In the wake of all that is to come from John MacArthur’s conference, Strange Fire, it seemed pertinent to discuss it. In fact, I had planned on writing on something else, but something of this magnitude that could inevitably change the course of church history, is worthy of discussion and deep thought by all sides. The simple reason being, it could very well shake and destroy the foundations that many have built their theological “houses” upon. Ultimately, the question being in this: is the Charismatic movement built upon hay and stubble?
MacArthur has been building up to this event for several months now, introducing short videos and blogs to encapsulate the importance of this discussion. Through a sea of both hostility and praise from many, Grace to You has continued in course to deliver what will be one of the largest events in modern church history to define and establish clear lines between biblical truth and heresy in respect to the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.
What is clear from the chorus of hymns over the old pipe organ is that this conference is not intended to cause bitterness in the hearts of any who claim Christ. Instead, it resonates with what MacArthur said during his keynote speech earlier. It is intended to bring a biblical and God-honoring focus to the act of worship so that the church will operate within the guidelines the Lord has given us, lest we offer unauthorized fire and be consumed in a jealous flash.
Yet what also seems clear, is that there is a line being drawn in the church. You can’t have a conference like this without causing division. We see it in the writings of the New Testament when Paul combats Gnosticism. History records Athanasius standing against Origen’s doctrine of Arianism, thus leading to orthodoxy in the doctrine of the Trinity and Origen’s views being condemned. It was seen within the Ecumenical councils in Nicaea, and the other important Ecumenical councils that followed.
The church also saw it when the East-West Schism happened – and again during the Reformation. We also saw it happen in Germany when Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others signed the Barmen Declaration against Hitler and the German churches condoning his genocidal mission. We saw it happen even more recently within the Lutheran church when members of the ELCA split off into the NALC and other Lutheran denominations over homosexual pastors being unabashedly introduced.
As the first day of the conference draws to a close with one message left, the trajectory is clear: to debunk Charismatic/Pentecostal theology in its weakest areas, namely being an experiential spirituality rather than a strong foundation rooted solely in the closed biblical canon. In a sense, we are coming right back to the argument in the Reformation, namely involving Sola Scriptura.
If it is expressed that one can have further revelation through a new prophecy, meaning one that is a new revelation outside of scripture, then the words of John at the end of the book of Revelation have no bearing. Furthermore, if foretelling prophecy and faith-based healings were prescriptive, many within the church would be neglecting something of great significance.
However, the overarching theme presented in this is coming back to acknowledging the true nature of the third person in the Trinity. We have had councils and widespread, biblically sound teachings giving parameters on the nature of both the Father and the Son. However, there is not unanimity within the church on the nature of the Holy Spirit. Thus, many churches have false worship simply because the stance they take on pneumatology is not biblically accurate. This isn’t to say that heresies have slipped by, but in respect to theological study done on the Father and the Son, theological study on the Spirit is simply not comparable.
What may prove most interesting in this will not necessarily be the conference itself, but perhaps the aftermath of it. The challenge in this though is getting people to listen to someone with whom they are not comfortable. Beyond this, these same people need to be able to listen with discerning ears, embracing an attitude of humility, and allowing the text to do its transforming work through faithful exegesis, rather than isogesis.
As Steve Lawson finished, he left us with a powerful quote from Calvin:
“Let the pastors boldly dare all things by the word of God… Let them constrain all the power, glory, and excellence of the world to give place to and to obey the divine majesty of this word. Let them enjoin everyone by it, from the highest to the lowest. Let them edify the body of Christ. Let them devastate Satan’s reign. Let them pasture the sheep, kill the wolves, instruct and exhort the rebellious. Let them bind and loose thunder and lightning, if necessary, but let them do all according to the word of God” (Sermons on the Epistle to the Ephesians).