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Strange Fire Book Review (Chapter Seven)

Chapter seven is the one chapter that most Pentecostals and godly charismatics would find to be the chapter they disagree with MacArthur the most on.  In this chapter, MacArthur examines speaking in tongues.  He begins by pointing to the ridiculous Facebook post by charismatic Juanita Bynum that was supposedly written in tongues.  MacArthur concludes that such gibberish is the typical “language” that charismatics are speaking.  It is most certainly not biblical tongues or a foreign tongue that people are speaking in when claiming to be speaking in tongues.  MacArthur points out that modern linguistic researchers have long concluded that speaking in tongues is not speaking in a known foreign tongue nor does it even sound like a true language.  MacArthur also points out that skeptics of Christianity have used glossolalia as proof against Christianity since the “language” is not a known language but gibberish.  MacArthur also quotes various charismatics who admit that their “prayer language” sounds like gibberish to them.

MacArthur believes that speaking in tongues today is “deceptive and dangerous, offering a pretense of genuine spirituality” (p. 136).  Further, MacArthur believes that the charismatic emphasis on glossolalia has produced nothing in their lives.  Holiness is not produced by speaking in tongues.  He believes that the modern gift of tongues is “a counterfeit that by every measure falls short of the gift of tongues described in the New Testament” (p. 137).  He points out that even unsaved people and pagans have had experiences of speaking in tongues.  Hindus, for example, claim to speak in tongues.

MacArthur goes on to teach on what he believes the Bible teaches about the gift of tongues and about glossolalia (pp. 140-154).  In short, MacArthur believes that this sign gift has ceased since its purpose was to make known the gospel in a foreign tongue.  He believes that 1 Corinthians 14:40 actually forbids modern tongues rather than endorsing it.  He concludes that both the New Testament and Church History itself show that the gift of tongues is not for us today.

By far, speaking in tongues is the most controversial aspect of the modern Pentecostal movement.  Even among Pentecostals it is debated.  Most Pentecostal churches have historically held that speaking in tongues was the “initial, physical evidence of the baptism in the Holy Spirit.”  I know of many Pentecostals both as members and as pastors who now reject that teaching.  In many ways, speaking in tongues has grown cold in the charismatic movement.  This is not to say that it is not there but I would say that speaking in tongues is not the issue of the movement these days.  That, of course, is just one man’s opinion.

That said, I did take exception with MacArthur in this chapter.  For one, he writes that the purpose of speaking in tongues is for the proclamation of the gospel.  Yet when we read Acts or 1 Corinthians 12-14, we find nothing to suggest that.  The only reference we have toward this view is Acts 2 where the Apostles spoke in tongues and the people understood them (Acts 2:8).  But Acts 2:11 tells us what they heard and it was not the gospel but rather they heard “the mighty deeds of God” (NASB).  The gospel was preached in Acts 2:14-39.  The Bible does not say that Peter, at this point, was speaking in tongues to preach to the Jews.

In Acts 10:44-48 we read of another example of tongues but again nothing is said that they were preaching the gospel.  In fact, Luke records that they were “speaking with tongues and exalting God” (Acts 10:46 NASB).  Since the gospel had been preached to them in Acts 10:34-43, this example of tongues would not fit with MacArthur’s notion that tongues was for preaching the gospel.

Lastly, we have Acts 19:6 where the disciples of John the Baptist are baptized into Christ.  Paul lays hands on them and they speak in tongues and prophesy.  Again, the view that speaking in tongues was for the gospel does not fit well into this verse.

1 Corinthians 12-14 also does not fit the idea that speaking in tongues is for the gospel.  No where in these three chapters does Paul say that speaking in tongues is for the gospel.  In fact, in 1 Corinthians 14:2 he says that the one who speaks in tongues does not speak to men but to God.  How can that be preaching the gospel?  To God?  In 1 Corinthians 14:6-12 Paul speaks about clarity and edification toward the church.  Dr. David Lim, in his masterpiece work Spiritual Gifts: A Fresh Look, states that Paul gives five “if-then” propositions in 1 Corinthian 14:6-12.  Lim concludes that Paul was emphasizing the need for communication in the understood language for without clarity the result would be confusion.  The point of spiritual gifts is edification of the church (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

I highly recommend Dr. Lim’s work and commentary on 1 Corinthians 12-14 as a reply to MacArthur.

The notion that speaking in tongues must be for gospel preaching is simply not a view that I find in the New Testament.  I remember going on a missions trip when I was a young believer and I wanted God to give me this gift but of course I didn’t receive it.  MacArthur takes Mark 16:17 and concludes that speaking in tongues must be for the gospel message.

In regard to a private prayer language, in the New Testament tongues are primarily directed to God.  Whether praise (Acts 2:11), mysteries (1 Corinthians 14:2), prayer (1 Corinthians 14:15), or thanksgiving (1 Corinthians 14:16-17).  Dr. Lim writes about tongues in 1 Corinthians 14:

Paul shows the relative effectiveness of tongues in four areas: They excel in worship, in functioning as a sign, and in body ministry with guidelines (1 Corinthians 14:26-28), faltering only in the area of teaching.

So can one pray in tongues?  Is there a biblical notion of a prayer language?  Pentecostals point to 1 Corinthians 14:2, 4, 13-19.  In 1 Corinthians 14:17 Paul commends the Corinthians and says they are giving thanks well enough (NASB).  F.F. Bruce, in his commentary on Romans, suggests that Romans 8:26-27, while not mentioning speaking in tongues, perhaps has tongues praying in mind.  While others would disagree (and I see nothing in Romans 8:26-27 to suggest this view), it is well worth noting that Bruce was a top scholar who was not Pentecostal but did not negate this view.

Others point to Ephesians 6:18 and Jude 20 as two more passages that perhaps show that one can pray in tongues (in the Spirit).  I believe this is not found in those texts.  To make speaking in tongues as “praying in the Spirit” is stretching these texts.

Interestingly, Adam Clarke wrote that the “unknown tongues” (an unfortunate translation of the KJV) was perhaps the old Hebrew that had been lost on the Jews during the time of the Apostles but the Holy Spirit gave them understanding of this “unknown tongue” again so that they could teach properly the things of the Lord.  Clarke also suggested in his commentary that the unknown tongue of Hebrew was the focus of 1 Corinthians 14.  He suggests that some thought they were spiritual by speaking in a language that the Gentiles clearly did not understand but what was the point?  Paul, in 1 Corinthians 14:18, tells the Corinthians that he too is skilled in languages (Hebrew, Syriac, Greek, and Latin) but he wanted the church to be edified so he did not focus on those languages nor should the Corinthians who were speaking in this “unknown tongue” of Hebrew.

In conclusion, I disagree with both MacArthur and Clarke here.  Both are looking for something that is not there.  I am no where the scholar these men are but even a cursory reading of Acts or 1 Corinthians 12-14 does not suggest that tongues is for evangelism or speaking in Hebrew.  Clarke has no basis for this view in my estimation.

I commend the work of David Lim and also would suggest reading Jack Hayford work on speaking in tongues.  While Lim’s is more scholarly than Hayford’s work, both are worth reading about this subject even if you oppose tongues speaking.  I remain neutral on this issue.  My point is not to side with the Pentecostals here or against them.  I believe this subject should be debated.

Yet let me state one point before I end.  I have known many people who thought (as MacArthur suggests) that speaking in tongues made them spiritual.  They would come together with the saints and speak in tongues but their lives were full of sin during the week.  This led some to conclude they were okay because they were speaking in tongues.  Tongues is not holiness (as MacArthur rightfully points out).  Tongues does not mean you are saved.  Tongues does not mean that you are closer to God.  1 Peter 1:15-16 tells us to be holy in all our conduct.  Ephesians 4:29-30 tells us that no unwholesome word is to proceed from our mouths but only such a word as is good for edification (NASB).  Just because you speak in tongues proves nothing.  It does not prove you are saved or full of the Spirit.  To be full of the Spirit is to walk in the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-21; cf. Galatians 5:16-17).  To claim to be Spirit-filled but to abide in sin shows you need to repent and go back to the Lord Jesus for forgiveness of your sins (1 John 2:3-6; 3:4-10).  I don’t care what experience you claim you have, if you are abiding in sin you are not living the Spirit-filled life (Romans 8:9-17).  To be Spirit-filled is to Spirit-controlled.

Strange Fire Book Review (Chapter Six)

This is an ongoing look at Dr. John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire.  You can find the first post here.

This post will examine chapter six of the book.  In this chapter, Dr. MacArthur is writing about “the folly of fallible prophets.”  The chapter opens with MacArthur looking at what the Old Testament had to say in regard to prophets.  Prophets, oddly enough, were not that common in the Bible.  Even the Prophetic writings themselves (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Joel, etc.) were not full of prophecies but were expositions from the Lord to His people.  While there are prophecies given in the Old Testament (such as the prophecies about the Messiah that have been fulfilled in Jesus), the Old Testament is not one long prophetic book.

Yet the Old Testament did give guidelines for the Israelites in regard to the claim of a prophet.  Deuteronomy 13:1-5 is clear on this issue:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. 5 But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.

MacArthur writes, “The New Testament is relentless in echoing that same warning.  Anyone who claims to speak for God while simultaneously leading people away from the truth of God’s Word is clearly shown to be a false prophet and a deceiver.”  MacArthur points out that even Satan himself can do miracles to fool the people (2 Thessalonians 2:9).

In the book MacArthur gives three signs of a false prophet.  They are:

  1. A false prophet is one who leads people into false doctrine and heresy (Deut. 13:1-5).
  2. A false prophet is one who lives in unrestrained lust and unrepentant sin (Matthew 7:20-23).
  3. A false prophet is one who claims to have a “revelation from God” that turns out to be inaccurate or untrue (Deut. 18:20-22; 1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Using these three criteria, MacArthur takes on the modern charismatic prophets who claim to be using the gift of prophecy.  He even takes on Reformed charismatic Wayne Grudem over the issue of fallible prophets.  Grudem believes that Acts 21:10-14 records a fallible prophecy from Agabus.  MacArthur takes Grudem to the task of showing Grudem to be wrong on this issue.

Overall this chapter is rooted in the Bible.  The Bible is clear that prophets are to be tested and not believed just because they claim to speak for God or even that they can do signs and wonders.  We must be biblically discerning toward those who claim to be speaking for God.  I have always been wary of someone claiming to have a “word from the Lord” for me or for the church.  When I have pressed people to how God gives them these “words from the Lord,” I have been dumfounded at their answers.  It has ranged from strange to “I just felt like this is from the Lord.”  Rather than heeding the Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17), we have had prophets and the like running around claiming to hear from heaven while leading people astray.  We must be careful about this.

That said, I have also had “words from the Lord” that were incredible in their truth.  I am not claiming that the gift of prophecy is to be proved by our experiences but I must admit that I have heard some incredible “words” from people who didn’t know me and yet they were able to discern things that I had not expressed outwardly.  Again, this does not prove their prophecies to be true nor should we base our faith on my experience, but I have witnessed some incredible things.

And I believe that MacArthur would say that God leads us not by direct communication but by His divine providence.  His associate, Phil Johnson, taught on this at the Strange Fire Conference.  You can find that teaching here.  Divine providence shows us that God is not dead nor does He not care for His creation.  God is involved in every detail of our world.  From the animals to the weather to His own children in Christ Jesus.  However, MacArthur would be clear here that God speaks today only in the Bible and through the Bible and we must hear His voice today in the Scriptures.  While the voice of God does go out into the world through His creation (Psalm 19:1-3), Scripture speaks clearly for God and reveals His salvation (2 Peter 1:16-21).

Charismatics that I have known would agree with much of what MacArthur writes.  They would reject the idea that God is not speaking while agreeing that the Holy Spirit can lead us and yet we should be careful to test all things by the Word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21).  No doubt all “words from the Lord” should not just be accepted simply because the person speaking is godly or has spoken truth in the past.  The Bible must be the final authority for all things.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/23/2014 at 10:50 AM

Strange Fire Book Review (Chapter Five)

This is an ongoing look at the controversial book by Dr. John MacArthur, Strange Fire.  This post will be on chapter five of the book.

In chapter five, Dr. MacArthur is going to begin looking deeper at the charismatic movement and biblically why he disagrees with it.  This chapter focused on the issue of Apostles.  MacArthur points out that many charismatics claim that apostles are for today and that in some ways, modern Apostles are more powerful, more anointed, etc. than the Apostles in Scripture.  He points out that men such as C. Peter Wagner have taught that we are now living in a new era of apostles.  Men such as Bill Hamon promote the idea that we need modern apostles just as found in Ephesians 4:11-16 to help us build up the kingdom of Christ.

Along with modern apostles comes all that the Apostles did in the book of Acts: miracles, visions, dreams, leadership, authority, etc.  MacArthur rightfully asks the question as to whether this is biblical?  Is it biblical for someone to claim to be an apostle today or has the office of the Apostles ceased with the death of Paul (who was the last Apostle according to 1 Corinthians 15:8-9).  MacArthur points out that while some were indeed called apostles, the Apostles (capitalized) have a unique place in the kingdom of God that will never be repeated.  MacArthur points out that most charismatics agree with this with the exception of a few who claim to have been gifted beyond the Twelve.

I will admit that I have struggled with people claiming titles for themselves.  I have met people who claimed to be an apostle.  I doubted they were anything like what I see in Scripture regarding the Apostles.  Frankly, I have yet to meet an “apostle” who was humble or broken as Paul was (2 Corinthians 2:17).  Most “apostles” I have met claimed that title for power purposes only.  In reality, the only title I see in Scripture that we are to give is to the Lord Jesus (1 Timothy 6:15).  Jesus alone is the exalted One that we worship and adore.  We do not exalt men of flesh (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

The word Apostle in the New Testament has several meanings depending on the context.  It can refer to the Twelve (Matthew 10:2; Revelation 21:14) or those sent out by the Church (missionaries; the Greek word means “one sent out”; see Acts 13:1-3; 14:14).  MacArthur points out that the Apostles had three major criteria:

  1. An Apostle had to be a physical eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22; 10:39-41; 1 Corinthians 9:1; 15:7-8).
  2. An Apostle had to be personally appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ (Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2, 24; 10:41; Galatians 1:1).
  3. An Apostle had to be able to authenticate his apostolic appointment with miraculous signs (Matthew 10:1-2; Acts 1:5-8; 2:43; 4:33; 5:12; 8:14; 2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3-4).

If the “apostle” does not meet these qualifications, they are not biblical apostles.  He points out that Dr. Wayne Grudem (a charismatic theologian himself) has written, “since no one today can meet the qualification of having seen the risen Christ with his own eyes, there are no apostles today.”  MacArthur believes this to be a remarkable statement from someone who believes the gifts continue to this day yet Grudem admits to being a cessationist when it comes to modern apostles.

MacArthur goes on to write how the modern apostles not only fail the test of apostolic ministry but they serve no purpose today in the Church.  The Apostles laid the foundation of the Church (Ephesians 2:20) but they have ceased since no one has seen the risen Christ with their own eyes today.

I agreed with much of what MacArthur wrote here.  I have no problem saying that the Apostles were indeed unique just as Moses was unique to ancient Israel.  There will never be another Moses nor another Paul the Apostle.  In this I can admit that I am a partial cessationist when it comes to many issues regarding the charismatic movement.  This is why I admit that I am a disciple of Jesus first and foremost above being an Arminian or a Baptist or whatever.  Our faith is in Jesus and not in a movement.

In conclusion, MacArthur has a strong defense for the cessationist arguments against modern apostles.  I suspect that many Pentecostals could easily read this chapter and agree with MacArthur, that the Apostles were unique and there will never been men such as that again.  They will be forever remembered for their service to the King in Revelation 21:14.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/21/2014 at 10:10 AM

Strange Fire Review: Chapter Four

This is an ongoing review of Strange Fire.  You can find the first post here.

In chapter four of Dr. John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire, he continues to deal with Jonathan Edwards’ testing of the spirits (1 John 4:1).  In this chapter MacArthur will deal with four points from Edwards (and from 1 John): Does it oppose worldliness?  Does it point people to the Scriptures?  Does it elevate truth?  Does it produce love for God and others?

I was disappointed in this chapter.  The chapter reminded me of Charismatic Chaos where it seemed that MacArthur would try to point out the faults of the charismatic movement by pointing to its moral failures and bizarre activity among some of the people involved.  This chapter is just one long rant on how the charismatic movement has produced many moral failures and the strange lives of those in the prosperity gospel.

I won’t spend long on this post because frankly I know that nearly all Pentecostals that I know would read chapter four and side with MacArthur in that they would oppose any teachings and preachers who would advocate what MacArthur starts with.  As a boy growing up at an Assemblies of God church, I know firsthand that worldliness was opposed.  I wasn’t allowed to hardly watch TV because of worldliness.  Movies, dancing, tobacco, etc. were all viewed as worldly.  We were to be separate (2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1).  That was how we were taught.  Right or wrong.

While the Assemblies of God has certainly changed (as the entire Pentecostal movement has and I would add for worst by seeking the seeker movement instead of God), there remains faithful disciples in the movement who would agree with MacArthur, that we must be holy and pure in a corrupt world (Philippians 2:15; 1 Peter 1:15-16).  They would agree that we must avoid sinning and live lives that glorify Jesus.

Yet this chapter is just one sad story after another mainly from Word-Faith teachers and their prosperity message along with their moral failures.  MacArthur does include on A/G pastor from New Zealand Neville Johnson who left his wife for another woman by claiming that he had had a revelation that she would die and he was free to remarry.  Again, Pentecostals that I know would reject all of this. They would point to the Scriptures and show Johnson and others that they are not following the Word of God.

I agree that every movement has its faults.  Every movement has its moral failures.  MacArthur believes that the theology of the charismatic movement opens the door to this more than any other movement.  From the likes of an Aimee Simple McPherson to the likes of a Benny Hinn, MacArthur believes that the theology behind the charismatic movement is what produces the sinful results.  I disagree frankly.  It is the sinfulness of man that produces such sins.  Mankind is sinful and this flows out like a river on any given day in our world.  There are many people who claim to be disciples of Jesus who are nothing more than hypocrites and don’t love the Lord.  They don’t hate their sins.  They live in them and love them.  The clear call of Scripture is to forsake sin (Matthew 1:21).  Jesus came to save sinners and I feel I was the worst (1 Timothy 1:15) but thankfully His shed blood was able to cleanse me and save me.

All disciples of Jesus should hate sin.  We should deplore strange teachings that don’t exalt the Lord Jesus Christ to His rightful place of worship and honor.  Furthermore, the fact that we have the Holy Spirit abiding in us must produce holiness (Romans 8:12-13; Galatians 5:16-17).  We cannot overcome sin by our own willpower but only by the grace of God (Titus 2:11-12).  I pray that we all would hate sin and any teaching that allows for us to continue to live in sin (1 John 3:4-10).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

02/11/2014 at 11:33 AM

Strange Fire Review: Chapter Three

I am continuing my chapter by chapter review of John MacArthur’s book, Strange Fire.  

In chapter three, Dr. MacArthur begins where he left off in chapter two by focusing on the work of Jonathan Edwards and how we are to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1).  As Matthew 7:16 points out, we can know false prophets by their fruit.  Does the fruit of the charismatic movement show a movement that exalts the Lord Jesus, upholds sound doctrine, and is accurate in its teaching on the person and work of the Holy Spirit?  Dr. MacArthur will argue that they do not.

In this opening chapter focusing on Edwards’ work, The Distinguishing Marks of the Spirit, MacArthur points out that Edwards points first to 1 John 4:2-3 and asks the question, “The First Test: Does it exalt the true Christ?”  MacArthur is clear that he does not feel that the charismatic movement has passed this test.  Both John the Apostle writing under the inspiration of the Spirit in 1 John 4:2-3 (against the heresy known as Docetism) and Jonathan Edwards writing in his day have in mind that the true work of the Holy Spirit is not to focus on the Spirit nor the flesh of men nor subjective experiences but the Lord Jesus Christ just as Jesus said in John 14:26; 16:14.

Yet, points out MacArthur, even charismatic authors and leaders such as Jack Hayford and David Moore have affirmed that the heart of the Pentecostal movement is to “experience the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.”  Some charismatic scholars even call the 20th century, “the charismatic century” with a clear focus on the Holy Spirit.  MacArthur believes that while charismatics often claim to be exalting the Spirit, they ignore His work to draw all attention to the Lord Jesus.  Former Pentecostal preacher, Kenneth Johns, believes that the Pentecostal movement is “Spirit-centered instead of Christ-centered.”  MacArthur quotes famous Pentecostal theologian Donald Gee who lamented at the end of his life that the Pentecostal people “still exhibited an obsession toward the emotional, the spectacular, and sign seeking.”  MacArthur points out that the very movement itself is focused on the Spirit by its mere name!

In the remaining pages in chapter three MacArthur briefly teaches on the work of the Spirit to focus on the Lord Jesus and he shows this by pointing to the promises given by Jesus about the ministry of the Spirit and also how the Epistles focus on Jesus and not the Spirit.  As Greg Boyd points out, the Spirit is often “the hidden person of the Trinity in the Bible.”

Finally MacArthur turns to the test as to whether the true Christ is being exalted.  While the charismatic movement exalts the Spirit (that is clear by its name), what do they teach about the Lord Jesus?  MacArthur believes, yet again, that charismatics fail the test.  He points to bizarre teachings from Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar about Christ and how He had to die spiritually and go to hell.  MacArthur also points out that charismatics often will associate with charismatic Catholics despite worshiping another Jesus (Galatians 1:6-9).  MacArthur is clear that doctrine does not matter among charismatics so long as they have experienced the Spirit and that is what really matters in their world.  They are even willing to accept false teachings such as the denial of the Trinity by oneness Pentecostals including the entire United Pentecostal Church (UPCI) and the acceptance of false teachers such as T.D. Jakes who has consistently waffled on the doctrine of the Trinity.  I would add that to be the case with Tommy Tenney as well (his father was a UPC pastor and leader for many years) as well as the singing group, Phillips, Craig, and Dean.  MacArthur even points out that they are now Mormons who claim to be “Spirit-filled Mormons.”  The reaction from charismatics:  nothing.

MacArthur is clear that he believes that the charismatic movement has failed the test of 1 John 4:2-3.

My own thoughts on this chapter.  First, I find that I agree with MacArthur much of what he has written.  That said, I grew up in an Assemblies of God church (Airport Assembly of God, West Columbia, SC) and was saved in an Assemblies of God church (Trinity Assembly of God).  I have never seen what MacArthur describes here.  I never saw a worship of the Spirit (though He is God!) and I have never seen people desiring to exalt the Spirit above Jesus.  Jesus was always preached in our church.  Jesus was exalted in the singing, the preaching, the prayer times, the outreaches, and other programs.  That is not to say that I can speak for every Pentecostal church but neither can MacArthur. To say that all charismatics are focused on exalting the Holy Spirit is stretching there.

That said, the Pentecostal movement needs to listen to Dr. MacArthur.  I was praying just the other day and was thanking God for a man of boldness like MacArthur.  While one might not agree with him (I don’t on all issues), I praise God that he draws a line in the sand and confronts errors.  This causes the church to study the issue.  We need to do this.  We need to study the Holy Spirit and make sure that what we are teaching about Him is accurate and biblically based.  Too often we can become extremists.  As Martin Luther once said about a drunk man, “He tries to get on one side of the horse only to fall onto the other side.”  This is true of many of us.  We fail to find the center of biblical tension.  I pray that we would all find the truth in God’s Word and not subjective experiences.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/28/2014 at 10:08 AM

Strange Fire Review: Chapter Two

In chapter two of Dr. John MacArthur’s book, Strange Firehe deals with the beginnings of the modern Pentecostal movement.  He shows that the movement itself began on strange terms.  His point is to compare the modern Pentecost that Pentecostals see as happening on January 1, 1901 in a prayer meeting in Topeka, Kansas under the leadership of Charles Parham.  Parham had instructed his students at his Bible institute to search the Scriptures to see what was the evidence for the baptism with the Holy Spirit.  The students concluded that speaking in tongues was the Bible evidence for Spirit-baptism.  Parham and his students gathered to seek God for the baptism with the Spirit.

In the early morning hours of January 1, 1901, one of Parham’s students, Agnus Ozman, asked her teacher to lay hands on her and pray that she would receive the Spirit.  Parham laid hands on her and she begin to speak in Chinese.  Parham claimed she could only speak and write in Chinese for three days.

After this, the other students soon begin to speak in tongues and Parham concluded that they spoke in over 20 languages including Japanese, Russian, Bulgarian, French, Bohemian, Norwegian, Hungarian, Italian, and Spanish.

MacArthur shows the holes in the story.  He footnotes all of this to show that history itself does not bear witness to the events.  Conflicting accounts have come from both Parham and Ozman as well as other students.  One of Parham’s students even told a local paper, “I believe the whole of them are crazy.”

MacArthur points out that the students were seeking to speak in foreign languages just as the disciples did in Acts 2:8.  However, MacArthur writes that the tongues of Parham’s “revival” were not the same and they did not speak in foreign languages but gibberish.  Parham even was quoted in a Kansas City newspaper as saying, “A part of our labor will be to teach the church the uselessness of spending years of time preparing missionaries for work in foreign lands when all they have to do is ask God for power.”

However, even Jack Hayford and David Moore conclude that Parham failed in his expectations.  They write, “Sadly, the idea of xenoglossalalic tongues would later prove an embarrassing failure as Pentecostal workers went off to missions fields with their gift of tongues and found their hearers did not understand them.”

In fact, eighteen Pentecostals were sent to Japan, China, and India expecting to preach to the natives in those foreign countries in their own tongue but failed to do so and all eighteen returned to the United States having failed to preach in the tongues they believed they had the gift of.  In time, Pentecostals had to learn the languages just as other missionaries have had to do for thousands of years.  The gift of “tongues” had to be rethought and in time the Pentecostals begin to view the gift for prayer and worship and not for preaching.

MacArthur goes on to show the sad story of Charles Parham himself.  Parham would be involved in several scandals including his own arrest on July 19, 1907 in Texas for sodomy.  Parham then begin to preach to his followers that he needed money to go to the holy land to find Noah’s ark and the lost art of the covenant.  After raising the money, Parham went to New York City in December 1908 to take a steamer to Jerusalem.  The trip never happened as Parham returned home to Kansas City claiming that he was mugged and couldn’t purchase his ticket.

Parham also held to marginal doctrines.  He sounded much like a universalist, was Pelagian in his view of sin, believed sanctification guaranteed divine healing, and strongly advocated racial segregation.

So what is MacArthur’s point?  He is trying to show that the Pentecostal movement began on the shoulders of this man, Charles Parham.  Why would God, writes MacArthur, give a fresh Pentecost to this man?  This man who held to strange doctrines, who advocated racial segregation to the point that he would not allow any “colored” people in his meetings?  When the true Pentecost came in Acts 2, the disciples not only spoke in foreign languages that was clearly understood by the hearers but their lives were transformed into godly lives.  Pentecost does not bring strange manifestations and unholy lives.

MacArthur goes on to write about E.W. Kenyon who is often viewed as the original father of the modern Word-Faith movement.  In fact, in his book, A Different GospelPentecostal scholar D.R. McConnell shows how Kenneth Hagin literally plagiarized Kenyon.

MacArthur then ends chapter two by looking at the words of Jonathan Edwards regarding emotionalism.  He points out that Edwards warned against emotionalism as evidence of revival.  Instead, Edwards believed that there were genuine signs of the work of the Spirit in the life of a true believer.  MacArthur is going to spend the next few chapters looking at what Edwards called, “the distinguishing marks of a work of the Spirit of God.”  Clearly, Matthew 7:21-23 must not be overlooked in this regard.

Let me offer my own thoughts here about this chapter.  First, I was not aware of much of this regarding Parham though I had heard of him and knew of his racism.  When I was in college, my roommate was black and we talked about this issue.  My roommate went on to earn his doctorate and wrote a book on William Seymour who would be the leader of the Azusa Street mission where the Pentecostal revival would start in 1906 in Los Angeles.

Secondly, MacArthur does make a strong case that Parham and his students were not on track.  Parham’s life and theology were not something to be desired.

Third, no Pentecostal would take an exception with MacArthur’s thoughts on Parham or on Kenyon (a man who is unknown to most modern Pentecostals).  I grew up in the Assemblies of God and never heard of Parham or Kenyon until after I was in college and then only because I researched them to a degree.  I had never heard of Kenyon until I read of him in McConnell’s work.

How should one react to this chapter.  I found myself agreeing with MacArthur here.  While I still believe that we must look to the Bible for sound doctrine and truth, it does bother me that history is not on the side of Parham.  I don’t care about Kenyon as he teachings have never impacted most Pentecostals that I know of outside of the heretical Word-Faith movement.   Parham, on the other hand, should trouble Pentecostals.  He would later influence William Seymour and Seymour would influence many others.  Every Pentecostal movement today finds it roots in Azusa Street.  As a boy growing up I often heard of Azusa Street and older Pentecostals spoke of it with reverence.  I remember older Pentecostals praying, “Lord send us another Azusa Street revival.”  I doubt they knew of any of the sins of Parham nor his strange teachings.

But I will end by simply asserting here that we must a people of the Word of God.  Whether you identify with the Pentecostal movement or not, I urge you to hold firmly the Word of God.  The Bible must be our guide and we must learn and obey it.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/15/2014 at 3:12 PM

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