19 November 2013

Strange Fire Conference #8: John MacArthur, final session

by Dan Phillips

The last session I'll cover is John MacArthur's closing address. He said he was speaking from the heart, and had told an associate that he didn't really know what he was going to say in advance.

MacArthur began by addressing some of the accusations that had been hurled at him from the very moment of the announcement of the then-future conference. The first was that such a conference was unloving. But, MacArthur countered, surely the most loving thing to do is tell a person the truth, and leaving him in error the most unloving. In Acts 20, Paul reminded the elders that he had warned them with tears for years, knowing that wolves would arise from without and within. Titus 1 says it is the God-given duty of elders to warn against errors and errorists. It isn't optional. To refuse is to be faithless.

But wouldn't it be divisive? Indeed it would. Truth divides. Jesus brought a sword, He said. It is more important to be divided by truth than to be united in error.

Is the issue unclear in the Bible? Does difference of opinion demonstrate that Scripture is unclear? If so, Mac responded, it has only become unclear under the influence of false teachers. Was it not clear enough to the apostles, to the church fathers, to the Reformers, to the Puritans, to the creed-writers, to the erudite noble Reformed theologians (Warfield, for instance), to Spurgeon, to Boyce, to Sproul? When did it become "unclear"? Was it made unclear by Swaggart, by Kuhlman, by Benny Hinn, by Todd Bentley, by Paul Cain?

But, it is said, Mac is talking only about the extreme lunatic fringe. Untrue, he replied: Error leavens the whole movement, and they show no great inclination to rid themselves of it decisively. 90% accept prosperity gospel, 24-25 million deny Trinity, 100 million are RCs.

Would the conference be attacking brothers in Christ? MacArthur wishes that were so; but many of these leading figures are not brothers. Then he asked, Who should police evangelicalism? His answer: every faithful pastor, theologian, leader in the movement. If they don’t police the movement, the spiritual terrorists will dominate – as with Islam. Many say that Islamic terrorists are a small minority on the lunatic fringe. If that is the case, then why don’t Muslims en masse rise to reject the terrorists? So with Charismaticism. A heavy burden lies on the back of all who know the Word to rise up and denounce the movement's errors.

Is MacArthur fixated on Charismaticism? Is he a one-trick pony, always harping on Charismatics? He replied that he’s preached the whole NT, and has been at GCC since 1969 — and he’s had one conference on the Charismatic movement.

Is he hurting people’s feelings? MacArthur replied that he does care about offending people. But he doesn't care about that nearly as much as he cares about offending God.

MacArthur then went on to stress: Charismaticism/continuationism is an alien movement. We teach in a stream that goes back through the Reformers to the Fathers. The stream of Charismaticism goes back to the 60s, when hippies entered and dominated the church scene. The distinctive pedigree is as bad as the distinctive fruit.

Then MacArthur pled with his continuationist friends. First, he called them to face the cold hard fact that when they say they’re continuationist, they lend credence to the whole false movement. They give their good name to bad doctrine and practice. They provide theological cover for a movement that’s harmful and deadly.

Second, he observed that Charismaticism degrades supernatural nature of true gifts. Hebrews 2:1-4 is meaningless, if what Apollos the writer speaks of applies to what everyone’s experiencing today. Redefining the gifts necessarily diminishes the glory of the real thing. If those attesting works were like these pale, laughable trivialities and parlor-tricks, they were nothing special. They they were nothing special, the era was nothing special. If the era was nothing special, the message it produced was and is nothing special. Hijacking Biblical terminology degrades the genuinely miraculous.

Third, the continuationist position severely limits its advocates in attempting to confront others who plunge into confusion. The movement should be denounced, wholesale – and we keep waiting for denunciation of the serious errors, and it hasn’t come. Good men who call themselves continuationists have given up the high ground, so that they cannot speak with the needed "punch."

Fourth, by insisting that God’s still giving new revelation to Christians today, the enablers unwittingly open the gates to more and greater confusion and error. Tongues, healing, prophecy are said to occur today – but these phenomena are not at all like what happened in NT times. If that is so, if that radical redefinition is accepted, then anything might be from God – gibberish, nutty notions, feelings, anything can be "prophecy." Open the door to any of it, and you've opened the door to all of it.

Fifth, the position tacitly denies Sola Scriptura. None of MacArthur’s continuationist friends would formally deny closing of Canon and all — yet they default on that claim by teaching believers to expect extra-Biblical revelation. Saying that babble is tongues and fallible hunches are prophecy necessarily opens the door to the mindless ecstasy of unintelligible expression. In reality, these folks are actually closet cessationists when they say the manifestations are not the same. What it means is that they’ve accepted a counterfeit – and that’s hardly a noble posture.

Seventh, say that the gift of healing is still around, though there’s no evidence whatever, and you give credence to the worst of the faith healers.

All of this dishonors the august person of the Holy Spirit by enticing people from His true ministry. “Give me more, give me that other thing” is the cry – what kind of deficiency does that attribute to work of the Spirit?

The broader Charismatic movement has flung open the city gates to more doctrinal error than any other movement, including liberalism, pragmatism, ecumenism, or any other previous enemy-attempt. Charismatic theology is the strange fire of our generation, and should be doused decisively by the Biblically faithful.

MacArthur's closing was very moving. He went to 1 Timothy 6, last two verses:
20 O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you.
Then he want to 2 Timothy 1:6-7 —
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, 7 for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
MacArthur observed that this was a scary time for Paul. The baton was about to be passed to Timothy, and Timothy was looking weak. So Paul calls Timothy not to be ashamed of testimony of our Lord — what a frightening charge to have to put into words at this stage. Timothy must retain the standard of sound words. What God gave him through Paul was a treasure. "Guard the treasure entrusted to you," Paul pleads.

What effect did the words have on Timothy? How did Timothy respond? For the answer, MacArthur took us to Hebrews 13:23.
You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon.
Timothy had hung in there. He'd borne witness, and he'd gone to jail. Paul’s letter gripped his heart and emboldened him.

So it needs to grip ours. The Charismatic movement seeks to distract us from confidence in the sufficiency of God's word. It seeks to loosen our grip on the treasure, and pull us in a dozen different fruitless or positively harmful directions.

We must reject that pull, we must cling to God's Word, we must preach that Word... and so, only, can we avoid stoking (or roasting in) Strange Fire.

First post
Second post
My overall summary report to CBC
Third post
Fourth post
Fifth post
Sixth post
Seventh post

Dan Phillips's signature


donsands said...

I was thinking as I read this excellent post of Dr. Luke's Book: Acts of the Apostles.

That book says so much to us, the Body of Christ. I read through where Peter was healing people just walking the streets, and was arrested, and he was preaching, and people were being added to the Church, and then Stephen preached and was stoned.
(Maybe Stephen over did it.)

Thanks for sharing Pastor John's thoughts. Very encouraging indeed.

brianonpyromaniacs said...

Does the cessation of "the gift of healing" (as mentioned in the 'Seventh,...' paragraph) entail that sick Christians today should not have the elders of the church pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord (as James instructed in James 5:14-16)?

DJP said...

No, Brian, and I don't know any sufficientist who would take that position.

That so many Charismatics/continuationsts keep feigning surprise when they learn that sufficientists pray for healing is only a testimony to the effort they've given to understanding the Bible-affirming position.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Dr. John MacArthur is more gracious and loving than his vehement critics. And they're the ones complaining about a lack of grace, and a lack of love from him! Don't they see the log in their eye?

brianonpyromaniacs said...

DJP, one reason it now seems clear to me that answering my previous question as you did ought to be part of the cessationist/sufficientist position is because otherwise then the role of an elder of asking God to heal the anointed sick per James 5:14-16 would imply that he as an elder must've had the gift of healing.
In other words, the cessationist/sufficientist that affirms that previous question would also have to believe that one of the qualifications (never mentioned in Scripture) for being an elder/pastor/bishop back then in James’ day would be having the gift of healing -- a gift that especially the apostles of the Lord Jesus possessed, which in turn demonstrated with awe their apostleship.

hammer185 said...


The sick in James 5:14-16 IS NOT [physically] sick but instead [spiritually] sick based upon the entire context of the Book of James & the references he uses to the rest of the Bible. This is the section of James where he is writing about [spiritual] triage, not [physical] triage, in the church so to speak. He is writing about a wrapping up of a major, future from James perspective, spiritual battle in chapter 5. See context of James 5:1 for separation from false teachers. These in 5:1 also are not necessarily [physically] rich but in their own minds [spiritually] rich not needing but instead rejecting the wisdom of God from above (3:17) which comes through the [spiritually] poor man (1:9 'brother of low degree', 4:7, 3:17).

With this in mind the healing in James 5:14-16 is effectual because it is joined not just with the actions of the elders, but also the action the spiritually sick man asking for forgiveness and also the poor man who is also the righteous man in James 5:16.

Here is a simple analogy. Poor/lowly man X says the church needs to stop the practice of doing so and so. Rich man Y says no. The stage is set for the church to discern who has the wisdom from God, man X or man Y. Man Y refuses the wisdom from God and the practice of Matthew 18. May Y makes worldly arguments to fight and discredit Man X. Man Y gains followers and now is represented not just as the rich man, but with rich men. In 5:1 the church elders in particular have recognized the true wisdom and judged the false teachers/rich man and his men. Now man Z in the process said sinful things about Man X even though Man X was not in the wrong (James 5:6), (James 2:2-5). Man Z is spiritually sick and needs to repent and is only now (in the unfolding of the letter) learning from the elders some of what really happened and this section (James 5:7 following) represents spiritual triage after the battle in the church.

I assert that James is not a book of separate good sayings or proverbs. It is instead a book in which James uses Scripturally taught and contextually realized uses of words and these usages are especially from Jesus' teachings. In this Book James writes about a, future to James but no doubt experienced partially by him as leader of the Jerusalem church, spiritual battle which will happen in the church. If a person does not look to the rest of Scripture to ground the usage of words like (rich, poor, sick, flower vs. flowers of the field, etc...) then the continuity of the action and drama in the church described in James will be missed and this book will seem like a collection of good proverbs with some practical application that asserts physical truths when it is really about spiritual uses of these words such as Matthew 5:3 (poor in spirit).

And so for example, if a person looks at different uses of sick in Scripture they will see that James doesn't make up this type of canonical use of sick, (ie. Matt 25:36-39, Matt 25:43-44, Acts 20:35, Heb 12:3, but he does run with it.

And so, when you assert that James is describing things that are happening when he wrote the letter in a way that elders at the time he wrote this had the power to heal physically sick people, you need some correction in understanding this book. James is using a collection of truths taught in Scripture, and no doubt his experience as leader of the Jerusalem church, and experience as a brother of Jesus, to describe a prophetic event regrading the twelve tribes who are scattered going through a major (future when he wrote it) spiritual battle.

PS: I am not saying that it is not a normal compassionate loving thing for elders to pray for those who are physically sick in their church, but it does mean that these elders have more obligation or effectual healing abilities now, or when James wrote this letter for that matter, than anyone else in the church.

Ryan Root

DJP said...

The post isn't about James 5:14-15, nonetheless I allowed the last comment to illustrate that evidently there are those who don't read it as about healing. Yet even still, Ryan doesn't deny that we pray for healing.

I agree with you that James has many connections with Jesus' teachings, and that it isn't a random assortment of sayings. however, I think your reading here is hardly the most natural reading of the words.

At any rate, we're agreed that it (A) has nothing to do with the gift of healing, and (B) prayer for healing is a normal Christian practice.

hammer185 said...


but it does mean that these elders should have been but it does NOT mean that these elders

Solameanie said...

Guys, an off the beat comment to be sure, but I think this would be high time for a rare Pecadillo post.