Blaspheming blasphemers blasphemously

flame

My friend Adrian Warnock pointed me to a pretty provocative response he’s written to John MacArthur’s upcoming Strange Fire conference. He’s frustrated by what he sees as MacArthur lumping the roughly 500 million Christians who believe the Holy Spirit’s miraculous gifts1 continue today in with the more…”exuberant” folks you might see on certain TV stations.

MacArthur says the Holy Spirit has been under assault for decades and decades, and he wants to know, “Where are the people rising up against the abuse and blasphemy of the Holy Spirit that’s going on?”2

The only reason for silence about these things, he suggests, is that evangelicals “have been literally backed up into a corner by intimidation that they need to be loving and accepting and tolerant and not divisive in the body of Christ…”

Anyone familiar with MacArthur knows he’s not exactly, shall we say, warm to the idea of charismatic gifts continuing today. But he’s not anti-faithful charismatics. He holds (or at least has held) particular men such as John Piper and C.J. Mahaney in high regard.3

More importantly, he is absolutely incensed by the blasphemous teaching that comes from within a segment of the Charismatic movement: that damnably devilish doctrine of “health, wealth and prosperity.”

And rightly so. 

That wicked nonsense which truly does blaspheme our Lord Jesus is being exported around the world and must be countered with faithful, biblical teaching—and its adherents must be called to repentance or branded as the false teachers they are.

Now, let me just say I have an enormous amount of respect for MacArthur, even if I think he sometimes gets a bit too cranky, and winds up injuring faithful brothers and sisters in Christ in the process. And I really appreciate his call to faithful Christians in the Charismatic movement to speak out against those who are responsible for spreading false doctrine (as seen in the following video).

Personally, in reviewing some of MacArthur’s videos on the Strange Fire site, this is the most charitable I’ve seen him in ages.4 Nevertheless, I get where Adrian is coming from—he is concerned, and again I think rightly, that we not lump faithful charismatics in with the crazies.

So how do we avoid that?

1. Be as clear about who is being addressed. From everything I’m seeing, MacArthur isn’t talking about the Matt Chandlers and Adrian Warnocks of the world. He’s talking about prosperity preachers like T.D. Jakes, Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer. He’s talking about the Christ-defaming foolishness of folks like Todd Bentley and the so-called Lakeland Revival.

Was MacArthur clear on this? More or less. Could he have been more explicit? Absolutely.

2. Proceed with charity. This, again, is something that I think MacArthur’s done pretty well in the video I shared above. But more can always be done. We do our brothers and sisters in Christ a disservice when we lump them in with those who hold to erroneous beliefs (that that goes for whatever side of the fence you sit on). Instead, we ought to celebrate those who are faithfully following and proclaiming Jesus in whatever movement they’re a part of, even as we challenge one another to dig more deeply into the so-called secondary issues, and be incredibly cautious about crying heresy. It may only be six letters, but it’s a big word, and one we don’t throw around flippantly.

3. Recognize that while many charismatics are evangelicals, not all charismatics are evangelicals. This is probably the biggest point of contention, and a topic deserving far more attention than I can give it in this post. Nevertheless, we need to recognize that many charismatics are faithful Christians who would fit into the category of “evangelical.”5 But not all charismatics, even those who claim to be evangelicals, are.

So, many charismatics believe that any modern prophecy given is subject to the authority of the written Word of God. “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good,” Paul wrote in 1 Thess. 5:20-21. Whether it’s a public or private word from the Lord, it is only valid if it lines up with Scripture, in principle or precept. That, one could reasonably argue, is a valid evangelical position on modern prophecy.

However, there are some who treat their alleged private words from the Lord as being equally authoritative or higher in authority than Scripture. If Scripture is our highest authority, and all else is subject to it, then any view of private or public prophecy that diminishes the priority of the Word cannot be called “evangelical.”

And that, I suspect is the true problem: what is an evangelical?

So many of our conflicts boil down to talking past one another because we don’t know what we agree one. We don’t know who we are. If we don’t know what we are, then we don’t know what to defend.

That’s a huge problem.

Do we need to warn believers about the dangers of the excesses of one part of the Charismatic movement? Absolutely. But we also need to be prepared to do the painstaking work of trying to answer the big question of what it means to be an evangelical. Let’s get to that, shall we?

Show 5 footnotes

  1. Such as prophesy, healing, tongues, etc.
  2. Source
  3. Sidenote: Please don’t bother responding with diatribes about C.J. and the problems within Sovereign Grace. We are not talking about that today. Thanks!
  4. Far more than when he’s declaring that all self-respecting Calvinists ought to be premillennial dispensationalists.
  5. And yes, I realize that in itself is a whole ‘nother can of worms.

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  • charlesspurgeonjr

    Before giving a provocative comment your friend Adrian Warnock could start by reading what Dr. MacArthur has to say about Charismatic Chaos and look a bit farther than his driveway. Maybe he should also read Dr. Conrad Mbewe on the damages done by the “Charismatics” in Africa. The Charismatic Chaos is killing the Church in Africa, South America… Once people have been washed away from their money and discovered that no “spiritual unction” will ever get them rich, they reject the Gospel entirely. And NO I don’t think a Benny Hinn cultists are Christian. I guess in the “500 millions” you include the millions of Nigerians who every Sunday give away close to 90% of their income at some of Lagos mega-churches (just in case you didn’t know: one of the largest can accommodate up to ONE MILLION people at the same time! that’s one in 8 inhabitants of Lagos) hoping that by receiving a “spiritual unction” they will be blessed, protected from diseases, get jobs, educate healthy children, be spared injuries etc. etc. or the millions of Americans who listen or watch the gibberish streamed 24/7 by TBN or the millions of others around the world who are gratified by a smile from Meyer, Osteen, Jakes and other luminaries. These new Messiahs who come to town to give their “good people” a paid-for share of their “teachings”. Dr. MacArthur isn’t speaking about the traditional pentecostal movement he is speaking of the fraudsters, liars, cheaters, adulterers who have made of God’s House a House of Prostitution. I have very much respect myself for Wesleyans and the Vineyard movement, but I have only contempt for followers of the charismatic cult leaders (you know the ones who have started to call MacArthur a “heretic”, a “destroyer of the Church’s unity” and blah blah blah, while they haven’t read one line of MacArthur’s books or listen to one of his sermons on the subject) and REALLY, really pray for their victims to see the truth about who they are really following and giving to. You are named Bill Gates and want to give a billion dollars to Jakes: I DON’T CARE. If you are a single mother living with less than a dollar a day in some part of Africa then it becomes my problem as a responsible Christian and I have to speak out against these haters of God’s Word who make a mockery of the Holy Spirit and think they can manipulate for their own benefits people who have no or little education.

    Jean-Christophe HENEL

  • Diane Bucknell

    Hi Aaron, I’m looking forward to going to this conference. John MacArthur has been preaching sermons to his congregation on the subject and the one on August 11, “Is God Still Revealing Truth” was particularly helpful in defining some of the points they’re trying to make – you might want to give it a listen if you get a chance.

    I may be mistaken, but I think the dividing issue will not be about who are and who aren’t the crazies but rather will be the subject of extra-Biblical revelation – Can we believe it when people say “God told me….” Or “I see things..visions” no matter how doctrinally orthodox they may be? If we can believe those accounts, then what scriptural basis do we have to go on to know that God still communicates
    this way? Why would he communicate in this way at all when he has already provided everything we need pertaining to life and godliness through the scriptures? Why would he continue to communicate with people this way when the canon is closed? What about the stories we hear of of people who experience revelation from God in places where there is no gospel witness?
    These are some of the questions I hope they’ll be addressing and I think the definition of Sola Scriptura will come into play in answering them.

    I don’t believe one’s genuine love Christ is the question at all – but in light of I Cor 11:19 it’s not such a bad thing to have these conflicts which cause all of us as a church to stop to reevaluate things we believe – and as ever, graciousness is always in season.

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      I’ll definitely check that sermon out, Diane.

      I agree, it’s really, really good that we’re continuing to try to work through this both in our local churches and as the Church. I wonder if some of the confusion we have comes down to imprecise language and how we interpret it?

      For example, what does someone mean when they say “God told me…”? Some use it as shorthand for, “I read this in the Bible and it seemed like it illuminated my situation” or “I felt convicted by the Holy Spirit reading this passage…” where others do mean it plainly (which is problematic).

      Anyway, I’m really looking forward to seeing what messages come out of the conference (particularly from Conrad Mbewe and R.C. Sproul). Hopefully they stream it or make the content available for cheap-like-free. :)

  • Michelle Dacus Lesley

    Aaron- just to tweak the question you asked towards the end of your article: “What is a charismatic?” I was very surprised to see John Piper and Matt Chandler referred to as charismatics, but maybe I just have a different working definition of the word than you do. When you say “charismatic,” do you just mean anyone who is not a 100% cessationist?

    (P.S. “Heresy” has six letters, not five :0)

    • http://www.bloggingtheologically.com Aaron Armstrong

      Thanks for the counting correction, Michelle :)

      The reason I included Piper and Chandler is Chandler has referred to himself as a Reformed Charismatic in the past (see here for a video: http://www.bloggingtheologically.com/2010/05/24/matt-chandler-on-being-reformed-and-charismatic/). Piper, if I recall correctly, has been referred to as charismatic in the past, but that could be a flub on my part.

      I do see a bit of a difference between charismatics in the sense of adherents to Pentecostal doctrine and continuationists (who would fit more into the “anyone who isn’t 100 percent cessationist), but sometimes there’s a bit of crossover, and like many others, I sometimes wind up using the terms interchangeably.

      • Michelle Dacus Lesley

        Me too. It’s kind of a fluid definition :0)

  • Bryan

    I think anyone who has watched or listened to Dr. MacArthur for any period of time knows his concerns are with those practicing the excesses of the “strange fire” charismatics.
    I think your friend may be a little over sensative and the fact remains why are not the more conservative charismatics not addressing the excesses being practiced and preached by many of these “strange fire” practitioneers.
    I also think many are putting the cart before the horse concerning the upcoming “Strange Fire” Conference and making implications against the conference without even knowing what is going to be specifically addressed at the conference. I think there is a lot of Broad Brush painting going on.
    It seems that whenever anyone calls the strange and aborrent goings on in the Charismatic excesses into question, they automatically are assuming that they personally are being “attacked”.
    To be honest, anyone, charismatic or not, has to be or needs to e concerned about the Todd Bentleys, Benny Hinns and others that are exploiting others in the name of Christ and it just happens to be the charismatic gifts they include in their excesses and abuses. Thus it draws attention to the group as a whole.

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  • Ben Thorp

    Thanks for the post (sorry for the late reading!). I agree with your suggestions for avoidance techniques. If I were being less charitable, I would suggest that maybe John MacArthur is employing Rob Bell marketing techniques for his conference…..

    I do also wonder whether there is a difference between the US and the UK. In my mind the “charismatic” movement was always less extreme than the Pentecostal movement, but maybe that’s because it has a link to the “charismatic renewal”, which is linked to a renewal of spiritual gifts within traditional church denominations?

    I was saddened by MacArthur’s comments, but I can’t say I was particularly surprised – whilst I have every respect for him as a Bible teacher, I struggle with his overly brash, and somewhat uncharitable, articles against things like charismaticism or (previously) the “young, restless & reformed” movement. His lack of charity in such situations makes it harder for me to read/listen to his vast body of work.

    Lastly, I find it difficult to support the idea of a conference which seems to be wholly based around a negative. If he wants to have a conference about the nature of the Holy Spirit, then that’s great. But it seems to me that the very foundation of the conference is to throw big stones at the charismatic movement :(