I’ve been reading with deep concern a number of bloggers concerned about what Strange Fire was all about. They’re grieved and wounded as to why a conference like this one even took place. And like Elihu at the end of Job, they have had their “concerns” aroused and they have unleashed their wrath upon the internet. My pal Menn0knight links to some of their garment rending laments.
But I have my concerns as well regarding these concerned bloggers. And at the great risk of having Steve Hays release a flurry of knee-jerk, reactionary blog whippings upon me, allow me to share with you my concerns.
Let’s get down to the meat of the matter: Charismatics/continuationists have a serious credibility problem. Simply put, continuationists insist the spiritual manifestations of extraordinary signs and wonders that are recorded in Acts are currently happen today in our world. People speak in tongues, they receive words of revelation and knowledge, and they can heal people with the laying on of hands.
The problem however, is that those “manifestations” of signs and wonders the continuationists insist are the works of the Holy Spirit today are never, ever anywhere near the category of manifestations recorded for us in the Bible. Additionally, as a cessationist, I believe God had a specific, primary purpose with the extraordinary signs and wonders recorded in the Bible and when that purpose ended, the manifestation of those extraordinary signs and wonders came to an end as well.
Again – because it seems as though I have to constantly repeat this point with my continuationist critics – I am not saying God can never heal or move in any extraordinary fashion. I am saying God no longer uses spiritually anointed individuals to work extraordinary signs and wonders. The key individuals God did use were the apostles and their affiliates during the era of the NT. Once their ministries ended, those extraordinary signs and wonders ceased.
But let me return to the continuationist/charismatic credibility problem. If you are going to insist extraordinary signs and wonders still function with regularity among Christians in today’s Pentecostal and charismatic churches, then those signs and wonders should, without a doubt, match what is recorded in the Bible. Regrettably, that is not what I am seeing among Pentecostal/charismatic churches.
I’ll zero in upon the three broad categories I noted before and address them one by one.
Continuationists cannot possibly expect me to believe the nonsensical, out of control gibberish and caterwauling that takes place in the the vast majority of Pentecostal and charismatic churches is the spiritual gift of tongues as recorded in Scripture. Additionally, when we turn to the relevant passages, the idea of tongues is a known human language with grammar and syntax, noun, verb, direct object etc. You know, the parts of speech that are absolutely foundational for any meaningful communication. The idea of known human language is made clear in Acts 2 and nothing in the text of 1 Corinthians 12-14 suggests that understanding changes to ecstatic speech. In fact, the first Pentecostals out of Kansas who mainstreamed tongues in the 20th century, even believed they were speaking known, human languages.
Even if one wants to appeal to the so-called angelic language as noted in 1 Corinthians 13:1, are you guys telling me angels speak gibberish? If God created men with specific rules of communication when it comes to language, would I not expect the same with spiritual beings? And the idea of a “private prayer” language is patently absurd. Why do I need to pray to God in a “prayer language”? Why isn’t my Southern English good enough? Does the private prayer language guarantee a break through into the vault of heaven or something?
I’ll be honest with you: Wayne Grudem’s argument for fallible prophecy is lame. There is no two ways about it. (See here for articles refuting his claims). What he presents in defense of fallible prophecy is based upon pained exegesis of the relevant passages. I understand he has a marvelous systematic theology and has written some fine material debunking the error of egalitarianism, but when it comes to prophecy, the man has slipped a life vest over his black leather jacket and has jumped the shark.
Now plenty of continuationists will insist that hunches, impressions, vague notions, burning bosoms, and whatnot that when spoken at “just the right time” to a person who may be struggling with a trial or a major, life altering decision is akin to biblical prophecy. But that is not biblical prophecy, for a number of reasons. The least of which is that for every one outstanding occurrence when the so called “impression” said the right thing to a person, there are countless others where the impression led the person into hopelessness, disappointment, and disaster.
Take for instance the so-called “prophecy” given to John Piper about his wife dying in childbirth but him receiving a daughter from the loss (look it up on the internet if you haven’t heard the story). For months he carried an agonizing burden because he genuinely believed a woman’s ridiculous prophecy, one that she had no real authority to pronounce. It wasn’t until he saw his son being born that he knew it was false. How was that woman any different than the crank psychic, Sylvia Browne and her many, many failed predictions?
Here you have these predictions tampering with people’s lives, manipulating them and loading up grievous burdens for them to bear all based upon a vague hunch that may or may not be correct. Lookit, if the leadership of the New Apostolic Reformation, all avowed “apostles” of the church with the gift of prophecy, could lay hands on Todd Bentley and pronounce God blessing upon his ministry without any prophetic knowledge of the catastrophic moral train wreck his life was to become just weeks after his commissioning, one has to seriously wonder about so-called “fallible” prophecy.
I’ve gone into that one in a couple of articles the last few months, see here and here. Suffice it to say, the so-called miraculous healings allegedly happening today are never anywhere near the level of quality of the ones recorded in Scripture. In the NT, people with major deformities, major paralysis, and lifelong crippling maladies were healed instantaneously and restored to fully functional human being.
It is nice to hear about a person having her hip pain taken away and his flu-like symptoms disappearing, but those miraculous healings, even if they are occasionally supernatural healings (and I am not saying they aren’t) are no where near the kind of supernatural healings recorded in the Bible. I want to see people with the gift of healing going into burn wards, veteran’s hospitals with soldiers who have lost limbs, and hospitals that specialize with spinal cord injuries.
And I’m sorry, those who tell me I haven’t experienced such things and thus I can’t condemn something I’ve never experienced, let me remind them that when Jesus healed, people knew. If there was a real person with a real gift of healing living in Mexico somewhere who was genuinely healing people, believe me, in this day and age, his giftedness would be the talk of the world.
Horrid, Wacko Theology
One last item for discussion is the a-biblical, unChristian, bizarro theology that attends most charismatic assemblies. Granted, you check online and the church will have what appears to be an “orthodox” doctrinal statement. However, the doctrine supposedly affirmed in that statement does not play itself out in the daily practice of the people.
Rather you have bizarre beliefs that attend these groups. Things like fire tunnels, cleansing streams and demonic deliverance style “ministries” (which are practically the same thing as Scientology’s auditing and going clear programs), grave anointings, generational curses (a common topic over at Charisma online), the frenzied, seizure like gyrations that allegedly prove God’s Spirit is upon a person during a “revival” service (video footage is too plentiful), and an uncountable number of just plain, awful Bible studies (Think Cindy Jacob’s Leviathan spirit).
Now, my “Reformed” charismatic acquaintances are gonna say, “Well those are extreme exceptions. You need to read D.A. Carson and Wayne Grudem!” Indeed. Here’s my other concern. You all need to open your eyes and look around. You have lulled yourself into this delusional Matrix like stupor about the reality of charismaticism. Whereas you all are rightly embarrassed and offended by such things as grave suckers and demonic deliverance ministries, those are not the rare exceptions, but the norm.
You need to let this sink in: It is you all who are the rare exception. All the Carson and Piper books can’t change that fact. Once you realize the truth, your concerns about John MacArthur and Strange Fire will grow less concerning.