John MacArthur's 2013 Strange Fire brings the bible ballistics and his encyclopaedic knowledge and breath of insight against all things Charismatic.
He's against it's origins in the early 20th century, against it's founders, it's modern day miracle healings, and modern day prophets and apostles, and the emotionalism too, not to mention the bad hairdos.
But most of all, and rightly, he's against its three principal, and more recent, false teachings that have seized the church:
1. The prosperity gospel that equates righteousness with wealth;
2. the seed your greed doctrine; and
3) the positive confession, speaking your miracle, 'name it and claim it.'
These three add up to what I would call a bogus "faith in your faith" doctrine, regardless of what the promises of the bible actually state.
These three are used with an ever-changing admixture of scripture and falsehood, sincerity and deceit.
But as MacArthur rightly notes the prosperity gospel is the defining and driving force of all things charismatic today. Simply put, pastors and religious corporations (they are people too) of all kinds, are getting rich telling people that Jesus wants them to be rich.
This is a necessary book, especially from a non pentecostal-charismatic viewpoint. It squarely and biblically challenges the recent and explosive growth of Pentecostal and Charismatic churches around the world, whose members have swelled to 600 million, one in four Christians worldwide.
I say it's a necessary book reluctantly, because I have gone through the charismania stage of my service, and I too also experienced all the bible based blessings I could ever imagine, and still faithfully expect more.
But I have also seen up close all the goofiness and manipulation and outright fakery of the charlatans, the pulpit bullies, the fleshy floppers, the lying spirits, the abusive deliverance ministries, and all manner of folks on the make.
Having said that, there are mega pastors from within the present Pentecostal movement who I really admire, and even more so those back in the day, before the prosperity gospel subsumed the movement.
But, I have also for many years rejected the title "charismatic" having come out of a church where this "renewal" is a side show and hasn't changed the denomination in the least. I now also hesitate to use the word "Pentecostal" which is a beloved word for those of us who are baptized in Holy Ghost.
How about "Apostolic?"
This is another fine word, but who hasn't met the Apostle gone bad? As in Robert Duvall in a movie of the same name.
So, I'm tempted to describe myself as "just a Christian" or a "post Pentecost Christian", ie one who has personally experienced the empowerment and gifts, and our fuller and shared humanity, made in God's Spiritual image, that best define baptism in the Holy Ghost.
As noted, MacArthur is against modern day Apostles and prophets based on his reading of Ephesians 4,11. He thinks they were just for the original church when the first 12 apostles lived and are no longer needed because we now have the written biblical foundations "of the apostles and prophets, and Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone." (Ephesians 2,20)
Despite MacArthur's argument, which does have some scripture support, God can raise up prophets and apostles any time he wants. And what were Timothy and Titus but 2nd generation apostles, appointing elders and managing elders in various churches, 1Timothy3; 5,17; Titus 1,5-8?
Wasn't Bishop Polycarp in 155AD going to Rome from Asia Minor to plead against changing the date (and the nature) of the Christian Passover the act of a prophet and apostle in preventing the decimation of the Jewish biblical roots of our faith?
Weren't the Reformation bible translators who gave their lives to get the scriptures into the hands of God's blood-bought people, prophets?
Weren't Peter Lyon (founder of the Waldensians in the 12th century northern Italy ) and Girlamo Savonarola (of Florence) apostles and prophets to the Vatican State church?
And even if we were to accept MacArthur's argument that the written apostolic and prophetic word replaces actual apostles and prophets in the flesh (forgetting that the canon of the New Testament wasn't closed East and West until the 5th century) what if the foundations of Apostles and prophets described at Ephesians 2,20 are now broken?
If they are broken, wouldn't God want flesh and blood missionary catalysts, apostles here and now, planting, re-planting and nursing and reproving churches with the whole counsel of God.
Wouldn't he want visionary prophets for his perishing people, who get us back to His priorities? Amos 3,7: God does nothing without telling his prophets.
Isn't that what God is doing today- raising up apostles and prophets -no matter how ungainly and awkward they are- to rouse the sleepy body of Christ and the denominational system back to a biblically based Holy Ghost filled life?
How does Apostle MacArthur sound to you? To me it sounds great. Or, are all us Protestants just balkanized local folks, running local religious businesses?
John MacArthur provokes thought in the body of Christ and is one of the few Christian expositors who will take on any and all sacred cows, even in the Vatican State church. He also chronicles the sins of any and every charismatic we might have ever heard of, going back over 100 years. Personally, I don't think the book needed this, but it's part of his argument.
He makes several good and central points.
1. Every evangelical Christian is taking the rap for charismatic excess and indiscretion;
2. "The prosperity gospel is Christianity's version of professional wrestling: You know it's fake, but it nevertheless has entertainment value." (I'm Fine With God- It's Christians I Can't Stand, Bruce Bickel and Stan Jentz Harvest House, 2008;
3. He interestingly parallels the 20th century origins and emotionalism and bodily physicality and spiritual struggles of the Charismatic movement with similar manifestations in the "Great Awakening" of the 18th Century and the Mormons in the 19th Century.
This is worthy of further study and could help claim and separate the real from the fake;
4. There's a whole lot of faking going on that distracts us from Jesus: "The Holy Spirit would never use His gifts to authenticate those who propagate a false gospel or lead people away from the truth about Christ."
There are also some parts of the book that don't bat above 300:
1. There's some hyperbole and overeaching: "It is deeply ironic that the movement most concerned with emphasizing the Holy Spirit, is in fact, the one that treats him with the greatest contempt and condescension."
2. MacArthur's attempt to debunk the origins and founders of the movement comes off as quibbling in that there was nothing that was going to stop the Pentecostal movement;
3. His olive branch to charismatics and reformers within Pentecostalism and the charismatic movement does not have much biblical room for peace and fellowship.
4. His take on personal praise tongues (sometimes called ecstatic praise) of 1Corinthians 14,2 is MacArthur at his most vehement but least effective.
1Corinthians14,2 and 14,16 tells of us humans speaking to God, and in thanksgiving to God, not miraculous foreign language tongues of God speaking to us (Acts2,11).
(This praise tongue may have been too fleshly and led to the silencing of women in church, 1Corinthians14,31).
The well-respected Ryrie Study Bible is somewhat gentler as to praise tongues, and notes at 1Corinthians14,2 that the burden of proof regarding private praise tongues rests upon those who understand it to mean ecstatic speech. This sounds ok but the bible is not a book that states evidentiary standards for a court of law, or court of popular church opinion, but a faith book. The only burden any bible student has is to teach the whole counsel of God. This is not possible if we dismiss difficult bible passages as meaningless or unteachable.
Or, in other words, how could something innerrant be meaningless and unteachable?
MacArthur Is On the Right Subject
In conclusion, whether you agree with John MacArthur on much of anything in Strange Fire, he had the courage to write the book. Praise God he did.
And he is on the right subject, in that wordlwide Pentecostalism and Charismatic evangelicalism, riding the prosperity gospel, even if he hasn't admitted this, are now eclipsing mainstream evangelicalism in power and influence.
This is a phenomeona that may not only lead to a losing a numbers game for non pentecostal evangelicals, but also threatens the whole church in that so little of the word is being preached in the face of the prosperity gospel and the comsumer based brand of religion it sells.
Finally, while I think it better to attack the excesses of charismania via the argument of the maltreatment of God's dear people, rather than biblical ballistics (http://www.zionpenteostmission.com/nicolaitans-their-deeds-and-doctrines.html), I'm thankful to John MacArthur that he has made his side of the biblical argument.
Perhaps, now it's up to our side to follow suit, and bring some biblical balance into the movement, as we also learn to call out the excesses of charismania, as MacArthur has done.
If you want to sample MacArthur: http://www.gty.org/resources/sermons/80-264/the-scandal-of-the-catholic-priesthood
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Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.read more...