23 October 2013

Strange Fire Conference #2: Session 1, John MacArthur

by Dan Phillips

Introduction. My intention in beginning these posts on sessions at the Strange Fire conference held last week at Grace Community Church will not be to reproduce everything that was said or done. You can consult such stalwarts who were there as Mike Riccardi, and eventually access the sessions themselves. I'll present highlights, impressions, conclusions that stood out to me.

Beyond this note, I won't comment on the singing that introduced each session, or special musical performances by GCC's soloists or the Master's Chorale — all of which were wonderful (particularly the latter).

John MacArthur fittingly welcomed us all, sharing that the Charismatic movement has been a concern of his since the first days of his ministry. He saw it as a threat, and wrote books on the subject in the late 1970sthe early 90s, and this month. This is the first conference he has ever held on the subject.

MacArthur likened Charismaticism to spiritual AIDS, which lowers a body's resistance and leaves a sufferer open to death by any of a hundred opportunistic infections. Some leaders in the movement are false teachers and know it; others are deluded unawares. Charismaticism as a whole is characterized by a lack of spiritual discernment, which God calls pastors to exercise in protecting the flock — yet many leaders are being remiss in fulfilling their calling when it comes to the Charismatic fad. Its false teaching has thrived in this vacuum. The conference was intended to help supply that lack.

MacArthur expounded Leviticus 10, whose narrative supplied the name of the conference. After Aaron's accepted (and authorized) worship, his sons sprang up to offer fire that was neither. God's fire, which had descended to consume Aaron's offering and leave the worshipers alive (Lev. 9:22-24), now descended with the opposite effect (10:2). God thus put Himself on record: He was to be treated as holy (10:3), which means approaching Him according to His word, not according to the creative notions of even the most prominent, privileged and respected.

To stress this, Mac twice said: "Most serious crimes against God occur in corrupt worship."

False representations of Yahweh, as we see in Exodus 32, are disastrous, and are a kind of idolatry. Think of the judgment and peril that disastrous experiment (and, I might add, complete failure in leadership) brought on Israel.

Good intentions has nothing to do with it; believing obedience to the Word has everything to do with it. This is where Charismaticism, as to its distinctives, has wholly failed. MacArthur made the same point we've often made here: Charismaticism as to its distinctives has made NO contribution to true worship, Biblical clarity, or sound doctrine. Biblically-faithful Christian people had already had all that for centuries. Charismaticism as to its distinctives has brought only chaos, confusion, misrepresentation, false doctrine, and delusion.

Are people saved within the Charismatic movement? Yes; but when they are, it is because of the gospel, which was not invented by that movement. God has always protected His gospel and raised up those who proclaim it, and He does so now. Some within Charismaticism also love and preach the Gospel, yet are heterodox (not heretical) when it comes to the Spirit.

However, many of the most prominent, influential, adored and spotlighted leaders in the movement are heretical and do not know God. For this reason, no movement has done more damage to the church. There may be 14 million Mormons, but there are 500 million Charismatics. In too many cases, the movement has proved to be a Trojan horse for destructive delusion at best, and damning error at worst. Welcomed with open arms by evangelical trend-surfers and accommodaters, the troops pour out, take over, and erect an idol in the City of God. They offer the world what it already wants with a sprinkling of "Spirit"-dust. The world pours into the professing church unconverted, and the damage is done.

Here MacArthur made a point I found arresting. He alluded to this passage from Hebrews:
Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:28–31)
MacArthur noted that many groups of Christians have assembled to oppose the trampling underfoot of the Son of God by defending sound Biblical Christology, the first item mentioned by the writer. I could add that organizations like T4G and TGC and many others at least formally oppose the denigration of the Gospel and the blood of the covenant (the second item), by defending the Biblical Gospel.

But where, MacArthur poignantly asks, are the organizations and conferences held to respond to the outrageous treatment of the "Spirit of grace," the Holy Spirit, the third object? The verb that Apollos the writer of Hebrews uses is ἐνυβρίσας, which means to insult the Spirit, to treat Him with outrageous contempt. Is that not what vast swathes of Charismaticism do? Attributing to Him their atrocious and shameful behavior — punching and hitting people, manipulating people by falsely-claimed superpowers, bilking people, barking like dogs, jerking and rolling about like demoniac pagans, laughing like the insane, babbling incoherently, speaking words that range from trivia to heresy — is that not outrageous insult? Is it not blasphemy? Yet what are the organizations and conferences that have rallied to respond to this as robustly as others have to heresy and deception regarding Christ and the Gospel?

To add even great sobriety to this observation, we note that the oft-quoted words of vv. 30-31 relate to how seriously God takes such atrocities. He doesn't shrug these things off as adiaphora. He regards it as of the very gravest importance.

Do his most public, celebrated, rock-star Christian leaders?

To ask, is to answer, sadly.

Instead, what one hears (me talking now, not MacArthur) is wails and squeals about MacArthur talking about these abuses — not about the abuses themselves. It reminds me of how shocked (shocked!) Senatrix Barbara Boxer was for Senator Rick Santorum to describe partial-birth abortion on the floor of the Senate. The procedure itself didn't bother her a bit, she adores it as a sacred right. But describing it? Offensive! Unheard-of!

So here, invariably the dramatists who flutter and swoon in their horror over MacArthur's speaking out are not themselves known for their frequent and bold stances against the withering destructive errors of Charismaticism; but they do want to grab the spotlight as standing among the crowd of MacArthur's detractors. "Of course, some of that is bad," is the thought; "but this divisive conference is really, really bad!" Oh, yes? Color me unpersuaded.

Another sharp point Mac made was to point to the Spirit's ministry in Romans 8 — forming the character of Christ in us — and then point to the life of Christ Himself. MacArthur observed that the Holy Spirit was Jesus' constant companion, from conception to crucifixion. It is Jesus to whom the Holy Spirit strives to conform us. The Holy Spirit brings us to Jesus.

With that in mind, MacArthur asks: "When did Jesus ever bark like a dog? When did Jesus ever laugh uncontrollably for hours on end for no reason? When did Jesus ever moo, fall down and lose control, roll around and foam and quiver, or babble incoherently?"

Again, to ask is to answer.

MacArthur concluded that he'll start taking the movement as a whole more seriously when the most prominent leaders as a whole start looking more like Christ.

It was a powerful start to the conference, and set the stage well.

Dan Phillips's signature


Frank Turk said...

This is a much better post than the post I drafted and deleted.

DJP said...


nickmrolland said...

This is a great summary. I beg the opposers to listen carefully to the entire body of teaching from the conference and in the book and interact with THAT.

The focus on healings, deliverance, and breakthroughs rather than salvation and sanctification are RUINING people's lives and have them headed to hell. I have ministered to many people in exactly this position. And they heard these things from very normal appearing people, not the barkers and laughers.

Kay said...

Spine tingly stuff (inappropriately enough :-) ). I'm currently doing the 'Alpha' course and was wondering how to approach the 'Holy Spirit' section when we get there. I feel better equipped to deal with it now I've enjoyed the conference and your summing up, Dan. Looking forward to more.

Stan McCullars said...

I guess one of the things that set the Internet ablaze from the opening session was the suggestion that some of what is taking place in the Charismatic Movement is blasphemous towards the Holy Spirit. I didn't hear that session (so I'm not sure of the context) but I did hear Phil Johnson where he said "a blasphemy" not "the blasphemy."

John said...

"Are people saved within the Charismatic movement? Yes; but when they are, it is because of the gospel, which was not invented by that movement."

Ok Captain Obvious, This point would have some meaning if Pentecostals didn't teach a "subsequent event" since day one, another example of how out of touch the conference really was.

Ken Rawlins said...

Speaking as a former charismatic, I have really enjoyed these updates. Both here and at Cripplegate. My heart is filled with a mixture of joy and sadness. Joy, because the gospel is being proclaimed boldly through this conference. Sadness, because so many in the charismatic camp refuse to see past their experiences and see that the only thing that matters is WHAT.DID.GOD.SAY!
I am praying for all involved in the conference and thanking God for their willingness to obey Him no matter the cost.

The Bible Christian said...

Dan excellant overview!

Rob said...

I can't wait to check out these MP3s. Thanks for the link and the summary of this conference. Where I live, you randomly throw a stone and it will bounce off a Pentacostal church, so this is some valuable material I'm anxious to listen to.

DJP said...

IOW, you live in the world. Yep: cults, Catholics, Charismatics. That's the rule.

Kerry James Allen said...

I'm thinking Frank would enjoy being called "Captain Obvious."

DJP said...

Only if it came with a cape.

Honestly, I can't make any rational flow in the comment you're referring to, so I'm just leaving it.

Kerry James Allen said...

John, since in other threads you want to make a strong distinction between charismatics and the Assembly of God, I would say that an issue with even deadlier consequences than tongues, prophecy, and miracles is the official AOG position that eternal life isn't really eternal. Why argue about whether gifts haven't ceased when according to AOG, your salvation can. Assembly of God people are cessationists. Not about gifts, but rather THE gift. Well, unless God takes it back.


spencer said...

Thanks Dan.

Let's get your weakest point out of the way first. Apollos. Really? Apollos? Why not just conjecture that it was Priscilla?!?!

But seriously, your write up showcases the textual warrant in Leviticus and Hebrews for what was said. Thanks for pointing that out. Most online commenters keep missing it.

And the Boxer / Santorum comparison is spot on. "Let me object to the tone & sweep of your criticism loudly so that we can move away from its substance as quickly possible."

DJP said...

Because διηγούμενον in Heb. 11:32 is a masculine participle. :^P

Never bring a nerf bat to a gunfight.


Solameanie said...

Looks like Adrian Warnock says he's going to "demolish" Strange Fire (the book) point by point. We'll see.

DJP said...

Oh boy.

*Weird thing that happened to cessationist Charles Spurgeon

*Crazy thing Lloyd-Jones/other-big-name said

*Things I answered years ago, as if never answered

*Things others have answered conclusively, again and again

I wonder what that leaves?

Frank Turk said...

Adrian Warnock is too nice to demolish anything. He will attempt to tump it over.

Kay said...

Oh it's maddening. Why can't he just respond to the actual content of the critique? Own the 'aberrations' of his movement and properly criticise them? Instead of all this foot-stamping tantrum throwing?

Stan McCullars said...

It would be far easier to take some of the protests seriously if those protesting weren't so "cautious" about Todd Bentley a few years ago. Where are the calls for being "cautious" about judging John MacArthur, Phil Johnson and the rest of the conference speakers? Perhaps I missed them.

Someone who is in their camp gets a free pass. Someone who criticizes their camp gets no mercy.

It seems to me that their time would be far better spent looking into why their best "prophets" are so pathetically inaccurate.

Bill Lonas said...

Thank you for posting Dan.
This might not be the right place to ask this but I originally read your article in the RSS feed - which contains a quote from TWTG that the blog post does not. I was going to reference the blog post specifically for that post (which is dead-on btw) but its not there. Was that by design?

DJP said...

I realized that I was mistaken about the talk during which he quoted it, so I've relocated the quotation for a later post.

wayner said...

I listened to Phil's "conversation" with Michael Brown. I wonder how frustrated Phil was by the end. If he wasn't he is way more sanctified than I am.

DJP said...

He's way more sanctified than either of us. He kept his cool remarkably. The better I know Phil, the more I admire him.

Tim said...

I appreciate these, Dan. I watched a few of the sessions online. (Free and good quality.) Wish I could have been there. Amazing to see the backlash from those who likely never heard any of the messages.

jmb said...

"So here, invariably the dramatists who flutter and swoon in their horror over MacArthur's speaking out are not themselves known for their frequent and bold stances against the withering destructive errors of Charismaticism; but they do want to grab the spotlight as standing among the crowd of MacArthur's detractors. "Of course, some of that is bad," is the thought; "but this divisive conference is really, really bad!" Oh, yes? Color me unpersuaded."

Reminds me of the RINOs who said, "Well, Obamacare is bad, but Cruz and Lee are REALLY bad for rocking the boat."

Mrs. Webfoot said...

Thank you for this summary. I am listening to JM's first message right now. Wonderful!

donsands said...

Flawless post. Well, very good work, and thank you for taking the time to do this ministry.

The Adrian Warnocks, and CJ Mahaneys truly do need to condemn, and speak with humble-boldness to these false teachers in the charismatic cult-ure. I pray they will.
None of us can claim to be an Apostle or Prophet, for they were were chosen to be the foundation of God's Israel; God's people, and so they were used by God to write His most awesome gift to us, the Bible. We surely worship God in Spirit, but also the truth. Our Father calls us to worship Him in Spirit and truth.

Thanks again Dan.

The Polemic said...

Excellent post. Apologies Dan for mistaking you with the guy who sat in the front row (the pic I sent via twitter) . Looking forward to hear your thoughts on the rest of the conference.

Tom Chantry said...

Someone needs to create an alternate blogger identity: The Guy Who Sat in the Front Row (who Looks Like Dan).

Someone get on that right away.

Mrs. Webfoot said...

Strange Fire: Every biblical argument refuted - Adrian Warnock has written two posts with that title. If he thinks that JM is being unbiblical, shouldn't he call them unbiblical arguments? I'm praying for that dear brother.

I had no idea that this conference was happening until I saw weird posting on my FB news feed. I have been playing catch up, and so far have listened to two messages. Don't know why anyone who claims to love God's Word would want to refute the biblical arguments. When will the book be out in Spanish?

donsands said...

I wish Blog posts had the LIKE thumbs up thing FB has. I would click on Tom Chantry with a "likes".

Have a terrific Lord's day to all. Go to church service, and worship our Father in Spirit and truth, and be filled with His joy in rejoicing in His great love and perfectness! To Jesus be all the glory! All for the Cross, Gal. 6:14!

John said...

I haven't posted at Pyro for years. I used to follow it a number of years ago but disagreed with the cessationist stance. Having said that, I think Strange Fire was essential. I wrote a response to the first session in response to the charismatic criticisms here: http://jjcaldwell.blogspot.co.uk/2013/10/strange-fire-conference-call-to.html