Well, the Strange Fire conference is causing ripples across the pond in Charismatic circles. Adrian Warnock has posted an article on his blog entitled “John MacArthur accuses half-a-billion Christians of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit“, and we’re seeing the same old defense strategies that we’ve already seen all over the place in Charismatic circles. I’ll walk through his article and interact so others may possibly have some help sorting through the rhetoric and fallacious argumentation. As always, my interactions will be in italics:
1. He opens with “Today one in four of the two billion people who identify themselves as Christians are Charismatics or Pentecostals” and then provides a citation (which leads to this (wikipedia), and that leads to this; a report from the Pew Forum…)
Well, call me a spoil sport but there are 2 monumentally deceptive points here.
a. People who “identify themselves as Christians” often aren’t. Jesus said things like “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:21-23)
Jesus said that people who actually prophesy and cast out demons can be false believers (notice how Jesus doesn’t say “oh no you didn’t”, but rather “I never knew you”), and many who do will be rejected as never having known him. Calling yourself a “Christian” makes you a Christian as much as calling yourself a “doctor” makes you a physician.
b. Since when was Wikipedia, or the Pew Forum, any sort of reliable resource on who is a Christian? If they’re only listing people who claim to be Christians, then we’re back at point (a). Also, the Pew Forum report claims that 1/4 of Europe is Christian (page 9 of the pdf). I wonder if Adrian Warnock would suggest that 1/4 of England were evangelical, bible believing Christians? Or maybe 1/4 of France, or Sweden, or Germany? I didn’t think so. I’m guessing the term “Christian” is being used rather broadly by the Pew Forum (i.e. including Mormons and anyone else who shouts “we’re Christians too”).
2. Adrian Warnock continues and writes “Do I have concerns about some charismatic leaders? Of course! Do I believe that abuses have occurred in many places?”
Again, we have the whole “concerns” and “abuses” talk. What exactly is Adrian Warnock talking about? Concerns about a lack of restraint, or concerns about attributing manifestations and messages to the Holy Spirit that are actually, and fairly evidently, not from him? Concerns about the false gospel of prosperity preaching that gets such a gloss by so many Charismatic leaders? It’s all nice to pay lip service to how there might be “concerns” or “abuses”, but things fall apart when we get to specifics…which happens in Warnock’s article. Read on.
3. Adrian Warnock continues and writes “There are some who call themselves charismatics, but their beliefs and practices are frankly unbiblical”, but he right away follows that up with “I do believe that much good is coming out of our movement. The Charismatics and Pentecostals are acknowledged by experts to be proliferating like no other previous movement in history. It seems to me that the movement contains many vibrant, faith-filled people who have a deep trust in God, a sense of a relationship with God, and a strong desire to share the gospel.”
There’s a new game I play when reading these Charismatic defenders. It’s the “how many sentences in will he resort to the pragmatic argument?” game (“it’s growing/people are making professions of faith, so it MUST be of God!”). Also, nobody on either side of the fence that I’m aware of is saying that the Charismatic movement, as a whole, doesn’t contain an overwhelming majority of real believers who trust God and labor to be like Christ. The problem is that in many of the churches, there’s a handful of bad/false shepherds misleading the sheep about what the Bible says about tongues, healing and prophecy…whether they’re intentionally lying or simply ignorantly passing on misinformation isn’t the point. The sheep are being deceived, and that has to stop.
4. Adrian Warnock then makes the bold statement “Outside of the West the Charismatic and Pentecostal Movement dominates the Evangelical church.”
Categorically not true, unless Adrian Warnock considers the prosperity gospel to be part of the Evangelical church. Outside the West, the prosperity gospel dominates the Charismatic landscape like crazy.
I have a post in my drafts that is another research project going through all the largest churches outside the United States, and an overwhelming majority of them are loud and proud prosperity gospel churches. The largest churches in Korea, Australia, Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Ghana, the Philipines, and several other nations are prosperity gospel churches. In fact, the only place where I’ve found that the biggest church in the country wasn’t a prosperity church was Cote D’Ivoire (Eglise Protestante Baptiste Oeuvres et Mission Internationale – A Baptist church of around 20,000).
5. Adrian Warnock then continues on to say that “I hope you agree that these hundreds of millions of people are our brothers and sisters in Christ” and follows that with his announcement of disappointment when he heard about the name for the conference (“Strange Fire”) and was “totally shocked and appalled” when he heard MacArthur say
“Why don’t evangelical leaders speak against this movement? Why is their such silence? Look When somebody attacks the person of Christ the Evangelical world rises up and says “no, no, no!” . . . the Holy Spirit has been under massive assault for decades and decades, and Ive been asking the question ‘where are the people rising up in protest against the abuse and the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?‘ The only thing I can suggest is that they have been literally backed up into a corner by intimidation that they need to be loving and accepting and tolerant and not divisive in the body of Christ, thats been the mantra. . .”
Well, I’ve already agreed that many Charismatics are quite possibly true believers but are being misled by their false shepherds…assuming that those false shepherds have given them the *actual* gospel in the first place (which rarely occurs at prosperity churches, though even then people tend to find it on their own since the word of God is efficacious…). But where are the level-headed Charismatics rising up and condemning the prosperity gospel? And why do some who do openly oppose it then invite those who preach it to their conferences and Elephant Rooms? That sure looks like some folks are speaking out of both sides of their mouths.
6. He then goes on and says that he’s watched other clips of MacArthur, where MacArthur speaks of “aberrations, heresies, terrible manipulation and deception” and claims that the whole movement has a “wrong understanding of scripture”…and he immediately follows that up with this amazing quote: “Its clear that MacArthur is an extreme cessationist as he even states in one of these clips that he believes that we cannot bind Satan, something that I am surprised to hear, since even traditional denominations have exorcism rites.”
Erm, yeah. Thanks for making MacArthur’s point so utterly clearly. Adrian Warnock believes that Christians can “bind Satan”, and he’s surprised that MacArthur doesn’t believe that because even “traditional denominations have exorcism rites”. “Traditional” like the mainstream (and spiritually dead/heretical) liberal churches in England or anywhere else? What kind of amazingly invalid argument is that? Why does he not simply pull out some select verses that would show, clearly, how wrong MacArthur is and demonstrate that he misses something obvious in the scripture?
He can’t, that’s why.
I’d come back and say that Adrian Warnock is an extreme Charismatic because he claims that Christians have the authority and ability to do something that the Bible doesn’t teach anywhere and nobody outside Jesus, the apostles and and the seventy-two could do. I’d come back and say that Warnock has a demonstrably wrong understanding of scripture, and that comes from the people who have taught him who also have a wrong understanding of scripture. Christians cannot bind Satan. Not even the angels can do that.
I can back that up from scripture fairly easily too:
Angels neither slander nor casually interact with the Devil or his forces (Jude 1:8-9) and lack any authority over demons (Jude 1:9), so it is both foolish and unprecedented for believers to assume that they would have an authority angels do not. Scripture shows that the apostles (Mark 3:15; Luke 9:1-2) and the seventy-two (Luke 10:17-20) were personally given authority to cast out demons by the incarnate Christ, and Paul was directly given the same authority by the resurrected Christ (Acts 19:15). Other than Christ and his apostles, scripture has two instances of non-apostolic exorcism. The first was the anonymous exorcist of Mark 9:38-39 (of which all that is known is that he was not an apostle, but he could have been among the 70…we don’t know and cannot assume one way or the other) and the second was the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19:11-16 who were mocked and beaten severely by the demon-possessed man after the demon informed them that they lacked the authority to cast him out (Acts 19:15). So we have one clear negative example and one ambiguous example, which places us with a definite negative leaning when it comes to exorcism performed by people other than Jesus, the apostles and and the seventy-two. The Bible nowhere explicitly teaches that Christ personally gave his authority over demons to anyone but the seventy two and the apostles (and Paul) and gives us compelling reasons to think that such authority was actually highly limited.
7. Adrian Warnock then suggest that MacArthur thinks that the Charismatic movement and the prosperity gospel are synonymous (laughably untrue and easily established) and states that he thinks that it’s going too far to say “people caught up in any kind of error are cut off from God’s blessing“, evidencing his point by suggesting that to suggest that a pedobaptist was “cut off from God’s blessing” would be overstepping the bounds.
Well, does Warnock think that someone caught up in an error is actually caught up in an error? To say that someone is caught up in a real error is not to say that they’re not a believer. I attend church in a town where there’s a whole lot of strange pedobaptist theology, and I’d definitely suggest that the pedobaptists are missing out on God’s blessing in a specific area of their lives. I know of a bunch of people who have sinful, rebellious kids and instead of disciplining and instructing them in the Lord, they just pray that “the baptism will take hold” and trust that their kids are saved, regardless of whatever holocaust of profligate living their children’s lives become. Are they wrong?
Are they missing out on God’s blessing on their lives?
No doubt. Not for a second.
Are they representative of all pedobaptists?
Of course not, but I Sinclair Ferguson, Ligon Duncan and RC Sproul don’t pastor in my country, let alone my neck of the woods. The majority of the examples of the real life implications of pedobaptism that I have in my area are horribly bad.
8. Adrian Warnock then writes “It seems to me that MacArthur has made a fundamental error: He is confusing primary gospel issues with secondary issues. Surely we all believe in the centrality of Christ, in the gospel, in the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture, and in all three persons of the Trinity.”
Notice how Adrian chalks the gospel down to 3 things: Christ is central, the word is authoritative/trustworthy, and the Trinity. If that’s not an absurd reductionism of what’s a primary gospel issue, I don’t know what is…and apparently Mark Driscoll and James MacDonald don’t agree with brother Adrian that the whole Trinity thing is a primary gospel issue (what with them giving T.D. Jakes a pass into the club and all).
The minute we start talking about Christ’s death and resurrection, we will start chopping off large sections of Charismatic Christianity. Is financial blessing promised (for this life) in the atonement? No? There go 120,000+ prosperity-preaching Charismatic Churches (and the entire New Apostolic Reformation), right off the hop. Is physical healing promised (for this life) in the atonement? No? There go another 80,000+ Charismatic churches (i.e. the entire Foursquare denomination), right off the hop. Does Warnock even believe that physical healing is not promised (for this life) in the atonement? I’d be interested to know.
If MacArthur makes a fundamental error of confusing primary gospel issues with secondary, then Warnock makes a fundamental error of not letting the Bible declare what the core of the Gospel actually is.
9. Adrian Warnock then makes the point that he has friends on both sides of the debate, some of which “would find MacArthur’s tone and generalising unfortunate”. He also points out that “here are many in the new reformed movement who would go further and describe themselves as theologically if not experientially charismatic.”
Well, read my rules of engagement to know what I think about whining about “tone”. His generalizations aren’t nearly as prevalent as Warnock portrays, and Warnock’s broad language is basically so broad as to be useless in advancing any sort of real dialogue.
I also would suggest that the only way people claim to be reformed and yet have charismatic experiences (not using “charismatic” in a broad sense of *any* experience of the Holy Spirit, but more involving the spiritual gifts of tongues, healing and prophecy) is to simply change the definitions of “tongues”, “healing” and “prophecy” to be something that the Bible never teaches.
Most of my Charismatic friends are actually cessationists who wrongly describe their real experiences, and I actually praise the Lord for the fact that their practice is far better than their doctrine.
10 Adrian Warnock closes off with “We can have different perspectives on disputable matters”, cites the differences between Wesley and Whitfield, as well as the ongoing debate between Calvinists and Arminians, and then on the topic of Charismatic issues he writes “These days I generally see a softening of these arguments however. It seems to me that MacArthur’s intervention may have its aim at stoking these fires.” He closes off with the question “I believe that whatever your view on the charismatic issue you should not be called a blasphemer and heretic. Do you agree?“
Well, I don’t know if Warnock realizes that CJ Mahaney and John Piper (two openly Charismatic men) have been staples at events hosted by Grace Community Church. MacArthur is attempting to stoke the fires, but issue is all the “cover fire” that otherwise level-headed Charismatics lay down for all the false teaching that happens in the Charismatic circles.
I believe that even Warnock wouldn’t agree with his own question. Imagine if I showed up in his church and I said something like “God re-instituted the office of Apostle in 2002, all other people who claim to have the full anointing of the Holy Spirit are deceived as I and I alone only have his full anointing, and God told me that I’m the Elijah who precedes the Messiah and will inaugurate the second coming. Hear the word of the Lord: the second coming is 7 years away! Anyone who gets sick and dies in the next 7 years shows a lack of faith in the promises of God and will miss out on the kingdom because of their unbelief”
What exactly would Warnock do? Would he suggest that I’m a blasphemer/heretic for claiming that I am an apostle or I alone have the full anointing or any of those other things? That’s not even a made up example; I’ve encountered stuff like that more than once. How would he consistently and biblically respond to that without undercutting his own Charismatic theology?
Good luck with that one…because once you’ve abandoned the Bible on the issue of definitions of spiritual gifts, you’ve essentially abandoned the Bible en toto. When a private prophesy can trump the word of God, it always eventually does.
Saying that “whatever your view on the charismatic issue you should not be called a blasphemer and heretic” is naively open-ended, and my decade and a bit of experience in Charismatic circles have given me many examples of people who were simply nuts and got away with their madness because “the Holy Spirit told me to”.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Strange Fire will ignite a lot more blogs than Patheos” Unger