Strange Fire: Conclusions (for now!) and false prophets

Strange Fire: Conclusions (for now!) and false prophets November 14, 2013

This is the final post in my series of posts which aim to refute every biblical argument MacArthur uses in the book Strange Fire. It won’t be the last thing I write on this subject, however, as I will be following the ongoing discussion and reporting on significant developments.  I also have a couple more things I want to say more generally on this over the next few weeks. I have posted a review of this book on Amazon and I invite you to interact with that there.

Please do @ me on Twitter or email me on if you see something I should think about sharing here. I am also very aware that I may have missed a biblical argument or two in MacArthur’s book.  So, if when you are reading his book you see him mention a compelling reason why charismatic doctrine should be rejected on biblical grounds let me know and I will return to this subject.  In fact, if you can think of a reason yourself why your feel the Bible doesn’t support charismatism that I have not addressed them please do let me know too!

From now on, you will begin to see more normal content returning to this blog.  Tomorrow I will be at the Global Faith Forumactually listening to people of other faiths, without compromising my own. It seems somehow ironic given everything that has been said regarding Strange Fire.

But back to Strange Fire for my conclusions for now, a couple of interesting announcements. Firstly, over the weekend I will be posting a link to my discussion with Frank over at Pyromaniacs.  It was an interesting conversation, and I hope some will find it helpful.

Second, Justin Brierley has lined up a Cessationist for me to discuss Strange Firewith on his popular show, Unbelievable. This is the same show I have previously been on with Rob Bell, and Rachel Held Evans.  The Unbelievable show will be recorded early next week and should be aired and podcasted the following weekend.

I will let Justin announce who I will be discussing these matters with. I can confirm, however, that it won’t be John MacArthur or Phil Johnson. I think they are both scared or something, though as my previous conversation with Steve Camp demonstrates, I would be nice to them, I promise! Actually it seems that GTY have determined not to engage any charismatics in formal debates or informal conversations like this one will be. Rather disappointing I think, as whether they want to talk to me or not is neither here nor there, but a public conversation with someone on our side of the fence would show some genuine desire to promote unity, and I think a better understanding of the truth. There are so many misconceptions littered throughout MacArthur’s book that really need clearing up.

The last argument I want to address, basically says that “because there are false prophets we should reject charismatic doctrine”. Its not very compelling as an argument, but Jesus does indeed warn us about false prophets, and we should pay careful attention to what he says:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:15-23

MacArthur not unfairly asks, ”One wonders how many self-appointed modern prophets or televangelists with loose morals and lavish lifestyles will find themselves in that very scenario on the last day.” Strange Fire, page 108

I get that, I really do. But hold on a minute, doesnt this passage say that the key issue here is whether or not we KNOW Jesus, not necessarily simply have correct doctrine? I don’t doubt for a moment that many cessationists do indeed know Jesus. They are in many cases just not enjoying fully the benefits of that relationship.  I am sure that charismatics and cessationists alike will meet around the throne in heaven, and our disagreements will melt away. Lets not try and make the charismatic issue into a gospel issue. Salvation isn’t by faith plus the correct view on gifts of the Holy Spirit!

MacArthur seems to infers too much from the presence of false prophets. But to me this is one of the strongest arguments in favor of my own position. You see, if Jesus and Paul had to warn us about false prophets it is precisely because it would otherwise be hard to distinguish them.  All they should have had to do is say “look, anyone except the Twelve and Paul who trys to prophecy is false, OK. We are the only ones that can do it!”  No, the NT envisages a multitude of people prophesying (see for example Acts 2) and in this environment it can be hard to figure out what is genuine and what is not!

We are told to test prophecies rather than to test prophets. It is not so simple as to say that every true prophet only ever prophecies true things, not in the NT anyway.

If this was the only verse in the whole of the NT on the gifts, surely it would alone be enough for us to agree to simply follow it:

“Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

While charismatics have been too gullible and ready to accept prophecy,  in contrast cessationists have rejected the good.

This all sounds very different from the OT passage that MacArthur loves to cite:

The prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?”—when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptu- ously; you shall not be afraid of him. (Deut. 18:20–22)

The OT standard is set for a time when only a few received the spirit of prophecy, and the NT one necessarily had to change for a time when the newest Christian can also prophecy!

But MacArthur says:

“What the Bible condemns as a capital offense, the Charismatic Movement cherishes as a spiritual gift! In fact, the fallacies, foibles, and flat-out falsehoods that characterize contemporary prophe- cies are so blatant and well documented that charismatic theologians don’t even try to deny them” (Strange Fire, 109)

Don’t hold back Mac, tells us what you really think…

“The Charismatic Movement began barely a hundred years ago, and its influence on evangelicalism can hardly be overstated. From its inception by Charles Fox Parham to its most ubiquitous modern representative in Benny Hinn, the entire movement is nothing more than a sham religion run by counterfeit ministers. True biblical interpretation, sound doctrine, and historical theology owes nothing to the movement—unless an influx of error and false- hood could be considered a contribution. Like any effective false system, charismatic theology incorporates enough of the truth to gain credibility. But in mixing the truth with deadly deceptions, it has concocted a cocktail of corruption and doctrinal poison—a lethal fabrication—with hearts and souls at stake.”Strange Fire, Page 113

MacArthur doesn’t accept the idea that in Acts 21:10–11, Agabus got important details wrong when he correctly predicted trouble for Paul  in Jerusalem. But earlier in this chapter, Paul disobeys instructions given him “by the Holy Spirit.” To me its clear he determined that the warnings were correct but that he was still meant to carry on his journey. If prophecy is infallible why didn’t Paul listen to it?

MacArthur will allow only one application for the Scriptures which tell us to weigh prophecy, but doesnt explain to us how he chooses which verses to obey and which to ignore, nor how he determines which principles do apply to today. It is a bit like tying yourself up in knots to say:

“Although the revelatory gift of prophecy has ceased, the proclamation of the prophetic Word still continues today—as preachers exposit the Scriptures and exhort people to obey (2 Tim. 2:4). As a result, the implications of 1 Thessalonians 5:19–22 still apply to the modern church. Every sermon, every message, every application given by contemporary pastors and teachers ought to be examined carefully through the lens of Scripture. If someone claims to speak for God yet his message does not accord with biblical truth, he shows himself to be a fraud. That is where biblical discernment is necessary.” (Page 126)

BUT if there is an imperfect report of the true message of the Bible, does that make that preacher who made a mistake into a false teacher at all times? Surely this is the path to fundamentalism. If  modern preaching is instead a mix of truth and error, why can’t the same be true of modern prophecy?

MacAthur also points out that the presence of false prophets in the first-century church is a fact that is clearly attested in the New Testament (Matt. 7:1524:11;2 Tim. 4:3–42 Peter 2:1–31 John 4:1Jude 4)

He says, “Paul instructed the Thessalonians to exercise spiritual discernment whenever they heard any message that claimed to have divine origins, testing it carefully by comparing it to prior written revelation.”

BUT, this is exactly what charismatics are taught to do today!

MacArthur is incredibly dismissive of those who disagrees with him. But what if HE is the one in the wrong?

The problem is greatly magnified by the common charismatic practice of knowingly permitting someone who has prophesied falsely to continue to claim he or she speaks for God. To say it as simply and plainly as possible, this approach to “prophecy” is the grossest kind of rank heresy, because it ascribes to God that which did not come from Him.

By claiming fallible prophecies as legitimate, charismatics open the door wide open to satanic attack and deception—putting their movement in the same category as cult groups like the Seventh Day Adventists, Mormons, and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Errant prophecy is one of the clearest earmarks of a non-Christian cult or false religion.” (page 128)

So there we have it. As far as MacArthur is concerned I am in a false religion.  I call on everyone close to MacArthur to urge him to rescind such an inflammatory statement. He is causing schism in the body of Christ. He is claiming that people who don’t agree with him on a secondary issue are on the way to hell.  He is actually adding to the gospel because he believes clearly that the only way to be truly saved is to agree with him on this issue. That is not salvation by faith, but salvation by what he believes to be correct doctrine. This is a serious and grievous error. It has more potential to do damage to the global body of Christ than any other controversy I have been involved in.  This needless controversy is of MacArthur’s making and is more dangerous than anything Rob Bell has said. We cannot let his attempts to drive a wedge between brothers and sisters who happen to disagree on this matter to succeed. Church, for the sake of Christ, UNITE!


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