Strange Fire and Shallow Speech

The Strange Fire Conference is pretty much on everyone’s radar right now.  It even came up on a recent Dividing Line (though I cannot find the episode and will update this post with the link sometime), and the whole situation is becoming quite a circus (though that’s to be expected).  There’s a lot of misunderstanding from the cessationist side, but there’s also a lot of misunderstanding from the continuationist side / charismatic side.  That’s not surprising, since there’s a whole lot of general confusion surrounding issues related to spiritual gifts, sign gifts, signs and wonders, miracles, etc.  Those are rather large topics covering a lot of scripture and within the spectrum of understanding on all those issues combined, there are probably a hundred different positions.

I don’t expect the Strange Fire Conference to cover even a quarter of the issues and topics, or correct even a tenth of the various misunderstandings and confusions.  I don’t even know what to expect from the conference since I don’t really know where everyone is aiming…and I honestly fear that there will be an unhelpful amount of generalizations that blur the lines between the various positions and camps.  Time will tell and I hope that my fears will be unfounded. Hopefully, I might even be able to help matters in some tiny measure.

In my personal writing efforts, I desire to:

a. Bring clarity to some of the issues by accurately presenting the positions of the various continuationist camps.

b. Challenge those who are honestly looking at the issue to consider what I would attempt to present as a strong case for cessationism that allows for biblical miracles and biblical manifestations of the spirit (key word being “biblical”).

c.  Challenge those who are “on the fence” to consider a biblical framework for coming to a conclusion on the issue (i.e. putting their personal experience in their proper place under, not over, the scripture, understanding the general biblical pattern and purpose of all signs and wonders, etc.).

d.  Give those who are “on the fence” no reason to reject my position because of my person (i.e. being as cordial as possible, being as gracious as possible, and attempting to speak to confused continuationist brothers as brothers in the Lord).

I definitely haven’t met those goals yet, and in what I’ve written so far I have probably failed more than I think, but with further writing on the issue I hope to get closer rather than farther from meeting those goals.

In other people’s writing on the issue, I am troubled by some of what I see.  There is a Twitter hash tag (#CharismaticismInFiveWords) that is being used to chum up some cheap laughs at the expense of charismatics/continuationists in general, and is being defended by claims like:

My goal isn’t to save face or spare feelings of false teachers, but to expose and call to repentance…

Call me skeptical, but I’m not convinced.  Mocking false teachers and their followers is about as much an honest call to repentance as mocking overweight people is an honest call to get into shape.

Not only that, but I would suggest that such mockery plays into the hands of those who disagree with cessationists (everyone within the continuationist spectrum, not just the false teachers) and are looking for an excuse (whether conscious or otherwise) to disregard the biblical arguments of cessationists.  If we cessationists claim to have the better biblical position on the issues surrounding spiritual gifts, and if we expect those that disagree with us to pay attention to our complex biblical arguments about sign gifts (among other things), we cannot disobey the simple teaching of the scripture on matters of how we use our tongues (i.e. Proverbs 11:12, 22:11; Ecclesiastes 10:12-13; Ephesians 4:29-32; Colossians 4:6; 1 Timothy 4:12; Titus 2:6-8; James 3:9-12).  When we do so, the accusations of hypocrisy ring true and our theological credibility gets shredded.  Our doctrine may be right, but when we disobey the simple teaching of scripture, it makes us look like we don’t really understand and/or care to obey the simple stuff...and people have reason to disregard us on the complex stuff.

To put it as simply as possible: If we appear to misunderstand what the Bible says about how we use our tongues, why would we understand what the Bible says about the gift of tongues?

I was in charismatic circles for well over a decade, and I had three big hindrances to my leaving those circles:

a.  I would basically lose my church, my friends, and everyone I loved.

b.  I was doing legitimate good in those circles; teaching the scriptures, evangelizing, discipleship, etc.

c.  The cessationists that I knew seemed to be spiritually less mature than the continuationists I knew, partly because they were actually often actual jerks when they found out I was part of a charismatic church (i.e. “so, what Bible do you read?”)

Now that I’ve left the charismatic circles of which I was a part, I cannot do much about (a) or (b) since I’m simply not around, but I can definitely still do something about (c).  I only pray that others might join me in demolishing the stereotypes over which people needlessly stumble.

Until Next Time,

Lyndon “seeking to be a doer” Unger


23 thoughts on “Strange Fire and Shallow Speech

      • So, am I to understand that you believe that verses like Eph 4:29-32 apply not to the Body of Christ, as the context tells us, but to false teachers and heretics as well?

      • What context? Here’s the pericope:

        (17) Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. (18) They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. (19) They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (20) But that is not the way you learned Christ!— (21) assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, (22) to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, (23) and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, (24) and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

        (25) Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (26) Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, (27) and give no opportunity to the devil. (28) Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. (29) Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (30) And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (31) Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. (32) Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

        So vs. 17-24 basically says that Christians shouldn’t live like the Gentiles.

        Vs. 25 says that Christians should speak truth about their neighbor (which likely means fellow believer, but certainly does not allow for speaking lies about non-believers).

        Vs. 26-28 include a series of universal commands for Christians:

        – Don’t sin due to anger (v. 26)
        – Don’t let the sun go down on your anger (v. 26)
        – Don’t give Satan any opportunity (v. 27).
        – Stop stealing if you’re a thief (v. 28)
        – Start working if you’re a thief (v. 28)
        – Start being generous if you’re a thief (v. 28).

        Then we come to 4:29. The mouths of believers (“your mouths”) should build up as fits the occasion and give grace to anyone who hears you (“those who hear”…not “one another”). No isolation to believers. No exclusion of the wicked. Whoever hears you should be built up “as fits the occasion”.

        4:30 says that believers shouldn’t grieve the Spirit of God. What does 4:31 says about “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander”, as well as “malice”? Does it say that those should be only used against false teachers?


        Those things should be “put away from you”. Again, no exceptions for the wicked. This isn’t a command saying “talk nicely to fellow believers, but give the wicked both barrels!” This is again a universal command to keep their mouths free from “slander”. “Slander” is translated from “Blasphemia” (from which we get blasphemy, blasphemous, blaspheme, etc.) Blasphemia means to simply speak evil or injuriously about someone; to lay words or accusations against someone that are not true.

        And then 4:32 give the alternative action to the list in 4:31. 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

        So this is a command for Christians, and Christians are supposed to be kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving of one another.

        So the claim is that the hash tag is aimed at false teachers. Three problems there:

        a. The hash tag is not #FalseTeachersinFiveWords or #theTBNcrowdinFiveWords. It is #CharismaticismInFiveWords, which clearly seems to be aimed at charismatics in general. A majority of Charismatics are brothers in the Lord, so the whole thing is one big “I don’t think Ephesians 4:32 applies here” that clearly doesn’t hold water.

        b. There aren’t any false teachers that follow any of the MacArthur crowd on Twitter. I doubt their fanboys/fangirls are forwarding them the texts out of ANY motivation.

        c. AS IF a hash tag comment on Twitter is a serious effort to expose false teaching or call anyone to repentance. That whole line is as absurd as writing “John 3:16” in a toilet stall at Costco and claiming that it’s some sort of honest effort at biblical evangelism. The Costco thing is graffiti. The hash tag thing is slandering fellow believers, unless there’s some magic way to keep the fellow believers that DO follow some of us on twitter from seeing it.

      • “Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” – Inigo Montoya

        I think the angst over a hashtag which may offend the Charismaniac lunatic fringe is misplaced.

        The mockery that they make of the Holy Spirit is vile and egregious and much more worthy of our time and posts/comments.

        • Okay. You’re free to think what you want.

          So, you don’t deny that you’re mocking fellow believers, in direct disobedience to scripture, and are justifying your sin on the basis of someone else’s greater sin?

          Jesus can see blogs, you know.

          And Twitter.

          Beyond that, are you a pastor or an elder in a church?

          If not, why do you think that the exposing and refutation of error is a job even offered to you? Titus 1:9-11 is a commission given to the elders of the church.

          If you’re not an elder of a local church, that’s also something to think about.

          It’s alarming that how when the charismatics are confronted with some clear reasons to believe that they’re in sin, they simply ignore it and play the “let’s focus on the positive, not my negative” card.

          It sure looks like you’ve borrowed someone’s deck, Jules.

        • And interestingly, you’re not responding to my walk through of Ephesians or reference to Titus. Take your time…

          The claim that the hash tag thread is ONLY aimed at false teachers is without substance since neither the tag nor the comments make that clear. The fact that some continuationists have taken offense also shows how unclear the claimed target is. When you claim that you’re not insulting fellow believers, what does that suggest about the continuationists who are noticing the tag? Are they not fellow believers or are they simply including themselves in the intended audience without reason? Can you clarify that for them? Will you? Will anyone?

    • Chuckle. No, it’s not over. But, when you begin making speculations for why I haven’t commented (” you’re feeling a little cornered” “don’t ignore your conscience Jules”), it becomes a bit silly.

      I haven’t had time to comment because this weekend my son broke his big toe (quite badly) and I’ve had my hands full.

  1. I also spent many years in a full gospel denom and still have ministry creds in that denom. I have not been active with them for 10 years now. I gradually came to see the errors and how when honest questions were brought they were evaded and/or answered by pounding square pegs into round holes. I am part of a more mainstream denom now and I see some of the same behaviors. I.E. using scripture in appropriately to deny rather than promote certain things clearly taught in scripture such as miracles. I also see blanket statements such as ” Oh those things stopped with the apostles” when there is no evidence whatsoever that they stopped with the apostles. During my time in the full gospel denom I saw many genuine moves of the Spirit that i have never seen in the denom I am part of now. Unfortunately I also saw many more manipulated, contrived and out right false behaviors that were attributed to a move of the Spirit. Very sad. I was disturbed about it then and I still am. I appreciate your position in acknowledging that the Word leaves room for biblical moves of the Spirit and true, biblical, 1st century manifestations of gifts. When either camp dogmatically states what God does or does not do based on our own thinking or comfort level? He steps into an arena of idolatry to my thinking. We simply cannot package up a God to our theological liking. This is idolatry every time pure and simple.

    Thank you for the post

  2. I have not listened to that recent Dividing Line yet and I hope my wait is over. I have been waiting for James White to take a clear stance and a response to Michael Brown’s recent critiques of the Reformed Faith and his many wild eye Charismatic assertions regarding Reformed and Biblical text, including that1 Samuel 2:27-33 teaches, supports and proves “generational sin” shenanigan. Is my wait over?

    • Well, White makes a few comments about Brownsville and stuff, making the point that what happened at Brownsville is “miles away” from what was happening in the New Testament.

      White wants to wait for the conference to be over though before he addresses anything. I’m guessing that White doesn’t really address the charismatic issue because he has his niche (Catholic,Mormon, JW, Muslim, etc. apologetics) and he has the wisdom to be silent on areas outside of his expertise.

      • Lyndon,

        I am trying to think if that is the case or is it because White has a working relationship and friendship with Brown. In my personal opinion neither one allows for prolonged silence on this matters. Brown’s rhetoric touches on many issues and cannot be qualified solely as Charismatic one. I know White has his plate full but due to his interactions with Brown he actually needs to speak out about this at some point and that response is much needed before the actual conference.

  3. Thanks for this Post Lyndon… I most enjoyed your comments on being part of the Charismatic community and why it was a challenge to leave. I had a similar experience where I would see such evidence of Christian living in a charismatic church (giving, loving the downtrodden, passionate evangelism) but be a little worried about their doctrine in major issues. When I went to a church who’s doctrine seemed more sound, I did find less obvious signs of a Christ centred life. Maybe this is why there appears to be such growth in the charismatic circles?

    I guess in a perfect world, we could somehow marry the extreme passion and willingness to ‘do’ of charismatic church and the solid intellectual foundation and discernment of some more conservative churches.

    Thanks as always for your thoughts brother!

    • Josh, I completely agree. It seems like the charismatic circles are passionate about “going” and “doing”, but they don’t have the “knowing” part down.

      The churches that have the “knowing” part down seem, well, generally disobedient to their greater knowledge.

      If only we could combine the charismatic passion for action with the reformed passion for knowledge, we’d have an unprecedented church in Canada. I’ve been to a few churches like that in the US, but they’re super far and few between. I haven’t found a church like that in Canada.

      I’ve started telling younger guys who are Bible geeks to “stop reading” because God will hold them accountable for obeying the truth that they’ve learned. The more they read, the greater the judgment they heap upon themselves for their rampant disobedience.

      Winning games of spiritual trivia isn’t the same as possessing spiritual maturity.

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