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 1970s, the 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
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.