Tag Archives: Strange Fire

Gifts of the Spirit in Review, Part 1

D. Thomas LancasterOn the last, great day of the festival, Yeshua stood and called out, saying “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. One who believes in me, as the word is written, from his belly will flow rivers of living water.” He said this about the spirit that those who believe in him would receive, because the Holy Spirit was not given before Yeshua was glorified.”

John 7:37-39 (DHE Gospels)

We confuse ourselves regarding the giving of the Holy Spirit when we assume that, prior to the Shavu’ot event described in Acts 2, Jewish people did not have the Holy Spirit. That assumption also leads us to believe that non-Messianic religious Jews after that could not possibly receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit, act in any capacity of the Holy Spirit, or perform miracles by the Holy Spirit. These assumptions, I believe, are based squarely upon a misunderstanding of John 7:39 where it says, “He said this about the spirit that those who believe in him would receive, because the Holy Spirit was not given before Yeshua was glorified.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter 3: A Pledge of What is to Come,” pg 39
Gifts of the Spirit

I so agreed with Lancaster’s statements in the third chapter of this book, and as originally presented at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot Conference “Gifts of the Spirit” last May at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin, that as I was mentally planning to write this blog post, I couldn’t imagine it being something that John MacArthur and the other presenters at last October’s Strange Fire conference would criticize. Then I re-read the opening of the chapter again and realized they would not only be dismayed, they would be startled. I mean, how could any “normative” Christian believe that “non-Christian” Jewish people would have any access at all to the Holy Spirit post-Acts 2?

But what I was considering was that Lancaster didn’t offer any commentary on the “gifts of the spirit” as being apprehended by the faithful in the modern era. His entire talk centered about “the ministry of Jesus” and the Messianic promises presented in the gospels and other areas of the Bible that involve the Spirit of God.

Consider Ezekiel 45:4-5 and the filling of the Third Temple by the Divine Presence, or Joel 2:28 where God’s Spirit will be “poured out on all flesh.”

But there is no Third Temple containing the Shechinah, and the Holy Spirit has yet to be poured out on all living beings of flesh, so obviously, the work of the Spirit and of Messiah is not complete. Not by a long shot. In fact, Lancaster considers the giving of the Spirit as we see it in Acts 2 and subsequently in the New Testament as a down payment on the future, and a promise of what is to come.

Where both Boaz Michael and Rabbi Carl Kinbar linked the Holy Spirit with the Torah, Lancaster associates the Spirit with the Temple.

The whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy Temple of the Lord. In him you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (emph. Lancaster)

Ephesians 2:21-22

Lancaster employs a play on the words “mishkan” and “mashkon”, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll have to refer you to the book for the details.

When we think of gifts of the Spirit, our mental image naturally reflects Pentecostal Christianity, since this is the denomination and movement that sought to restore the spiritual gifts of the church. And as we in the Messianic Jewish movement seek to objectively analyze and possibly incorporate the gifts of the Spirit, it is natural that we would begin by looking at Pentecostalism. But we should at least understand what Pentecostalism is and the mind-set that results in the outward expressions that we associate with the gifts of the Spirit. If we accurately understand Pentecostalism’s attitude toward the implementation of the gifts, then we can evaluate that viewpoint fairly and can determine which aspects of it are in line with a Messianic Jewish worldview and which are not.

-Aaron Eby
“Chapter 4: The Pentecostal Experience,” pg 53
Gifts of the Spirit

The first sentence Aaron uttered when he began this presentation was, “I spent most of my childhood years and my early adulthood in an Assemblies of God church.” Aaron brought a wealth of history and personal experience in describing how the “gifts of the Spirit” were practiced within his early church experience and then offered the counterpoint from a Messianic Jewish perspective. He was fair and honest in his appraisal of both without at any time denigrating or belittling anyone else’s religious orientation or perspective.

He did have this to say, which I tend to apply to the aforementioned “Strange Fire” conference, even though the “Gifts of the Spirit” Shavuot conference occurred a full five months before MacArthur’s gathering:

I saw another category of responders to Pentecostalism as well: the detractors, who thought we were either insane, demonic, or charlatans. That mind-set always offended me, and it still offends me to hear people speak of charismatics that way. There are probably all three kinds of people in the charismatic movement, but in my experience most of us were sincere, intelligent, sane, and spiritually healthy people who loved God.

-Eby, pg 54

To which any “Strange Fire” speaker would probably add, “…and you were also wrong.”

Aaron EbyI think what I took away from reading Aaron’s presentation and the very well-balanced nature of it, was how the focus between “Gifts of the Spirit” and “Strange Fire” were so different. Basically, they were addressing the same topic: the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit in our world today, but while MacArthur and Strange Fire defined itself as who and what they were against, FFOZ and Gifts of the Spirit defined themselves by who and what they were for.

That didn’t mean they didn’t tell the truth or watered down criticism. It meant that they did what Aaron said he wanted to do. They were fair.

I find that’s what attracts me to FFOZ and certain other individuals, organizations, and books: the desire to be fair and to be defined by what they believe in rather than who their “enemies” or “opponents” are. I can only imagine that if I were a Pentecostal sitting in a pew at Beth Immanuel and listening to these presentations (and I know some Pentecostals were present), I would be more inclined to listen and take note of what was being said, even when it contradicted my stated beliefs, than if I attended or listened to the podcasts of the Strange Fire conference.

Wearing a bow tie and jacket that clearly indicated that he was channeling his inner “Dr. Who,” Jacob Fronczak began his presentation “The Historical Context of Pentecostalism” (Chapter 5) with the words, “I love history.”

Though actually a Pastor, Jacob looks the part of the young history instructor at a liberal arts college who has just started teaching after receiving his degree. He did take the historical approach to Pentecostalism by way of nineteenth-century evangelicalism, enlightenment and post-enlightenment, heresy trials, modernism, fundamentalism, and finally, “Azusa Street.”

The “Strange Fire” conference also provided a historical approach, specifically with Steve Lawson’s presentation on Charismatic Calvinists, as well as Lawson’s commentary on Puritans vs. Quakers, but the difference was that Fronczak refused to take any sides, presenting history as history, a series of influential events that shape our understanding of both the past and the present, in an attempt to discover why “do some (churches) believe that these gifts were temporary means to grow the church in the first century while others believe that they are valid expressions of faith today” (pg 76).

There was also a more pointed reason for Fronczak reviewing the history as he did (pg 89):

Understanding how and why these movements came to be is a prerequisite to fully understanding their traditions — why their adherents practice the way they do. Once they are understood, these traditions can be analyzed, sorted through, and brought into line with the Scripture and with the emerging Messianic Jewish corpus of tradition.

He further said that we “must have a balanced, historical perspective on our own faith as well as on the faith of those who do not share our convictions.” Yet another piece of evidence that trying to authentically understand even those with whom we do not agree is a better and more noble road to communication and promoting healthy change (in my opinion, anyway) than wholesale “demonizing” of Pentecostals and Charismatics.

Aaron Eby returned to the podium for his presentation “The Miracles of Yeshua” (Chapter 6) to explain the relationship between Jesus and the Holy Spirit relative to the miracles of Christ.

John MacArthurThat Jesus had the Holy Spirit rest upon him is not in dispute (Matthew 3:16, Luke 3:22) as well as the fact that he performed many miracles in the three years of his ministry, but the question Aaron raised at the conference and in the pages of this chapter is the purpose of those miracles.

Somewhere in my “Challies Chronicles” notes, there is a reference to one presenter (it may have even been John MacArthur) stating that miracles were to validate the message of the gospel and that the speaker was an apostle (this also presumably applies to validating Jesus as “the Christ”). Once that need was fulfilled, according to cessationists, the “gifts of the spirit” stopped.

Aaron disputes that the miracles of Jesus were to validate the authenticity of his teachings or his identity as Messiah or Divine.

If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, “Let us go after other gods,” which you have not known, “and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams.

Deuteronomy 13:1-3

The Bible is replete with tales of prophets and magicians who did not serve God and who were able to perform miraculous signs and wonders, so the fact that someone can perform miracles is no indication at all that they must be a servant of God. So much for the cessationist rationale for the purpose of miracles in the New Testament.

There were a number of episodes in the FFOZ television series A Promise of What is to Come that touched on what the miracles of Jesus and the apostles were supposed to communicate: the Gospel message of the coming Kingdom of God. If you followed my reviews of the show, you’ll likely see the connection.

That said, Aaron concluded (pg 110):

There are a few things that we can take away from this. First of all, miracles and signs should not be our primary focus. If they are, we place the cart before the horse, since miracles are simply the byproduct of the nearness of the kingdom. It is not for us to decide whether or not miracles should be happening in our day and age. Our particular beliefs on the matter do not dictate to God whether he will or will not do miracles for us. Rather, our Master taught us, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). Thus, our goal should be to bring the kingdom nearer and to bring ourselves nearer to the kingdom.

What we believe, the theology to which we cling, and the doctrine we espouse, does not define God to God, it only helps define God to flawed and imperfect human beings.

In “Chapter 7, The Age of Miracles,” Toby Janicki asks if the age of miracles ended with the closure of canon or the death of the last apostle. And if miracles are happening today, where are they? Why don’t we see them?

Toby didn’t use the terms “cessationist” or “continualist” but he did say that the proponents of the end of the age of miracles often use 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 to justify their point of view. The problem is that “when the perfect comes” is up for grabs. How could “the perfect” be the death of the last apostle or the canonization of scripture (it wasn’t finally canonized for several centuries after John, the last of original apostles, died)?

From Toby’s point of view, “the perfect” can only mean the Messianic Age (see Jeremiah 31:34 and Joel 2:28-29 for instance).

Cessationists say that miracles were only to get the Church “off the ground,” so to speak. If that’s true, what about all of the miracles in the Old Testament (Tanakh)?

toby_janicki_vimeoOf course, it depends on what you define as a miracle. I just read about a miraculous healing of a Christian woman being treated for a cancerous tumor in Israel in the Israel Today online magazine. No special “faith healer” was involved, nor did anyone claim they utilized a “gift of the spirit” in her healing. It was just God. Her doctors had no explanation for why her tumor so dramatically reduced in size.

Toby says that a miracle doesn’t have to break the laws of physics. First off, our physical laws just describe what we observe about the usual behavior of the universe, it’s not a law code like the Torah. Toby pointed out that famed Christian theologian C.S. Lewis had much to say about miracles and their continuation in our world.

Of course, we’re not apostles, who were unique witnesses to Messiah, and so we shouldn’t expect to operate at their lofty spiritual level, but that doesn’t prohibit God from acting supernaturally, even today. In fact, if the Holy Spirit wasn’t active, no one would ever come to faith, which I consider a miracle. Toby also mentioned, that it doesn’t matter what a person does or doesn’t believe (relative to cessationism or continualism), since God acts according to His own will, not ours.

He made a number of other good points (buy the book if you want to find out what they are) but I thought this part of his conclusion was important (pg 131-2):

Miracles, as we have said, are not an end in themselves; they are not the goal for which the disciple labors. They are evidence of the Holy Spirit working among us, and they should, as they did with the apostles in Acts, instill in us the fear of the Lord. Miracles should cause us to tremble as we realize that God is among us and we become aware of his presence.

If the goal of our faith is receiving spiritual gifts of supernatural powers for healing or whatever, then we are nothing more than “spiritual thrillseekers.” Toby’s right. Seek first the Kingdom of God. God will take care of the rest.

There are four more chapters in this book and for the sake of length, I’ll cover them in Part 2 of this review.

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Gifts of the Spirit in Balance

Carl KinbarMany years ago — it seems as if it was another lifetime — I was a Jewish Christian attending a very large charismatic conference. In the midst of literally thousands of worshiping men and women, I stood that day enraptured with the presence of God. Then, bowed by his majesty, I prostrated myself on the floor as the singing continued. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I did not look up. After a few moments, a man spoke these words to me: “You will feed on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” I waited for more, but that was it. “You will feed on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” When I finally glanced over my shoulder, the man was already walking away.

-Rabbi Carl Kinbar
“For the Common Good,” pg 19
Gifts of the Spirit

I really didn’t want to review this book chapter by chapter, but sometimes I have difficulty distancing myself far enough from a creative work to take it all in. Each chapter, such as this presentation by Rabbi Kinbar, packs in a great deal of information that is hard to ignore or dilute.

I remember Carl saying those words (the quote above) when I attended the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot Conference “Gifts of the Spirit” last May at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. I was taking notes as fast as I could and probably got some things wrong in what he and the other presenters said, which is why I’m grateful for this book.

I’m also grateful for this book because it arrived after my multiple commentaries on Pastor John MacArthur’s own conference addressing “gifts of the spirit,” which he called Strange Fire (thanks to the liveblogging of Pastor Tim Challies I was able to sample each presentation without wading through days of audio recordings).

I’ll try not to review each chapter of the “Gifts” book, especially as it would fly in the face of my previously stated intent to blog less often, but we’ll see what happens.

Going back to the above-quoted comment of Rabbi Kinbar with which he opened his “For the Common Good” presentation, Carl had no idea what had happened after his unusual encounter so many years ago, or what “the inheritance of your father Jacob” meant. Carl supposed the unknown speaker knew he was Jewish and chose the phrase “father Jacob” from that knowledge.

Ultimately, Carl learned that “the inheritance of your father Jacob” references Isaiah 58 and the various fasts. It also has “something to do with the land of Israel, the vision of Jacob’s ladder, and what God had promised to Jacob and his descendants.” (Kinbar, pg 20)

A few sentences later, Carl referred to the words he heard from that mysterious gentleman as a “prophesy.” As it turns out, the usage of that word seems appropriate.

Since I’m filtering “Gifts of the Spirit” through “Strange Fire,” I suppose I should mention that referring to the experience as a “prophesy” would no doubt make the “Strange Fire” folks a little uncomfortable. I didn’t think much of it at the time when I was listening to Carl at the conference, but I too must admit to always being at least a little skeptical about supernatural occurrences intruding on “real life”.

Nevertheless, Carl is one of the most theologically grounded and realistic people I know (and also a kind and gentle person). He’s the one who is likely to email me or comment on my blog when he thinks I’ve gone too far in making a connection between midrash and scripture. He’s never impressed me as someone who leads with his feelings at the expense of his intellect, and I consider him highly intelligent, very well-educated, and certainly well read. Hardly someone who experiences God on a purely visceral level.

I’m reminded of a rather interesting (though minor) experience of my own in church some months ago. I was sitting in Sunday school class waiting for the socializing to die down and the actual teaching to begin. I was feeling gloomy and discouraged. My presence in church wasn’t what I thought it would be and I was pondering how long I would last before someone would suggest I leave for “heretical” beliefs (such as the idea that the Torah mitzvot continues to be in force for all believing and unbelieving Jewish people) or that I’d just stop going.

Then a woman who I had never seen before approached me, smiled, and said “Shalom Aleichem.” I was momentarily startled by this greeting in such a Christian context. I assumed she knew my wife was Jewish and chose her words accordingly. After chatting with her for a few minutes, I asked why she had greeted me that way. As it turns out, she had no idea my wife was Jewish and couldn’t really articulate why she said “Shalom Aleichem.”

I was grateful anyway, and it did brighten my mood. It seems God knows who and what to send into your life at certain necessary points. Not quite what Carl experienced, which ultimately led him into Messianic Jewish studies and practice, but it will do.

In going over this chapter, I was taken with how Carl, who had spent the better part of forty years as a Jewish Christian in a Charismatic church, characterized the experience. He said they emphasized “worship and teaching” and I didn’t get the idea that anyone checked their brains at the door as they entered.

Charismatic prayerCarl said later in his presentation, that he didn’t believe that the gifts of the spirit were the same now as in the days of Paul, due to the change in purpose and context. He even admitted that there were times when he felt that some “spiritual healings” were not really on the up and up. He did also say that he has witnessed at least one authentic spiritual healing. On that occasion, he so inspired by the event that he kept the crutches of the healed woman (as she no longer needed them) in his office.

I got to thinking about one of the criticisms of the Charismatic movement by MacArthur and company was that these “gifts” were not consistent, while in the Bible, they never seemed to fail or to work only intermittently.

Except that’s not quite true:

When they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus, falling on his knees before Him and saying, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is a lunatic and is very ill; for he often falls into the fire and often into the water. I brought him to Your disciples, and they could not cure him.” And Jesus answered and said, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured at once.

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”

Matthew 17:14-20 (NASB)

It seems sufficient faith is required of the one attempting to exercise a spiritual gift and possibly the one who is the recipient. I don’t think such a thing can be reduced to a formula and in any event, the source of such gifts is God and if healing, casting out demons, or whatever, is not in His plan or for His glory, He will not empower the individuals involved with such gifts. I should say that while I can’t discount the existence and workings of the Holy Spirit as He empowers individual human beings on certain occasions, I consider them rare and I believe many of us can go though our entire lives and not demonstrate any such gifts.

For that matter, in the New Testament, and particularly in the Gospels, demon-possessed people seemed to be extremely common, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen one. If demon possession continues to exist in our world, then it must be as rare as dramatic spiritual gifts.

In my previous commentary on the “Gifts of the Spirit” book, I said that Boaz Michael described Torah and the Spirit as completely inseparable. Carl, in his presentation, linked Christ crucified, the Spirit, and the Torah together.

For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:2 (NASB)

Paul was a well-educated man in the tradition of the Pharisees, so it’s unlike him to go into a situation armed with only the knowledge of “Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” yet, according to Carl, this is the crux of the matter for all of us. If we don’t fully apprehend why Jesus had to die as a sinless man, and then be resurrected, giving us all the promise of eternal life, then our faith is in vain (see my review of the FFOZ TV series episode Resurrection for details).

According to Carl, Spiritual gifts, particularly verbal gifts, are to impart wisdom. After all, we cannot understand the Word of God, the Bible, at all apart from the help of the Spirit of God. This was one of the reasons, perhaps one of the most important ones, why Messiah had to depart from us.

“But now I am going to Him who sent Me; and none of you asks Me, ‘Where are You going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged.

“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”

John 16:5-14 (NASB)

We have the Spirit with us as a helper, speaking not on his own behest but only the words from God, and it seems that Messiah’s intent was that the Spirit would continue to help us until his return (or perhaps even beyond that).

MysteryAnd the Spirit is supposed to impart wisdom about the Word for the purpose of drawing us nearer to God, not just as individuals (for Carl’s own experience was personal) but for the common good of the body of Messiah.

That’s why I can’t see the “gifts of the spirit” being authentic if they in any way distract us from God and who He is as well as Messiah, and him crucified. If spiritual gifts lead in a different direction, then they can’t be from the Spirit of God, which may account for some of the abuses attributed to the Charismatic movement.

Carl cited Isaiah 53:4-6 as a strong description of the knowledge of a crucified Messiah, which the Spirit points to, as well as this:

For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

1 Corinthians 2:10-13 (NASB)

Let’s look at part of that again:

…for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him?

Trying to visualize the Spirit of God searching the depths of God borders on the mystic. What does it mean except that the Spirit of God acts as a portal to all knowledge of God, not that human beings could access even the tiniest fraction of that infinite storehouse. The Spirit of God is the gateway into spiritual thought for people. Without that gateway, we would be locked outside in the secular world, with no way to know God or to even believe He exists.

Paul’s reason for emphasizing the verbal gifts was not that he thought healing and miracles are unimportant…

In 1 Corinthians, chapter 2, “wisdom” words appear nine times and “knowledge” words five times…

-Kinbar, pp 27 and 28

Paul was a scholar and a teacher. For him, spiritual gifts were God’s means to illuminate people with the knowledge of God and the crucified Christ, not to put on some sort of “magic show” or to elevate the possessors of said-gifts to some exalted status. If the manifestation of the Spirit does not reveal God, the Messiah, and the Word of God, then it is not from God, for that is the purpose (in my own opinion) of the Spirit in our world today.

Carl quoted the following to show the connection between Messiah and the Spirit, substituting “HaShem” for “the Lord”:

Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
The Spirit of [HaShem] will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of [HaShem].
And He will delight in the fear of the [HaShem].

Isaiah 11:1-3 (NASB)

The connection between the Torah and wisdom can be found in these verses:

See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as HaShem my God commanded me, so that you should do them in the land which you are entering to possess it. So guard them and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statues and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.”

Deuteronomy 4:5-6 (Kinbar’s translation)

Carl goes on to say that the “relationship between the Spirit of God and the Torah is seen even more vividly in Ezekiel 36, in which God promises to bring back the exiles of Israel to their land:”

For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 36:24-26 (NASB)

That one threw me a little, since Ezekiel is describing a situation that has yet to occur, but it does serve to remind us that we cannot bifurcate the Spirit of God from anything else about God, such as Himself, His Word, and the Messiah.

While the Torah, Messiah, and the Spirit can be spoken about separately at times, they cannot be separated in reality. When Paul wrote about the spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians, he did not mention the Torah because of the specific circumstances in Corinth, but neither did he nor God ever intend for Torah to be left out of the picture permanently.

-Kinbar, pg 36

It’s difficult for me to compress Carl’s points in this blog post and still trace the path of logic adequately so if you think something’s been left out, I encourage you to get a copy of Gifts of the Spirit and read the entire article.

Carl did say one more thing I want to point out.

But the traditional charismatic framework is not adequate for a fully Messianic Jewish expression of the gifts of the Spirit.

-ibid

Carl, and the other presenters at the “Gifts of the Spirit” conference, by necessity, must refactor the charismatic movement and that understanding of the “gifts of the spirit” into a form that is more appropriate for a Jewish and Messianic Jewish context.

A Promise of What is to ComeI’ve mentioned before, citing the FFOZ TV series A Promise of What is to Come, that by viewing scripture including the New Testament writings through a Messianic Jewish lens, we can capture a perspective that has been lost to the Church since the days of the apostles. This includes an understanding of the process of the Holy Spirit, how He worked in the past and how He is working today.

As I’ve already mentioned, I’m something of a skeptic. Except for a few minor, transitory experiences, I can’t say that I’ve witnessed a demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit, and certainly not “spiritual gifts” in or around my own personal world of faith. Like I said, if they exist, they must be pretty rare or poorly advertised. I also think that enough charlatans have exploited the fertile spiritual soil so as to make the rest of us feel that anyone who claims “miraculous gifts” must be a rip-off artist.

It makes it difficult for me and people like me to listen objectively when someone talks about what they experience as an authentic spiritual occurrence.

Does the Holy Spirit work in our world today? Absolutely, otherwise, no one would come to faith and the Bible would seem like foolishness to all of us. Who was that man who touched Carl Kinbar on the shoulder so many years ago, and spoke of Carl’s feeding “on the inheritance of your father Jacob”? A prophet? An angel? I have no idea.

I do know, and I’ve said this before, that the FFOZ Book “Gifts of the Spirit” offers us an opportunity to read a counterpoint to John MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference and to see for ourselves the differing perspectives of dedicated and devout men and women, all of whom, in all their different religious “camps,” are seeking to know God and to balance our understanding of Creator, Spirit, Torah, and Messiah.

Gifts of the Spirit, Torah, and Gospel

Spirit, Torah, and Good NewsThe theme of this year’s conference is “The Gifts of the Spirit.” To be honest, when the First Fruit of Zion staff first suggested this theme, I was not excited about it at all. I’m not what you might call a Pentecostal type of person. Growing up, my Jewish background was secular and non-religious, until my family got involved in a Baptist church, and then eventually Messianic Judaism, but I have never been what you might think of as a holy roller.

So when the staff suggested this theme for the conference, I groaned. I thought, “What in the world would we possibly have to say about gifts of the Holy Spirit?” I pictured us trying to act Pentecostal and Spirit-filled.

-Boaz Michael
“Let’s Get Pentecostal,” pg 5
Gifts of the Spirit

Note: This book is a compilation of the presentations given at the “Gifts of the Spirit” conference, organized by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) and held during the festival of Shavuot in May 2013 at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin.

I was surprised at the conference, and again by reading black text on a white background, that the modern Messianic Jewish movement was highly influenced by the Pentecostal church. Early Messianic services emphasized the Holy Spirit, called Ruach HaChodesh in Hebrew, but said-services were indistinguishable from their Charismatic Christian counterparts. Small wonder Boaz was less than enthusiastic when his staff suggested a “Gifts of the Spirit” theme for last year’s Shavuot conference.

But like so many other beliefs and practices in modern Christianity, the concept of the Holy Spirit was appropriated from ancient Jewish origins. After all, “Pentecostal” refers back, way back to the Acts 2 event which occurred on the Jewish festival of Shavuot, which in the Church is called Pentecost.

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.

Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)

While the giving of the Spirit depicted above was a unique experience, Pentecost, or Shavuot, is an annual event, speaking to the Jewish people of the will of God and their response to Him. It is said that God gave Moses and the Children of Israel the Torah on Shavuot, so devout Jews consider it is the anniversary of the giving of the Law to the Israelites. But for Messianic Jews, and not a few Gentiles, it is also the anniversary of another gift, the power of the Holy Spirit, which enabled the apostles to fulfill their mission and their purpose of spreading the good news of the Moshiach to the Jews and Gentiles in Judea, Samaria, and ultimately across the globe.

And so we come to the Holy Spirit and what it means in Messianic Judaism today.

So that’s our objective at this conference. We want to recontextualize the role of the Holy Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. To accomplish this, we must first understand the Spirit and the gifts from a Jewish perspective. What were the gifts? How did they function among first-century believers? Why? What was their purpose? What role did they play in first-century Messianic Judaism?

-Boaz Michael, pg 7

I quoted above how the Holy Spirit of God filled the apostles on an occasion which my Pastor calls “the birthday of the Church.” And yet, is this a completely New Testament concept?

This is not a New Testament idea. The Torah uses the same terminology to describe the endowment of God’s Spirit on Joshua, Caleb, Bezalel, and Oholiab. In those examples, the Torah compares a person to a vessel. God’s Spirit can fill a human being like water can fill a jar.

-ibid, pg 9

Receiving the SpiritThe Church believes that when a person truly becomes a believer, they are filled with the Holy Spirit, even though in the modern age, there are no visible or auditory cues that speak of the event; no rushing of wind or tongues of fire. Also, in Acts 2, the in-filling of the Spirit was like those more ancient days of which Boaz speaks, when the Spirit didn’t fill everyone, but only certain ones in order to enable those people to accomplish certain tasks, such as the apostles, the witnesses of the resurrected Messiah, to be able to spread the gospel message.

Boaz also writes of many other incidents in the Torah and the Prophets whereby a person or even groups of people received the Spirit.

And if we compare the events in Exodus 20 to the Acts 2 experience of the apostles, there are striking similarities, enough for Boaz to call the Acts 2 event a “second giving of Torah.”

What does it all mean? It means that the disciples of Yeshua experienced the day of Pentecost as a second giving of the Torah. They knew the rabbinic legends about the words of fire dividing into seventy languages as they left the mouth of God (Boaz references Shmot Rabbah 5:9). They knew the story of God’s voice speaking to all mankind in every tongue. Those legends gave significance to the miracles and signs and wonders that they experienced on Shavu’ot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah.

-ibid, pg 12

I’m reminded of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference and subsequent book which I know fails to address the ancient Jewish perspective on the Holy Spirit. But then, MacArthur’s purpose was not to examine the Biblical history or merits of the Holy Spirit, particularly from a Jewish point of view, but to more narrowly focus on the detrimental effect Pentecostals and Charismatics have on the larger body of the Christian Church today. Boaz Michael and the Shavuot conference “Gifts of the Spirit,” held five months prior to the MacArthur conference, took a completely different course. While Michael cites the Jewish perspective as linking Spirit and Torah (Bible), MacArthur declares that Pentecostalism divorces the Word of God from the Spirit of God, inordinately focusing on the later and all but ignoring the former.

But what if they were meant, as Boaz suggests, to go hand in hand? Moreover, what if the giving of the Spirit is the fulfillment of prophesy in a way MacArthur likely missed? Jeremiah 31:33 referring to the New Covenant, states that God will put His Torah within His people and write it on their hearts, while Ezekiel 36:27 says that God will put His Spirit within His people in order to cause them (the Jewish people in this context) to walk in His statues and to obey His rules (Torah).

R.C. SproulOf course, MacArthur and his conference presenters didn’t totally deny any activity of the Holy Spirit in the life of a genuine believer today, just that certain “gifts of the Spirit” were not carried over into the post-canonical world.

I guess I should mention that Strange Fire presenter R.C. Sproul did speak about Pentecost in relation to the Charismatic movement, but his perspective was hardly Jewish and he suggested (and I don’t know if he really meant this…I hope not because of its anti-Jewish/anti-Semitic implications) that only those Israelites (such as the prophets) who received the Holy Spirit were saved, not all Israelites who had faith and genuinely obeyed God.

Strange Fire speaker Tom Pennington did say that the work of the Spirit in today’s Church is not null and void, only that specific gifts have ceased:

The label “Cessationism” is negative, but the real problem is that it has been easily caricatured as believing that the Spirit has ceased his work. But the fact is that we who are cessationists believe the Holy Spirit has continued his work. Nothing eternal happens in a person apart from the Holy Spirit. Temporal things can happen, but nothing eternal. We only believe the Spirit has ceased in one function: the miraculous gifts, such as tongues, prophecy, and healing.

Church doctrine states that in order for believers to rightly interpret the scriptures, they must be helped by the Holy Spirit. It is also believed that the Spirit draws each person to God, indwells within each person as he or she comes to faith, and then enables them (us) to break free of the chains of sin and to live lives pleasing to God. While mainstream Christianity depends on the Holy Spirit to help us understand the words of God, the Jewish perspective, according to Boaz, goes even further:

It means that the work of the Spirit is fundamental to Messianic Judaism. If the Torah is important to Messianic Judaism, so is the Holy Spirit. We should not try to separate the two. They are married together.

-Michael, pg 13

It’s one thing to speak of the activity of the Spirit in the apostolic era and before, and another thing to apply it to the life of a believer in the 21st century. Unless you are deeply involved in the Charismatic movement, your experiences with the Spirit of God may not seem very tangible or even noticeable. We assent to the existence of the Spirit of God and we believe the Spirit is influential in our lives, but only invisibly, intangibly, unperceptively. In other words, when/if the Spirit is at work in our lives, chances are, most of the time, we can’t tell.

As MacArthur’s conference pointed out (at least to me), the different factions of Christianity seem woefully out of balance. The Pentecostals seek the Spirit above all else. Evangelicals/Fundamentalists rely solely on reading/studying the Bible for their understanding of God. Some people primarily pray. Some focus on preaching. Others believe evangelizing on the mission field is the only way to go. Boaz suggests that we need to be sitting on a three-legged stool to avoid falling this way, that way, or the other way. The three legs are:

  • The Spirit of the Lord
  • The Torah of Moses
  • The Gospel of the Messianic Kingdom

Note that each of the three legs must be of equal length, of the same strength, and equally secured to the platform upon which we are seated so we don’t start leaning in a particular direction or have our foundation break down beneath us. Boaz mentioned another “three legs” which we should be pondering.

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:12-13 (NASB)

white-pigeon-kotelIn reflecting on the “Gifts of the Spirit” conference, which I attended last May, MacArthur’s “Strange Fire,” and Michael L. Brown’s hastily constructed response to MacArthur called Authentic Fire, I can’t help but think that the FFOZ Gifts of the Spirit book, while not really a “response” to MacArthur, would have been a better way to speak to the Pentecostal community than the “Strange Fire” approach. In fact, as I recall, there were a number of Pentecostals at the Shavuot event, and they were made to feel welcome and participate fully. If FFOZ’s “Gifts of the Spirit” had received the same “press” as “Strange Fire” in the Christian media space, it might have made MacArthur’s efforts superfluous.

Something to consider at any rate.

The Challies Chronicles: Summing It All Up, Part 2

strange-pyreIf you haven’t done so already, please read the first part of “Summing It All Up” before continuing here.

Part 2 of the interview between Tim Challies and John MacArthur was published a few days after the first installment, and Challies says that several weeks have passed since the end of the conference. When Challies wrote his blog post, MacArthur’s Strange Fire book was to be released the following day, so from a marketing standpoint, the Challies blog was quite timely.

Kicking off the interview, Challies asked:

There are many areas of doctrine in which well-respected, godly theologians hold opposing views, and the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit are just one of them. Again, we are thinking here of the best and most gospel-centered of the continuationists. Why focus on this area now when it threatens to inhibit unity and further divide true believers? Why not focus on baptism or eschatology or another issue?

That’s a good question. There are probably thousands of different expressions or variations of Christianity worldwide, and they all disagree with each other about something. MacArthur comes across as completely sure of himself about everything, and completely sure he understands 100% of the content of the Bible (at least that’s the impression I get from what he says), in spite of the fact that there are numerous New Testament scholars in educational and research facilities across the globe who continuously are exploring new understandings about the apostolic era and what it means to Christians today. How can MacArthur believe he knows everything there is to know about a subject in the Bible and why does he choose to take this specific issue head on?

All true believers are unified at the core on those distinctives in the Spirit; but it takes time and study to experience that unity in our relationships. That’s why love must energize our quest for practical unity (Phil. 1:27)—love for God and His truth and love for one another. Even in 1 Corinthians 13:6, in the heart of Paul’s discussion about spiritual gifts, the apostle reminded his readers that “love rejoices in the truth.” So, drawing attention to serious error—error that’s being tolerated even in some of the otherwise-healthiest of churches—in order to recover and uphold the truth is a loving thing to do.

While it might be hard for some to understand, it was love that drove me to write this book and have this conference: love for God and His honor, love for His truth, love for His church and her purity, and, in the cases of the prosperity gospel that pervades the global movement, a love for the millions of souls who are trapped by some of the most deceitful false teaching that history has ever seen. It is my earnest desire and prayer to see the church unified. But a unity that knowingly tolerates error is not the unity that Scripture promotes. So, if we want to be truly unified, we have to be willing to confront error for the sake of the truth. And that might mean that superficial unity is disrupted.

MacArthur also said that he has taken on other issues in the past but, as you can read, both above, and by clicking the links to the interviews, he considers this particular problem vital in the world of Christian faith. I’ll take him at his word and believe he really does love the people he’s discussing, although from some of the responses I’ve read, his critics don’t feel loved. I’m no fan of the prosperity gospel, but again, that’s just one manifestation of the Charismatic movement, and I still think it could have been addressed in a more focused and measured way.

Challies asked:

We often hear today that many believers from a Muslim background—especially those from closed countries who do not have easy access to God’s Word—are claiming they had a vision of Christ and that in this vision he directed them to a place or person where they could hear the gospel. This proclamation of the gospel led to their conversion. Do you believe these stories? Do you consider such visions a valid means that God may work in our world today?

heavenly-manOh, that. Of course, MacArthur believes such events are completely bogus and not even a single supernatural event revealed Christ to a Muslim (or anyone else) apart from the Bible.

But that also contradicts much of what a Chinese evangelist named Brother Yun wrote in his book The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun. I reviewed this book nearly ten months ago (it was given to me by a friend), and Yun describes situations that occurred after China’s Communist Revolution, where Christ was supernaturally revealed to people who had absolutely no access to Bibles or Christian Missionaries. If you lock down a nation so tightly that no foreign Missionaries are allowed in and it’s nearly impossible to smuggle in even portions of a Bible, is God not going to act?

I can’t testify to the validity of any of these supernatural acts. I haven’t witnessed any of them. In reading Yun’s book, even I thought certain portions seemed exaggerated or fabricated. But then again, I can’t completely discount the possibility of God directly intervening in our universe, performing acts that defy the natural laws we are accustomed to in order accomplish His purposes.

According to what I’ve been told, MacArthur believes he was physically attacked, in front of witnesses, by a demon possessed woman but he doesn’t believe that even one person could have had a revelation of Jesus in a vision. Go figure.

Regarding the visions in question, it is important to recognize that those who have investigated such claims have found the evidence to be sorely lacking. For example, this article directly addresses the issue.

I suppose that brings us to the crux of the matter. Do I believe that people in the Muslim world are actually seeing Jesus Christ? No, I do not. Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 15:8 that he was “the last of all” to see the risen Christ. So, I believe that precludes anyone outside of those listed in 1 Corinthians 15 of being able to claim legitimate visions of the resurrected Savior. (The apostle John, of course, was one of those included in 1 Corinthians 15. Accordingly, I don’t believe the book of Revelation sets a precedent for believers to expect genuine visions of Jesus to occur throughout church history.)

Furthermore, it is important to note that these individuals are still unbelievers when they reportedly have these experiences. Consequently, these experiences (whatever they are reported to be) cannot constitute examples of the charismatic gifts having continued, since spiritual gifts are only given to believers (1 Cor. 12:7)—and these people do not come to saving faith until later.

Finally, the New Testament clearly states that the way in which the gospel is spread in this age is through preaching.

Receiving the SpiritIf performing a supernatural act were the only way for God to communicate to a non-believer in order to further His plan, would God be inhibited because the person He was trying to reach was a non-believer? Good grief, God even revealed Himself to Laban in a dream (Genesis 31:24) and he spoke directly with the evil magician Baalam (see Numbers 22:9-12 for an example) when Balak, King of Moab, wanted the sorcerer to curse Israel.

It seems you don’t have to be a believer to hear from God.

No one comes to God as part of a rational process, it’s a leap of faith, and I believe God does make Himself known in some manner, in order to bring people to Him. No, I never had a dream, saw a vision, or heard a voice from Heaven, but a long series of extremely unlikely events happened in my life in a period of six months to a year which ultimately brought me to faith. The process wasn’t entirely intellectual. I didn’t read and study the Bible with the result that I believed and came to faith in Christ. God did something inside to bring me to Him. I can’t articulate it. I just know it happened.

And preaching was really only a very minor part in my finally professing faith.

I suppose John MacArthur would think I’m some kind of fruit loop.

Challies asked a number of other important questions, but the last one really got my attention:

The Strange Fire conference focused primarily on the worst examples of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements. While the charlatans rightfully need to be exposed and rebuked, there are also many godly Christians who feel like they have been unjustly tarnished with an overly broad generalization.

Exactly! I think a lot of people feel unjustly targeted, insulted, and maligned by the multiple presentations at the “Strange Fire” conference.

MacArthur responded in part by saying:

First, I want to clearly state that I take no joy in being perceived as unloving or in hurting the feelings of fellow believers. My heart is deeply burdened by the errors and excesses that I have spoken out against in Strange Fire. I do not issue these criticisms flippantly. I would also direct readers to the first part of this interview, where I interact with the idea that I have made an overly broad generalization.

But for those who want to get angry at me, I would humbly suggest that such anger is misplaced.

Charismatic prayerMacArthur went on to say that after the conference, he read a blog post written by a Pentecostal named Josiah Batten called A Pentecostal in (General) Support of the Strange Fire Conference (Challies didn’t provide a link on his blog post but I’m inserting it here so you can read Batten’s content). In a nutshell, MacArthur was thrilled with this response because he had achieved his goal with the individual involved: MacArthur had gotten him to think, to consider MacArthur’s position without defensiveness.

Oh, MacArthur and Batten didn’t end up agreeing, but Batten did point out some of the obvious issues with the Pentecostal movement while also acknowledging that he thought MacArthur had made some mistakes in his theology.

The interview dribbled out and ended without much flourish. There were lots and lots of comments in response on both of the Challies blog posts (comments are now closed) which may add some dimension, but I don’t really want to read hundreds of these statements and then try to say something about them.

In trying to sum all this up in my head, it seems like the conference offered one general impression and these interviews presented a somewhat related or parallel process. I think the conference really did paint with an overly broad brush and depicted all or the vast majority of Charismatics everywhere are dangerous or potentially dangerous, rather than just “wrong.”

Given the opportunity, MacArthur (with a MacArthur-friendly interviewer) was able to add more details to his views and, in certain instances, soften them up a bit. He remains hard-line in the end that he’s right and that the people who disagree with him should change and join him. He bases this stance on the perception that his interpretation of the Bible must, because of his scholarship, be correct in an absolute or near-absolute sense, and that he cannot be wrong.

Granted, if he’s trying to convince people to change, he can’t actually admit that he could be capable of error in his interpretations and assumptions, so confidence (to the point of arrogance sometimes) is expected. On the other hand, John MacArthur is indeed human and as such, he is just as capable of being wrong as the next man, even a highly educated and well-read next man. A certain tradition drives MacArthur’s perception as much as a learned interpretation of scripture, although that tradition, by necessity, drives MacArthur to deny that tradition has anything to do with how he perceives the Bible.

I agree that the study and the quest for correctly understanding scripture is the first and best means of understanding the intent and will of God for our lives. I’m also aware that exactly how we go about it, what system we employ, and the set of traditions (whether we’re conscious of them or not) that filter our interpretations are going to result in different believers coming to different conclusions about what the Bible is saying to us.

Beyond all that, once we believe we have discovered “truth,” what we do about it is critical. We can choose to demonize those we disagree with or we can find another way to get our point across. Frankly, demonizing people is a better way to get attention. Holding a controversial conference will definitely draw a much bigger crowd than a less dramatic and perhaps more user-friendly approach.

And MacArthur wants to draw a big crowd. In fact, he wants to attract the estimated 500 million Charismatics in the world. Yes, he got his message across to a lot of people. The book, at least in the short run (once marketing runs out of steam, the popularity of the book will likely dwindle), will reach even more folks than the “buzz” about the conference.

MacArthurBad press is still press, so everyone who criticizes MacArthur, including little ol’ me, still makes sure that he’s not ignored. Being ignored is the worst possible outcome that could happen to MacArthur and the “Strange Fire” conference and book. If people just paid no attention to him or them (like they should have to the recent comments of Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame), then MacArthur and his views would have nowhere to go.

But MacArthur knows enough about human nature to make sure that he and “Strange Fire” would never be ignored and in fact, would grab lots and lots of attention and press in the Christian media space.

But as I said before, his entire goal wasn’t just to get attention, but to get Charismatics to think and even to change. Has he accomplished this? Making 500 million people feel insulted, abused, and harassed usually doesn’t get them to agree with you. I’m sure A&E’s banning Phil Robertson from being part of filming Duck Dynasty or GLAAD getting in Robertson’s face (figuratively) over their perceptions of his motives won’t elicit an apology and change of theological opinion from the Duck Dynasty patriarch anytime soon.

If MacArthur wants to transform even a non-trival number of Pentecostals into sola scriptura Fundamentalists, I don’t really know what he could have done differently to accomplish his task. I just don’t see what he actually did working, at least not for very many people. I think the audience that listened to him the most was the one that was already convinced. I think he was “preaching to the choir.”

The Challies Chronicles: Summing It All Up, Part 1

John MacArthurJohn MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference has come and gone and the book will be shipping next week. Whatever you felt about the conference, there is little doubt that a lot of work and a lot of discussion remain as we, the church, consider the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit. In the aftermath of the event, and with the book on its way, I think we all have questions we’d like to ask Dr. MacArthur. A week ago I asked for your questions and sent them through to him. Here are his answers to the first batch of questions. I anticipate adding a second part to this interview within the week.

What was the purpose of such a controversial conference like Strange Fire? Why did you choose not to invite one of the best of the reformed continuationists to speak at your event and to defend his position? Wouldn’t that have strengthened the cessationist arguments while also showing an earnest desire for unity?

-from an interview of John MacArthur by Tim Challies:
“John MacArthur Answers His Critics,” November 4, 2013
Challies.com

This, and the second part of the dialog between MacArthur and Challies is a forum for Pastor MacArthur to respond to the criticism he received as a result of his Strange Fire conference. I’m going to put my impressions into two blog posts as well (a single blog post would be over 4,000 words) and afterward, there are no more Tim Challies articles for me to read about Strange Fire. It probably won’t be the end of what I have to say about the conflict between sola scriptura Christianity and spiritual Christianity, though.

You can follow the links I’ve provided to read the full content of both parts of the interview. I just want to draw attention to some of the highlights, so to speak.

In response to a question of Challies’ in the first part of the interview, MacArthur states:

On the one hand, I would agree that this is a second-level doctrinal issue—meaning that someone can be either a continuationist or a cessationist and still be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. I have always maintained that position, and I reiterated that point several times during the conference. I have good friends who consider themselves continuationists, and I am confident that these men are fellow brothers in Christ. But that doesn’t excuse the seriousness of the error. In fact, I would appeal to my continuationist brethren to reconsider their views in light of what Scripture teaches.

Here, MacArthur states that although he believes the continuationists are in serious error, they are still his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Except that directly contradicts something MacArthur said in his closing statement at the conference in response to seven points of criticism. In response to point 6, “They are attacking brothers,” MacArthur said:

MacArthur wishes he could affirm this. From his vantage point, this is a movement made up largely of non-Christians that lacks accountability. No one polices this movement. Every faithfully reformed elder, pastor, scholar and teacher of the word should bear the responsibility of policing this movement. People accuse MacArthur of being fixated on this issue, yet in 45 years of ministry he has only held one 3-day conference on this matter. Rather he has devoted his time to preaching the New Testament verse by verse and exalting Christ.

Tim ChalliesEither MacArthur is separating the continuationists he speaks of in part one of the interview from whoever he was discussing on the last day of the conference, or he contradicted himself. You can’t have it both ways. Either the continuationists / Pentecostals / Evangelicals are considered faithful Christians by MacArthur or not.

The only other response he could make would be to say that he believes some of the people in these categories are not believers while others are, but then he would have to describe his criteria for telling the difference. MacArthur goes on to say:

On the other hand, I am firmly convinced that this secondary issue has the very real potential to taint a person’s understanding of the gospel itself. In such cases, it becomes a primary issue. For example, charismatic theology does corrupt the gospel when it expresses itself in the form of the prosperity gospel. Moreover, the global charismatic movement happily shelters other heretical movements—such as Catholic Charismatics and Oneness Pentecostals. Taken together, the number of charismatics who hold to a false form of the gospel (whether it is a gospel of health and wealth or a gospel of works righteousness) number in the hundreds of millions, which means they actually represent the majority of the global charismatic movement. That is why we took such a strong stand both at the conference and in the book.

So apparently there is, as far as MacArthur believes, a line to be crossed within the Charismatic movement. On one side of the line, you are a believer, and on the other, having gone too far, you’re not.

Challies asked:

You acknowledge, of course, that many godly, respected theologians are continuationists. How would you explain the continuationist theology of faithful men like John Piper, D.A. Carson, and Wayne Grudem if the cessationist position is so clearly taught in the Bible?

In part, MacArthur responded:

As I noted at the conference, I believe their openness to modern charismatic gifts is an anomaly. Obviously, I cannot read minds nor do I desire to judge motives. But I do wonder if perhaps their positions are evidence of either the influence of personal relationships with charismatic friends and family members, or the pervasive impact charismatic theology has had on the wider culture.

Wayne Grudem, as I mentioned earlier, openly acknowledges that there are no apostles in the church today. John Piper says that he does not speak in tongues. And I’m fairly confident that D. A. Carson does not personally practice any of the charismatic gifts. In that sense, then, I think they may be more cessationist (in terms of their personal practice) than their published positions would suggest.

If I’m reading MacArthur correctly, his understanding of Charismatics may be more “nuanced” than the conference made it seem. He may recognize more variability of belief and variability of practice among individuals and groups of individuals to identify with the Charismatic movement than he previously presented. It’s easy to say for most of us, given how MacArthur speaks and presents himself, that he’s a really “black and white” type of guy, that there are no colors in his universe, especially when quoting Thabiti Anyabwile, he states:

He wrote, “First, we have to admit that there’s a correct and an incorrect position on this issue. Somebody is right and somebody is wrong… . Second, we have to admit that how we view this issue substantially impacts the nature of the Christian life. It matters. It’s not an inconsequential idea. Someone worships God appropriately, someone doesn’t… . Third, we have to admit that this issue practically impacts Christian worship and fellowship. It’s not only a private matter, but a corporate one as well.”

I agree with all of that. This is an issue of critical importance because it affects our view of God as well as our understanding of how to live out the Christian life, both individually and corporately.

But hopefully, no one is quite as rigid and uncompromising as we make them out to be during a disagreement.

Finally, I think those who accuse me of using too broad of a brush are being naïve about the actual composition of the global charismatic movement.

I’m among those who have accused MacArthur and other presenters at the conference of painting with too broad a brush. That’s certainly how I read them on Challies’ blog posts. Of course, these presenters are speaking to a large audience and this is a one-on-one interview, so MacArthur has the opportunity to answer specific questions, when, at the conference, he and the others were “preaching” not discussing.

Our decision not to host a debate at the Strange Fire Conference was intentional. Debates are rarely effective in truly helping people think carefully through the issues, since they can easily be reduced to sound bites and talking points.

There’s both good and bad in what MacArthur said. It’s true that debates, if not properly moderated, degrade into name calling sessions and nothing gets resolved. On the other hand, during Presidential elections, the opponents present multiple public debates for the purpose of clearly offering American voters a (hopefully) clear understanding of the different platforms of each candidate.

Strange FireMacArthur did not escape these debates entirely. The rebuttals were simply managed in the blogosphere, in social media, and other venues rather than personally at the conference.

MacArthur ended the first part of the interview this way:

So, coming back to your question, I understand that some reviewers will find my tone too harsh and my brush too broad. But I think the problem is a whole lot bigger than anyone realizes. And it breaks my heart to think that hundreds of millions of souls are being caught up into a movement where they are being seduced by false forms of the gospel.

That is why I wanted to sound such a strong warning. And I’m willing to be accused of broad-brushing in order to get that message out.

I don’t doubt that he’s sincere in his belief and desire that he’s doing the right thing and that he’s doing it the right way, and I’m not commenting today to come out as pro-cessationists or pro-continuist. I’m stepping outside the narrow corridor of that argument and trying to understand how MacArthur sees himself and if what he did will have the response he desires. Only MacArthur can explain himself (well, God can explain him too, and probably better than MacArthur can), and I want to hear what he has to say.

For the sake of length, I’ll conclude my summation of the Challies Chronicles in Part 2.

The Challies Chronicles: How the Strange Fire Finally Burned

Woman in fireThe Strange Fire conference closed with a final address from John MacArthur. In this address he responds to seven accusations brought against the conference, follows with eight appeals to his continuationist friends, and concludes by walking through 1 and 2 Timothy, highlighting the need to stand firm in guarding divine revelation against false doctrine.

Before addressing the accusations against the conference, MacArthur charged attendees to carefully read their copy of Strange Fire and to measure it against the Word of God. He is convinced that this book, with its well-documented research and extensive footnotes, will withstand careful scrutiny. He reminds us that this book and conference is intended for the Church. He has no expectation for either one to be helpful to non-believers, which he suspects makes up much of the charismatic movement.

-Pastor Tim Challies liveblogging
Strange Fire Conference: MacArthur’s Appeal to His Continuationist Friends”
Challies.com

I decided to use this blog post to review not only John MacArthur’s summary of the conference but Tim Challies’ wrap up as well. Essentially, this is how each individual saw what came out of the conference, at least the day it ended and a few days after that.

I think I realized this before, but it was brought home to me that the reason I have “issues” with John MacArthur as a Christian is that he defines himself and his faith by what he’s against, not what he’s for. Sure, he makes a big deal out of “Biblical sufficiency” and “sola scriptura,” but in doing some wider reading about the man and what he’s done, he demonstrates a pattern of someone who has built his reputation on attacking others, whether other individuals or other belief systems.

I know this has been a problem in both the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements and it’s taken me quite a while to reduce this practice in my speech, writing, and thoughts (I suppose I still haven’t quite extinguished it within me). People or institutions that define themselves by what they are against must, because of that self-definition, always be on the attack. If your identity is based on being against something, then you are only “real” when you attack that something (or someone).

This is hardly the first time MacArthur has come out against Pentecostals and Charismatics. In 1993, his book Charismatic Chaos was published and I believe he wrote or made statements critical of Pentecostals/Charismatics before then. Sure, MacArthur has positive qualities attached to him. I commend his dedication to the Word of God and how he continually pushes others to read and study the Bible, but the skewed path he takes to understand the Bible, Jesus, and God is so rigid and occasionally (or more often) hostile to anyone outside of that path, that if I were an unbeliever and had to depend on MacArthur as my only model of what being a Christian was like, I’d never come to faith.

In fact, people like Jimmy Swiggart, Jim Bakker,and James Dobson (I know, an eclectic mix) kept me from even mildly considering Christianity as a path for decades. Outspoken “firebrands” who come across as highly opinionated and confident to the point of appearing arrogant do not represent my understanding of Messiah, Son of David.

MacArthur proved my point in his final appeal by including seven criticisms he and his conference had received:

  1. Accused of being unloving
  2. Accused of being divisive
  3. This is not a clear issue in the Bible
  4. This issue is only true of the extreme lunatic fringe side of the movement
  5. They are attacking a movement that has given us rich music
  6. They are attacking brothers
  7. MacArthur doesn’t care about offending people

macarthur-strangefire-confChallies said that “MacArthur then shared from his heart responses to seven accusations against the conference,” which told me that Challies probably wasn’t entirely objective about his assessment of MacArthur (but then again, neither am I).

You can go to the Challies blog post to read MacArthur’s responses as well as the points he wanted to make to continuists, but his response to the last point caught my attention:

He admits that he holds the truth with kindness and love. He does care about peoples’ feelings. He does care about offending them. Just not nearly as much as he cares about not offending God.

Especially on the Internet, but also in other venues, I can’t count the number of times supposedly good-meaning Christians have “told the truth in love” while simultaneously ripping other people to emotional and spiritual shreds. As long as you use words like “truth” and “love,” you can make any insult and rend anyone’s heart with total impunity.

I base the Comments Policy of this blog on the Jewish concept of Lashon Hara or wronging another in speech, which is based on Leviticus 25:17. It says, in part, that if you say something, even if it is truthful and factual, that you know will harm another or cause them embarrassment, you are guilty of wronging them. Based on that standard, John MacArthur would have to revise his presentation considerably.

But then, and I’ve asked this before, what if you have to tell the truth to prevent harm to others and yet, end up harming brothers? I don’t know the absolute answer to that, but I suspect MacArthur might have gotten more mileage if he had given “Strange Fire” another name, and emphasized the positives of what he believed in, rather than the negatives of what he was against (but then again, people are almost always more attracted to a good car crash than an encouraging and uplifting message).

In his blog post Lessons Learned at Strange Fire, Pastor Tim Challies seemed to generally approve of how the conference was offered. Challies called the issues presented at the conference:

This is a worldwide issue and I need to ensure I see it that way. We need to ensure we see it that way. Those who listened to the conference heard again and again just how many charismatics there are in the world—somewhere around 500 million. Conrad Mbewe made it clear that in many places in the world, and especially in the developing world, to be a Christian does not mean that you trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, but that you believe in and practice something akin to the miraculous gifts. Charismatic theology is a North American export that is making a massive impact elsewhere in the world.

The conference and its aftermath also revealed to Challies how intensely polarizing this issue is and sees the critical dichotomy as between feeling and believing through reason. He also defended MacArthur and the other presenters as being confident, not arrogant, and as I mentioned above, there is an exceedingly fine line between the two.

I saw at Strange Fire that we can sometimes confuse confidence with arrogance. And it’s not just we, but me because I suspect that if the tables were turned, I might react in much the same way. I am convinced one of the reasons so many people reacted badly to the event is that MacArthur and the other speakers are so sure of what they believe. They spoke with confidence about their understanding of what the Bible permits and what it forbids. Some of the reaction from those who were offended seems to imply that certainty is incompatible with humility. If this is what they truly believe, they have succumbed to dangerous and worldly thinking.

many peopleBut a person can be confident and still be wrong. How many people were confident that the Earth was flat, once upon a time? There are untold millions of children worldwide who are confident that Santa Claus exists and will indeed be coming into their homes sometime after they go to bed on December 24th to deliver gift wrapped toys under their Christmas trees. Even Chemists, Astronomers, and Geologists are confident that certain scientific principles and facts related to their fields are true until new evidence convinces them otherwise.

While I can’t defend the abuses attributed to the Pentecostals, I can’t defend MacArthur’s overly generalized attack on them, either. Even when the facts aren’t in question, how they are presented can make a tremendous difference, not only in delivering the desired message, but in communicating where your heart is during and after the delivery.

If you disagree with MacArthur, the best way to engage the conference is not by railing against the man, but by showing specifically the ways you think he caricatured your position and by providing a calm, sober affirmation of continualist claims, backed up by Scripture.”

My form of criticism is to step outside the polarity of the issue, to go “meta” on continualists vs. cessationists, and to invoke, as I have above, the principle of Lashon Hara. Biblical evidence, the desire for truth, and “doing it in love” aside, the ends never justify the means. If they did, then it would be perfectly acceptable to blow up abortion clinics and to shoot abortion doctors in order to save babies (I know, that’s an extreme example, but it brings the point home). “Going after” a people or a movement just because you can is wrong, not necessarily because your research is flawed, but because you can only get your message across by being against something, and not by being for something.

The last thing Challies said was:

Only time will tell of the long-term impact of Strange Fire, but as I think back to the past few days, I find myself grateful for it. I suppose that may be easier to say as a cessationist than a charismatic, but I believe the event and its aftermath will prove beneficial. I continue to pray that God would use it to strengthen His church and to glorify His name.

Conferences come and conferences go, and if “Strange Fire” only existed as a series of events occurring over several days last October, I’m sure it would swiftly fade away. But there’s MacArthur’s book to consider, and I don’t doubt that there will be other “marketing” activities in which MacArthur will be participating to keep the issue alive.

I’m keeping it alive (although only in a very minor way) by writing about it myself. I’m also planning on looking at MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” through the lens of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) book Gifts of the Spirit (which I previously mentioned).

spiritual-journeyMost of what I know about John MacArthur has been through Tim Challis and his liveblogging of the “Strange Fire” conference, so I’m several steps removed from knowing much about him (MacArthur) at all. In the end though, it’s not just what you do for God that matters, but how and why.

I’ll address John MacArthur’s detailed responses to his critics in a subsequent blog post and then start talking about my “Gifts of the Spirit” “re-experience”. Then hopefully, I’ll be done with this stuff.