Arminian Today

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Charismatic Chaos And Why They Won’t Listen

As I write this, The Strange Fire Conference headed by Dr. John MacArthur is winding down.  The conference will be viewed as a success by many evangelicals who see the charismatic movement as dangerous to true Christianity.  This would include some Calvinists and Arminians alike.  Some will cheer as Dr. MacArthur and his other speakers preach against the charismatics and against their theology.  Some will be very sad.  But honestly, most charismatics simply will not listen.

Back in 1992 when I first was saved at a Pentecostal church (that I had attended before my conversion), the book Charismatic Chaos, was making the rounds.  While everyone in our church wanted me to attend our denominational Bible college in Florida, I chose instead to attend a local evangelical college.  I had heard of Charismatic Chaos but had not read it.  I begin work for a Christian bookstore which allowed me to borrow any books I desired.  I soon borrowed (and later bought) Charismatic Chaos.  I read the book and totally agreed with Dr. MacArthur, that the Word-Faith movement was heretical and wrong but I didn’t agree with  him that all Pentecostals were the same.  In his book, Dr. MacArthur seemed to want to lump all charismatics the same.  Having been raised in a Pentecostal home and saved in a Pentecostal church, I knew this was not true.  I knew that our church preached against the so-called “health and wealth” gospel.  I knew that the Assemblies of God had put out statements against the “name it, claim it” movement.  I also knew that Pentecostals differed with charismatics over the issue of the baptism in the Holy Spirit as subsequent to salvation and over the issue of whether speaking in tongues was the initial, physical evidence.  While Pentecostals and charismatics agreed over the issues regarding spiritual gifts and whether we should seek God for revelatory gifts, I knew that there were serious theological disagreements.  To paint all Pentecostals and charismatics as the same was not only untrue but unfair.

Sadly, I believe this is the case again with the Strange Fire conference.  While I don’t believe that Pentecostals and charismatics are beyond correction, they simply will ignore such a conference because of the polemic nature.  For example, had Dr. MacArthur and his group welcomed Pentecostal and charismatic scholars to a discussion over the Holy Spirit, His work, His gifts, etc., most would have looked on and perhaps tuned in.  Because the conference was bent on lumping all charismatics together as one and the same, most will choose to ignore the conference altogether and the book to follow.  While Reformed cessationists will find another book to add to their library on the Holy Spirit, Pentecostals will once again shut the door to the criticisms that Dr. MacArthur will offer in his book.  While I know that Dr. MacArthur has made appeals to godly charismatics to essentially “come out from among them”, his words nor his book will affect the charismatic movement as a whole.  It will simply do what Charismatic Chaos did in the early 1990’s and will be ignored and written off as hatred.

For non-charismatics I believe that several truths need to be seen about charismatics to understand why they will not listen.

1.  The Charismatic Movement is not Cohesive.  

Again, Assemblies of God theologians differ with Vineyard theologians and Reformed charismatics differ with Pentecostal Holiness theologians.  You cannot lump a Benny Hinn with a Stanley Horton and expect Pentecostals to listen.  You cannot lump a Todd Bentley with a Loran Livingston.  They are not one and the same.  No one person or church speaks for the Pentecostal/Charismatic community anymore than John MacArthur speaks for all Calvinists.  To try to attack the movement while putting them all under the same banner is not fair.

The Pentecostal movement is largely like the Baptist in that they have many splits in their 100 year history.  Almost all of the splits was over theology.  The Assemblies of God split away from the Wesleyan Pentecostals (Church of God, Pentecostal Holiness, Church of God in Christ) in 1914.  The “finished work” sermons of William Durham helped convince many early Pentecostals that the so-called “entire sanctification” application after salvation was wrong.  Durham taught that we are saved and at that moment are sanctified in Christ.  After this we receive the baptism in the Spirit for empowerment for world evangelism (Acts 1:8).  In other words, Durham preached two works of grace instead of three as in the early stages of the Pentecostal revival.  Durham was outcasted by early Pentecostal pastors for his views but adopted by the Assemblies of God with their founding in 1914.  To this day, A/G churches preach only two works of grace instead of three as in the Church of God.  I point this out simply to show that Pentecostal don’t all agree.  They are not one movement that agrees on all points.

2.  The Charismatic Movement Offers Experiences Where They Have Been None.

Frankly, I have been in many Reformed churches that were full of theology but dead as doornails.  There was no passion for prayer, for worship, no joy in the Holy Spirit, no mention of the presence of God.  Yet in a Pentecostal church I have seen the opposite with little regard for theology but much regard for experience.  This is not true, of course, for all Pentecostal churches or people but for me only.  What Pentecostals need is balance and sometimes we have not had that.  But neither have evangelicals.  Some evangelicals were so scared to even lift a hand in singing praises to God.  I once visited a large Baptist church that was not charismatic one bit.  During the singing, I was so touched by the song that on the front row I stood up (while no one else was standing but the choir) and I lifted my hands to God.  I could feel the fire from behind me for my “emotionalism” but I did not care as I was hungry for Jesus and His presence in my life.  After the service, a lady came up to me and with tears said thank you for doing that, for breaking out of my comfort zone and worshiping the Lord.  She said that she was longing to see someone worship God in that church.

Sadly, many people enter charismatic churches because of the longing for God’s presence.  They are tired of hearing about God and about miracles and they want to experience God.  Right or wrong, they are seeking God for this in charismatic churches.  Because people have “experienced” God in their church, they often will not listen to you rebuke them for “unbiblical” practices.  They have “felt” God in that church and they will not go back to dead churches is their motto.

Isn’t it ironic that the prayer movements come from charismatic churches.  The healing emphasis comes from charismatic churches.  The worship music that so many of us love come from charismatic churches.  Most books on the Holy Spirit (right or wrong) come from charismatic churches.  While I am not defending charismatic theology here, I simply point out that charismatics offer what many evangelical churches do not and that is an experience with the living God.  That is powerful and cannot be underestimated.

3.  Like It Or Not, Pentecostals Typically Listen Only to Pentecostals.

When I first read Charismatic Chaos, I asked a theological question that John MacArthur had raised in the book to a Pentecostal pastor.  He responded, “MacArthur is like a blind man describing a sunset to blind people.”  His point was that MacArthur had never been a Pentecostal and was trying to write on the movement but he only was viewing in from the outside in.  He had never been in a healing meeting or a meeting where people “prayed through” for someone to be saved or filled with the Spirit.  MacArthur admitted that he had never spoken in tongues or prophesied nor been involved with churches that did.  In the minds of Pentecostals, MacArthur was ignorant of the movement and was attacking the same people they were while trying to lump all Pentecostals together with the Word-Faith movement.  They simply refused to listen.

I remember at that time also reading a scholarly review of Charismatic Chaos in a Pentecostal theological journal that I was receiving then.  The journal stated that they agreed with MacArthur that the Word-Faith movement must be addressed and corrected and pointed out that the Assemblies of God was doing just that with tracts and with Bible teaching on their own.  However, they felt then that MacArthur undermined his voice by placing all Pentecostals and charismatics on the same level.  To say that because a few charismatics were into this or that does not mean that all of them are or that they are endorsed by the Assemblies of God or the Vineyard.

Pentecostals and charismatics will listen to rebuke but they typically come from the inside.  The late David Wilkerson could powerfully preach to Pentecostals and he often did.  Wilkerson rebuked many “revival” movements and his voice was heard.  In the Assemblies of God, what Dr. George Wood teaches and says is often heard and his rebuke would be welcomed.  Dr. Wood’s teaching on the Word-Faith movement is one of the most downloaded sermons he has produced.  While I do fear that Pentecostals and charismatics are falling into the pragmatism of the modern evangelical church, most of them will still only take rebukes from their fellow people.  You can call this pride if you want but I think you’ll find it true for nearly all theological movements.

Conclusion

I enjoy Dr. MacArthur.  I have enjoyed his verse by verse teaching for years.  I have not always agreed with him (his Calvinism for example) but I do enjoy him.  But that said, his voice will not be heard.  He will be cheered by those who love him, agree with him, and like him want to rebuke the charismatic movement.  The charismatic movement is the largest movement in Christianity on earth.  It ranges from classical Pentecostals to even Catholics who claim to be charismatics.  I don’t agree with all aspects of charismatic teachings.  I am bothered by many issues in the charismatic movement but the movement will not be corrected by Dr. MacArthur.  His voice will go unheard.  That is sad to me.  We are not beyond correction no matter who we are.  We all are humans.  We all need correction from time to time.  How often have I been Apollos who need godly correction (Acts 18:24-28).  I pray that my pride is not too much that I would not  heed correction from a godly saint no matter what they may be.  I need godly charismatics in my life as well as godly cessationists.  I need godly Calvinists as well as godly Arminians in my life.  I need the children of God to help me be a man of God.

So while I am grateful for Dr. MacArthur and his voice, he will not be heard by my charismatic brethren and his cry will fall on deaf ears.  Perhaps I am wrong and I pray that I am.  We all need to be corrected and to stay true to the Word of God.  None of us are beyond correcting.  We all need to hear Dr. MacArthur’s voice and make sure what we believe and teach about the Holy Spirit is based on the Word and not upon our own subjective experiences.

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4 Responses

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  1. Those who reject the validity of “pentecostal” reality are rejecting scriptural revelation. Their oppositon is based on at least two things: 1) theological conditioning coming from their own church tradition and 2) The weak (often absent) biblical foundation of too much “pentecostal” practice. Neither of those things is related to what scripture shows us.

    BOTH anti and pro pentecostal sides need to put aside preconceptions and turn to scripture and to believe what it is actually saying instead of just picking out the parts of scripture that they think support their established position.

    I have little confidence of that happening while people from both sides trust more in celebrity preachers and their conferences than they do in God’s word.

    Onesimus

    10/17/2013 at 7:08 PM

  2. […] I noted in a previous post, one would be hard pressed to find charismatic congruency.  With over 500 million people now […]

  3. One of the problems I noted (I have listened to a little bit of the conference) is that the tone is very wink-wink, nod-nod. There is much flippancy in joking about charismatic weirdness that will prevent any critique from being helpful to those you are seeking to change and will also encamp those on your side with more hostility. I think the tone is way off and sounds like insider jokes and us vs. them. This sort of thing never helps. Unfortunately, I hear MacArthur adopting this tone more and more as he ages. I think he is surrounded by too many people on his side that he comes across very arrogant and cliquish. I think this is too bad, because, as you say, he does have much to teach.

    jeff

    10/22/2013 at 8:52 AM

    • I agree. I would have had no problem with Dr. MacArthur bringing together cessationists to discuss their views and defending their views but the conference, to me, was an attack on Word-Faith and hyper-charismatics while trying to say these represent most if not all of charismatics.


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