Strange Fire Debate stoked by Grace To You Internet Ministry Coordinator

Over on Twitter, and also in the comments section of my recent post about how Christians should behave online, someone who describes himself as a representative of Grace To You (although he has been in touch to make clear that his posts on Twitter are not in his official capacity) has been string up the embers of debate that I have left alone for weeks now.  This is far from over, however, and I see that many people are still reading, and writing about the debate even after all these months.

I believe that the whole Strange Fire episode was the most divisive intervention by a major church leader in my lifetime. If you somehow missed the whole issue, I have multiple posts on it here, or you can see some of the highlights linked later in this post.

In fact, Church leaders who are not part of Grace To You (GYT) or closely associated with it seem largely to share my concerns. They are either publicly opposing it, or are privately embarrassed that MacAthur would approach things this way. I have not yet found a single leader outside GTY willing to go on record as supporting the way this was all approached by them.  That should concern the folks at GTY, but I don’t think it does.

UPDATE
The only proposed support anyone has been able to offer to counter my assertion is this clip from Albert Mohler starting at the 12-minute mark.

I’m afraid that link won’t do. Yes Mohler is cessationist. Many are. Yes he agrees with MacAthur’s arguments. But he is very anxious to say that charismaticism per se is not a heresy contrary to MacArthur’s comments catalogued here. Mohler is also careful to say he is not an an fry cessationist and doesn’t attempt to justify MacArthur’s more inflammatory statements.

If MacArthur had spoken like Mohler we would not have had the firestorm we did. So the challenge remains, find me a single significant church leader not affiliated with GTY who is willing to go on record that he believes that these comments are acceptable and wise. No, I think MacArthur has succeeded in isolating himself on this point.

Most of the recent Twitter conversation can be seen in connection with the following tweet:

This post is reproducing my reply to Gabriel’s comment which can be seen at the original post.

Gabriel, you are skirting dangerously close to the edge of conformity with my blog comment pollicy by your comparison of Mike Bickle with Mormons and JW’s, which incidentally is similar to John MacArthur’s claim that charismatics as a group follow a false religion. To me the GOSPEL is the thing we must look for, and if Bickle and others believe in the gospel of Jesus why would we anathematise them over secondary issues? As far as MacArthur is concerned I have tried to be very fair to him, for example posting this:

“I’m not saying that everyone in the charismatic movement is not Christian” John MacArthur

I will not simply let this go. Unless and until MacAthur publicly apologises for some of the comments he made and admits he was wrong to make them I will not be simply giving him a pass on this. See for example this post on which I have a collection of the worst of them, although this is far from all of them:

VIDEO: MacArthur consigns charismatics to hell and likens them to Mormons

But the harsh reality is from your perspective, Gabriel, that as far as I can see NOBODY outside of the Grace to You set up have backed up MacArthur’s approach. From public and private conversations I have had it is plain to me that most reformed people are at best embarrassed and at worst appalled at the way he has gone after parts of the body of Christ. I am FAR from the only one who thinks this. Take for example this debate I had with Doug Wilson, who expressed his concern about the conference.

Premier’s Unbelievable? with Adrian Warnock and Doug Wilson on Strange Fire

I wish that MacAthur would repent for his divisive comments that have sought to make a secondary issue into a primary one. I wish that he would be willing to have a public conversation with any Bible loving charismatic of his choice. I wish that he would look that brother in the eye on camera and say, “May I apologise to you on behalf of all the charismatics I have hurt these past few months” I wish that he would be razor sharp in his focus nor scattergun in attacking real Christians.

As far as rebuking false teachers is concerned, most of those verses seem to me to be talking about the context of a local church congregation. We do have a responsibility as leaders of churches to keep our own churches pure. Fascinatingly as far as I can see most of the most egregious examples of unhelpful teachers are not part of a local church or denomination at all. Our independence as Christians is what is hurting us the most. One of the reasons I don’t speak out much against the real false teachers is because I am busy putting forth a positive message. I want to help people understand the truths of the Bible, so that they will be able to recognise for themselves falsehood. I also want to be able to receive positive things from people that I may disagree with on important secondary issues.  I have shared my thoughts on Christian TV elsewhere.

I think that a key verse for us to understand in all this debate is Ephesians 4:15-16

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Paul tells us to speak the truth, and I will concede many of the accusations MacAthur made are true. And perhaps people in the camp I am in are less good at speaking out truthfully at times.

But he also tells us to speak it in LOVE. I did not feel winsomeness on display in the conference. I did not feel love flowing to someone like me who is just trying to follow Jesus as best I can, and am a charismatic because I am convinced that is what the BIble says. I think that our camp is a lot better at showing love.

Perhaps there is a middle ground that we both need each other to discover, where we actually do speak the truth in love.

But notice the other part of the verse I quoted that speaks of EACH PART of the Body of Christ doing its work. I am concerned that if we bring division in the Body, this will prevent us from benefiting from each other. My new friend Rice Broocks spoke of how some parts of the church are good at building the structure of a fireplace but can’t light a fire. Us charismatics can sometimes light a fire alright but we burn the house down. We all need each other. See this post: God’s Not Dead: The Movie, and a new friend

The sad thing is that the number one effect of this fiasco so far is that most of my charismatic friends who said they used to listen to MacAthur’s radio ministry are now saying the do not want to do so any more. They are missing out. But I understand why. We are one Body, and we should act more like that.

About Adrian Warnock

Adrian Warnock has been a blogger since April 2003, and a member of Jubilee Church, London since 1995, where he seves as part of the leadership team alongside Tope Koleoso.

Together they have written Hope Reborn - How to Become a Christian and Live for Jesus, published by Christian Focus.

Adrian is also the author of Raised With Christ - How The Resurrection Changes Everything, published by Crossway.

Read more about Adrian Warnock or connect with him on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.

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You are warmly invited to comment on this blog. By doing o you demonstrate that you accept Adrian's comment policy.

  • http://www.gentlewisdom.org/ Peter Kirk

    Adrian, I disagree with you only in that you call MacArthur “a major church leader”. He is not. He has come out as what he really is, the leader of a divisive cult, or, in the original sense of the word, heresy. You say, perhaps politically, that people are “missing out” by no longer listening to his radio ministry. I say they are being wise, and following biblical advice, by fleeing from false teaching.

    • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

      Well the Bible does also say warn a divisive person and then have nothing to do with them. Fact is MacArthur is damaging his own ministry and his own legacy by this.

      • Jordan S.

        If Macarthur is a false teacher because he wants to defend the true Gospel then so be it. We are saddened by the millions who are in false churches around the globe replacing the true gospel, with a man centered false prosperity gospel which they validate with bogus miracle claims. We HATE what Benny Hinn teaches we HATE what the Osteens and the rest of the wolves teach. We HATE that Michael Brown a man you love and associate yourself with, goes and sits with Benny Hinn and validates his ministry. I cannot believe that you accept Peter’s statement above. The only thing that the conference wanted from true charismatic believers like yourself was to join forces with cessationist and call out false teacher’s within charismatic circles, and look at what you did, not only did it drive you to embrace Benny Hinn, THE poster child of all false teachers, but to call Macarthur a false teacher, and the leader of a divisive cult. congratulations brother on how you handled someone disagreeing with you, And for joining forces in aiding the devil rather than being teachable from a brother in christ who loves the gospel.

        • Jesse Ratcliff

          If by teachable you mean being berated from afar from someone who resorts to stereotypes and indiscriminate name calling, than thanks but no thanks. Being taught in love is to enter relationship with someone (thereby the best teaching takes place in the local church). Obviously this is not possible with an international conference but the very least I would expect is for a teacher to engage with the strongest version of your opponents argument (thereby avoiding the straw man fallacy) and to subject their own arguments to the same criteria they apply to others. Neither of these things did McArthur do. I didn’t know much about him before his remarks and now have no interest in anything he says and will advise anyone I know not to engage with him.

  • Gabriel Powell

    To be clear to all, I never presented myself as an “representative of Grace to You.” Adrian got that from my Twitter description which says I work at GTY, but in my correspondence, I never asserted myself in that way. My interaction online is my own personal responsibility and not at all an official representation of Grace to You or John MacArthur.

    “As far as rebuking false teachers is concerned, most of those verses seem to me to be talking about the context of a local church congregation.”

    I think you’d be hard pressed to demonstrate that from the various epistles where Paul speaks of false teachers outside the church who were affecting the church. Furthermore Jesus provided clear instructions that clearly do not apply exclusively to false teachers within an isolated local church.

    This really is a foundational issue, isn’t it? At what point do Christians (leaders or not) stand up against false teaching that is spreading like wild fire? Where do we draw the boundary? How do we know when to call out those who profess to know Christ but are void of the Gospel, or who use the same words with different definitions?

    How long do we ignore the Holy Spirit’s repeated commands to call a spade a spade even though it looks like an upside down heart? The best some charismatics seem to be able to say is, “I don’t affirm .” Some will say, “I don’t agree with those fund raising methods” (seed-faith theology), or “I’ve never experienced that in our church, so why bark at it?” When will someone within the charismatic church stand up and say, “He is a false teacher who devours widows’ houses and leads many astray”?

    As I said in my comment on your previous post/podcast, I’m not talking about secondary issues. I’m talking about issues where the gospel is masked and the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is not only misrepresented, but profaned.

    Regarding other Christian leaders affirming MacArthur, everyone seems to forget, but there were several who not only affirm, but participated in the conference. Not only that, hundreds of affirmations are received at Grace to You from people and pastors all around the world.

    My message to you and your readers is this: keep listening and reading. You may have been offended by soundbite statements at the conference (which were not aimed at you), but Strange Fire is not a just conference; it is also a book. But it’s not just a book and a conference; it is months of blog posts and videos leading up to the conference, and months of blog posts, sermons, videos, interviews, and Q&A after the conference. I hope there is enough patience among faithful charismatics to listen and participate in the entire discussion. Massive energy has been exerted to create a context and define the target for the entire discussion. It is up to readers and listeners to make the effort to take in that context.

    My sincere hope is that if you’re willing to listen and participate in the ongoing discussion, greater clarity of the gospel and greater faithfulness to the whole counsel of God (including the numerous parts that tell us to confront false teaching) will result.

    • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

      Gabriel,

      I’ve edited the post above is that sufficient to reflect your comment about representing MacArthur/

      Lets be clear there are two issues here, though perhaps they are related. 1. How should Christians react against false teachers and 2. Was MacArthur right to speak the way he did. I have not yet found anyone who is willing to say in an attributable quote that they believed that MacAthur’s manner and approach was correct. There was a reluctance even from some of the spokesman of one of your visiting speakers to be fully associated with some of the more extreme comments. I would be happy to acknowledge on the blog here if I am proved wrong on that point. The best that someone has suggested is this audio of Al Mohler. In it he says he is definitely a cessationist, many are. Even that he agrees with MacAthur’s arguments, many do. But Mohler is anxious to point out that he is not an angry cessationist, and that there are responsible charismatics who are DEFINITELY not enemies of the gospel, and that charismaticism itself is not a heresy.

      If MacAthur had reflected the tone of Mohler then we would not have had the backlash that has occurred, and could focus on that first question, which I will concede I am not sure we charismatics have got completely right, although I do not think MacAthur has either. As I say, I have yet to see a significant church leader willing to go on record as supporting MacAthur’s tone at the conference, and indeed in parts of the book. And there are several who have expressed their concerns to me behind the scenes.

    • Jesse Ratcliff

      “A person who calls a spade, a spade, should be given one. It’s all they’re fit for.”

  • TUC

    The Strange Fire issue is largely irrelevant to the UK church. The biggest danger for the present day UK church is not whether Christians believe in the baptism in the Holy Spirit. Rather the danger is for Christians to believe in the baptism in the Spirit but seek to hide away any use of His gifts into midweek meetings and restrict the content of Sunday public meetings to being front led and tightly controlled, totally missing that in the New Testament church it was the visible power of the Holy Spirit at work that led people to say ‘God is really among you’.

  • Jay Libowicz

    Pastor Adrian, you pointed out that Pastor MacArthur did say some correct things that needed to be said, and then you implied that maybe our side is better at love. I think this is a good and interesting point.

    A friend of mine pointed out that Jesus is the Way, Truth, and Life, and suggests that there are Way people, Truth people, and Life people. Truth people are all about solid doctrinal truths. Life people are all about experiencing God and the wondrous new life He gives. The two often clash.
    “That’s great you have such experiences, but where’s your biblical grounding and doctrinal focus?”
    “That’s great that you know so much theology, but why are you so cold and joyless?”

    I think that’s what’s happened, in a sense. Then you’ve got Way people like Ray Comfort who are all about evangelism, and look at the two and might say, “Why are you two arguing while people are going to hell and need the Gospel?”

    All three are right, and we should strive to be all three. Yet I think all three are given to balance out the Body.

    Keep on pursuing Jesus, Pastor.

  • Bradley Rogers

    Well, to add my 2 cents, until recently like Oct 2013 I considered myself as someone who accepts John MacArthur’s teaching as correct. I know several grads of TMS to be very gifted pastors, and I had enrolled at TMS but did not attend. I have listened to and studied MacArthurs work since the late 1980s. Coming from evolutionism and science I found JM’s coverage of bible inerrancy to be indisputable.

    But JM is no longer a bible teacher that I agree with, and I want to say I have and am searching for any shred of anything such as tape/cd or study book, what i found today has been tossed in the garbage. I did not know about the “strange fire” issue until today (or i didnt read about it till now) It is my statement that JM’s teaching leads a Christian believer away from Christ. It caused me severe problems to find a belief system I depended on,that of John MacArthurs teaching? is false. Maybe I just internalized it more than many folks and found out faster? After the problems, hearing about an upcoming training series that included MacArthur? my stomach turned and I recoiled from the inside out. Not a chance I will let his teaching corrupt me any more. I start looking for what many folks believe to be wrong with JM’s teaching because I cannot explain it very well.

    I find he has gone to the extreme with the war on the Charismatic movement. I recall how GTY did or does have a website of really bad theology, where they openly mock preachers and churches, the worst ones having red flames added to the photo. Can anyone imagine the Apostle Paul seeing that now and saying sure Phil thats great how you mock those people? Charismatics are bad because they reject the bible as its written and say we can rewrite any part we want, right? thats the sum of what I heard

    I recall listening to JM and hearing him say how the Holy Spirit will tell a person that… oh, wait, what?? I thought absolute cessationism forbade this? How could it be that Christ would never reply to anyone, never show any response if He has a personal relationship with us? The problem happens when the Charismatic says oh, God has appointed me the spokesperson to tell everyone new revelation… Is this whats taking place? I have to ask, I dont know.

    Country Club Christians, isnt that offensive? low income or unsophisticated people are just not as important, if you dont buy the hyper intellectualism of JM then what? unsaved? Isnt this just like the Pharisee mentality of intellectual adherence to dogma? Only those highly educated, erudite and sacerdotal have the right ticket? really? Can anyone be saved by faith in Christ with simple faith?

    Some religions come to your door and say Christmas is evil, thou shall not celebrate Christmas and express love and forgiveness to others Dec 25th, neither shall you use the word birthday nor partake of the evil birthday cake thereof; Another one comes to your door and says all Christian faith is wrong except ours, God used to be a man and evolved into the ruler of this world, you could do the same however you may not partake of coffee nor tea. So inside your conscience says: no. its wrong. I know Christmas is a blessing and coffee and tea are as well. MacArthurs teaching made me react the same as these 2 religions, years too late, I know its wrong I may not be able to explain why. And I would swear an oath saying some details of what JM teaches may be biblical, and I would also take an oath that Mormons defend family values and oppose abortion, just as the Roman Catholics do.

    I want my Christian faith to be bible based and authentic, it must let people of any sophistication be savable, it must not take intellectualism to be saved. It must be directly and actually the authentic teaching of Christ.

    For this reason Im dumping all things from the JM ministry and planning to offer to give away my MacArthur study bible, since its a bible it could belong in a library.

    the CO2 warming statement made by JM, I found to be in error, something we can verify by science, if JM is wrong about this, what else is he wrong about?

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