Posts Tagged ‘charismatics’
I have been studying the doctrine of the holy Trinity now for some time. I love the doctrine! It is amazing how Scripture opens up when you begin to study the nature of God. Fred Sanders is correct, “The trinity changes everything.” The holy Trinity changes our understanding of love, creation, humanity, order, prayer, worship, and salvation. Without the Trinity, these doctrines become confusing and twisted.
In my studies, I have been reading books from the Oneness camps to see where they are coming from. I have listened to many hours of lectures and sermons from Oneness Pentecostals. Some of the sermons were just normal sermons while most of them I tried to pick that focused on my studies. I will not, for the sake of time, try to dive into the Oneness views regarding their view of God. It is suffice to say that Oneness Pentecostals are “Jesus only” meaning that, in the words of one of their preachers, “Jesus is everything.” In Oneness Pentecostalism, Jesus is the Father, Jesus is the Son, Jesus is the Holy Spirit. There is more to it than just that but they hold that Jesus is God and that there is only one God and thus Jesus is the only person of the Godhead and He alone is all three modes or manifestations of God that we read in the Bible.
What is the draw then to Oneness Pentecostalism? I think the appeal is the same as the draw to Trinitarian Pentecostalism in many ways. First, there is the focus on experience. Oneness Pentecostalism is very emotional. The worship is dramatic. People often shake, dance, run, lift their hands, speak in tongues, etc. in their worship services. The God of Oneness churches is a very personal God who wants to interact with his people.
Secondly, the preaching is more dramatic than the average evangelical sermon. While I enjoy a good expository sermon, I detest a lifeless one. I want a preacher who preaches with passion the truth of God with sound exegesis. However, the average evangelical pulpit is often shallow and lifeless. Not so with many Oneness Pentecostal churches. They preach with power (anointing they would say). While their message is often shallow and not based on exegesis, they preach with conviction and shouting and fire that is often missing in evangelical churches.
Third, they present themselves as the keepers of the truth. Oneness Pentecostals (most of them I have listened to) believe that all are lost but Oneness Pentecostals. If you have not been saved according to their view of Acts 2:38, you are lost. This would be all Trinitarians including Trinitarian Pentecostals. You must be baptized in the name of Jesus to have your sins forgiven. To be baptized in any other way is damnation. This twisting of Acts 2:38 leads Oneness Pentecostals to feel that they alone are the keepers of the truth of God. Their duty is to evangelize all who are not Oneness. This “cause” helps people find purpose in their existence.
Lastly, simple answers. People want to know who is God. Oneness Pentecostals are ready with an answer: Jesus is God. Of course, Trinitarians believe the same but Oneness groups don’t teach that the one God is three persons but rather they teach that Jesus is God and He alone is God and He alone has always been God and He alone will forever be God. There are no persons in the Godhead but only Jesus (Colossians 2:9). If you’ve seen Jesus, you’ve seen the Father (John 14:8-9). Oneness groups provide answers for who is God and what is He like. Like cults, they have answers for God where confusing may exist. They have their God figured out.
Sadly, many Trinitarian Pentecostals often fall into prey with Oneness Pentecostals. The reason is that pragmatism abounds among the Trinitarian Pentecostals. One could easily attend a Trinitarian Pentecostal church and never know that it was Pentecostal. This is not so with Oneness Pentecostals. They have the feel of the old Pentecostal services where the music is jumping, the people are jumping, and the sermons are “anointed.” The average Trinitarian Pentecostal looking for an “experience” with Jesus will find one in Oneness churches and will remind them of “the good old days.” Due to pragmatism, doctrine among many Trinitarian Pentecostals is weak and thus a Trinitarian Pentecostal is easily drawn into the Oneness groups and led astray.
For more information on Oneness Pentecostals, I recommend this book.
Why did Jesus do miracles? What was the point of signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus? In Matthew 8 we get a reason from Matthew about why Jesus did miracles (at least just one among others as we shall see but this point is the overwhelming reason why Jesus did miracles). In Matthew 8:16-17 we read:
16 That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”
Here Matthew quotes from Isaiah 53:4. Adam Clarke commented on Matthew 8:17:
Christ fulfils the prophecies in all respects, and is himself the completion and truth of them, as being the lamb and victim of God, which, bears and takes away the sin of the world. The text in Isaiah refers properly to the taking away of sin; and this in the evangelist, to the removal of corporeal afflictions: but, as the diseases of the body are the emblems of the sin of the soul, Matthew, referring to the prediction of the prophet, considered the miraculous healing of the body as an emblem of the soul’s salvation by Christ Jesus.
The Messiah would come and He would bear the sins of Israel (and the world; see John 1:29). Part of this was to “reverse the curse” (Romans 5:17-18). Part of the fall into sin is suffering, pain, and sickness. In Revelation 21:4 assures us that in the new heavens and new earth, there will be no more pain, suffering, crying, death. In fact, death will be destroyed completely according to Revelation 20:14. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8) and part of that work is death itself whom He abolished (2 Timothy 1:10). Death has been swallowed up in victory through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:54) so that Jesus could say to Martha that He was the resurrection and the life even before the cross (John 11:25-26).
What point then does signs and wonders serve for the Messiah? They point to Him being the true Messiah. John the Apostle mentions “signs” in John 2:23. The Greek word here is “semeion” which can be translated “sign, signal, mark.” Jesus, by doing signs and wonders, was giving a sign, a signal, and a mark that He was in fact the Son of God. In John 2:11 John the Apostle states that Jesus did these signs or signals or marks and His disciples put their faith in Him. The signs and wonders of Jesus were not for a show. They were to point to a greater, deeper meaning and that was that Jesus was the Messiah of God. Jesus was the promised one from the Old Testament (Genesis 3:15).
When Jesus appeared on the scene, He was unlike any other who had ever been or will be. I know some charismatics like to quote John 14:12 to say that we as believers can do greater works than Jesus but that was not the point of John 14:12. I know of no charismatics who would claim to do greater miracles than Jesus. Who can claim to be sinless? Who can claim toward others that if they destroy them, they will raise themselves up again? Who can truly make blind eyes open just by a touch? Who can raise the dead by a word? Who can claim to seeing the lame walk just by taking them by the hand? Even the Apostles pointed to the Lord Jesus with their signs and wonders in Acts (more on that in the next post).
In the Bible, God allowed signs and wonders for a purpose. In biblical history we only find three main times when miracles were rampant. Moses. Elijah and Elisha. The Gospels and Acts. In each case, the purpose was a sign from God. For example, in Moses’ case the Lord was delivering His people out of Egypt and He gave great power to Moses as he led God’s people out. While the Lord allowed Joshua, Moses’ aid and successor, to do miracles, they were not on the same level nor quantity as Moses. The point of the signs and wonders was to point to Moses as God’s faithful servant and deliver (Exodus 4:1-9).
In the case of the Lord Jesus, He did miracles to point to Him being the true Messiah. In Luke 4:18-19 Jesus appeals to the words of Isaiah 61:1-2 as about Himself. The Jews take an exception to this (Luke 4:29) but Jesus escapes from their grasps (Luke 4:30). Jesus points to the Old Testament Scriptures about Himself and to His miracles (John 5:36-40). The purpose of the signs and wonders was to reveal that Jesus was in fact the Son of God who came down from heaven to do His Father’s will (John 5:30; 6:32).
So let me return to my original question: what is the purpose of signs and wonders in the ministry of Jesus? They were to validate Him as the Messiah. Yet if divine determinism is true, why is this necessary? If God can make a person believe and make another not believe by His own determinism then why do we need signs and wonders? The elect would believe because God makes them believe and not because of signs and wonders!
The very nature of signs and wonders in the life of Jesus points to the reality of contra-casual free will. God was not making people believe or disbelieve. He was sending His Son to redeem fallen humanity just as Isaiah stated in Isaiah 53. This good news (gospel) would be for all people and not just the Jews (Luke 2:10). All of humanity is under the curse of sin but Christ came to redeem us who were under the curse of sin (Galatians 3:13-14). Just as Moses lifted up the serpent on the poll to redeem all who would look upon the poll, so the Lord Jesus was lifted up for all sinners so that whosoever can come and be saved by looking to Him alone to save them (John 3:14-15). The purpose of signs and wonders is to point to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and by believing you might have life in His name (John 20:31). The signs and wonders are signs, signals, and marks that Jesus is the Son of God who gave Himself for our sins (Galatians 1:4; 2:20; 1 Peter 3:18).
If unconditional election were true what point would signs and wonders play? The elect will believe because God makes them to believe (or at least makes them irresistibly willing to believe). A Calvinist may argue that the purpose of signs and wonders is so that the elect will believe but if God chooses whom He will save and whom He will damn, the elect will believe no matter what by God’s determined decree. The signs are not true signs then but just merely a show for the purpose of the Bible. Even if Jesus never did miracles, the elect would believe if in fact divine determinism is true. The very reason for signs and wonders points to free will. The signs are to invoke people to consider Jesus and His claims. The wonders are to cause people to question if Jesus is truly the Messiah. Read John 9 and notice how signs and wonders play into the reasoning of the people about Jesus. Jesus healed the blind man to provoke people to debating about Him. The signs provoked the people as well in John 7:31 to consider Jesus.
One final point about signs and wonders. The purpose of signs and wonders in the Gospels seems to me to be three-fold. First and most obvious, the signs point to Jesus as the Messiah. This is God manifested in the flesh (John 1:14) so we expect Him to do miracles since He is God. This is the anointed one (Christ) of God who is sinless and is the perfect Son of God. He does miracles to point to Him being both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:22, 36).
Secondly, signs and wonders provoked the Jews to consider Jesus as the Messiah. I point again to John 9 as a case in point. I would also point to Acts 10:38.
Thirdly, I believe that signs and wonders also provoked the Jews to kill Jesus. We read this in John 12:36-43. Some of the Jews (such as the Apostles) believed in Jesus because of His signs and wonders and His teachings but many Jews rejected Him as the Messiah and killed Him for it. The signs worked to provoke some to faith while others to rejection. This is still true today. Why does God do this if in fact divine determinism is true? Why does God need to harden the Jews according to John 12:40 if total depravity (in the Calvinist sense) is true? If man is born depraved, dead in their sins, wicked sinners from birth then why would God need to provoke the Jews to harden their hearts toward His Messiah? There is no logical answer for the Calvinist here.
In my next post I will jump into the purpose of signs and wonders among the Apostles.
In this final chapter, MacArthur writes an open letter to his continuationist friends. This would include mainly Reformed theologians and preachers who are charismatic such as John Piper, Wayne Grudem, CJ Mahaney and Sam Storms. Both Piper and Mahaney have spoken at MacArthur’s church and at conferences with him and I believe that Grudem has taught some classes at the Master’s Seminary. All of these men (and many other charismatic Calvinists) would disagree with MacArthur over some (not all) of what he has written in this book.
MacArthur gives eight reasons why he believes that the continuation of the revelatory gifts is dangerous. I will only list them without comment:
1. The continuationist position gives an illusion of legitimacy to the broader Charismatic Movement.
2. The continuationist position degrades the miraculous nature of the true gifts that God bestowed upon the first-century church.
3. The continuationist position severely limits the ability of its advocates to confront others who fall into charismatic confusion.
4. By insisting that God is still giving new revelation to Christians today, the Continuationist Movement opens the gates to confusion and error.
5. By insisting that God is still giving new revelation to Christians today, the Continuationist Movement tacitly denies the doctrine of sola Scriptura.
6. By allowing for an irrational form of tongues-speaking (usually as a private prayer language), the Continuationist Movement opens the door to the mindless ecstasy of charismatic worship.
7. By asserting that the gift of healing has continued to the present, the continuationist position affirms the same basic premise that undergirds the fraudulent ministries of charismatic faith healers.
8. The continuationist position ultimately dishonors the Holy Spirit by distracting people from His true ministry while enticing them with counterfeits.
MacArthur ends by calling his continuationist friends back to the Reformation and what it means to be Protestant.
Interestingly, I read after the Strange Fire Conference that MacArthur stated that he wanted to draw a line in the sand at some point and ask all who agree with him to stand with him. He stated that he would ask his friends who share his theology (Reformed) to cross over and denounce the charismatic movement once and for all. I have not heard more about this as of this post.
In my estimation, Satan usually offers counterfeits to the truth. Cults often take some truths of Scripture and build on them but they deny the gospel in essential ways. Satan will take some truth and sprinkle it into many lies but he seeks to counterfeit the power of God. This is the case with false healings. Satan raises up fake healers to spread their heretical “health and wealth” gospel while using a truth about God, that He can do miracles but they ignore that God does them for His glory. I think that we should not cast away our desire for God to do miracles, for His name to be glorified through His divine intervention simply out of fear of fakes. This is what I see and hear when I read Strange Fire.
MacArthur has made many valid points and Pentecostals can read this book and will no doubt amen much of what he has written. I believe that all disciples of Jesus (whether you agree with MacArthur or not) would agree that the Bible must be our sure foundation. The Bible alone is the inerrant and infallible Word of God (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12-13) and we must stand on the Word of God (Matthew 4:4). This must be the case when examining healings or those who would claim to speak for God (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).
Yet I also believe that MacArthur has labeled many people in the Pentecostal or charismatic with tags that they would not appreciate. I know of godly Pentecostal missionaries who are gospel centered in their preaching and are in foreign nations now preaching the gospel to the lost. These are not heretics who are wishing to dethrone Christ from His place of honor and worship. These are godly men and women who have given up everything for the King. I know of godly Pentecostal prayer warriors who spend hours in prayer for others and for the nations. I know of godly Pentecostals who love the Bible and seek to exegete the Word of God using sound skills of interpretation. To simply label the entire charismatic movement as a false manifestation of the Spirit is misleading and wrong.
That said, all of us need godly correction. None of us (including MacArthur) are perfect in our understanding of God or His Word. We see through a glass rather dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). While our hearts must be for sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), we humbly acknowledge that we are imperfect people seeking to know a perfect God. I rejoice that God reveals Himself to us in His Word (John 20:31) and I rejoice that the Holy Spirit leads us into His truth (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). I rejoice for the grace that He has given to me to know Him (Philippians 3:9-11). None of us have arrived to perfect doctrine but we strive to know God, to understand His truth, to interpret His Word, and to preach His gospel.
I pray that whatever areas of correction I needed while reading Strange Fire, I pray that the Lord does use MacArthur and the Word of God to correct me. But I equally pray that for MacArthur.