This morning we go into the second week of what has been a continuous run of blogging for me about the Strange Fire conference and book. I thought I would pause for a moment and outline again why I think this is so important, and why I have not finished yet!
Firstly, there is the biblical question. I do passionately believe that cessationism is incorrect and rests on very flimsy Scriptural foundations. Today’s extreme form of cessationism risks squandering the rich heritage of experiential christianity.
I am determined to go through the whole of MacArthur’s book and show why I do not believe that any of the biblical arguments within it are fatal to charismatic theology.
It is my concern that just as charismatics are claimed to be experinece rather than Bible-driven, on this issue cessationits are lack-of-experience driven. As a writer in Charisma News put it:
“The arrogance of making experience into a theology that trumps Scripture is exceeded only by the arrogance of making lack of experience into a theology that trumps Scripture.” READ the rest.
Thus, the reason I am devoting so much time to this is to urge us all to go back to the Bible..
Secondly, I am deeply concerned about the implications for Church unity. I really don’t mind if people have cessationist views, especially if they do not allow their theology to smother any sense of a relationship with God. There are definitely different degrees on both sides!
But, it seems that MacArthur’s intervention has been calculated deliberately to seek to destroy any unity or accommodation between his followers and those of us who love the Bible but believe it teaches spiritual gifts are for today. I have seen nothing so far that disproves that opinion I have formed.
Indeed just today Phil Johnson has posted in a manner that is very provocative and demonstrates no desire to build unity with people like me.
I remain open to be dissuaded of that, and I invite MacArthur himself to show us how we can be One despite statements like the following:
“I do believe there are sincere people within the Charismatic Movement who, in spite of the systemic corruption and confusion, have come to under- stand the necessary truths of the gospel. They embrace substitutionary atonement, the true nature of Christ, the trinitarian nature of God, biblical repentance, and the unique authority of the Bible. They recognize that salvation is not about health and wealth, and they genuinely desire to be rescued from sin, spiritual death, and everlasting hell. Yet, they remain confused about the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the nature of spiritual giftedness.
As a result, they are playing with strange fire. By continually exposing themselves to the false teaching and counterfeit spirituality of the Charismatic Movement, they have placed themselves (and anyone under their spiritual care) in eternal jeopardy. For true believers, the Charismatic Movement represents a massive stumbling block to true spiritual growth, ministry, and usefulness. Its errant teachings regarding the Holy Spirit and the Spirit-inspired Scriptures perpetuate immaturity, spiritual weakness, and an unending struggle with sin. A parallel exists between those Christians who are trapped in the modern Charismatic Movement and the true believers who were part of the Corinthian church in the first century.”
This is not exactly an attempt to reach out and win over us “sane charismatics” ! Even if MacArthur is right to make the parallel between people like me and those true believers in the Corinthian Church, he has a big problem.
Most would agree that the excesses seen in Corinth were at least as bad if not worse than seen today. But Paul didn’t tell the Corinthians that most of them were not saved. Instead he said instead they were the crown of his apostleship! (1 Cor 9:2). What is more, he didn’t tell them to stop using the gifts, instead further encouraged them to pursue both tongues and prophecy. If I was Paul, I would have said something like, “Right you lot, just so you know, these gifts you are abusing are due to stop in around 30 years anyway, so for you lot they stop now! I’ve prayed and the Spirit has withdrawn his true gifts, so anyone who claims to prophecy or speak in tongues with you from now on is definitely a fake!”
Paul doesn’t patronisingly tell the Corinthians that they are confused either!
Why can’t MacArthur just acknowledge that there are many godly scholars and pastors who just think differently about him on this issue? It is patronising in the extreme to use such a word. I would never dare to suggest that MacArthur is “confused” about these matters. Truth is, though his study of the Bible, and his life experience he has just come to a different perspective than me and those I chose to follow. For me and my friends till now the differences we have with MacArthur have not stopped us from respecting him, and learning from him, and seeing him as a brother. If, in reality, he does not see us as true brothers then it is going to be much more difficult for that respect to continue.
So the stakes are high. I am not trying to convert every cessationist into a charismatic! I am just calling for us all to respect one another, and actually listen to what it is we really do believe, and appreciate that godly people on both sides of this debate are honestly trying to follow God’s Word.