals are somehow outside of the bounds of orthodoxy I cannot fathom. It grieves me. Great perspective! Great post!

    • melwild says:

      Thanks. I appreciate that. Yes, MacArthur’s recent vitriolic attack was quite surprising to me too. I had to read and listen to what he said several times because I thought I must’ve misunderstood it but, no, he’s really in attack mode! It really grieves me when I hear respected leaders condemn other believers to hell because they think they’re wrong. And pointing to excesses does not invalidate a legitimate expression of the body of Christ.

      And I’m with you on having our eyes opened! That’s why we must remain teachable and humble in our views, no matter how long we’ve been serving the Lord. The Word of God never changes, but our finite understanding must if we are going to grow. The Holy Spirit can straighten us all out. He’s pretty good at that! 🙂

      I think if we can all stay focused on the main things there’s grace for our differences. And we may even learn from each other instead of being entrenched in our dogma. There are things to learn from everyone within the diverse spectrum of orthodoxy.

      Thanks for joining in the discussion. Blessings.

      • chaya1957 says:

        Yes. Who is wise? He who learns from all men. Who is strong? He who controls his passions. Pikei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers)

      • chaya1957 says:

        If you think about it, I doubt that either side has made many converts. I think JM is more concerned about solidifying his control over his own sheeple. And the cynic in me wouldn’t be surprised that the whole “conflict,” was drummed up and fanned to make $$$$ for the talking heads on both apparent sides of the isle. This is no different than the liberals and conservatives in Congress going at each others’ throats, although the one thing they will stand together on their pay raises and avoidance of ethics investigations.

        • Mel Wild says:

          It’s possible, although, I think MacArthur sincerely thinks he’s doing God’s work. I understand the temptation to look at this cynically, but I don’t think the intent was financially motivated. I totally agree on the political comparison. That is the political spirit. Jesus warned (Mk.8:15) against the leaven of the religious spirit (Pharisees) and the political spirit (Herod). They both are fear-based and work against the advance of the Kingdom of God.

  4. Pingback: The purpose of fire | daily meditation

  5. You’ve done it again! Responded to something that has been quite a stir in my heart and brought me much peace – thanks 😉

    • melwild says:

      You’re very welcome. And if it brought peace then that confirms why I thought I should post it after my initial hesitation. So, thank you for the encouragement. 🙂

  6. jodiwoody says:

    I have been hearing much about the “strange fire” in Church circles but never really got what the whole thing was about. I have to say that we should be expecting these things. “Even the very elect”. It’s too bad really. I have read some of his leadership books. I never would have expected. Thank God for the finished work on the cross. We are perfect, and we are being perfected! We may not be all we are going to be, but we sure aren’t what we used to be. Another good word.

  7. Ben Kilen says:

    In my most recent history I have picked up some thoughts and tossed lots of thoughts overboard because they were dead weight. I think back and for 30+ years my theology had stayed very much the exact same (very little change or growth for that matter).

    I was what I thought very spiritually
    progressive. I look back and I was really dogmatic. In the past 12 months thrown out 90%+ of my dogmatic progressive garbage. If your theology is the exact same as it was 30, 15, or 3 years ago you are probably doing it wrong. I held my theology in a tight fist. The problem with that is that your fist before too long will be used for hitting someone with it. I have learned to hold my beliefs open palmed in a loose fashion allowing God to add or subtract.

    End result, I have gone from a stoic jerk with a doctrinal thesis stuffed somewhere to a guy who now generally smiles and is happy and relates to people as people instead of some spiritual conquest. And guess what? I talk to more people about life and God then i ever had before. And those who I talk to are much more receptive. I am not out to ram my belief system down people’s throats but to love them reveal Jesus in them.

    That is all for now

  8. Sign me up for SJA, too. As I look back over the years, I realize that my understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus has changed dramatically.

    The church of my youth would hardly even say “Holy Spirit.” Needless to say, He was quenched there and couldn’t do many works.

    Shortly after that I married a fellow who attended one of “those” church’s Bible studies. I went with much fear and trepidation…and received physical healing for a back injury through their ministry.

    A year later, I was miraculously healed again by the pastors of “that” church who came to the hospital and prayed for me.

    Add to that the experience of seeing demons cast out, along with many other amazing works of the Spirit, and I’m no longer convinced that the Holy Spirit’s ministry was limited to Jesus’ life on earth and died along with the apostles. It’s sad to see MacArthur take this stance.

    I’m with you. Let’s get about the business of loving people…and ministering to them in whatever way the Lord invites us to serve with Him. We can only be the “hands and feet” – other than that, the work is up to Him!


  9. chaya1957 says:

    I came across your blog when I was researching my own article, and perhaps you will want to read it when it is finished in a day or two? What I sadly see in Macarthur is that he is not following after the master, but walking in the footsteps of his master Calvin. Calvin was filled with vitrolic toward those who disagreed with him, and put to death those who he couldn’t provide biblical arguments to, 57 people in total. Some people begin with sincere, humble faith, and grow arrogant and proud with success; it happens to man. The other side doesn’t help its case with its shunning of the gift of discernment. I like the “iconoclastic,” description you have of yourself. I am rather iconoclastic myself 🙂

    • melwild says:

      You’re probably on to something about following in the spirit of Calvin here. Some of those reformers were pretty relationally dysfunctional. It’s demonize whoever we disagree with. This is what we get when we make our particular interpretation of Scripture is more important than relationships, or showing some humility. This is evangelicalism in its ugliest form.

      A ministry friend of mine called me an “iconoclast” a while back. After looking up the word, I realized that’s probably right. 🙂 Thanks for your insights here. I will look for your article.

  10. chaya1957 says:

    “Relationally dysfunctional,” is putting it mildly. 🙂 One of JM’s supporters had a website with a title, “Slaying the Philistines of Heresy.” Um, you mean you want to kill your opponents? I wonder what that came from. He deleted one of my comments, although he allowed the others. He said he did me a favor by deleting the comment by protecting me from being “subject to cruel mockery.” Okay, so he is saying his camp is full of cruel people who are mockers? I just finished the article, but might add to it later. I think the real problem is that we are all prone to idolatry from birth, and I am looking for that verse in Numbers that explains just that. We need to protect ourselves from idols, especially human ones.

    • melwild says:

      Yes, I’ve run into that before. Maybe we should be expecting the Spanish Inquisition after all. 🙂 And I agree with the tendency we all have toward idolatry–in this case, elevating interpretations and commentaries of the reformers with that of the Bible. Heaven forbid that God should give anyone revelation after the sixteenth century! Especially, if that may challenge the dogma of our evangelical gods. We seem to forget that we all know “in part.” And that would include Calvin and any others we venerate. Again, humility and grace is needed by all. Maybe we would all learn something from each other. Thanks again for your comments. Blessings.

  11. chaya1957 says:

    This verse occurred to me in relation to the fray: The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. Proverbs 18:17 So, what sort of judge would only allow one side to present their case? Not a very righteous judge, it would seem. I see this, where people do not want to even listen to opposing viewpoints and give them a fair hearing; I am not saying one has to agree with them. Okay here is the article:

    • melwild says:

      Exactly. There’s more than one side to everything. The highest level of communication is not me trying to make you agree with me, and certainly not demonizing you to make myself look right, trying to scare everyone else away from hearing other sides. It’s in our mutual seeking to understand one another with honor and respect. As it’s been said about the Truth, “God spoke…and the rest is commentary.” Again, we all know in part. To say we have THE interpretation is the height of arrogance. The Word of God is not changing, but our understanding of it should be. Our dogma is often the enemy of Kingdom advancement. I think it’s time we grow up a little.

      We don’t have to be so afraid of other’s ideas and honest interpretations that we take it as a threat to our own. That’s just insecure and childish, and the love of Christ knows no such thing. But when we humbly seek to understand, we may actually learn something from each other. Hey, maybe even love one other as God unconditionally loves us all our imperfections. Imagine that! 🙂

      Thanks for the link. I will check out your article when I get time. The rest of my day is a crazy busy. Blessings.

  12. marklhen says:

    You go, Mel! 5 or 10 years to sift out and test our new understandings of Grace… in the meantime, we gotta keep our love on!!!

    • Mel Wild says:

      Amen. Yes, we need to keep our love on now and in the future. Then just maybe we can break this nasty tendency in the body of Christ where the former move of God feels the need to persecute the current move of God, calling them heretics and a cult. This vitriolic game has been going on since Luther. It’s time we grew up and showed the world our love for one another instead, which is what shows them we are His (Jn.13:35), not our carnal bickering over our interpretations we call “truth.” It’s so much easier to admit we don’t know everything there is to know and decide to love on one another. Just a thought… 🙂

      • waltsamp says:

        Your very good comment raised a question for me. When you wrote “the former move of God” were you thinking about God moving on from some churches. I have wondered if some churches should have a sign reading “Ichabod” (meaning the glory has departed) over their door. Of course that probably is not a loving thing to think. Thanks for your interest in my posts.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Thank you for your comments. Good questions. I don’t know if it’s “Ichabod” as much as their un-open heart cannot see the glory that’s in them. I think they are sincere believers and God is with them. But, as Paul said to the Galatians, they have fallen from grace, and when they demonize other believers fear has taken over instead of love.

          I had a spiritual father tell me that pride is the show-stopper. It’s the “I have arrived” mentality that says we have all knowledge of the truth. There is no more to learn (or unlearn). Fear protects dogma and does not allow for dissenting opinions. On the other hand, love is rigid only in our relationships, not doctrine, so we can embrace our diversity with grace. Humility says I know only in part and my interpretations aren’t perfect and subject to upgrade, so I’m always teachable. Wisdom is being led by the Spirit, knowing that the Word of God is infallible, while my interpretations of it are very fallible.

        • waltsamp says:

          Your comments got me to wondering, since you write so well what topic would you chose were you to write a book? Thanks again for supporting my blogging efforts.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Thanks for encouragement and your question, Walt. Actually, I’m in the beginning process of writing a book, possibly more than one (shorter books instead of one big one). The subjects land around what I share on this blog, the shift currently happening in the body of Christ in how we see God and relate to each other, and how it has affected my own perspective of everything. I will share more details of what this looks like as the work progresses.

  13. Pingback: An authentic response to Strange Fire | In My Father's House

  14. Hello Mel! I appreciate your gracious response here to JM. I heard about his conference a few weeks ago and couldn’t believe he had a conference with this objective. Surely, there are other themes that would be more beneficial to the edification of the body of Christ than to focus on calling Charismatics heretics. I agree 100% with what you said here. Thank you for responding in a gracious way.

    • Mel Wild says:

      You’re welcome and thank you for your kind words. And amen, yes, let’s focus on edifying the body. That would be more beneficial. It’ like any relationship. Good ones focus on the 90% we love about the other; bad ones focus on the 10% they dislike about the other. And if we actually listened to one another, we may learn something. 🙂 Blessings to you.

  15. chaya1957 says:

    I also agree with one of the commentators above that anger is usually a cover-up for fear. Perhaps the way to ameliorate the anger is to help the person face and overcome the fear that fuels it? At the same time, we are warned not to be deceived, so the possibility of deception shouldn’t be denied. We are urged to keep ourselves from idolatry because we are naturally prone to idolatry. We are told to beware of false prophets and wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing for what reason? It is because there are false prophets and wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing that will rise up from among us. Hint: How do you tell a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing? Look for teeth marks.

    • Mel Wild says:

      “How do you tell a wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing? Look for teeth marks.” Ha! That’s a good one. 🙂 Christians have been too well known for biting and devouring one another. It’s sad, really. And I think the way we ameliorate ourselves is through embracing the Father’s love. It changes us, it casts out all our orphan-hearted fear. There is no fear in love. And being fully embraced and affirmed as sons in the Father’s family brings unity in the family. This is what Jesus was getting at in His prayer in John 17. As we are one (with our diversity) in Christ, in the Father, He is glorified on the earth through us. Oh, that we would put our stones down and get this!

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