Tag Archives: judgmental

Burning on the Strange Pyre

strange-pyreWhen 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”
FFOZ Blogs

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.

michael-brownNext 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”
ChristianPost.com

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.

Judge NotThis 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.

rev-john-macarthurIf 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.

-Martin Niemöller
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.

Heart-on-FireJohn 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).

broken_spiritAnd 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.

-Ruth Boorstin

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.

 

 

 

The Judge in the Mirror

MirrorThe Baal Shem Tov taught that in the heavenly court there is no one who can judge you for what you have done in your life on earth. So this is what they do:

They show you someone’s life—all the achievements and all the failures, all the right decisions and all the wrongdoings—and then they ask you, “So what should we do with this somebody?”

And you give your verdict. Which they accept. And then they tell you that this somebody was you. Being now in heaven, you don’t recall a thing.

Of course, those who tend to judge others favorably have a decided advantage.

Better get in the habit now.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Self-Trial”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson
Chabad.org

I’m tempted not to write a commentary on the words of the Rebbe as interpreted by Rabbi Freeman because I think they speak for themselves, but I suppose I should add a little something. I’m sure that, as believers, we’re aware of the teaching Jesus gave in Matthew 7:1-6 about not judging others, however that doesn’t seem to stop us from doing so. We can always find amble excuses for why we have the “God-given right” to judge others and we can back it up with scripture to validate our attitude. We also know that even the Adversary can use scripture to backup his activities, as we see Matthew 4:1-11, but that doesn’t stop us from pulling the same stunt when it suits us.

So how do we “discern good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14)? and moreover, what do we do when we believe we have discerned good from evil, particularly among those within the body of faith?

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. –Matthew 18:15-17

This is a well-known formula that I’m sure most of us don’t use in real life (I actually have and believe me, it’s tougher than it looks), particularly on the Internet where we post our judgments for all to see. Right before his teaching on how to approach a brother who has sinned against you, Jesus tells a parable.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. –Matthew 18:6-9

That sounds pretty harsh, but notice that the Master isn’t telling us to literally mutilate ourselves or to commit such acts against someone else. Also, as I recall, God gave all authority to judge the earth to Jesus, not to us, so we might want to keep that in mind.

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? –Romans 2:1-4

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking you don’t do the same things as the people you judge, so you’re covered, right? But what if the sin others are committing is judging others and then you do the same to them?

If you’re going to judge, put away all of the excuses you use to bash others with and take a look in the mirror. Ask God to help you be honest with yourself. Ask God (you are not going to want to do this) to help you see all of your flaws, bumps, bruises, warts, and sins. Then, as Rabbi Freeman suggests, judge yourself. What will that judgment be like?

Walking Together to the House of Prayer

Walking TogetherUnfortunately, intolerance among Jews can be found in all directions. Shortly after Kristallnacht, a Reform synagogue in Rhode Island conducted a special service to which they invited recent Jewish refugees from Europe. Many of those refugees came to the service wearing hats or kippot, which at the time was against Reform practices. A prominent member of the congregation demanded that everyone remove their head coverings. Although the rabbi of the congregation was extremely upset by the man’s behavior, he felt too intimidated to do anything.

Similarly, there are some Orthodox Jews who too easily brand their less observant coreligionists as “heretics” or “non-believers.” Yet, prominent sages such as Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook and the Chazon Ish have ruled that we live in a time of God’s concealment and therefore cannot apply the religious laws concerning heresy to modern-day Jews who question their faith. Furthermore, it is wrong to harm those who deny even Judaism’s most basic beliefs. Not only should we not hurt such people, we should help them if the situation ever presents itself.

from the Lev Echad blog
“E Pluribus Unum”

While blogger Asher aptly illustrates how different groups of Jews can be less than generous toward each other, this isn’t exclusively a Jewish issue. Certainly different groups in humanity have distrusted and harmed each other throughout history, and this can also be seen in various faith groups, including Christianity. The difference here is that, as I mentioned the other day, being Jewish isn’t just a matter of holding to a collection of beliefs or a certain faith. Jews are tied to each other and connected to God in a way no other people group can claim. Any Christian can renounce his or her faith, but a Jew is always a Jew.

I suppose it’s rather tragic for me to say that “any Christian can renounce his or her faith”. It makes it sound as if our commitment to Christ is too easily ignored or broken, and we see this sometimes. We also see, as Asher points out in Judaism, that the different denominations or groups of Christians cling to their own specific religious views and can take shots at each other, believing that if you don’t believe, say, and do as they believe, say, and do, you are not really a Christian and you are not really saved.

Christianity can be very “tunnel-visioned” in its approach to God and the Bible, especially for those groups that have a very literal understanding of what the Bible says (in English, ignoring the original languages and contexts involved). How Asher ended his blog article suggests another way that we Christians can look at each other, at Jews, and at the rest of humanity:

It takes a considerable amount of humility and tolerance to refrain from forcing our beliefs upon others, but that’s exactly what we should strive for. To do so, objective ethical standards must be upheld, while the more subjective areas of life can be left to the individual. It’s ironic that people tend to focus so much on the subjective when it is really the objective that matters most. For example, some regard those with whom they disagree politically or religiously as bad people, instead of simply judging their overall behavior to determine what kind of person they are. This needs to change if we are to produce a better world.

One of the unique aspects of Judaism is learning about all the different roads people take that lead them to God and a life of goodness. While this is certainly a fascinating phenomenon, it can also be a great impediment to how we treat one another. Therefore, our goal in life should not be to turn all our fellow Jews into ideological and/or religious replicas of ourselves. Rather, it should be to guide – not force – others into a life of serving God and His children in a way that best matches their individual personality.

Christians tend to look at the world as made up of two groups: saved and unsaved, us and them. While we are mandated (see Matthew 28:19-20) to go and make disciples (not converts, disciples) of the unbelieving people around us, we also sometimes see the unbelieving people around us as “the enemy”. It’s pretty difficult to convince a non-believer of the love of Christ if we don’t even like non-believers. It’s even harder to show the unbelieving world Christ’s love if they see that we don’t even like each other due to our different theologies.

Asher might suggest that we try to put our differences aside, both between different groups of Christians and between Christians and everybody else. Try to look at people the way God sees people:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. –John 3:16-17

Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. –Romans 5:9-11

The opportunity to be reconciled to God is universally applied to all people everywhere. All we have to do is accept it and start living the life that God designed for us. He didn’t offer reconciliation to only a favored few and He didn’t extend His love only to a select group. It is true that God chose the Children of Israel, but it wasn’t because they were the best, the brightest, or the most numerous:

The LORD did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments. –Deuteronomy 7:7-9

House of PrayerWe also know that God’s love is not limited to Israel but extends to the whole world (John 3:16) and that what He created in Israel was to be a light to the nations, so that we could all call the House of God, a house of prayer:

In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. –Isaiah 2:2-4

And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” –Isaiah 60:6-7

So here we are, fighting and bickering with each other without considering how God sees us all. He’s like a Father who watches His small children argue and fight about who He loves the best, but in truth, He loves us all, just as we love all of our children, even though they are different from each other, and even though they sometimes act foolishly.

I read something written by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman which he applies to the Jewish people, but I think we can also adapt it for the rest of us:

The sages tell us that our father Jacob never died. “Since his children are alive, he is alive.”

Each and every Jew is the personification of his father Jacob, and the heart of each and every Jew is alive and beating strong. To say about any one of them that he is spiritually dead is to pronounce our father Jacob dead. If to you it appears that way, the fault is in you, not in the Jew you observe.

G-d sees only good in them. He will make great miracles for them and they will be safe.

We could say that our “Rebbe”, Jesus the Christ, the Jewish Messiah, lives in the heart of each of his disciples. He died but has risen and he sits at the Father’s right hand. He is alive in us and he makes us alive in him so that through him, we can be sons and daughters of the Father. We absolutely must remember though, that God sees the good in all people and He will make great miracles for everyone, and accepting God, we will all be safe in Him.

Come, let us sing for joy to the LORD;
let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come before him with thanksgiving
and extol him with music and song. –Psalm 95:1-2