Spiritual Warfare Prep

Spiritual Warfare Prep
We Are In The Lord's Army

Thursday, October 2, 2014

My Concerns For The 'Strange Fire' Theology

   I know that the Strange Fire conference is long over, but there are a couple of things I have concerns over with this whole concept.

  First of all, I respect John MacArthur as a solid Bible teacher and have learned and benefitted from his writings. However, when it comes to everything that this Strange Fire conference entails, I have concerns.

   I don't necessarily expect every Bible teacher to have a handle on teaching the spiritual gifts, but I am surprised when one who is respected teaches, not only against the spiritual gifts, but also against those who use them (Charismatics/Pentecostals/Continuists). It is one thing to look at certain groups or people who are doing things wrong, and to address that. It is another thing to call these people false converts.

   We all know it is possible for people in any group or denomination to be false converts. That is just a given, but to say that those who use the spiritual gifts are false converts is dangerous. It causes division in the body of Christ. In Proverbs 6, one of the abominations before God is a person who sows discord among the brethren. That is what I see when I see the fruit of this conference. I see a man with a teaching which is sowing discord among brothers and sisters in Christ.

   What if the person who is using the spiritual gifts has had a genuine, radical encounter with the true and living God, and has been born again because he or she has turned away from their sin and trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior from their sins? Yet, if they use the spiritual gifts, they are false converts? Does the using of spiritual gifts nullify the person's conversion experience? Does this make sense?

   But the second reason of concern is one of limiting the Holy Spirit's work in our lives. Let me give an example of what I am trying to say. Let's say, you are going out to do evangelism in a couple of hours and you have this thought in your mind that says, Tonight you will meet a girl named Brandy. Tell her that ......". You kind of dismiss the thought because you just think it is a random thought, but, you go out there and start talking to people. In the process, you are talking with a young woman. When you ask her what her name is, she says "Brandy". Then you remembered the thoughts you had earlier and shared with her those thoughts. Brandy ends up coming to Christ as a result of this.

   You have a couple of choices. You can think the thoughts were from the devil, and that you were receiving a counterfeit gift. You can think that is interesting, but since the spiritual gifts are not for today, it must have been coincidence. Or, you can think that God was revealing something to you that would help you minister to someone, and those words would somehow bring the person to Christ.

   What if you are sitting in a church service, and the power of God falls on you? What will you do? Will you think it is the devil? Will you think it is just your imagination? Could it be God?

   What if God wanted to empower you to pray? What if God wants to give you boldness in sharing the Gospel in a way you never experienced before? What if you are talking to someone, and you can actually see a picture over the person's head with words that give insight into what the person is going through? What if God wants to heal someone from a terminal sickness, or, what if God uses a person to raise someone from the dead? Would you be thinking that these things are just counterfeits because God doesn't work this way anymore? Since the spiritual gifts have ceased, how can we have the power of God in our lives to do His work? What if an expression of the power of God is in using the spiritual gifts? Would you be open to that?

  The Bible says that we are not to quench the Spirit. It also says that we are to test the spirits. We are to be discerning. That takes power from the Holy Spirit in order for us to be enabled to do that. How can we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit without the use of the spiritual gifts?

   Yes, we do need to be discerning. Yes, we do need to test the spirits. There are counterfeit gifts. But if there are counterfeit gifts, that means that there are genuine gifts. Things are only counterfeit when the real thing is there.

   And just one more thought. The Bible is the word of God. However, it will do us no good unless the Holy Spirit activates God's word in our hearts. It takes both the work of the Holy Spirit and the word of God. They work together to make God's word alive and effective.

   Are we going out witnessing in our own strength? Are we working through difficult relationship issues in our own power? If we don't believe in the power of the Holy Spirit anymore, then, by default, we are. But Jesus did say, You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses....

   So, if the spiritual gifts are no longer used today, does that mean that God has changed who He is? We see the spiritual gifts, for the most part, in the Old Testament. We see them in the New Testament. But now that the Apostles are dead, then the gifts are no longer used? Did God lose His power after they died? That would mean that God's attributes change, and the Bible is very clear that God's attributes never change. For 4,000 years or so, spiritual gifts were used, but then they ceased. Hmm. Doesn't make sense to me.

"What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent;  or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?  If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11:11-13 ESV

For those who doubt that the church fathers believed in the continuation of the spiritual gifts, here are a few examples of those who did acknowledge and see the operation of the gifts during their lifetimes.

  • Justin Martyr (100-165): “For the prophetical gifts remain with us even to the present time. Now it is possible to see among us women and men who possess gifts of the Spirit of God.”
  • Irenaeus (125-200): “In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the church who possess prophetic gifts and through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages. ... Yes, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years.” 
  • Tertullian (150-240): “For seeing that we too acknowledge the spiritual charismata, or gifts, we too have merited the attainment of the prophetic gift ... and heaven knows how many distinguished men, to say nothing of the common people, have been cured either of devils or of their sicknesses.”
  • Novation (210-280): “This is he [the Holy Spirit] who places prophets in the church, instructs teachers, directs tongues, gives powers and healings, does wonderful works ... and arranges whatever gifts there are of the charismata; and thus making the Lord’s church everywhere, and in all, perfected and completed."
  • Origen (185-284): “Some give evidence of their having received through this faith a marvelous power by the cures which they perform, invoking no other name over those who need their help than that of the God of all things, along with Jesus and a mention of his history.”
  • Augustine (354-430): In his work The City of God, Augustine tells of healings and miracles that he has observed firsthand and then says, “I am so pressed by the promise of finishing this work that I cannot record all the miracles I know.”
These testimonies clearly demonstrate that spiritual gifts continued to be common in the church from the Day of Pentecost and up to the beginning of the fourth century. The Episcopal scholar Morton Kelsey was correct when he said, “These men were well aware of Paul’s list of the gifts of the Spirit and what it included. In no place do they suggest that any of them had dropped away.”
In an appendix entitled “Voices From Church History,” MacArthur seeks to substantiate his doctrine of cessation from church history. Interestingly, the earliest quote he presents is from John Chrysostom (344-407), who refers to his ignorance of spiritual gifts and their cessation. The reason MacArthur begins with Chrysostom is that there is no evidence of a cessation theory prior to this time.
MacArthur next quotes Augustine’s statement that the tongues at Pentecost were a sign “adapted to the times” and had passed away. But what he fails to mention is that Augustine’s views on this matter changed with time and that he later fully embraced the continued work of the Holy Spirit and His gifts in the church (see the above quote). Nonetheless, Augustine’s earlier comments were taken up by those not experiencing spiritual gifts and used to justify their experience, or lack thereof.
While some articulated a theory of cessation to explain the lack of miracles and spiritual gifts in their midst, others throughout history have acknowledged that the problem has been a lack of faith and holiness within the church. This was the view of A.J. Gordon, 18th-century Baptist pastor and founder of Gordon College in Boston, who wrote, "It is not altogether strange that when the church forgot her citizenship in heaven and began to establish herself in luxury and splendor on earth, she should cease to exhibit the supernatural gifts of heaven."

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