This past week a pastor/teacher of the Bible that I have historically had a good amount of respect for, went out of his way to marginalize an entire group of Christ followers based on his pre-existing notions and interpretations of Scripture. I wouldn’t have a problem if he was airing his opinions on a platform of respectful debate and mutual understanding, but he set out to organize an entire 3 day conference (http://www.tmstrangefire.org/) to point out the “errors” of the Charismatic movement of Christianity, going as far as to say,
“The Charismatic movement as such has made no contribution to biblical clarity, interpretation, or sound doctrine. We’ve had an accurate biblical interpretation and sound doctrine long before the Charismatic movement happened, going all the way back to the Apostles, a clear stream of truth. The Charismatics haven’t added to that, but have brought chaos, confusion, misinterpretation.”
-John MacArthur, Strange Fire Conference opening address.
John MacArthur is a very accomplished pastor, speaker, author, college founder, etc…, and knows far more about the Bible than I do. He has done MUCH good to advance the Kingdom of God and impact lives for the better, long before I was even born, so in no way do I wish to dishonor the man. Rather, I intend to show him as much grace and opportunity for humility as I would hope to be shown.
It needs to be established that this is not a post to advance or debunk any theological viewpoints or doctrinal assertions. While I espouse to a healthy mixture of the undeniable sovereignty of God as well as the volition/free-will of man that God has given His sentient beings, I am sensitive to a reformed theological perspective while holding true to my own pentecostal roots. My GREATER concern is this: There are billions of people who do not know Jesus and we have good leaders like John MacArthur aiming his great resources of theological findings & truth against his own brothers and sisters. It appears Mr. MacArthur would rather disown these spiritual family members via a distant, pulpit-punching platform, rather than bring them closer in as younger brothers and sisters who need theological guidance, mentorship, and spiritual fathering.
It is no news to any partially educated person that we have not just one, but consecutive generations of people in America who LACK the guidance of loving and faithful fathers. Instead of using his influential platform to call a conference to reconciliation, forgiveness, and a Malachi 4:5-6 hopeful restoration of relationship between generations and even theological perspectives, Mr. MacArthur has chosen to BLAST an entire group of people, most of whom are GENUINELY seeking the LIVING God and His ACTIVE Fatherly love through the very REAL and PRESENT Person of Jesus Christ.
I am NOT saying we should not hold people accountable to GOOD doctrine. Paul CLEARLY exhorts Timothy to hold true to the Gospel & good doctrine he received from Paul and his mother & grandmother (1 Timothy 4:12-16; 2 Timothy 1:3-14). This is an area I commend and love John MacArthur for, but I sense in this case Mr. MacArthur has overstepped his boundaries and even halted advancement of the very Kingdom he’s trying to help build by improperly exercising his great amount of Biblical knowledge over many who are the weaker brother or sister. Paul exhorted and guided Timothy as a son, not as a theological opponent. Wouldn’t it then be more Christ-like for Mr. MacArthur to reach out to his charismatic brothers and sisters, who he acknowledges DO have a foundation which is the Gospel (read the “Ugly” segment of this post for more context), rather than alienating an entire, viable part of the BODY OF CHRIST? I just don’t see the STRONG, LIFE-giving, restorative LOVE of Jesus in his approach. Trust me when I say I am NOT sympathetic to some erroneous, ambiguous, worldly definition of “love”. When I say “love” in this context, I am referring to the sacrificial, amazing grace filled love of God shed upon humanity through His Son, Jesus Christ!
Again, CORRECT! REBUKE! EXHORT! TEACH TRUTH…all in Christ-centered LOVE. But the platform of an entire conference to point out the flaws of one segment of the Body of Christ, without room for response and discussion, seems nothing more than Christian-Bullying tactics in order to further your own theological bent to the detriment of the Body of Christ. In no way am I promoting a blind tolerance for all views of the Bible. As Pastor Mark Driscoll says, there are “National borders” and “State Borders”, or Major and Minor issues when it comes to theology, but in this conference, it seems MacArthur has obliterated those formerly respected borders of discussion between denominations and therefore, alienated himself and his brothers and sisters within The Body from each other. My heart is sad and frustrated at this tactic.
I must ask the question, have we climbed every mountain and reached every people group in the world with the Gospel? So as a result of there being no other purpose filled endeavors or conferences, through which to glorify Jesus, attacking one’s own spiritual family members with the very same book, and evangelical root they base their faith out of, is the only remaining cause by which to live? Surely there are other causes that will do a better job of advancing the Kingdom and the Gospel in the world other than maiming your own?
Are charismatics questioning the LORDSHIP of Jesus Christ? Do they claim He is the brother of Satan? Are they denying the existence of Hell and eternal damnation for those who do NOT believe? Have they questioned original sin and the dangers of sinful behaviors? Do they question the resurrection from the dead and Jesus Himself? Have they declared the Bible is NOT infallible? Do they claim it is by WORKS you are saved, and NOT by Faith? No. No. No. No. No. No, and NO!!!!!! Then WHY go on the offensive against your VERY OWN FAMILY?????? Doctrinal accountability=Good. Purposed offensive to prove wrong without open door for discussion=DESTRUCTIVE.
Perhaps a symposium on the American Church where all Christian denominations are invited to participate, centered on the Person of Jesus Christ for salvation (in evangelical, Biblical truth) for spirited and Biblical debate would be MORE beneficial, versus a pep-rally of ONE theological perspective of evangelicalism where the group(s) spoken against is/are not welcomed. Its sad, and its plain flat wrong. Furthermore, I would say its why we as The Church have trouble winning truly NEW converts into our ranks. Self-inflicted wounds in one’s body do not seem like the best way to reach ANY person regardless of their worldview and/or theological perspective.
Jesus says in John 17:20-26,
20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message,21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.
25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you[e] known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”
I would like to ask the attendees, exhorting them to speak in all honesty, was this UNITY in the Spirit accomplished at the Strange Fire conference? Or was it more about how if you’re not part of the “Reformed Theological” movement, you’re going to Hell, or at the least shunned from the camp until you recant your “experiences” in a charismatic context?
A blog post by Marc Cortez called “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly in John MacArthur’s Opening Address“ addresses these issues much better than I can. Its worth the read and very balanced.
In short, I simply would like to encourage Pastor John MacArthur (and any others who hold to his view that the Strange Fire conference was a good thing for the body of Christ) to open his heart to pastoring/spiritually-fathering an entire generation of fatherless faithful, who love Jesus, trust in His/Paul’s Gospel unto salvation, and simply need gentle and kind corrections to stay on the straight and narrow. Again, I’m not asking any reformed brothers and sisters to abandon their convictions. I am sympathetic toward such convictions as they have sharpened my own faith through the years. I am simply asking for you to be more accepting of those who hold true to the Gospel and the testimony of Jesus Christ. After all, if Jesus was gracious to the 7 Churches of Revelation 2-3, giving them time and opportunity to repent (and no man is Jesus), and Paul was gracious to the border-line apostate Corinthians, shouldn’t we at least humbly approach our brother’s and sisters in open and loving dialogue in order to help them grow, instead of announcing to all Evangelical Christendom and the world that “THESE” Christians who may have some emotional issues are to be shunned because they have the audacity to believe spiritual gifts may be active in the modern era?
Truth in Love and LOVE in TRUTH.
That is the approach we in the Body of Christ should all take toward one another. In fact, feel free to use that terminology for your next conference if you’d like Mr. MacArthur :-). “Truth in Love Conference”. Sounds good and seems more constructive to the Kingdom if you ask me…but I’m just a youth pastor. What do those guys know anyway?