When I first read MacArthur, I was enamored. I was young, and my no means spiritually mature; to me, MacArthur appeared to give real direction. His warnings fell on ready ears. Discernment—I was young, and naïve, but I was smart enough to know that I needed discernment. And MacArthur’s work was designed to capitalize on this knowledge. He and other teachers like him have helped to raise a generation of conservative Christians who, practicing what they believe to be “discernment,” have insulated themselves from being influenced by—well, you name it. Anti-megachurch, anti-charismatic, anti-seeker-friendly, anti-topical-sermons, anti-emergent-church, anti-Arminian, anti-dynamic-translations, anti-Rob-Bell, anti-Harry-Potter, anti-anti-anti. A generation of anti-s.
And yes, of course, anti-Messianic. It’s new, it’s weird, it’s different, it’s not what we grew up with, and it doesn’t square with the doctrines on which we have built our on theological superstructure. If Messianic Judaism is right, we’re wrong, and how could we be wrong?
So when I read Messianic Jewish teacher Michael Brown’s appeal to John MacArthur to cease and desist his campaign against the Pentecostal/charismatic movement, my first thought was, “Of course—if MacArthur doesn’t come to his senses, we’re next.”
-Pastor Jacob Fronczak
“Strange Fire & The Gifts of the Spirit”
Note: It’s Wednesday evening and I just came from my weekly meeting with my Pastor. He gave me his perspective and understanding of the Strange Fire conference which was significantly different than what I’ve been reading in the blogosphere recently. I wrote this blog post a few days ago, and will likely revisit the topic in the near future for the sake of being fair. In the meantime, this is my initial response to the information I previously received and more importantly, my impression of how the different elements in the body of Christ have been treating each other.
I was only marginally aware of the Strange Fire conference before today (as I write this) and only because I previously had some small encounter with the thoughts and writing of John MacArthur, both through my Pastor and in Sunday school. I’ve struggled with MacArthur before and I doubt I’ll ever become his biggest fan.
Then last Sunday, as he was introducing his sermon, my Pastor, from the pulpit, mentioned MacArthur, the “Strange Fire” conference (which got my attention), and how he generally commended it.
My blood ran cold for a second, but then I got lost in a flurry of note-taking as Pastor launched into his sermon, and I didn’t look back. Religious conferences come and go, and I thought MacArthur’s would simply fade into the background noise and finally degrade into static.
But then I read Jacob Fronczak’s commentary on the MacArthur conference. It’s not that I’m writing this as yet another critic of MacArthur or “Strange Fire.” Fronczak, Michael Brown, and many other people far more worthy than I and closer to the issues involved have already done that (I should say at this point that while I’m not particularly attracted to Pentecostalism, I don’t feel I have to lead a “holy crusade” against them, either).
But when Jacob wrote, “Of course—if MacArthur doesn’t come to his senses, we’re next,” it struck a chord.
Oh, some background first.
This is where the phrase “strange fire” comes from:
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord.
–Leviticus 10:1-2 (NASB)
Christian and Jewish scholars and theologians have been debating for centuries as to exactly why Nadab and Abihu were killed and what the “strange fire” was that they attempted to offer before the Lord. No one really knows for sure, although I don’t doubt there are a few people out there who are certain they do. In the realm of religion, there are always those people out there who think they have all the answers set in concrete on matters so complex or mysterious, that it is reasonably unlikely or even impossible for them to be that sure.
Next stop, John MacArthur writes another book. This one is called Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. According to Amazon, it isn’t available for purchase until November 12th, so I suppose the conference anticipates the book’s publication (I could be cynical and suggest that part of MacArthur’s motivation for the conference was to drum up mass market interest to sell more copies of his book, since controversy sells like proverbial hotcakes, but I digress, since only God knows the heart).
And then we come to Michael Brown’s final attempt to appeal to MacArthur prior to the actual conference.
I received an advanced review copy from the publisher; all quotes here are from the Introduction and should be checked against the final text of the book.
In fact, he claims that leaders of the movement are “Satan’s false teachers, marching to the beat of their own illicit desires, gladly propagate his errors. They are spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans.”
This is divisive and destructive language based on misinformation and exaggeration, as Pastor MacArthur attributes the extreme errors of a tiny minority to countless hundreds of thousands of godly leaders worldwide.
I have worked side by side with some of these fine men and women myself, precious saints who have risked their lives for the name of Jesus, giving themselves sacrificially to touch a hurting and dying world with the gospel, literally shedding their blood rather than compromising their testimonies, yet an internationally recognized pastor calls many of them “Satan’s false teachers . . . spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans.”
May the Lord forgive him for these rash words.
MacArthur didn’t take the expressed concerns of Brown or any of his other critics lying down:
“In response to this conference, there have been some attacks, and we’ve been unable to escape them,” MacArthur said to the more than 3,000 attendees at the conference Friday night. “I just want to address those, because I do think that it’s important to answer the criticisms that have come.”
-Reporter Melissa Barnhart
quoting John MacArthur in the article
“John MacArthur Responds to Critics Who Believe His Strange Fire Conference Is Divisive, Unloving”
I suppose I could make a case for the pot calling the kettle black since one good “attack” deserves another, but again, that would be unfair. To continue:
“This is for the true church, so that they can discern; so that they can be protected from error; and so that they can be a source of truth for others outside the church,” he said, adding that his book, “Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship,” can withstand the most intense scrutiny, when measured against the word of God in the Bible.
This is similar to the rationale behind why we have laws requiring that people in cars must wear seat belts and people riding bicycles must wear helmets…the authority is acting for our own protection.
In his blog post for First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ), Jacob Fronczak commented on this point:
The stated reason is always that it is for the good of the faith. MacArthur’s crusade against Pentecostalism claims to be based on reasoning similar, if not identical, to this: “After years of prayer, fasting, and serious searching of the Scriptures, undertaken due to a genuine concern for the purity of the Christian faith, we have been led by the Holy Spirit to the sobering conclusion that everything you think the Holy Spirit is doing in your life is actually the work of the devil.”
I don’t think we attack each other because we are insecure. John MacArthur is very secure in his beliefs. Nor do I think we attack each other out of genuine hate or malice. I think we attack each other because we enjoy it. We like to fight, and we like to win. We like to make ourselves look good at someone else’s expense. We like to be right, and we like it even better when someone else has to be wrong.
I think this is probably what the Bible calls pride. The unwillingness to admit that we could be wrong and someone else could be right. The unwillingness to give an inch for the sake of another person, even another believer.
“purity of the Christian faith?” Oh my! I can’t even begin to tell you how I’m viewing this statement.
Let me stop here for a moment. Like I said before, I’m not really “going after” MacArthur or his “Strange Fire” book or conference. Unlike Brown, I didn’t receive an advance copy of the book, and I have no idea what actually happened at the conference, so I have no basis upon which to say anything like “John MacArthur is wrong about such and thus.”
But I do have a concern. Under the guise of “revealing truth” and “protecting believers from error,” it becomes acceptable and even desirable to “go after” other religious groups, other denominations within the Christian Church (big “C”), other individuals associated with the denominations brought “under the gun.” It becomes acceptable and even desirable to take the failings of some individuals associated the denomination “under the gun” and to generalize those specific incidents to the entire denomination, painting everyone belonging to that group with an exceptionally broad brush.
If someone like “little ol’ me” writes a blog post that is critical of an individual, a group, a denomination, or an entire religion, maybe a dozen people at best will pay attention and respond one way or another…and that’s on a good day. When someone like John MacArthur writes a book and holds a conference, lots and lots of people, Christians and just about anyone else interested in what the Church (big “C”) is up to, will pay attention.
It’s a foregone conclusion that MacArthur has no doubts whatsoever that he’s right in an absolute sense. The quote of his words above tells us that he believes his viewpoint is completely backed up in scripture. Never mind that scripture has more than one possible interpretation and even more than one highly likely interpretation, hence the (seemingly) millions of variations on Christianity we see in the world today.
When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist.
When they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat.
When they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak out; I was not a trade unionist.
When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn’t a Jew.
When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.
found at Wikiquote
Before you become too upset, no, I’m not comparing John MacArthur to a Nazi. Relax. I am drawing this parallel because some of the darkest moments in the history of Christianity have been when we’ve “gone after” others who were not like us. The Church may not employ brute violence, torture, maiming, and murder as its tools anymore, but we must now ask ourselves when does “expressing truth” become slander? When does “correcting error” become a lack of love for a fellow disciple of Christ? When do we commit cruelty while hiding beneath the thin veneer of kindness?
In my past experience with the “Hebrew Roots” movement, I met more than a few people who left the Church (big “C”) due to real or perceived injustices of other Christians against them. Some of these people had nothing good to say about Christians, Christianity, and their general church experience. They called the Church “Babylon.” They called the Church “apostate.” They called the Church “heretical.” They said they were telling “the truth.” They said they were trying to “correct error.”
They simply weren’t internationally famous Pastors and authors who could publish books backed up scrupulously by scripture, and the hold large conferences to draw attention to their opinions…fortunately.
Jacob Fronczak and for all I know, Michael Brown have their opinions about why John MacArthur is doing something like this (besides the reasons MacArthur himself gives). I have no idea. I could guess, but that guess would be based on very little information, so I’ll refrain.
John MacArthur, for all the press he’s currently getting (this will pass in a moment…the media and the public are fickle) is just one man and he has just one opinion. Lots of lots of “famous Christians” have stirred the pot over the years, upset a lot of people, and then faded into the woodwork (I can’t remember the last time James Dobson incited any significant upset in the media).
But the impression all this leaves me with is that some of the different members of the body of Christ have a hunger to eat the other members alive.
Although I attend a church that is part of normative Christianity, my personal beliefs are hardly “normatively Christian.” Anyone who has read more than one or two of my blog posts can figure that out. I know that as an individual, I’m insignificant and fall well below anyone’s radar, especially someone as famous as John MacArthur (thankfully).
But has it occurred to any of these firebrand Christian leaders out there that God is watching? Don’t they imagine that God has His own viewpoint on any of these matters of controversy? Do they think that Jesus Christ will personally approve of them and all their activities when the moment of judgment comes? Do they believe that their interpretation of scripture is so ironclad that their is no room for them to be wrong?
MacArthur was quoted as saying:
“The broader Charismatic movement has opened the door to more theological error than any other doctrinal aberration in this modern day,” MacArthur added, noting that in chapter 12 of his book, he has written an open letter to his continuationist friends.
“…more theological error than any other doctrinal aberration in this modern day.”
Wow. That’s quite a statement. I have an opinion, too. I believe that when the Messiah returns he’s going to be a lot more Jewish than John MacArthur or anyone like him can possibly imagine. I believe the thing we call “the Church” now, that distinguishes itself from any stream of Judaism, will become a lot more like what it was in the days of James, Peter, and Paul. I believe it will be the faith of the Israelites, the Jewish people, and that Gentiles are allowed to join that Jewish stream without becoming Jews. I think a lot of Christians, on the day they come to that realization, will feel pretty humiliated and will need to seek repentance for any “cursing” they may have aimed at Israel, the Jewish people, Judaism, and the idea that “Jesus Christ” will probably want to be called “Yeshua HaMoshiach.”
(The Christianization of Acts 15 is only one small example of how the Church can experience itself as “right” and yet might still be wrong).
And I believe that all those people, including the really famous Christians, who were all so sure of themselves, who believed that scripture, as interpreted through all the traditions and presuppositions they held onto as “truth,” totally backed them up, will be shocked out of their socks.
I hope and pray on that day that I’ll at least be prepared to be shocked out of my socks and kneel before my Master in humility and brokenness. I think though, that kneeling and humility and brokenness will be more difficult for some believers to achieve than others. I hope John MacArthur won’t be one of them. I hope all of us, no matter who we are or in what stream of Christianity or other religious expression that points us to Messiah, Son of David we exist, will be ready to receive him on that day.
But we won’t be ready as long as the primary expression of our faith in Jesus Christ is to go on the latest “error” hunt. I even wonder if it might be better to be one of the hunted rather than the hunter? Is it better to ignite someone with your strange fire or to burn on the pyre of someone else’s judgment?
Be bold in what you stand for and careful what you fall for.
You may be interested in a blog post written by Boaz Michael called Shaping the Way Spiritual Gifts are Expressed to view the journey of Rabbi Carl Kinbar from a Charismatic Conference to Messianic Judaism, and to see how spiritual gifts have been a meaningful and active force in Rabbi Kinbar’s life.