In part 1 of this series, I gave a broad outline of the two camps of continuationism and cessationism. Today, I’ll talk a little about the history behind the upcoming conference, at least as much as I can guess about it since I’m not longer really “in the loop” at Grace Community Church.
The general roots of the coming conference –
Now I obviously don’t officially speak for MacArthur by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m fairly familiar with his ministry and the culture/history of Grace Community Church. I was on staff there from 2007-2010 and learned a whole lot while I was down there. It’s also not my aim to defend MacArthur’s upcoming conference as necessary (nothing new will be said there), but rather to simply suggest that the upcoming conference is addressing ministry issues that are constant problems within the walls of Grace Community Church itself. MacArthur isn’t out to get anyone specific, but rather is openly addressing an issue that Grace Community Church get a lot of questions about. Here’s a brief glance at some history:
In 1976 and 1977, John MacArthur was preaching through the book of 1 Corinthians and went through chapters 12-14. His sermons were then compiled and published in 1978 as his first book on the charismatic movement entitled The Charismatics. That book was well received and caused a few waves in the Los Angeles area. MacArthur often speaks of many invitations he received to speak at Charismatic churches after the word got out that he had written about Spiritual Gifts, and I know of at least once where a microphone was turned off and he was ushered out of the pulpit (hint – not checking out a speaker before you give him your pulpit makes for severe awkwardness when you kick him out…).
In 1991, John came back to the topic of the charismatic movement and preached the sermon series that became the 1993 book Charismatic Chaos. He didn’t really have a significant beef to pick with the movement, but seeing that Grace Community Church is less than 3 miles away from the Church on the Way, the charismatic movement and charismatic theology has been a constant issue for Grace Community Church as people leave Church on the Way (or other local charismatic churches) and head to the other big church in the area (you might need to zoom out 2x as the map might not display correctly):
Then, in 2008/2009, John MacArthur had surgery on his back and knee which left him out of the pulpit for a few months. He was watching TV during his recovery and ended up on TBN. He came back from his surgery with a renewed loathing for the prosperity gospel, false doctrine and charlatanism on TBN, and he started taking a second critical look at the charismatic movement (which between 1976 and 2008, had become almost synonymous with the prosperity gospel, false doctrine and charlatanism). He writes about his experience here, and the subject dominated the blog at Grace To You in December 2009 and January 2010, especially in the comment threads where things got heated.
MacArthur had other issues on his plate, but the issue of the charismatic movement kept picking up steam, even among those who associated with Macarthur (i.e. John Piper, James MacDonald, Francis Chan, etc.) or were part of broader reformed circles (i.e. CJ Mahaney, Sam Storms, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, etc.), or were simply hugely influential (i.e. Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Charles Stanley, Craig Groeschel, Steven Furtick, Perry Noble, Brian Huston, T.D. Jakes, Ray Comfort, etc.). What was worse was how many of MacArthur’s associates were doing bizarre things (like John Piper’s strange “listening prayer” stuff at Passion 2012, or the various scandals of Sovereign Grace Ministries condoned via prophecy).
As is the case at Shepherd’s conference, MacArthur threw down a gauntlet in 2012 and basically suggested that the entire Charismatic movement makes a full time career out of, well, confusing Satan with the Holy Spirit. You may want to watch this video to hear exactly what he’s talking about:
Then, at the 2013 Desiring God pastor’s conference, Tope Koleoso delivered a message on how anyone who believes reformed theology should also be charismatic:
The Strange Fire conference isn’t some sort of response to Koleoso, but Koleoso’s message was definitely aimed at MacArthur (what with MacArthur easily being the most vocal and high-profile cessationist around). The roots are FAR deeper than 2 messages (they stretch back at least 4 decades), but those 2 messages will be a general introduction to the topics at hand and a sense for the level of current rhetoric. The reformed charismatic camp separates themselves from the wacky prosperity gospel preachers, but they also condemn the cessationists as, well, 2nd class believers (like Mark Driscol who described cessationism as being worldly). MacArthur, Sproul and the rest of the speakers at the strange fire conference are hopefully going to challenge the reformed charismatic camp on a biblical and exegetical level, and I’m guessing that they will do a thorough and sufficient job.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “The Reformed Cessationist” Unger