31 October 2013

Strange Fire Conference #5: Conrad Mbewe

by Dan Phillips

First post
Second post
My overall summary report to CBC
Third post
Fourth post

I am going to combine Conrad Mbewe's two sessions, on days one and three, into two posts.

Mbewe (mm-BAY-way) pastors Kabwata Reformed Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, and is known as "the Spurgeon of Africa," though he himself does not know who gave him that name. When Phil Johnson introduced Mbewe's second talk, he said that, if he were unable to sit under John MacArthur's ministry, he'd gladly sit under Mbewe's preaching.

In his first talk, Mbewe focused on the impact of the spread of Charismaticism to Africa. He began with John 17:17 and noted that, were that verse fully valued, Charismaticism would never have taken hold. The central problem is a failure to recognize the centrality and sufficiency of the Word of God. Amen, and not just in Africa.

North of the Sahara, Islam dominates; but south of the Sahara, Charismaticism has flooded the continent to the extent that it is the most visible form of "evangelicalism" (he stressed the quotation-marks). "Born again" has become a synonym for Charismaticism, due to media saturation, and a staple diet of TBN.

Thirty years ago, Pentecostal missionaries came to Africa and made some attempt (along with their other interests) to teach some Bible. They didn't do it well, but they at least made the gesture. Now, however, Mbewe says that he can't recall the last time someone in this movement said he was going to a Bible study. What Charismaticism has increasingly done, instead, is to take African religion, sprinkle superficially Christian terms on top, and bring in the masses. The pagan African worldview is not challenged and overthrown in the name of King Jesus; it is embraced and pressed into the service of church growth. (Mbewe expands on this in a post on the GTY blog.)

For instance, ads say "Come and receive your deliverance and your healing and your breakthrough." This sounds perfectly American-Charismatic. [UPDATE  since I posted this, Joyce Meyer was kind enough to make my point for me:
Thoughtful, no? Now, read on.]

However, to the common African breakthrough connotes the belief that problems in life are caused by layers of angels, demons, and ancestral spirits between the sufferer and God. Until those layers are broken through, he won't get what he wants. So the African concept of a distant God is enshrined in Charismatic preaching and practice.

So now Africans have two options to try to attain the same goals: rush to the witch doctor, or to the Charismatic pastor. Indeed, Mbewe's second talk asked whether pastors were witch doctors, since that is the role they now play in the Charismatic movement. Confronted with problems, these "pastors" (most commonly and ironically called "man of God") do not respond with the Gospel and the Word, but with all-night prayer meetings and power confrontations and ritual. At a meeting, perhaps 20 minutes of motivational speaking is followed by charismatic fakery and manipulations.

All the time Charismatic leaders talk about demons and breakthroughs, the Word remains closed. As in America (which I call the "What Verse Are We On?" phenomenon). Mbewe pointed to scandalous news reports of sexual abuse perpetrated by charismatic leaders, imposed on followers who'd become conditioned to being ordered around and manipulated by the "man of God." Another charismatic leader is accused of impregnating at least ten women before being divorced by his wife.

All this happens, Mbewe says, because of a seismic shift in understanding who and what a pastor is. A pastor should be someone who faithfully studies, preaches, and applies the Bible. Now the pastor occupies the place originally held by the village witch doctor, an impression strengthened by the pastors' claim to have personal secret dealings with God, and receiving secret revelation.

Any of this sound familiar?

But despite this constant buzz of supposedly supernatural phenomena, the track record of African Charismatics is evidently just about as good as that of their American counterparts. An African organization for the lame, blind, and otherwise disabled ultimately issued a statement urging people to stop going to these meetings — because they did not know of a single incident of healing from those maladies.

Just like it was in apostolic times, never.

More than once, Mbewe noted that he is necessarily painting with a broad brush — but not too broad: of a list of "evangelical" ministries in Africa, 90% are of this persuasion. He noted as well that Africa was poised to launch the next missionary initiative — but, he asked pointedly and poignantly, what would they be exporting? The same diseased, destructive error that America exported to Africa — that America itself continues to refuse to address and confront with sufficient force, as its promulgators and enablers continue to run interference for the very worst doctrine and practice?

What came out repeatedly was Mbewe's concern about our silence on this massive issue, our failure and refusal to lock horns. He alluded to a post of his titled Our Criminal Evangelical Silence. The first paragraph of that post will bring us towards a powerful conclusion to this one:
We all know that the dark ages are upon us again here in Africa. It is almost like a dark blanket that is slowly surrounding the land. People who know absolutely nothing of the core values of evangelical Christianity—the new birth, repentance and saving faith, justification and holiness, etc.—have hijacked evangelical Christianity in Africa. Even the term "born again" is being peddled without an iota of the meaning that Jesus had in mind when he used the phrase in his talk with Nicodemus. These are dark days indeed.
Not only in Africa, sad to say. And the deafening squeal of protests to this conference, from perpetrators and enablers alike, signals that the darkness mightn't be ending anytime soon, due in large measure to the very tragic phenomenon we see in Jeremiah 5:31a:
The prophets prophesy falsely, 
And the priests rule on their own authority; 
And My people love it so! 

Dan Phillips's signature

30 October 2013

Strange Fire Conference #4: Steve Lawson on Calvin and the Charismatics

by Dan Phillips

First post
Second post
My overall summary report to CBC
Third post

Steve Lawson's session focused on what John Calvin would say to modern Charismatics. Lawson is a lot of things: senior pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, teaching fellow with Ligonier Ministries, visiting professor at the Ligonier Academy, The Master’s Seminary, and Samara Theological Seminary in Russia — and a constant fixture at conferences. (Seriously: how do you get that gig?)

It was really a terrific session. Lawson showed a surprising facility for spontaneous humor, particularly on display when a remark drew one person's applause ("Thank you to the one person who clapped" — and then, when everyone applauded, "I can tell when you don't mean it").

Having read Lawson's recent book on Luther (the review of which I plan to post after this series), I appreciate all the more the extent of research that goes into his talks. This was laced liberally with direct quotations from Calvin.

Lawson observed that Calvin faced foes who also believed they had inner light and direct revelations from God — the Anabaptists and the Libertines. He quotes Calvin as saying that they were 100 times worse than Roman Catholicism. Some of the libertines wore torn robes and seemed to want a "grunge" look. (When the audience laughed, Lawson remarked, "I feel like I just stepped on something," to more laughter.)

Lawson largely found Calvin's thoughts revealed in his commentaries on related passages. I looked them up to add to my notes and to BibleWorks as needed. Here are just some of the highlights:

On Acts 2:38, Calvin said:

Therefore this doth not properly appertain unto us. For because Christ meant to set forth the beginning of his kingdom with those miracles, they lasted but for a time; yet because the visible graces which the Lord did distribute to his did show, as it were in a glass, that Christ was the giver of the Spirit, therefore, that which Peter saith doth in some respect appertain unto all the whole Church: ye shall receive the gift of the Spirit. For although we do not receive it, that we may speak with tongues, that we may be prophets, that we may cure the sick, that we may work miracles; yet is it given us for a better use, that we may believe with the heart unto righteousness, that our tongues may be framed unto true confession, (Rom. 10:10,) that we may pass from death to life, (John 5:24,) that we, which are poor and empty, may be made rich, that we may withstand Satan and the world stoutly.

Calvin's note in the Institutes is particularly telling as to his Biblically-derived view of the attesting/revelatory gifts' purpose:
In demanding miracles from us, they act dishonestly; for we have not coined some new gospel, but retain the very one the truth of which is confirmed by all the miracles which Christ and the apostles ever wrought.
In other words, Calvin saw the purpose of the gifts as being to confirm the new message of the gospel and its messengers. When his contemporary critics demanded that he and the other reformers perform miracles, his response in effect was "Why should we? We are not bringing any new message, but the old message which has already been revealed and attested by God's supernatural power."

As I've often argued: define the gifts' purpose Biblically, and you define their intended shelf-life. Describe the gifts Biblically, and you refute modern substitutes.

Calvin again notes tongues' long-past cessation in his comment on Acts 10:44 —

The gift of the tongues, and other such like things, are ceased long ago in the Church; but the spirit of understanding and of regeneration is of force, and shall always be of force, which the Lord coupleth with the external preaching of the gospel, that he may keep us in reverence of his word, and may prevent the deadly dotings, wherein brain-sick fellows enwrap themselves, whilst that, forsaking the word, they invent an erroneous and wandering spirit. 

It was particularly interesting to hear that Calvin, in his remarks on Acts 21:9 some 500 years ago, made the same point about errorists in his day that I've made again and again about Charismatics (bolding added):
Prophecies had now almost ceased many years among the Jews, to the end they might be more attentive and desirous to hear the new voice of the gospel. Therefore, seeing that prophesying, which was in a manner quite ceased, doth now after long time return again, it was a token of a more perfect state. Notwithstanding, it seemeth that the same was the reason why it ceased shortly after; for God did support the old people with divers foretellings, until Christ should make an end of all prophecies. Therefore, it was meet that the new kingdom of Christ should be thus furnished and beautified with this furniture, that all men might know that that promised visitation of the Lord was present; and it was also expedient that it should last but for a short time, lest the faithful should always wait for some farther thing, or lest that curious wits might have occasion given to seek or invent some new thing ever now and then. For we know that when that ability and skill was taken away, there were, notwithstanding, many brain-sick fellows, who did boast that they were prophets; and also it may be that the frowardness of men did deprive the Church of this gift. But that one cause ought to be sufficient, in that God, by taking away prophecies, did testify that the end and perfection was present in Christ; and it is uncertain how these maids did execute the office of prophesying, saving that the Spirit of God did so guide and govern them, that he did not overthrow the order which he himself set down. And forasmuch as he doth not suffer women to bear any public office in the Church, it is to be thought that they did prophesy at home, or in some private place, without the common assembly.
Lawson also noted that, when challenged as to why he invested so much time in responding to errorists, Calvin replied, "Even a dog barks when he sees someone assault his master." This clearly resonated deeply with us who heard. This foolish error opens the door to Satan, leads the simple away from the truth, and provokes God. For Calvin, a charismatic Calvinist would be an oxymoron.

Lawson closed his stirring talk with three principles:
  1. The exclusivity of Biblical authority. Either there is one stream of revelation, or there are two. Either Sola Scriptura or something else. Calvin faced the "two streams" model in Roman Catholicism, and then in another form with the Anabaptists and libertines. It is the notion of the word of God and ______ that Calvin opposed, insisting that the Word of God formed the one and only stream.
  2. Priority of Biblical preaching. Look to two streams and pulpit is diminished. Bible mandates Biblical preaching. Two streams dilutes that. 
  3. The unity of Spirit and Word. The Holy Spirit is not opposed to the Word of God, but is its divine Author, and uses it as His means.
Dan Phillips's signature

Update: On the Record

by Frank Turk

The primary reason for this post is simple: I'm on hiatus.  I tried to come up with an explanation for that statement, but the analogy to drunkenness or other vices wasn't flattering to either you or me, so we'll just let the sentence stand on its own merits.

Two weeks ago, I issued an invitation to anyone who was a continualist/charismatic -- by which I meant anyone offended by the Strange Fire conference -- to have a dialog with me either by audio or e-mail.  As I noted in that post's update, there are 5 or 6 people who have offered to take up with me.

However, because those conversations are not yet evident here, some of you might be inclined to think that perhaps the "other side" got cold feet when they realized what they had gotten themselves into.  That is not at all the case, and for that reason I'm posting this note for the sake of your conscience and the sake of those who do want to engage the topic but have not yet really had the chance.

The reason there's nothing here yet is because I am on hiatus, and frankly I can't get my schedule right-side up to have these conversations.

I am hiatus.  Be patient.  Have Mercy.

29 October 2013

Strange Fire Conference #3: Joni Eareckson Tada and R. C. Sproul

by Dan Phillips

First post
Second post
My overall summary report to CBC

The next session featured Joni Eareckson Tada. I expect you know her story: at age seventeen, Joni's dive into unexpectedly shallow water resulted in her becoming a quadriplegic for life. Her first book Joni, written in 1976, is a gut-wrenching read. Here faithful yet vulnerably candid style has remained her trademark. Joni's talks are chats rather than addresses; they are personal testimonies mixed with spontaneous singing of snatches of hymns. I find it impossible to listen to her without being moved, and without coming away thinking, "Yeah, I don't really have problems."

This was a very touching, personal session. Joni and MacArthur have known each other for a long time, and a lot of kidding has gone back and forth (she said that, when she decided to wear her wedding dress outside her chair, while other said she floated like an angel, Mac said she looked like a float). So she leaned on that friendship to call him up to the stage with her to sing an unrehearsed duet. It was very nice, and left few dry eyes.

Nor did Joni's occasionally tearful testimony concerning the path she's traveled. In early days, Charismatic friends kept wanting to command Joni's healing. Once, Joni was taken to a Kathryn Kuhlman meeting. They went hours early, to get front and center seating. However, Joni and the other folks in wheelchairs were hustled off to the side out of the way, where the spotlight never found them. Afterwards the ushers moved them out, a very quiet line of 35 souls, all untouched, unhealed, left to wonder why the Savior had in fact passed them by.

Joni shared the struggle she's had as her affliction has forced her to confront the corruption in her own heart. She has had cancer, she has severe chronic pain — just think about that for a moment — she has constant daily struggles. But in it, Joni has found a hope to hang on to that is very different than the focus of most prominent Charismatic leaders: Jesus, the Gospel, heaven. Joni shared that she and her husband Ken talk about pain being splashovers of Hell. Then what are splashovers of Heaven? Not happy days, they concluded, but finding Jesus in the splashovers of Hell.

In fact, one of the most poignant reflections Joni shared (in my words) was that a new, healthy body is not what she is most looking forward to about resurrection life. What she most looks forward to is the full healing of her heart, the final removal of its remaining corruptions and temptations. In other talks she has said that she plans to thank Jesus for her wheelchair, and for what He has taught her through it. It calls to mind Solzhenitsyn's "Bless you, prison, for being my life."

She noted that Jesus was never "about" healing; alluding to Mark 1, she noted that when healings threatened to take focus away from His preaching, He would move on.

As if Joni weren't dealing with enough pains and suffering, after the talk we were told that she'd had to leave right away because (as I understood it) she had some bleeding that they could not stop.

I spoke with friends on-site who were monitoring Twitter. They told me that, previous to Joni taking the stage, the carpers and critics were very active and strident. But when Joni spoke, they shut up. Ditto during talks by Justin Peters, who suffers from cerebral palsy.

The critics didn't (and don't) have much to say to folks like Joni and Justin. Lower back-pain, headaches, poor sense of smell? They're all over that. Sometimes they are, that is. Quadriplegia and cerebral palsy? Not so much. Off to the side of the stage, please.

This is "continuationism" in a nutshell, isn't it? One hundred years of desperately trying to prop up their position by argument, redefinition, and distraction — but in all the whole world not one faith healer commanding one Joni Eareckson Tada to "rise and walk," to any good effect. Kathryn Kuhlman's ushers bear mute testimony to the fact that they expect no such thing to happen. Why not? Because that gift, the ability to heal on command, has not in fact continued. Tens of thousands of smart phones have failed to capture one such occurrence, though they could have captured many in the days of Jesus and the apostles (cf. Mark 6:56). The very fact that they are forced to make verbal arguments for continuationism — rather than pointing to 1900 years of Joni's and Justin's hopping up out of their wheelchairs — is potent proof that their position is bankrupt, and that in their hearts they know it.

Then John MacArthur made a remark in passing that stuck with me. He pointed that in the whole sweep of Biblical history, there were not that many healings. This is particularly true in the Old Testament, where the miracles usually "ended up with a lot of people dead. Once, the whole world." I'd never seen it that way, but of course he's right. Another point of discontinuity between the genuine and the imitation — Charismatic leader Benny Hinn and his "Holy Ghost machine gun" to the contrary notwithstanding.

The next session was a video from R. C. Sproul, who was prevented from coming by ill health. Sproul briefly traced the history of the Pentecostal movement. It was an early-20th-century invention that had no traction into the mainstream until the middle of that century, after which it spread to the Roman Catholic church and elsewhere indiscriminately.

Sproul then made the point that the Spirit's coming in Pentecost has to be set in the context of the history of redemption. It isn't a "and then that happened" event. Sproul set up by contrast with Moses wishing that all the Lord's people could have the Spirit (Num. 11:29). What had been a wish on Moses' lips becomes a prophecy in Joel 2, and then a reality in Acts 2.

What we see in Acts is the Spirit coming to four people-groups: first the Jews in Jerusalem (Acts 2), then the half-Jew Samaritans (Acts 8), then the Gentile proselytes in Acts 11, and then the full-on Gentile converts in Acs 19. Each group receives its own reenactment of Pentecost, presided over by apostles, signifying their full reception of the Spirit. Unlike the false teaching of Pentecostals, in each case, every believer present received the Spirit.

I have often noted (and argued at some length in my unpublished book on the Holy Spirit) that trying to re-do this period in order to receive the Spirit is like trying to build a manger and gather some shepherds and angels to receive Christ. The manger is how Christ came into the world, and the events in Acts are how the Spirit formed the church. It isn't intended that we reproduce the historical events.

And so Sproul's argument was that the problem with Pentecostals is that they make too little of Pentecost, not too much; and that their understanding of it differs from the apostles'.

Dan Phillips's signature

27 October 2013

No profit from the prophet?

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Gospel of the Kingdom, page 80, Pilgrim Publications.
"There is no suiting some people. Even the great Lord of all finds His wise arrangements met with discontent."

Such was the foolish manner of men in our Lord’s time. John was an ascetic: he must be out of his mind and under the influence of a demon. Jesus is a man among men, and goes to their feasts: he is accused of eating and drinking to excess, and associating with the sordid and wicked. There was no pleasing them.

Thus is it at this hour: one preacher, who speaks with elegant diction, is too flowery; and another, who uses plain speech, is vulgar: the instructive preacher is dull, and the earnest preacher is far too excitable.

Yet wisdom, after all, gave forth her teachings by rightly chosen ambassadors. She is justified of her children. Her children recognized the fitness of her messengers; and her messengers, who were also her children, were a credit to her choice, and justified her selection and preparation of them.

The All-wise God is a better judge of what a minister should be than any of us are. Well did George Herbert write—

“Judge not the preacher,
he is thy judge.”

The varied orders of preachers are all needful, and, if we would but know it, they are all ours; whether Paul or Apollos, or Cephas; and it is ours not to cavil at them, but to give earnest heed to their proposals.

Lord, deliver us from a captious, fault-finding spirit; for if we begin objecting, we are apt to keep on at it. If we will not hear one preacher, we may soon find ourselves quite weary of a second and a third, and before long it may come to pass that we cannot hear any minister to profit.

25 October 2013

Many Ways to Read Scripture. Choose Wisely...

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following except was written by Frank back in September 2010. Here Frank explains why "the way you read the Bible dictates the kind of truth you can get from it."

As usual, the comments are closed. 
Let's be honest: there are probably quite a few approaches to reading any text that you could apply to reading the Bible. Seriously -- why not? We live in a relatively-enlightened age, right? We don't have to read the Bible in any way differently than people read Margaret Atwood or Maya Angelou or John Milton -- which is to say, the reader ought to choose the way he sees fit to read any text, and booyah -- that reader gets what he brings, right?


The way you read the Bible dictates the kind of truth you can get from it.

You know: Hemingway never wrote anything but fiction, more or less. Even his autobiographical stuff was fictionalized -- so if you want to take truth away from Papa, you can't take factual truth away from him, because there's no way to read what he wrote and distinguish the "rote historical data" from the "whimsical authorial license." None. If you take truth away from Hemingway, you have to take allegorical truth away from him -- what he writes has to come across in some way other than as example or anecdote. If it means anything, it means something by talking around the things it means.

And some people will read the Bible that way -- and they come to the conclusion that things like the resurrection or the virgin birth are themselves analogical truth and not something which happened on calendar days to people with (so to speak) birth certificates and dirty sandals. And their conclusion is honest insofar as their approach is honest.

Which is to say, what exactly do you expect to get from the Bible if your major premise is that it is not a story by witnesses about something that happened on the streets of Jerusalem and in the Roman courts and on a filthy wooden cross?

See: the problem with the idea that there are "quite a few" ways to read the Bible is that it makes the intention of the writers of the Bible a non-determining factor. It actually inverts the bogus Fundie dichotomy that the text is either "true" (and therefore woodenly literal) or "false" (and therefore some kind of subjective buffet). It says that because the text is "true," we can use all kinds of techniques to extract that truth. We can read John like fantasy literature or a poem and extract the truth; we can read Psalms like they are newspaper reports and lament the "barbarity" of Ps 3 with its call for God to break teeth, having extracted truth; we can look at Adam and interpret him as a cool-ective metaphor rather than a person that both Jesus and Paul said was a real guy.

While the Fundie may ignore the fact of genre types in the text and read everything as if it was just blank statements of fact, the buffet reader is doing exactly the same thing with just as bad results: he is ignoring the demands a genre makes on the reader as expressed by the writer. You know: the word "authority" has, as its root, the word "author" for a reason: something has "authority" based on its source, based on who the author is and whether he has can give to the text what he intends to give to the text.

So sure: go ahead and brush up on the many, many ways people have, in the past, read the Bible, and the ways some people today are trying to "read" the Bible. But then ask yourself this straight-up question: isn't the first person we should ask about what this text means to the author of the text? If yes, how does he tell us this?

24 October 2013

Strange Fire conference: my report to our church

by Dan Phillips

I continue to prepare more written reports and reflections on various sessions. Some have expressed interest in hearing the (60-minute!) summary I gave our church. Since we're here to serve, we recorded it; here it is:

Dan Phillips's signature

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

22 October 2013

Strange Fire Conference #1: personal

by Dan Phillips

Here begins a series of posts on the Strange Fire conference held last week at Grace Community Church.

This may be the briefest, as it will be personal. I find people are often more interested in posts like this than I would ever in my most febrile moments imagine, so here 'tis. If you're not one of those people, sorry, really I am; see you next time.

Big Gulp. Dear wife and I flew out Monday evening, leaving our boys (14 and 18) alone for the first extended time. With a brilliance that I display only when I don't try, I had just preached a sermon on God's surprising cure for anxiety, which I selected without thinking how much I'd need it myself. We were helped in knowing that many in our dear church were available to them and would check up on them, perhaps performing unannounced inspections and the like.

Flight. But we ran into a (wait for it) glitch right away. Frontier Airlines, whose reputation for frequent cancellations and re-routings seems to be well-earned, wanted to re-route us due to a "routine maintenance." We wondered why, if it were routine, it caught them by surprise. But never mind; initially it looked like a windfall, in that we'd get a direct flight to LA instead of having a layover in Denver. Win, right? We only lightly detected the ominous overtones in the agent's promise, "I'm going to try really hard to get your luggage transferred to your new flight."

Heroic though her efforts may have been, they were not successful. We had a fairly uncomfortable ride in the very back two seats, hard against the bathroom, next to the only surly and unfriendly flight attendant I've ever encountered. When we landed — no luggage. Not a total surprise, so we logged our case with the agent after a long wait, and went to our room. Valerie had found a lovely Comfort Inn motel near Universal Studios, with a very nice, decent-priced room, great breakfasts, and best of all, about equidistant from Grace Community Church and Bob's Big Boy.

To close those loops:
  • Our luggage did not come, nor were we contacted. So we contacted American Airlines, which was easy enough. However, they said Frontier had our luggage, and every time their driver went over, Frontier was closed. Finally, we tried to contact Frontier. It was impossible. Their web-page number, with menu selections for "luggage issues," went to a ticketing agent who had no way to contact anyone with luggage. The number we were given rang, got a voicemail that said in total "At the tone leave a message," and was worthless. So it's getting to evening-time, we've nothing but our travel-clothes, one phone is dead and the other is down to 13%. So in desperation, I Tweet about it. Incredibly, that gets a response. A very nice lady named Colette actually takes ownership of the issue, follows through, and we finally get our luggage — at 10:10pm the night before the conference.
  • Bob's Big Boy matters to me because my first job out of high school was at the Bob's #1 in Glendale, California, which in 1973 still had actual car-hops. I still love their burgers, love them. Formula for about forty years: bun well, no relish, heavy mayonnaise, add avocado. This year I went crazy and added grilled, sliced onions. Yum. We got to eat there three times, once with our dear friend Tom Lusby (my Best Man at our wedding)! #WINNING
People at the conference. Now to overview the personal aspect of the conference — well, I do this with some fear. I know I'm going to forget something I shouldn't, and will kick myself when I find it out. But given that something is better than nothing...

The volunteers at Grace were amazing. There were 700 of them. And the place was laden with free food — fruits, candy, coffee, fancy-coffee-like-drinks, ice cream, pop/soda/cola/coke (depending on where you're from), and much else. They were unfailingly kind, friendly, cheerful and helpful. Just terrific.

We got to re-meet and (mostly) meet a number of online friends and new friends. We already knew the owner of truly the most underappreciated, excellent blog on the intrawebz, Fred ButlerFreddie was as he always is: friendly, helpful, interesting, laid-back, fun. Valerie and I loved hanging with him.

Also we had the joy a couple of times of chatting with longtime commenter Susan and her mother. What fun! She had a stack of Proverbs books for me to sign, so she could give them to friends, as she already had done with TWTG. Bless her.

I also met a brother named Brian from Ireland, who'd been involved for years in the "apostolic" "renewal." He thanked me for my writings on continuationism, saying it and the other Pyro resources had helped deliver him from the bondage of that false movement. We praised God together. One of my regrets is not being able to reconnect to hear more of his story.

Also, met Douglas Kofi Adu-Boahen, who was prevented by illness from meeting us at the Ashford Messianic Prophecy conference. Time will fail me in mentioning Nick Rolland, Matt McGrew and his father Dan (do I have that right?), Robert Audet... brothers and sisters from Iowa, Colorado, Texas, Australia, England, and so on.

It was a surprise treat to meet Andy Chulka. Andy is assistant pastor at a church in Missouri, and is using TWTG for the second time. First he went through it with a Men's Fellowship, and the response was so positive that he's now using it with the whole church. Of course, that doesn't spoil my day any.

At Grace itself, it was great seeing Travis Allen (who has a formidable memory) and Jay Flowers again. One of the highlights for Valerie and me was enjoying dinner with m'man Mike Riccardi, who's flourishing at GCC and Master's, and busier than a one-eyed cat watching six mouse-holes. Also got to renew acquaintances briefly with Phil's son Jeremiah Johnson and meet his lady-friend. Jeremiah was among those enjoying Valerie's life-changing peanut-brittle ministry when we visited his parents a couple of years back.

I didn't really look up the speakers, except of course Phil, briefly John MacArthur (more later), and Todd Friel. I had to see how tall Todd really was. "Freakishly," as it turns out. Loved talking with him, albeit briefly; it was a bit like talking to a lightning bolt. Todd asked me a really good, pointed question, and I was too cheese-headed from lack of sleep and extreme old age and other excuses to have a good, quick answer. One came to me a bit later, but I could never connect with Todd at the conference again. So I plan to share it with you (and him) in a post.

Of course the crown was breakfast Saturday morning with our dear friends Phil and Darlene Johnson. Phil was so busy that all we could do was chat in passing before and after meetings, but they were kind enough to get up (too) early, to have breakfast with us before we flew off. Barely time to talk grandchildren, conference, and a few other matters. Suddenly and far too soon, the time was gone, and so were we.

A full day of flying brought me back home to our dear boys, cats, and house — all still standing and in good shape, thank God. Very happy to be home, and very grateful to be back in worship and fellowship at the church I love on Sunday.

Dan Phillips's signature

20 October 2013

Spurgeon the Cessationist

Your Strange Fire Dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 58, sermon number 3,290 "God's hand at eventide."
"Faith healing is grand, but faith-enduring is grander."

The days of special visions and voices and prophesyings have passed away, but we can still say with Peter, “We have a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.”

18 October 2013

What Lutherans have done for 5 Centuries

by Frank Turk

Yes, yes: I know I'm on Hiatus.  And I know I'm bumping today's "best of" post.  Stop.

This appeared this week on the internet, on the Facebook page "Ask Dr. Brown."

You know: he asked.  For those who can't read the tiny print or can't click the image to make it bigger, it says:

A question for all my cessationist friends: You constantly ask why I don't rebuke charismatic abuses (actually, I do), but I have not heard you rebuke the horrific writings of Martin Luther (against the Jews and others). Why not? What he wrote was far worse than a prosperity gospel.

Since it seems like an honest question, it deserves an honest answer.  I was tempted to pull a Cyrano for this one and give you 50 responses by topic because it's such a rich question, but I'll stick to the basics and avoid any appearance of ill-will or flippancy.


Dr. Brown, we here at PyroManiacs are all confessional baptists, and by definition and confession we reject all manner of Lutheranism in fact every day we exist -- including the proto-Lutheranism of Luther.  We reject his baby baptizing, his philosophy of the eucharist, his ecclesiology, and frankly his politics.  I'd be willing to roll in the fellows over at the Cripplegate as well even though I can't really speak for them.  We're all of the same stripe, and we;'re not Lutheran or endorsers of much of what Luther said or wrote apart from the Bondage of the Will.

Specifically to Luther's anti-semitism, I'd point you to our confessional eschatologies to see a refutation of Luther's view of Jews.  None of us have ever endorsed anything like anti-semitism, and to imply that we have, with mere silence, endorsed or overlooked his faults is, to say the least, the antithesis of generous.  Theologically, I'd compare that to your endorsement of the "Lakeland Revival" (or perhaps it is better call that, as you did, "treading very carefully").

CORRECTION: This weekend I traded e-mails with Dr. Brown, and his chief objection to this response is this claim. In his words, he has never endorsed the events at Lakeland. I accept his statement at face value, point the reader to the thread at his own website for supplemental information, and offer it as a correction here to be noted by the reader.

Our confessional rejection of all manner of 16th century racism and political cant is a lightyear ahead of your failure to discern many people and events which, frankly, are well known by their fruits.


What bothers me about this question, frankly, is that somehow the C.V. of refutations of a series of events 500 years old is here compared to the on-going blind eye turned toward the vast majority of on-going Charismatic theology and practice.

Let's think about this: 500 years ago, someone demonstrates that his view of people different than himself sociologically or politically is pretty provincial and, if we can say it plainly, insulting.  In every generation after him, because of his influence in general, every biographer of him points out the fault, decries it, and indicates we shouldn't be like him.  All the people who follow this guy theologically and denominationally all repudiate his faulty views, and they confessionally reject these views.  His 500 years of influence are thereafter gleaned for the best of his ideas and the worst are literally called out and rejected, and reasonably-healthy churches are thereafter grown.

On the other hand, three (maybe four or five, depending on how you calculate it) generations of believers have come and gone since the original Azusa Street Revival in 1906.  What has certainly happened in the last 107 years is that, in hindsight, there are a short list of major offenders which popped out of the theological progeny of that event -- and Dr. Brown might even express some concern and regret that someone with such potential didn't reach his (or her) highest and best for the Lord; he might even call some of them dangerous.  What you can't find, and can't demonstrate, is anyone inside the movement calling out the problem in a way that the denominations involved can wrap their arms around it and, like the Lutherans have for 500 years, ensure that wisdom, discernment, and the real pastoral care for the souls of human beings is demonstrated so that there are hedges in place to prevent men like Benny Hinn and Todd Bentley and the Bakkers and Pat Robertson and T.D. Jakes from doing what they have done to the church of God in the future.

No one, frankly, is asking Dr. Brown to refute Marcion or the Gnostics: the question stands as to whether or not he and men like himself who everyone will admit are the most-dignified and most biblically-sound of that movement will join together to do what even the Gospel Coalition is able to do for its movement: set the dividing line between broad orthodoxy and broad theological hooliganism.  Join with like-minded men to make sure that if their doctrine is Biblical, there are methods of making sure it stays that way.


Dr. Brown obviously belongs to the school of Charismatics who think that their cautious and pious version of the movement represents most practitioners, but it doesn't by a longshot.  Let's assume for a second (and this is a mightily-generous assumption) that all the US congregations of the AOG, the Apostolic Church, COG and COGIC, International Foursquare, and International Pentecostal Holiness are all wholly and fully inside what someone might call the "cautious Charismatic" camp.  That is: let's say they never have anything happening inside them that looks like barking like a dog, or prayer for healing that looks like a slap fight, or preaching which equates personal prosperity to the objective of the Gospel, and they never have a substantially-false prophecy which harms anyone.  According to ARDA, a generous headcount there is 5 million people.

Globally, TBN reaches 100 million people.  In Sub-Saharan Africa, there are over 500 million sociologically-Christian people (PEW research says 517 million)-- and of that number, 15% self-select as "Pentecostal." (source: ARDA)  That's 75 million Charismatic adherents who, frankly, are not as cautious as Dr. Brown are.  My suggestion here is that it turns out that the cautious fellows have, for so long, merely sighed heavily when someone is exposed as a fraud that now they are in the tiny minority of people in their own theological camp.

Now, honestly: one might respond to this with a very sincere and sober, "So what? What is it to me that most people (who believe them) take these doctrines too far? In my view of it, the daffy enthusiasts are the least of our problems because let's face it: even at 100 million that means that something like 900 million people reject the work of the Holy Spirit altogether -- and that, frankly, is far more grievous to me than the idea that some people take the sign gifts of God to an ecstatic extreme."

I think that response exposes a huge swath of disingenuousness on the part of the so-called "cautious Charismatics."  If indeed it's a huge issue that most people with a Christian confession reject these doctrines and therefore they need correction, why is it any less serious that in the camp where these doctrines are allegedly affirmed that most -- by a long shot, north or 80% of all people who are under the sway of these doctrines -- get them entirely wrong by abuse and, let's face it, fraudulent showmanship intended to prey on the vulnerabilities of the weak?

This tactic to avoid responsibility always makes me see stars whenever anyone hides behind it.  It's a theme in some apologetics circles that they can't be held responsible for the abuses of some in their camp because those people have adopted one doctrine too narrowly at the expense of what Jesus called the "weightier matters."  It's a theme is some circles of evangelists and missionaries that they can't be held responsible for what their disciples do with their teaching when it turns out that they have produced a generation of verbal assaulters rather than ambassadors for Christ.

What it ought to mean to Dr. Brown and to those like him is that not many should become teachers, because those who teach will be judged with greater strictness, not less.  And if your tongue starts many fires by what it endorses or whitewashes, how strict the judgment, do you think?  Even if we concede that these doctrines are biblical, how biblical is a laissez-faire attitude toward discernment, correction, discipleship and rebuke?

This relates to the question asked in this way: we're not talking about an obscure problem (a minority of one man) or a remote problem (something happening off in a corner).  If the faults of Martin Luther raise this question to anyone not Roman Catholic, how can the sewer pipe of faults pouring out literally everywhere even today not require a response which does for it what Lutherans have done for Luther for 5 centuries?


Last, I would plainly appeal to Dr. Brown in his vocation.  This is what appears on the first page of Dr. Brown's web site:

Since coming to faith in 1971 as a 16 year-old, heroin-shooting Jewish rock drummer, Dr. Michael Brown has devoted his life to fostering awakening in the Church, sparking moral and cultural revolution in the society, raising up gospel laborers for the nations, and reaching out to his own Jewish people. He is the host of the nationally syndicated Line of Fire radio broadcast, the president of FIRE School of Ministry, and a professor of Bible and Hebrew studies at several leading seminaries. He has preached in more than 25 nations and is the author of 22 books and numerous scholarly and popular articles. Dr. Brown has debated Jewish rabbis, agnostic professors, and gay activists on radio, TV, and college campuses, and he is widely considered to be the world’s foremost Messianic Jewish apologist. (all emph. added)

I find it hard to believe that a man who understands what is at stake in the Christian faith between Jews and the Church, and what is at stake when considering agnosticism and atheism, and what is at stake in the moral and spiritual  flaws endemic in LGBT political and philosophical advocacy cannot see what is at stake in the difference between John Piper or C.J. Mahaney or himself and the likes of Todd Bentley, Pat Robertson, Creflo Dollar, Joseph Prince, T.D Jakes, and so on.  I simply cannot believe that someone who can see how Judaism differs from Christianity -- to the extent that he recognizes Jews must repent and believe, that they cannot follow YHWH unless they follow Yeshu'a -- cannot see that those who do not rightly know and receive the Holy Spirit are in, to say the least, a lot of trouble.

The problems with Martin Luther's racism and politically-partisan polemics are well-known, and have been well-dealt with by those who follow his teaching.  Because the same can't be said about the Charismatic movement, and in fact often those who see themselves as apologists for this movement look the other way when the movement is promoting men who are simply frauds and con men, the question of what other should do about Martin Luther is, at best, a distraction from the wolf at the door.

Thanks for asking.

A Dangerous Doctrine Calls For a Candid Response

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following except was written by Phil back in November 2007. In this second post of a two-part series, Phil argues that Charismatic doctrine is necessarily connected to even the most extreme segments of the Charismatic movement.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
A prodigious wacko fringe has always been one of the Charismatic movement's most prominent features. In little more than a century, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements have spun off so many bad doctrines and bizarre characters that I have a thick dictionary in my office just to help me keep track of them all.

Furthermore, I'm convinced it's not just some kind of fantastic cosmic coincidence that has loaded the movement with an unusually high number of charlatans and heretics. I've suggested on more than one occasion that a major reason the charismatic movement has produced more than its fair share of aberrant behavior is because the distinctive doctrines of charismatic belief foster gullibility while constantly seeding the movement with all kinds of whimsy. Specifically, the charismatic belief that it's normative for Spirit-filled Christians to receive extra-biblical divine revelation through various mystical means has opened the door for all kinds of mischief.

I would not for a moment deny that there are some relatively sane and sensible charismatics who love Scripture and generally teach sound doctrine while avoiding most of their movement's worst errors. I think they represent a fairly small minority of the worldwide charismatic community, but they do exist. A few of them are good friends—even longtime friends—of mine. I have friends (for example) in the Calvary Chapel movement, which is mildly charismatic in doctrine but whose worship is generally more Bible-centered than even the typical non-Charismatic seeker-sensitive church. As a matter of fact, my chief concern about the Calvary Chapel movement would not even be their advocacy of charismatic views, but their increasingly aggressive campaign against Calvinism.

That's not all. I have warm affection and heartfelt respect for most of the best-known Reformed charismatic leaders, including C. J. Mahaney, Wayne Grudem, and Sam Storms. I've greatly benefited from major aspects of their ministries, and I regularly recommend resources from them that I have found helpful. I've corresponded with the world-famous Brit-blogger Adrian Warnock for at least 15 years now and had breakfast with him on two occasions, and I like him very much. I'm sure we agree on far more things than we disagree about. And I'm also certain the matters we agree on—starting with the meaning of the cross—are a lot more important than the issues we disagree on, which are all secondary matters.

But that is not to suggest that the things we disagree on are non-issues.

Candor, and not a lack of charity, requires me to state this conviction plainly: The belief that extra-biblical revelation is normative does indeed "regularly and systematically breed willful gullibility, not discernment." Even the more sane and sober charismatics are not totally exempt from the tendency.


As long as Reformed charismatics justify the practice of encouraging people to proclaim "prophecies" that are unverified and unverifiable—and which frequently prove to be wrong—I'll stand by the concern [I've] expressed: even the very best of charismatics sometimes foster unwarranted and unreasonable gullibility, and gullibility about whether God has really spoken or not is seriously dangerous.

When a false belief is truly dangerous and comes replete with the kind of long and dismal track record extra-biblical revelation brings with it, it's not "uncharitable" for those who see the danger and are truly concerned about it to sound a warning rather than humming a gentle lullaby.

17 October 2013

On The Record

by Frank Turk

UPDATED: I now have 5 or 6 takers for this offer. Thank you for your interest. I will get back to you regarding the results of those inquiries.

Yes, I am on hiatus.  Still.

I'm breaking into Hiatus because the Strange Fire conference has lit up many heads with tongues of fire decrying Dr. MacArthur (though tellingly: not Joni or R.C. Or Conrad Mbewe) for the conference and its content.

The pervasive complaint has been that there's all this talk "about" Charismatics, and not talking "to" Charismatics.

Let's change that.

I am willing to sponsor a conversation with any willing, serious and sober charismatic here at TeamPyro in spite of my alleged hiatus.  I can record it as a podcast, or we can do it via e-mail as a written exchange.  My only requirements are these three:

1. There must be a limit.  If it's audio, it must have a time limit -- 60 or 90 minutes.  If it's written, some sort of content limiter like 10 questions each and a max word limit for responses and questions.

2. There must be fairness.  That is: I expect that you will ask me clear and direct questions, and I will answer them; but when I ask you clear and direct questions, you must answer them.

3. It must be completely and totally unedited after the sound check is complete via audio, or after the initial establishment of terms is complete via e-mail.

And here's the massive bone I'm going to throw in:

I am willing to concede, for the sake of this discussion, D.A. Carson's interpretation of 1 Cor 12-14, so that we are not squabbling over the hermeneutics of the issue.  That is: since you want that passage to say, "well, of course the gifts will continue," you got it, and there's a sober and serious person who agrees with you.  I concede on that point - now let's talk turkey.

e-mail me at frank@iturk.com.

I reserve the right to accept one and only one person to do this with, and I refuse to be shamed for not dedicating the rest of my life to this topic.  You want to talk to us and be talked to about this?  This is your chance.  Find someone you think will make the best of this shot and let him or her contact me.

Ball is in your court.

13 October 2013

The danger of denial

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from The Gospel of the Kingdom, page 74, Pilgrim Publications.
"Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven." 
Matthew 10:32-33

Because divine providence rules over all, the destiny of believers is secure beyond fear of harm, and they must not shrink from the boldest avowal of their faith because of anxiety to preserve their lives. Our business is to confess Christ before men.

In him the truth we acknowledge begins, centers, and ends. Our Confession of Faith is a confession of Christ: he is our theology, or Word of God. What a joy to confess him now! What a reward to be confessed by him hereafter in the glory-world!

It will be a high offense against the great God, whom Jesus twice calls “my Father which is in heaven”, if we fail to confess his Son on earth.

It is clear that in this passage to “deny” Jesus means,—not to confess him. What a grave warning is this for the cowardly believer! Can a non-confessing faith save?

To live and die without confessing Christ before men is to run an awful risk. Actually to recant and give up Christ must be a dreadful crime, and the penalty is fearful to contemplate.

Disowned by Jesus before His Father who is in heaven! What hell can be worse?

Lord, let me never blush to own thee in all companies! Work in me a bold spirit by thy Holy Spirit. Let me confess thy truth whatever the spirit of the age may be, uphold thy church when she is most despised, obey thy precepts when they cost most dear, and glory in thy name when it is most reproached.

11 October 2013

Who is YOUR pastor? No, really...

From 2006 to 2012, PyroManiacs turned out almost-daily updates from the Post-Evangelical wasteland -- usually to the fear and loathing of more-polite and more-irenic bloggers and readers. The results lurk in the archives of this blog in spite of the hope of many that Google will "accidentally" swallow these words and pictures whole.

This feature enters the murky depths of the archives to fish out the classic hits from the golden age of internet drubbings.

The following except was written by Dan back in April 2009. Dan pointed out the folly of esteeming a "paper pastor" more than your flesh-and-blood pastor.

As usual, the comments are closed. 
[S]ome professed Christians sin outright, by never physically attending an actual, in-person church. We've talked about that, and they aren't our focus.

But others do attend a church — physically. They come in, they sit down. They sing, they may give financially. They may look at you, Pastor, as you preach.

But you know their heart belongs to another.

Their real pastor isn't you. It's Dave Hunt. Or it's John Piper. Or it's John MacArthur, or Ligon Duncan, or Mark Dever, or David Cloud, or Joel Osteen. Or it's Charles Spurgeon, or D. M. Lloyd-Jones, or J. C. Ryle. Or Calvin, or Luther, or Bahnsen, or de Mar, or R. B. Thieme, or J. Vernon McGee.

And they're such better pastors than you are! You know they are!


Well, paper pastors are never in a bad mood. They're never cranky, or sleepy or sick. (Especially the dead ones.)

They've never just had someone else pull their guts out with a rusty fork, and then had to turn and listen graciously to your complaint about the translation they preach from, or argue about a Greek word you can't even pronounce. They don't have a family who loses the time you use. They never half-listen, never have an appointment that cuts short their time. Their office hours are your office hours. They're available 24/7, and everywhere, at your whim, and you always have their undivided attention.

What's more is they always have all the answers! They can tell you with complete confidence and masterful eloquence. They never stammer, guess, nor search their memory. And they can prove it — whatever they're saying! With footnotes!

And these paper pastors maintain the perfect distance. If you don't want to hear something, they don't press it — or you can instantly shut them up, snap! They never ask you to do something uncomfortable and follow up on you. They never persistently probe an area of sin, in you, in person, eyeball to eyeball... nor will they. Church discipline will not be a threat with them. Ever.

Because they don't know you from Adam.

Yet how many pastors know that there are people in their flocks, thinking, "John Piper would never say it that way. Dave Hunt says that what he just preached is heresy. John MacArthur isn't like that. Mahaney says that... Mohler says that... Lloyd-Jones said...."

So, because it's awkward for your pastor to say it to you — and because I've no church who'd suspect I'm talking to them, at the moment — I'll just tell you plain:

Brother, sister: John Piper isn't your pastor. John MacArthur knows nothing about you. Dave Hunt never got on his knees and prayed for you. Lloyd-Jones won't come to your house when you're recovering from surgery, or one of your children shatters your heart, or your marriage is shaking and rocking and barely hanging on. Charles Spurgeon won't weep with you as you weep.

You could buy or not buy _____'s next book, and he'd never know it. But if you're in a manageable-size church with a caring pastor and you're suddenly gone next Sunday, he'll be concerned. He may call. He may ask if everything's okay.

God gave you the pastor He gave you.

God told Paul to tell you:

We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

God told the writer to the Hebrews to tell you:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Hebrews 13:17).

Your flesh-and-blood pastor can't compete with these paper pastors for the same reason you can't compete with paper women and paper men.

Because they're not real.

09 October 2013

Fascinating people and reading narrative portions of Scripture

by Dan Phillips

As I read through Acts in the morning, I'm struck anew by what fascinating people Luke introduces — and how little he tells us of them.

Take Simon Magus in chapter 8. Wouldn't you like to know a lot more about him, from Luke? When Luke says he used to do magic, what does that mean? Actual magic, or tricks? What kind? And what was his background? Also, what did he do in response to the apostles' rebuke? He figures prominently in post-NT writings, but is any of that accurate? What became of him?

Or the Ethiopian eunuch in that same chapter. What an interesting fellow this man is! We read his story anachronistically, and just think how cool it is that he was in Isaiah 53 instead of Leviticus 21:20. But what about the fact that he had a copy of Scripture at all? How rare was that? How did he come by it, how wealthy must he have been! Or was the scroll Candace's? What became of him? The same Holy Spirit who told Philip to go preach to him also told Philip (in effect) not to do any followup with him. So the eunuch went his way rejoicing, we read... and then what? Wouldn't you love to know?

Or Lydia the business lady in chapter 16, or the demon-possessed slave girl in the same chapter — what different women, yet side by side in the narrative. What was their background, and what came of them after these encounters?

These and many other figures crowd the book of Acts alone, to say nothing of the other Biblical books.

But what we as readers (and particularly as preachers) must remind ourselves is that the text of Scripture is what is God-breathed and profitable, and that must always be our focus. It isn't the stories that hold this place, nor the people. It is the text, the words of Scripture, that must be our focus.

It is the text that reflects and unfolds the mind of God. In that text, God told us everything He wants to know, which means He told us everything we need to know. So we must both discipline ourselves not to run off on rabbit-trails, and to focus on what's there to see the mind of God. What we want to know about Simon, the eunuch, Lydia and the rest is not the same as what God wants us to know — and we must see to it that we focus on the latter, not the former.

In fact, this is all the more arresting and important in proportion to how fascinating the person is. God in effect is saying to us "Never mind all that, don't let the shiny objects distract you: this is what I want to impress upon you."

So it doesn't matter what kinds of snakes bit the Israelites in Numbers 21, or how big the copper serpent was, or how long the pole, or any of that. What matters is that those snakebit Israelites who believed Yahweh's words and looked, lived — and no one else. And on and on.

We know that the main thing is the main thing; we need to remember that the text of Scripture is always the main thing. If it were important, God would have told us. If He told us, it is important.

Dan Phillips's signature