Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Bad Name Setting A Bad Tone

A conference most Christians will not attend or watch is causing a lot of stir on the internet. The conference, titled Strange Fire, is starting today along with the release of a new book on the same topic. Here is one of the videos promoting the conference featuring John MacArthur:

Notice that amidst the oddly hokey figurines depicting Biblical events, Dr. MacArthur speaks of the "charismatic movement" offering strange fire in the worship, blasphemes the Holy Spirit and attributes to the Holy Spirit the work of Satan. The second charge bears a quick note and I am sure Dr. MacArthur did not use it carelessly because it jumped out at me. They blaspheme the Holy Spirit. He uses this phrase multiple times, a phrase we find in the third chapter of Mark:

"Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin"— (Mark 3:28-29)

The "charismatic movement" is guilty of what is often called the unforgivable sin? Well that is an interesting way to try to influence people you think are in error.

While I don't like the way this slanders literally millions of Christians, brothers and sisters I disagree with but still still as brothers and sisters, more to the point it is just awful application of a text and that is shocking coming from a widely recognized excellent exegete like MacArthur.

The event name is based on the Biblical account of the "strange fire" that the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10. Here is the account if you are not familiar with it (in the KJV which uses the phrase "strange fire"), it is pretty powerful:

And Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took either of them his censer, and put fire therein, and put incense thereon, and offered strange fire before the LORD, which he commanded them not. And there went out fire from the LORD, and devoured them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said unto Aaron, This is it that the LORD spake, saying, I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me, and before all the people I will be glorified. And Aaron held his peace. (Lev 10:1-3, KJV)

God gave very specific instructions about how the Israelites were to worship God in very specific situations. John MacArthur is trying to tie that with the real and perceived excesses of charismatic worship.

So here is the problem. First the account of "strange fire" is a very unique situation in a unique setting under an obsolete covenant. John MacArthur is not Moses. The New Covenant church is not Old Covenant Israel. Second, God actually gave us very few specifics about how to come together to worship in the New Testament, an inconvenient fact that hasn't stopped generations of Christians and unbelievers alike from helping God by filling in the blanks and declaring manmade traditions to be "biblical".

This is one of those "all publicity is good publicity". Those who disagree with MacArthur and talk about it drive traffic to the conference webpage and it gives those who support MacArthur the opportunity for smugness and the obligatory posting of random Youtube videos of crackpots and heretics as "proof" of the general heresy of any form of charismaticism. Again, I disagree with a lot of charismatics and I absolutely recognize that there are excesses and outright heresies. It would have been a great conference to explore the topic of the spiritual gifts and help draw some distinctions between what is or is not Biblical. Instead we get an inflammatory lead up to a conference.

I am getting ready to watch the first general session with Dr. MacArthur right now, I hope I am wrong about this whole thing.


BFrei46 said...

What did you expect from an ardent Cessastionist like Dr. MacArthur? He is so well respected across the Evangelical landscape anyways. He did/does give props to the Calvary Chapel movement and their 'mild' adherence to the openness of spiritual gifts. So...I would say he may come out with "guns blazin' " but, I do not expect him to throw the baby out with the bathwater. At least I hope not.

Anonymous said...

Frank Viola has published an excellent (and free) critique of Strange Fire & Charismatic Chaos - well worth reading by all! Todd.