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(85 posts)


“God told me”

Sinclair Ferguson laments the desire of many for direct revelation from God: Why, then, should Christians today—by contrast with their fathers—be so thirsty to experience immediate personal revelation from God (“God told me . . .”) when His desire for us is the ongoing work of the Spirit opening up our understanding through mediated revelation of the New Testament? There seem to be three reasons: 1. It may appear to be more exciting, more obviously supernatural, to have direct revelation rather than Bible revelation. It seems to many people to be more “spiritual,” more “divine,” more “personal.” 2. To many people, it feels much more convincing to be able to say, “God told me . . .” than to say, “The Bible tells me. . . .” 3. Direct revelation makes it unnecessary to engage in painstaking Bible study and careful consideration of Christian doctrine in order to know the will of God. By comparison with immediate revelation, Bible study seems—to be frank—boring. Although rarely said, underlying all of this is a sinister thought: the Bible is not very clear. By contrast, it is assumed that direct revelation cannot possibly be misunderstood. —Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), 107. While I agree that all three of Ferguson’s reasons are correct, I think the third is the most common, and perhaps the one that leads to rationalizing (I know, an odd word in this context) the first two. I believe most Christians are just too lazy to do the hard work of Bible study. The less apathetic among them fall back on the entirely sentimental reasons one and two. All this is very sad, because those people are going to learn absolutely nothing from God, because God is not going to speak to them. Yes, my subjectively-guided friend, you read that right. If you claim that God has spoken to you, I don’t believe you. I don’t think you are lying (unless you say it on TBN; then I’m quite convinced you’re making it up); I just think you are deluded, mistaking the voices in your head for the Holy Spirit. Conversely, if you are willing to buckle down and “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15), you will “[increase] in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man” (Luke 2:46–52), and be “[sanctified] in the truth” (John 17:17–19).

The Prayer of Faith

Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit. —James 5:14–18 Sinclair Ferguson on “the prayer of faith”: [I]n the past century and a half, much has been written and said particularly about “the prayer of faith.” The focus has been on mountain-moving prayer by which we simply “claim” things from God with confidence that we will receive them because we believe that He will give them. But what exactly is the prayer of faith? Association with the Dramatic Interestingly, it is in the letter of James (who has so much to say about works) that the term occurs. It climaxes the marvelous teaching on prayer that punctuates the entire letter (see 1:5–8; 4:2–3; 5:13–18). . . . Elijah’s praying is used as an example not because it produce miracle-like effects but because it gives us one of the clearest of all illustrations of what it means for anyone to pray with faith: it is believing God’s revealed Word, taking hold of His covenant commitment to it, and asking Him to keep it. The Prayer of a Righteous Person Shutting up the heavens was not, after all, a novel idea that originated in the fertile mind of Elijah. In fact, it was the fulfillment of the promised curse of the covenant Lord: “If you do not obey the Lord your God . . . these curses will come upon you. . . . The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder” (Deut. 28:15, 22–24, NIV). . . . This, then, is the prayer of faith: to ask God to accomplish what He has promised in His Word. That promise is the only ground for our confidence in asking. Such confidence in not “worked up” from within our emotional life; rather, it is given and supported by what God has said in Scripture. Truly “righteous” men and women of faith know the value of their heavenly Father’s promises. They go to Him, as children do to a loving human father. They know that if they can say to an earthly father, “But, father, you promised . . . ,” they can both persist in asking and be confident that he will keep his word. How much more our heavenly Father, who has given His Son for our salvation! We have no other grounds of confidence that He hears our prayers, we need none. Legitimate Prayer . . . Some Christians find this disappointing. It seems to remove the mystique from the prayer of faith. Are we not tying down our faith to ask only for what God already had promised? But such disappointment reveals a spiritual malaise: would we rather devise our own spirituality (preferably spectacular) than God’s (frequently modest)?The struggles we sometimes experience in prayer, then, are often part of the process by which God gradually brings us to ask for only what He has promised to give, the struggle is not our wrestling to bring him to give us what we desire, but our wrestling with His Word until we are illuminated and subdued by it, saying, “Not my will, but Your will be done.” Then, as Calvin again says, we learn “not to ask for more that God allows.” This is why true prayer can never be divorced from real holiness. The prayer of faith can be made only by the “righteous” man whose life is being more and more aligned with the covenant grace and purposes of God. In the realm of prayer, too (since it is a microcosm of the whole of the Christian life), faith (prayer to the covenant Lord) without works (obedience to the covenant Lord) is dead. —Sinclair Ferguson, In Christ Alone: Living the Gospel Centered Life (Reformation Trust, 2007), 145–147.

Things I Wish I Had Said: Sufficiency of Scripture

Monday··2008·10·27 · 4 Comments
I have, on several occasions, had some variation of the following conversation: Charismatic: It’s sad that you don’t believe God speaks today. God is still the same as he was in the Bible. He spoke to his people then; there is no reason to believe he doesn’t now. It’s a shame that you think so little of God. He is awesome, and still does awesome things. Me: God doesn’t speak to us now because his Word is complete. . . . . . . and I would go on about the cessation of prophesy, the closing of the canon, etc. It has been quite a while since I’ve had such an encounter, and I’ve replayed the situation in my mind several times. As is typical, I have excellent hindsight, prompting one of my many Things I Wish I Had Said moments. I wish I had said something like this: You’ve misunderstood me. I do believe that God speaks today. He speaks to me, personally, all the time. He tells me all about himself, his nature, his character, his will, and his acts—past, present, and yet to come. He tells me all about myself, my sin, and my need for a Savior. He calls me to repent and believe. He invites me to come to him, weary and heavy-laden, and promises me rest. He entreats me to cast my cares upon him, for he cares for me. He commands me to love him with all my heart, soul mind, and strength, and to love you, too. He tells me what is good, and what he requires of me: do justly; love mercy; walk humbly. He promises that I will face no inescapable temptation, and that he will preserve me in the faith to the end, when he will receive me into his presence. He speaks to me of those things each time I open his Word. He tells me everything I need to know, and much more than I can possibly take in. You see, when I say God is not giving direct revelation today, I am not betraying a low view of God; I am demonstrating a high view of his Word, and therefore of God himself, since I cannot separate the two. You think you show great faith by looking for extraordinary words from God. But I say, this Word that I hold in my hand, this Bible, is itself a miracle. Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. Is that not extraordinary? I have a sure, undeniable Word from the Lord constantly available at my fingertips that never fails to accomplish God’s purpose, that is living and active, sharper than a two-edged sword. You say I think too little of what God will do. I say you think too little of what he has done. You are looking for something fresh, new, and exciting; I’m not yet over the exciting things God has already done. I am satisfied with his finished work and his future promises; you are looking for more, now. Your faith is dependent upon perceived signs and wonders; My faith and hope is in the Word God has spoken. I am filled; you are hungry. You are hunting for unicorns, while I eat from a freezer filled with prime beef. I suppose that’s not a very scholarly apologetic; but that’s what was on my mind this morning, and those are my immediate thoughts on the matter.

Packer: Guidance (2)

God does indeed have a plan, and he is able to communicate it to us. But there is much confusion about how he accomplishes that. Packer writes on How We Receive Guidance: Earnest Christians seeking guidance often go wrong. Why is this? Often the reason is that their notion of the nature and method of divine guidance is distorted. They look for a will-o’-the-wisp; they overlook the guidance that is ready at hand and lay themselves open to all sorts of delusions. Their basic mistake is to think of guidance as essentially inward prompting by the Holy Spirit, apart from the written Word. This idea . . . is a seed-bed in which all forms of fanatacism and folly can grow. How do thoughtful Christians come to make this mistake? What seems to happen is this. They hear the word guidance and think at once of a particular class of “guidance problems”—on which, perhaps, the books they have read and the testimonies they have heard tended to harp exclusively. This is the class of problems concerned with what we may call “vocational choices”—choices, that is, between competing options, all of which in themselves appear lawful and good. Should I contemplate marriage, or not? Should I marry this person, or not? . . . Should I serve God in the land of my upbringing, or abroad? Which of the professions open to me should I follow? . . . Is my present sphere of work the right one to stay in? . . . Which claims on my voluntary service time should have priority? . . . Two features about divine guidance in the case of “vocational choices” are distinctive. Both follow from the nature of the situation itself. First, these problems cannot be resolved by a direct application of biblical teaching. All one can do from Scripture is circumscribe the lawful possibilities between which the choice has to be made. (No biblical text, for instance, told the present writer to propose to the lady who is now his wife, or to seek ordination, or to start his ministry in England, or to buy his large old car.) Second, just because Scripture cannot decide one’s choice directly, the factor of God-given prompting and inclination, whereby one is drawn to commit oneself to one set of responsibilities rather than another and finds one’s mind settled in peace as one contemplates them, becomes decisive. The basis of the mistake which we are trying to detect is to assume, first, that all guidance problems have these same two characteristics, and, second, that all life should be treated as a field in which this kind of guidance should be sought. The consequences of this mistake among earnest Christians have been both comic and tragic. The idea of a life in which the inward voice of the Spirit decides and directs everything sounds most attractive, for it seems to exalt the Spirit’s ministry and to promise the closest intimacy with God; but in practice this quest for superspirituality leads only to frantic bewilderment or lunacy. . . . But the true way to honor the Holy Spirit as our guide is to honor the holy Scriptures through which he guides us. The fundamental guidance which God gives to shape our lives—the instilling, that is, of the basic convictions, attitudes, ideals and value judgments, in terms of which we are to live—is not a matter of inward promptings apart from the Word but of the pressure on our consciences of the portrayal of God’s character and will in the Word, which the Spirit enlightens us to understand and apply to ourselves. The basic form of divine guidance, therefore, is the presentation to us of positive ideals as guidelines for all our living. “Be the kind of person that Jesus was”; “seek this virtue, and this one, and this, and practice them up to the limit”; “know your responsibilities—husbands, to your wives; wives, to your husbands; parents, to your children; all of you, to all your fellow Christians and all your fellow human beings; know them, and seek strength constantly to discharge them”—this is how God guides us through the Bible, as any student of the Psalms, the Proverbs, the Prophets, the Sermon on the Mount, and the ethical parts of the Epistles will soon discover. “Turn from evil and do good” (Psalm 34:14; 37:27)—this is the highway along which the Bible is concerned to lead us, and all its admonitions are concerned to keep us on it. Be it noted that the reference to being “led by the Spirit” in Romans 8:14 relates not to in¬ward “voices” or any such experience, but to mortifying known sin and not living after the flesh! Only within the limits of this guidance does God prompt us inwardly in matters of “vocational” decision. So never expect to be aided to marry an unbeliever, or elope with a married person, as long as 1 Corinthians 7:39 and the seventh commandment stand! The present writer has known divine guidance to be claimed for both courses of action. Inward inclinations were undoubtedly present, but they were quite certainly not from the Spirit of God, for they went against the Word. The Spirit leads within the limits which the Word sets, not beyond them. “He guides me in paths of righteousness” (Ps 23:3)—but not anywhere else. —J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993), 233–237.

Canon Addition

On hearing the words “canon addition,” we are likely to think of the addition of books, such as the apocrypha, to the Bible. We might think of the canonization of tradition by Roman Catholicism. R. C. Sproul writes of the claims of characters like Pat Robertson and Oral Roberts of receiving “words of knowledge,” alleged supernatural revelation from God, and laments the credulity of people who swallow these claims apparently without thought. We might look critically on such people, wondering how they can be so foolish. But many of those who ridicule such gullibility fall for a subtler form of the same kind of canon addition. Sproul writes: But it gets more subtle. We hear respected Christian leaders claiming that God has “spoken to them” and given special guidance and instructions upon which they are duty bound and to act and obey. They are careful to note that that this divine speech was not in audible form and there is a disclaimer that this is not a new “revelation.” yet the message which is “laid on the heart” is so clear and powerful that to disobey is to disobey the voice of God. I am not speaking here of the work of the Holy Spirit by which he illuminates the text of scripture in such a sharp manner as to bring us under conviction or direct our paths. But here the Spirit works in the Word and through the Word. I am speaking of the speaking of the Spirit that men claim is working apart from the Word and in addition to the Word. Through such claims are more often that not attended by the disclaimer that they are not revelation, the way they function is as revelation so that the distinction between them and bona fide revelation is, in actuality, a distinction without a difference. —R. C. Sproul, Scripture Alone (P&R Publishing Company, 2005), 60.

Jews ask for signs

I post the following quotation in reply to some folks who insist that the gospel, unaccompanied by signs, lacks power, or that signs and wonders add power to the Word. It comes from Ryles commentary on John 11:4757.    We should observe, for one thing, in these verses, the desperate wickedness of mans natural heart. A mighty miracle was wrought within an easy walk of Jerusalem. A man four days dead was raised to life, in the sight of many witnesses. The fact was unmistakable, and could not be denied; and yet the chief priests and Pharisees would not believe that He who did this miracle ought to be received as the Messiah. In the face of overwhelming evidence they shut their eyes, and refused to be convinced. This man, they admitted, does many miracles. But so far from yielding to this testimony, they only plunged into further wickedness, and took counsel to put Him to death. Great, indeed, is the power of unbelief! Let us beware of supposing that miracles alone have any power to convert mens souls, and to make them Christians. The idea is a complete delusion. To fancy, as some do, that if they saw something wonderful done before their eyes in confirmation of the Gospel, they would at once cast off all indecision and serve Christ, is a mere idle dream. It is the grace of the Spirit in our hearts, and not miracles, that our souls require. The Jews of our Lords day are a standing proof to mankind that men may see signs and wonders, and yet remain hard as stone. It is a deep and true saying, If men believe not Moses and the Prophets, neither would they be persuaded though one rose from the dead. (Luke xvi. 31.) J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Banner of Truth, 2012). Furthermore, 19 For it is written,    I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside. 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Corinthians 1

Greater Works

This was included in the Lord’s day post three weeks ago, but I think this portion is worth pulling out for special attention. Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. —John 14:12 J. C. Ryle wrote, The full meaning of this promise is not to be sought in the miracles which the Apostles wrought after Christ left the world. Such a notion seems hardly borne out by facts. We read of no Apostle walking on the water, or raising a person four days dead, like Lazarus. What our Lord has in view seems to be the far greater number of conversions, the far wider spread of the Gospel, which would take place under the ministry of the Apostles, than under his own teaching. This was the case, we know from the Acts of the Apostles. We read of no sermon preached by Christ, under which three thousand were converted in one day, as they were on the day of Pentecost. In short, “greater works” mean more conversions. There is no greater work possible than the conversion of a soul. —J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels (Banner of Truth, 2012). It is not the Benny Hinns of the world (pretending for a moment that they are not total frauds) that are doing the greatest works. The shepherds who faithfully preach the gospel, they are the conduits of the miraculous. They do the work that raises the dead to life. Be amazed by the fruit of their labors.

They Ceased. Period.

Monday··2011·01·24 · 1 Comments
A great furor was raised last week over an interview of John MacArthur by Phil Johnson. I’ll not take a side or comment on that controversy (except to say that it consisted of knee-jerk reactions of the immature against the mature). Enough has been said about that, and I’ve provided a few links to it in the sidebar. I suppose the previously-mentioned controversy is the reason that the part of the interview that I expected to cause unrest received no attention. I really thought MacArthur’s comments on the Pentecostal and charismatic movements would cause a ruckus somewhere, but, as far as I know, charismatic tongues have remained miraculously silent. As I am in full agreement with MacArthur on this, I thought I would reproduce the relevant section here, slightly edited (note ellipses). Has your stance on the charismatic issue softened? No, and I’ll just give you a little bit of history on that; I’ll make a general statement, then I’ll back up: The charismatic movement is largely the reason the church is in the mess it’s in today. In virtually every area where church life is unbiblical, you can attribute it to the charismatic movement. In virtually every area—bad theology, superficial worship, ego, prosperity gospel, personality elevation—all of that comes out of the charismatic movement. I knew at the beginning that this was a disastrous embracing by the evangelical church . . . [It] leaped out of the contained Pentecostal tradition. The Pentecostal church with its claim of miracles and healing and signs and wonders was contained; it never spread to the mainline church; it was always seen as aberrant, its theology aberrant, but when an Episcopalian got the experience, it jumped out of its containment. Then the phenomena started being embraced by Baptists and dead-church Methodists and Presbyterians and Roman Catholics, and it invaded the church, and then what happened was it demanded to have acceptance. It demanded to have acceptance, it demanded to be embraced, it demanded to be included, and you had very strong leaders coming out and demanding that the evangelical church embrace them. And I knew at the time the deadly character of this, because once you’ve given place to bad theology, then theology is no longer an issue. Once you’ve corrupted worship, then worship is going to fall to the lowest tolerable level. And on and on it went, so I wrote the book The Charismatics back in the ’70s . . . and the evangelical church largely rose up and said, “Yeah, we see that . . . we’re there, this is where we belong.” It wasn’t too many years after that that the climate dramatically changed, and the charismatic movement has gained the ascendancy and become the public face of Christianity. It’s the face of TV Christianity, it’s primarily the face of radio Christianity, in the Christian bookstore the prevailing view is some form of charismatic mysticism . . . it has done a takeover and it has redefined Christianity in people’s mind. It’s an aberrant form of Christianity, of course, so no, my view has not changed. It’s theology is bad, it is unbiblical, it is aberrant, it is destructive to people because it promises them what it can’t deliver, and then God gets blamed when it doesn’t come. It is a very destructive movement. It has always been. There are people like C. J. [Mahaney], and other people like that, who have shed that theology, and simply hold on to what is known as a non-cessationist view . . . what’s left to them is, they’ve embraced good theology and I think they’re moving in the right direction, but many of them, people like John Piper and Wayne Grudem who are, generally speaking, theologically sound, will hold on to that non-cessationist view and say, “Well, God could do that, there could be miracles, and there could be tongues,” that’s sort of the last vestige of the movement, but the movement in itself, with all its components, is a disaster to the reputation of Christianity and a severe corruption of biblical teaching. Now, you mentioned cessationism . . . the view that the apostolic gifts and the apostolic office ceased, that they’re no longer in operation. That has fallen out of favor . . . I think maybe it was Martin Lloyd-Jones who started that trend, who said, “I don’t see any exegetical reason, there’s no passage of Scripture that says the apostolic gifts have ceased, so the argument goes, “if you can’t prove cessationism exegetically, then it’s not a valid doctrine, because we want our doctrine to be biblical. How do you respond to that? Well, I think 1 Corinthians 13 is where you prove that: Whether there be tongues, they shall cease. We just did that, going through 1 Corinthians 13, you can talk about the linguistics of that’I have the whole explanation of that in the commentary . . . I think there’s plenty of exegetical evidence to indicate that. Those are apostolic signs of an apostle, they’re called in 2 Corinthians 12:12. The apostles have ceased, they are the foundation (Ephesians 2:20); the church is built on the apostles and prophets. You don’t put the apostles and the prophets on the second floor or third floor; they’re the foundation of the church. Apostolic gifts ceased. You can go to the end of book of Acts: you see healings disappear completely, people get sick and there’s no one around to make them well. All of those things were signs to draw attention to the apostles” preaching the true gospel before there was written text of Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit. Now you don’t need miracles to verify a prophet; you only need to compare him with the scripture, and I’ve often said, if these signs and wonders did still exist, do you think they would be given to people with bad theology? Do you think God would give Benny Hinn the power to do miracles to authenticate really bad theology? . . . I mean, that is ludicrous. . . . If those gifts existed, they would belong to the purest, most faithful, sound teachers of the Word of God to authenticate their teaching, not to hair-brained people who are just spinning out whatever comes into their head and are prompted by Satan, not the Holy Spirit. The typical non-cessationist will say, “Yeah, that says tongues will cease, it doesn’t say when, and in fact, the context indicates it’s at the consummation of all things, etc. etc., so the argument goes, “If you don’t have a solid proof-text, you can’t prove this to me.” We believe . . . theology must be biblical, or it’s not valid. Does that mean there has to be a proof text for every doctrine? No. look, you can make a case for the verb [pauo] in 1 Corinthians 13 and for it ceasing. You can make a case for that in that text. You can make a case in general for the temporary gifts that were part of the apostolic deposit, you can make a case for that exegetically, but even without a proof text, the fact of the matter is, they ceased, and you have this historical argument, which is a very weighty historical argument. Same as the cessation of the canon itself, there’s no proof text on that. There’s no proof text on the cessation of the canon, but the universal consensus of the church is that it ceased, and it was the once for all delivered to the saints faith, and you have the same argument historically with regard—Cleon Rogers, some years ago, did this sort of seminal work on tracking the fact that tongues were gone, they belonged in history to groups like . . . the Sibylline priestess cult, and in bizarre tribal groups there was ecstatic speech, but there was never in the church ecstatic speech until the Azuza Street meeting in Los Angeles, which gave birth to the Pentecostal movement. It came absolutely out of nowhere when it hadn’t been a part of Christian history. You don’t read, for example, if you read the Anabaptists, read the Reformers, read the Puritans, they’re not debating tongues, because they didn’t exist. Comments on this post have been closed. You might be interested in participating here instead.

Oh, yeah? Prove it!

Tuesday··2011·01·25 · 14 Comments
I have received some push-back (thanks to Tim Challies) on yesterday’s posting of John MacArthur’s comments on the charismatic movement. The content of the comments is no surprise, nor is what is conspicuously absent from them. This post is your opportunity to remedy that, and set me straight once and for all. The cessationist argument—my argument—begins with the fact that, according to Scripture, tongues will cease; that’s not debatable. The question is, when? Assuming (erroneously) that Scripture gives us no clue, how would we know? What if, like Noah, we were told of a coming event, but not told when it would happen, how would we know that it had? Well, it was easy for Noah: the flood came; he knew it had, and consequently, he didn’t lose any sleep about it as a future event thereafter. Cessationists believe the cessation has come, and that it came at or before the end of the apostolic age. We offer as evidence the only evidence there could be, the only evidence that should be necessary: Tongues are absent from church history. This post offers you an opportunity to refute that. This is not the place for philosophy or personal anecdotes. Your refutation must come in the form of citations from the Fathers, Reformers, Puritans, or similar sources demonstrating that tongues were an issue among them. I am not asking for their opinions on the subject, or their treatment of any biblical text; I am not asking for your opinions; I am asking for historical evidence that they were actually experiencing these things. No anecdotes or opinions, only actual documentation from cited sources. Anything less will be deleted. Read before commenting You may offer direct quotes from orthodox sources (not pagans or heretics), e.g. the Fathers, Reformers, Puritans (as in comment #1) and discuss those quotes (as in comments #2, 3, & 4). You may not tell me what you think about cessationists charismatics this challenge MacArthur, Piper, Grudem, Mahaney, etc. I will delete my own mother’s comments if she violates these rules. What I want: Unmistakable accounts of legitimate tongues, e.g., And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” Acts 2:4–11 Is this not clear?

Sex, Lies, and Disqualified Pastors

Thursday··2011·08·18 · 4 Comments
Don’t be so gullible, McFly! A couple of weeks ago, I commented that “Pentecostal/charismatic theology in all its shades is dangerous, and inherently non-Protestant.” Since I and many others have demonstrated that universally inclusive words like “all” (or exclusive words like “none”) are seldom meant absolutely universally, but rather, should be interpreted within their contexts, I want to specify that, in this case, I mean it universally. While I appreciate the sincere attempts of many so-called Reformed charismatics to be more biblical than their crazy uncles, and readily accept them as genuine spiritual siblings, the charismatic elements of their theology remain troublesome and inevitably nullify any attempts to separate themselves from outright charlatans like Benny Hinn and Todd Bentley. Take, for example, Mark Driscoll (insert a Henny Youngman “. . . please” here). You have probably already have seen the video below, as posted by Phil Johnson. If not, you should go to the Pyromaniacs blog and read Phil’s analysis. Warning: the verbal images Driscoll paints are, true to character, rated R. I’ve addressed Driscoll’s offenses obliquely in The Parable of the Bookstores, but if I’m not forgetful, I think this is the first time I’ve mentioned him by name on this blog. Driscoll has been a troublesome character from the beginning. With his penchant for perverse talk, even pornifying Song of Songs under the pretense of preaching, his appeal has always been a mystery to me. The video clip above is not new (February, 2008), nor is it the first time Driscoll has claimed to have received direct revelation from God. The legitimacy of his position as pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle is dependent on his claim that God spoke to him audibly. “God told me to move back home, start up a family and plant a church in Seattle,” he claims. When I hear such claims, I think two things: the individual is either deceived, or lying. In the cases of Hinn, Bentley, and the like, I most often suspect simple fraud. In many other cases, I suspect it’s just wild imaginations, spiritualized by charismania. That is what I’ve thought of Driscoll, until now. Now I think he’s flat out making things up. If he had stopped with stories of his visions, I could have chalked it up to his well-documented dirty mind combined with a wild imagination. But when he added the “proof” of the confessions of his imaginary offenders, that was too much. No one, confronted with such accusations, accusations of things that could never be proven, simply says, “Yeah, I did that.” They lie. They deny it. They deny it right up to the point that the evidence is shoved in their faces, and they have nowhere to run. Only then will they confess, and even then, they will leave as much as possible unconfessed until, and only if, convicted by the Holy Spirit and led to genuine repentance. Not one of Driscoll’s stories involved a denial. When I hear a story about a child molester who doesn’t lie about it, I know the story-teller is lying. How long before leaky-canoners like Piper wake up to the fact that their open attitudes toward extra-biblical revelation inevitably enable this kind of blasphemous nonsense? Mark Driscoll has become another of their unpaid bills, and the interest is piling up. Update: The video above is from 2008. As of September 11, 2011, he’s still at it. Met a former warlock today who was near death on a drug OD & heard God say, "This one is mine & I love him". Yup. He's elect. — Mark Driscoll (@PastorMark) September 12, 2011 And more, with commentary from the Sola Sisters.
Just a few links that got my attention in the past few days: Another reason to dispose of the “First Lady” title and just call her “Mrs. President”: Olive Garden, Red Lobster Join First Lady’s Anti-Obesity Campaign. Here’s an economics-in-the-real-world lesson for Olive Garden, etc: I, along with pretty much every other consumer, choose the businesses that I will patronize based on one criterion, viz., it offers the products and services I want at a price I’m willing to pay. If you tailor your menu to the whims of some unelected busybody (elected busybodies are just as bad, by the way), well, I hope you see a lot of Mrs. Obama sitting at your table eating your fruit cups. Like other consumers, I go out to eat to have food I don’t normally can eat at home, and I get all the fruit I want at home. And be serious. French fries and sugar-sweetened beverages will not become the exception rather than the rule for children, unless you take them off the menu altogether. In that case, I hope Mrs. O brings her kids, and you have to listen to them whine as they pick at their fruit and vegetables, sans butter and salt. On the up-side for consumers, service should improve as the waiting lines disappear. But then, much of the staff will have been let go . . . I could go on and on with the consequences of non-consumer-driven business decisions, but you get the picture. By the way, for anyone who thinks the first sentence of the previous paragraph demeans the dignity of the First lady, let me say that I consider a move from political activist (or absolutely anything else) to dedicated wife and mother to be a huge promotion. Not that it will solve the problem of Presidential spouses trying to make themselves politically relevant, but it’s looking more and more like Mrs. O will be a one-term Mrs. President. But you never know. A clever voter registration campaign could turn things around. Okay, then, enough of that. For those of you thinking how unspiritual this post is, here’s an excellent critique of the Blackaby (Experiencing God) view of God’s will and guidance thereto, continued here, with a testimony to its consequences here. This is another example of why I believe all shades of charismatic theology are dangerous. Anytime you look for God’s voice anywhere but in Scripture (that’s the sixty-six books from Genesis to Revelation), you’re chasing a chimera.

. . . and in that church, he chose some songs (eieio)

Friday··2011·09·23 · 7 Comments
James MacDonald eliminates at least half of the songs I hear in church: I know very little about James MacDonald, so this posting should not be seen as an endorsement. On the other hand, neither should this disclaimer be seen as a condemnation. As I’ve said, I really know very little about the man. I do happen to agree in full with the statements made in the video above. I also appreciate the thought he’s put into ordering songs for worship. Music leaders, take note: For the record, I don’t approve of that crazy shirt. PS: If you found that interesting, you might also enjoy this: I agree with Kevin Bauder On Not Singing, and disagree (mostly) with Mark Snoeberger’s response, On Singing in Church. My disagreement runs along the lines of the enigmatic Dissidens’s infinitely-more-clever-than-I rebuttal, The Covenant Between Mark & Heather. PPS: Scott Aniol adds to the discussion. PPPS: Since posting this, I have learned a few things about James MacDonald, among them, this. After looking into MacDonald’s Elephant Room, I am not at all impressed, to put it mildly. And then there’s this. Alright, I think I know quite enough now. But wait, there’s more: (December, 2015) MacDonald has now snuggled up nice and cozy with TBN, purveyor of all manner of strange fire. For some history on that, read What Downgrade Looks Like.
I may never get another chance to contradict Iain Murray, so Im not going to waste this one. He writes: No evangelical preachers in revivals in the three centuries following the Reformation believed that they possessed the charismata of the New Testament; on the contrary they constantly disavowed any such claims. Church of England opponents of Wesley and Whitefield claimed that preaching in the demonstration of the Spirit was unique to the long-past age of miraculous gifts. The eighteenth-century awakenings proved them wrong. Yet there were false claimants to apostolic power as there are today and we have therefore to consider how the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to be recognized. Iain Murray, Pentecost Today? (Banner of Truth, 1998), 86. This is an odd passage. If preaching in the demonstration of the Spirit means Spirit-baptized men, continually being filled with the Spirit,* preaching the Word as the Spirit enlightens them, in their studies, through the Scriptures, I fully agree that such preaching continues. If it means, as Murray seems to say, that Spirit empowered preachers today are inspired in the same way as the apostles, he is dead wrong. He is right to say, because of the many frauds behind pulpits, that we have therefore to consider how the ministry of the Holy Spirit is to be recognized, but he is wrong to equate the ministry of the Spirit with apostolic power. The apostolic gift was certainly a ministry of the Spirit, but all ministry of the Spirit is not apostolic. There are no Apostles today. There were twelve, and they are gone. If we are to judge ministry today by apostolic standards, we must expect preachers to bring an infallible word by divine inspiration, i.e., Scripture, and to authenticate that word by performing miracles. I dont think Murray intended to say that, but that is the logical conclusion when Spirit-filled ministry is attributed to apostolic power. * Dont be confused: the baptism of the Spirit and the filling of the Spirit are two different things, as John MacArthur explains here and here.
Iain Murray dedicates a chapter of Pentecost Today? to the problem of evangelical fanaticism. There is no modern word which is suitable to describe the issue to which I am referring. It used to be called enthusiasm. Enthusiasm came into the English language from the Greek word enthousiansmous. Enthousiastes was a person indwelt or possessed by a god. So enthusiasm, as the word became popularly used in the seventeenth century, was descriptive of the unbalanced religious emotion of those who supposed they had some special nearness to God. Today, however, enthusiasm has entirely lost its original derogatory connotation and it would be very confusing to re-introduce it in that sense. The word fanaticism is equally old, and it also arose in England out of seventeenth-century controversies, but is has held its meaning better. I shall therefore term what I am discussing as fanaticism, although this term too has a defect. It is commonly used in such a broad and ugly sense that it scarcely seems applicable to any who profess evangelical Christianity. But I do not know a more suitable alternative. It is important to explain what I mean. Fanaticism is the opposite of cold intellectualism. Fanaticism usually pays little attention to books, its great interest is in experiences. Fanaticism may be orthodox in belief but it is more concerned with emotion and with results than it is with objective truth and teaching. While fanaticism may believe what the Bible says about he the Holy Spirit, it talks chiefly about Holy Spirit speaking within us revealing things to us in ways which people who only have the Bible cannot enjoy. Fanaticism thinks it has a blessedness above anything known by ordinary Christians. Fanaticism is zealous for a kind of ultra-supernatural Christianity to which it wants to make everyone a proselyte. Fanaticism is often proclaiming that a revival has begun or is about to begin. But there are things which fanaticism cannot do: it cannot distinguish between fire and wildfire and it cannot see the danger of confusing imagination with truth. . . . Fanaticism may appear as nothing more than an excess of what is good. Zeal is good. If we are true Christians we want more zeal; we are opposed to deadness, indifference and apathy. We deplore religious stagnation. We are shocked that we can be so clod and unmoved in a lost and unbelieving world. Consequently we are prone to regard anything as an ally which brings excitement and warmth into the situation. We are so convinced of the danger of coldness that we suppose any kind of fire is to be welcomed. So again we may suspect no danger until it is too late. Iain Murray, Pentecost Today? (Banner of Truth, 1998), 135136, 139. My own experience, for what its worth, corroborates that final paragraph. The desire to feel something is a dangerous thing, and can lead to all kinds of error.

Faith and the Sufficiency of Scripture

Wednesday··2012·09·05 · 1 Comments
Heres a good, brief post on a subject that, I think, represents the most important challenge facing orthodox Christianity today: the sufficiency of Scripture. Go ahead and read it, and then Id like to add a point to the discussion. Charismatics, and many who would eschew that label, believe that living by faith means (or, at least, includes) listening for a word from the Lord to guide them through the maze of life. Those who dont expect or believe that word will come in any authentic way are thought to have a lesser faith. Im here to say that that opinion is as wrong as wrong can be, that, as a matter of fact, the opposite is true. Now, to get straight to the point: as concerns this subject, we have two ways to live: Live the way God, in Scripture, directs us to livethat is, obeying where he has given explicit instruction, and applying biblical wisdom and common sense where he has notand trust that the outcome will be that which God would have intended had he given us a specific Word for our specific situation, or Sit helplessly waiting for specific instructions for each and every decision to come through some kind of extra-biblical revelation*. Which do you think describes genuine biblical faith?† * i.e., the voices in your head, etc. † Thats a rhetorical question.

“Expect a Miracle”

Thursday··2013·03·28 · 3 Comments
Let us not argue about what God can do. Let us agree from the start that God can do anything. He can turn a cat into a dog, if he so desires. But let us instead consider what God does do, as he has revealed in Scripture, and as we see in creation. If God wants me to have a dog, he will not transform my cat, though I may earnestly wish for it and believe with all my heart that he can. No, if God wants me to have a dog, he will by some means cause me to acquire a puppy born of a canine mother. To look for anything more dramatic, considering what he has taught me about his normal means of dog-making, would not demonstrate any kind of faith. It would insult him, and be presumptuous and sinful.

The Gaithers EXPOSED!!!

Wednesday··2013·06·12 · 5 Comments
Forgive the watchbloggeresque title. I couldn’t resist. In anticipation of John MacArthur’s newest book, Strange Fire, I decided to read his previous works on the charismatic movement. I’ve already read Charismatic Chaos (1992), so I grabbed his older book, The Charismatics (1978), which I had purchased used quite a while ago but never read. While Charimatic Chaos dealt mostly (as I remember) with the nuttiest charismatic extremes, this appears to be a more general treatment of the subject. Still, it’s not without its sensational revelations. Someone once wrote to the well-known and respected songwriters Bill and Gloria Gaither and asked them for a theological interpretation of their song, “The King Is Coming.” Following is an excerpt from a reply sent by their secretary: Regarding the interpretation of the song, “The King Is Coming,” of all songs that song has been a gift from God. Bill and Gloria do not profess to be theologians. The song came quickly to them and they do not care to discuss the theology of it. In fact, they feel that to dissect the song would be tampering with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who inspired the song. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 15. Well. I’ve know the Gaithers for years as singers of sappy songs (“Tender words, gentle touch, and a good cup of coffee . . .”), but I never suspected they were charismatic goofballs. the quotation above provokes a few questions: Why is there no First and Second Gaithers in the New Testament? Don’t they belong there? and if not, What am I going to do with my record collection now? No, but seriously: Why do so many people who “do not profess to be theologians” insist on writing theology? Why would any Christian writer not be delighted to discuss their own theology, especially when the topic is so ineffably joyful (“Praise God, he’s coming for me.”)? Most importantly, if explaining the meaning of the song is “tampering with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who inspired the song,” how must they feel about preaching? Would not preaching that explains the text of Scripture also tamper with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who inspired the text? As you can see, it’s nonsense, which is the inevitable destination of anyone who goes down the road of ongoing, extrabiblical revelation.

Post-Apostolic Charismata: Montanism

Once upon a time, I challenged Charismatics to present post-apostolic examples of the miraculous gifts (two and a half years later, I am still waiting). John MacArthur writes of one example that does not qualify: You are seated in a roomful of intense worshippers. The zealous singing is punctuated by cries of praise and fervent prayers. Suddenly someone standing near you begins to speak in rapid syllables that seem completely foreign to any language you have ever heard. The cryptic “message” is echoed by a number of others in a quiet, almost inaudible way. Then, as a response, another worshipper stands and gives a message or “prophecy,” spoken as if originated with God Himself: “Thus saith the Lord. If you my people will confess your sins, and seek my path, and call on my name, you will be blessed beyond measure.” The rest of the group, quiet during the short message of prophecy, now begins to praise God as others offer additional messages. Quite possibly you recognize this kind of scene. Surely, you say, it is a description of a charismatic prayer fellowship. You are familiar with it because you have witnessed similar occurrences when accompanying friends or even family members to such meetings. Groups like this have grown more and more numerous in the last few years. This kind of activity is typical today as Charismatics speak in tongues and prophesy as the dynamic witness to what they feel is a generation living in the last days. As familiar as this seems, it is not a modern meeting of Charismatics at all. Described above are a group called Montanists, who lived in the second century A.D. Following the teachings of their leader, Montanus, this group believed that every believer was a means of special revelation. As proof they exercised dramatic gifts of the Spirit including “prophecy” and “tongues,” which they claimed were prophetic signs of the end times. Montanus believed that Christians were living in the “last days” immediately before the return of Christ. Montanus even taught that the New Jerusalem would descend upon his own village of Pepuza in Asia Minor in his life time. One of Montanus’s key doctrines was the claim that he spoke with direct revelation from God through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Montanus claimed to receive revelation God of a nature supplementary to that communicated by Christ and the apostles. He taught a progression of revelation from the Old Testament prophets to the Lord’s disciples and then on into the “new age of the Spirit.” In the “new age” the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouths of Montanist prophets and prophetesses. Montanus boldly intimidated Christians by claiming the church was comprised of two groups: the “spiritual Christians” who followed his teachings and claimed direct revelation from God and the “carnal Christians” who only had the “dead letter” of the Scriptures. . . . The rest of the church branded Montanism as a serious heresy to be rejected. The Council of Constantinople (381) decided that repentant Montanists were to be brought back into the fellowship very carefully. They were examined regarding their grasp of salvation and were put into an intensified study of the Scriptures. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 27–28.

Already Profitable

John MacArthur refutes a notion that I first heard from the Gothard cult: Charismatics are caught in a terrible tension as they try to hold onto the Bible while at the same time making their experience their real authority. And the views of Charismatic leaders and theologians shoe their struggle. For example, Charles Farah, professor at Oral Roberts University, tried to harmonize the tension between the revelation of God and the experience with the two Greek words translated “Word.” He suggested that logos is the objective, historic word and rhema is the personal subjective word. However, neither the Greek meaning nor the New Testament use make any such distinction. The logos, says Farah, becomes rhema when it speaks to you. The logos is legal while the rhema is experiential. Farah wrote, “The logos doesn’t always become the rhema, God’s Word to you.” What Farah was saying is that the logos becomes rhema when it speaks to you. in other words, he was saying that the historic objective of logos really doesn’t do much for you until it “zaps” you. Then it becomes rhema—your own personal word from God. His ideas sound dangerously close to what neoorthodox theologians have been saying for over fifty years: the Bible becomes God’s Word when it speaks to you. But God’s Word is God’s Word whether it is experienced or not. The Bible does not depend on the experience of its readers to be the inspired Word of God. Paul said the Bible was already able to make Timothy wise unto salvation, not that “it would become able” if Timothy acted in a certain way (2 Tim. 3:15). Paul went on to say, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (v. 16). Paul was saying the Scriptures are already inspired and profitable, not that they will become inspired and profitable depending on the experience of the reader. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 69–70.

Not Without Assignable Reason

Miracles do not appear on the pages of Scripture vagrantly, here, there, and elsewhere indifferently, without assignable reason. They belong to revelation periods, and appear only when God is speaking to His people through accredited messengers, declaring his gracious purposes. Their abundant display in the Apostolic Church is the mark of the richness of the Apostolic age in revelation; and when this revelation period closed, the period of miracle-working had passed by also, as a mere matter of course. —B. B. Warfield, quoted in The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 77. [original source]

By Signs and Wonders

In a bit of humorous irony, charismatics believe in continuing revelation, yet demand Scripture references to prove any argument against them. For example: “Oh yeah? Where does the Bible say that the miraculous gifts were for authentication of the Word?” Well, alright then, since you asked, For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. —Hebrews 2:1–4.

Expect a Miracle?

Have you ever been told to “expect a miracle”? Well, don’t. Many Charismatic believers insist that God wants to do a special miracle for every believer. They often say, “God has a special miracle just for you.” Are Christians supposed to seek their own private miracles? If you take all the miracles done by Jesus and chart them, the result will show that none of those miracles were ever done privately. While Jesus healed to cure people’s ailments and relieve suffering, these were secondary benefits. His major purpose was to authenticate His messiahship (John 20:30–31). Similarly, while the apostles also healed people, their primary purpose was to authenticate new revelation—and new revelation is never a private issue. B. B. Warfield wrote: It has not been God’s way to communicate to each and every man a separate store of divine knowledge of his own, to meet his separate needs; but He had rather spread a common board for all, and invites all to come and partake of the richness of the great feast. He had given the world one organically complete revelation. Adapted to all, sufficient for all, provided for all, and from this one completed revelation He requires each to draw his whole spiritual sustenance. Therefore, it is that the miraculous working which is but a sign of God’s revealing power cannot be expected to continue, and in point of fact does not continue, after the revelation of which it is the accompaniment has been completed. [original source] Charismatics circumvent this by insisting that today we have new revelation in addition to new miracles and new apostles. But apostles were special people for a special time. What they did does not need continual repetition. In none of his letters did Paul tell believers to seek the Spirit’s manifestations of signs and wonders. He simply said to walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) or, putting it another way, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell in you” (see Col. 3:16).* Revelation is a book full of vision, wonders, and signs. It would be a perfect place for the writer to urge believers to seek these wonders and signs, but what does he say? “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it” (Rev. 1:3). Romans 15:4 states: “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” If we want hope, if we want an anchor, if we want something to carry us through life, it isn’t a miracle we need. We need the Scriptures. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 78–79. * See here.
Phonity noun: superficial unity for which fundamental differences are ignored. I wrote several introductions to this article, but each time I found myself politely beating around the bush, which, as you will see, goes exactly opposite my purpose. So I’m just going to skip the howdies and handshakes and spill it: As long as Reformed—which I assume to be cessationist (Sola Scriptura)—and Charismatic Christians continue to pretend the differences between them are minor and sweep them under the couch, their unity is fake, false, phony, fraudulent, and fraught with failure. If a movie was made about it, it might be called Irreconcilable Differences. Here’s why: Positively, we (Cessationists) believe that God has given his Word in full, therefore, prophesy (in the divine revelation, “thus saith the Lord,” sense) is ended; the gifts of tongues and healing were given to authenticate divine revelation, therefore, since revelation is finished for our time, so are tongues and healing. Negatively, we believe that if you “speak in tongues,” you are faking it, under some kind of hypnotic influence, or under demonic influence; when you say, “God told me . . .” without following with a Scripture reference, you are delusional, fatuous, or making it up; all “faith healers” are frauds. In view of all that—and setting aside who is right and who is wrong—I can understand how Cessationists can lovingly bear with Charismatic brothers, though I cannot see how they can quietly “agree to disagree.” The latter does not seem loving at all. What really boggles my mind is how Charismatics can brush aside what Cessationists believe about those things that identify them as Charismatic—that is, that they are all fake—as though it is no big deal. But my bewilderment is of no importance to you. How this can be is less important than the question, “Should this be?” I know the current rapport between Charismatic and Reformed Christians is very fashionable and celebrated, but is it, as it stands, a good thing? Is a unity based on near silence a genuine unity? Regardless of which side you are on, you must agree that these are very serious disagreements. One of us is terribly wrong, and in serious need of correction. If we sincerely aspire to any kind of genuine unity, we need to talk about this. That is why both Cessationists and Charismatics, rather than becoming pugnatious, should welcome events like Grace Community Church’s Strange Fire conference as an opening of constructive dialogue. Charismatics should listen when the sessions become available online, and by all means, respond intelligently. (Note: “Shut up and stop ‘quenching the Spirit’” is not an intelligent response.) And if we can’t talk about it, we should stop pretending and call it quits.

By Signs and Wonders: Apostolic Authority

Last week, I posted the scriptural testimony on the purpose of the miraculous gifts in authenticating divine revelation. Here, John MacArthur demonstrates the uniqueness of the apostolic office to the age of revelation: Scripture makes it plain that the period of New Testament revelation and the apostles are inextricably connected. Paul said as much when he wrote to the Corinthians and said: “I have become foolish in glorying; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am nobody. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:11–12). Paul was clearly defending his apostleship to the Corinthians (who had challenged him concerning his apostolic authority) by referring to the signs, wonders, and miracles that he did among them. Now, if that kind of thing were common to all Christians, it would be a rather foolish way for Paul to prove his apostleship. Obviously, even during the apostolic age all Christians couldn’t do signs, wonders, and mighty deeds. But if that type of thing were unique to apostles, then it would certainly be proof of their power and authority. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 79–80.

Has God Lost His Zip?

The charismatic caricature of cessationists portrays a belief in an inactive holy spirit, and a god who no longer works in the world, who has, as one charismatic quipped, “lost all of his zip.” John MacArthur responds: Has God lost His zip? Has he done nothing significant in two thousand years? All around us we see evidence of God’s marvelous work: in the miracle new birth in the lives of millions around the world; in the healing of illness in answer to prayer; in the matching of people and resources in providential circumstances to bring glory to Himself; in the resilience of His church which has survived ruthless persecution and attack through the centuries and continues to do so today. Ephesians 3:20 gives a promise for our age and it is this: Our Lord “is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” What God does in us and through us today is not the same thing that He did in the apostolic age because He had a special purpose for the apostles, and that purpose was served. He also had a special purpose for us, and what he does in us and for us and through us will be marvelous because He is God and what he does is always marvelous. —John MacArthur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 84.

Unique and Unrepeatable

Charismatics insist that anything that happened in Scripture, particularly in the New Testament, should still be expected today. Cessationists believe that certain events recorded in Scripture served a particular purpose and, once that purpose was accomplished, were not only unnecessary, but unrepeatable. Examples include creation—God is no longer creating—and, most apropo, the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. These things will never be repeated, because they have fully accomplished their purpose. Merrill Unger explains why Pentecost is likewise unique and unrepeatable: Pentecost is as unrepeatable as the creation of the world or of man; as once-for-all, as the incarnation and the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. This appears from the following simple facts: (1) The Spirit of God could only come, arrive, and take up His residence in the church once, which He did at Pentecost. (2) The Spirit of God could only be given, received, and deposited in the church once, which occurred at Pentecost. (3) The event occurred at a specific time (Acts 2:1), in fulfillment of a specific time (Lev. 23:15–22), in a specific place (Jerusalem; cf. Luke 24:49), upon a specific few (Acts 1:13, 14), for a specific purpose (cf. 1 Cor. 12:12–20), to introduce a new order. The event did not constitute the continuing and recurring features of the new order once it was introduced. —Merrill Unger, cited in The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 94. Humorously, MacArthur notes: In 1976 Pentecostals held a world conference in Jerusalem to celebrate “the ongoing miracle of Pentecost.” Significantly, they had to have interpreters and headphones for the various delegates to hear and to understand in their own language. —John MacArthur, Ibid.
According to the Assemblies of God, “Baptism in the Holy Spirit is a separate experience that follows salvation. It is not a requirement for salvation, but it is a benefit that every member of the body of Christ can enjoy. . . . it is an empowering experience for the Christian so that they [sic] can be supernaturally equipped. . . . With that experience comes intimacy where [sic] we will live a righteous, holy life. Also, there comes a power to witness.” [source] Furthermore, this experience, without which Christians are (I speak as a fool) powerless to live as they ought, must be sought. A believer could presumably live his entire life just limping along without the Holy Spirit. That is, of course, pure nonsense. God has not left us lacking anything. John MacArthur writes: The last part of 1 Corinthians 12:13 is particularly important. Christians “were all made to drink of one Spirit.” This is a beautiful thought. Not only have believers been places into Someone (Christ), but they have had Someone placed into them (the Holy Spirit). As Christians we have the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). God dwells in our bodies (2 Cor. 6:16). Not only are we immersed into an environment of the life of God, but the life of God is in us. All the resources we need are there. We have received the promise the Holy Spirit fully and totally. The Bible is absolutely clear on this point. There is nothing to wait for. All we have to do is yield to and obey Him who is already in us. . . . one can find as many variations in the ways to “get the baptism of the spirit” as he can find Charismatic writers. Why all the confusion and contradiction? Why don’t Charismatic writers simply quote the Bible plainly and let it go at that? The reason that no Charismatic writer can do this is that the Bible doesn’t tell us how to get the baptism of the Spirit. The Bible only tells us that we already have been baptized by the Spirit when we believed. One of the greatest realities the Christian well ever have is contained in two brief and fulfilling statements. One is by Paul, and the other is by Peter. “And in him you have been made complete” (Col. 2:10). “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). How? “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (v. 2) There is no point in seeking what is already ours. —John MacArhur, The Charismatics (Zondervan, 1978), 129.

Talk Like Adults

Thursday··2013·10·17 · 2 Comments
With the Strange Fire conference comes the predictable complaints. “It makes me feel bad”; “But my experience says . . .” followed by the hilariously ironic “Quoting Calvin? Sola Scriptura!” and my favorite, “This is not helpful!” Then there are, of course, the inevitable Matthew 18 trolls who think John MacArthur should be having coffee, or at least a phone call, with every charismatic who wants his ear. Well, folks, here’s how it works (and I’m pretty sure you already know this, so knock it off). Matthew 18 does not apply. First, public actions require public responses. Second, private interaction is just not practical. Finally, this is how scholars have always hashed out disagreements: public debates, lectures, journal articles, and books. So all you “MacArthur should take the time to talk to charismatic leaders” people, he is talking to them. Right now, as I write this, as a matter of fact. And they are free to respond. Is it too much to expect that they respond seriously and honestly, or should we expect the kind of dishonest obfuscation and slander we get from the likes of Michael Brown? I’ve said before that we need to talk about this. So let’s talk, but like adults, without whining, and without slander. Addendum: This is relevant, I think. It's interesting to me: Driscoll makes fun of Cessationists & people laugh. MacArthur calls out Charismatics & people get angry #strangefire— Erik Raymond (@erikraymond) October 17, 2013

Greater Works: John 14:12

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. —John 14:12 Ligonier Ministries recently published R. C. Sproul’s explanation of this passage (I only mention it because many of you may have seen it). I love Sproul, but I think he’s missed the mark on this one. I think John MacArthur gets it right. The astonishing promise to the one who believes in Christ is that the works that He does, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do. The greater works to which Jesus referred were not greater in power than those He performed, but greater in extent. The disciples would indeed perform miraculous works, as Jesus had (cf. Acts 5:12–16; Heb. 2:3–4). But those physical miracles were not primarily what Jesus had in mind, since the apostles did not do more powerful miracles than He had. When the Lord spoke of His followers performing greater works, He was referring to the extent of the spiritual miracle of salvation. Jesus never preached outside of Palestine, yet His followers would spread the gospel throughout the world. Jesus had only a limited outreach to Gentiles (cf. Mark 7:26ff.), but the disciples (particularly Peter and later Paul) would reach the Gentile world with the gospel. The number of believers in Christ would also grow far beyond the hundreds (Acts 1:15; 1 Cor. 15:6) that were numbered during His lifetime. The power to perform those greater works would only be available because Jesus was going to the Father. It was only then that He would send the Holy Spirit (John 7:39; cf. 14:16–17, 26; 15:26; 16:13; Acts 1:5) to indwell believers (Rom. 8:9–11) and empower them for ministry (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 12:4–11; cf. Eph. 3:20). Christ’s promise to send the Holy Spirit offered further comfort to the disciples. Though Jesus would no longer be visibly present with them, the Spirit would provide them with all the power they needed to extend the work He had begun (cf. Acts 1:8). —John MacArthur, John 12–21 (Moody, 2008). J. C. Ryle concurs.

I Dream of Jesus

I have been hearing, and possibly you have also, about Muslims seeing Jesus in their dreams and being saved. This post will serve as a collection of biblical resources addressing this alleged phenomenon. If you know of others, please leave a comment or email me, and I’ll look at it and, if appropriate, add it here. Gary Gilley, Don’t You Believe It Fred Butler, Muslim Dreams and Visions of Jesus and Thoughts About Muslims Seeing Jesus J. Brian McKillop, Repentance

Blaspheming the Spirit

The mailman was received with great joy, trumpet fanfare, etc. today, as John MacArthur’s Strange Fire was delivered into my grasping hands. Cessationist zealot that I am, you might have expected this sooner. On the other hand, no one would ever accuse me of riding the cutting edge of anything, so maybe not. Anyway, here I am, and better late than never. I love an adult who can deal in straight talk, and MacArthur, as usual, wastes no time in getting to the point, and tells it like it is. It is a sad twist of irony that those who claim to be most focused on the Holy Spirit are in actuality the ones doing the most to abuse, grieve, insult, misrepresent, quench, and dishonor Him. How do they do it? By attributing to Him words He did not say, deeds He did not do, phenomena He did not produce, and experiences that have nothing to do with Him. They boldly plaster His name on that which is not His work. In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders of Israel blasphemously attributed the work of the Spirit to Satan (Matt. 12:24). The modern Charismatic Movement does the inverse, attributing the work of the devil to the Holy Spirit. Satan’s armies of false teachers, marching to the beat of their own illicit desires, gladly propagate his errors. They are spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans. We can see an endless parade of them simply by turning on the television. Jude called them clouds without water, raging waves, and wandering stars “for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever” (v. 13). Yet they claim to be angels of light—gaining credibility for their lies by invoking the name of the Holy Spirit, as if there’s no penalty to pay for that kind of blasphemy. The Bible is clear that God demands to be worshipped for who He truly is. No one can honor the Father unless the Son is honored; likewise, it is impossible to honor the Father and the Son while dishonoring the Spirit. Yet every day, millions of charismatics offer praise to a patently false image of the Holy Spirit. They have become like the Israelites of Exodus 32, who compelled Aaron to fashion a golden calf while Moses was away. The idolatrous Israelites claimed to be honoring the Lord (vv. 4–8), but instead they were worshipping a grotesque misrepresentation, dancing around it in dishonorable disarray (v. 25). God’s response to their disobedience was swift and severe. Before the day was over, thousands had been put to death. Here’s the point: we can’t make God into any form we would like. We cannot mold Him into our own image, according to our own specifications and imaginations. Yet that is what many Pentecostals and charismatics have done. They have created their own golden-calf version of the Holy Spirit. They have thrown their theology into the fires of human experience and worshipped the false spirit that came out—parading themselves before it with bizarre antics and unrestrained behavior. As a movement, they have persistently ignored the truth about the Holy Spirit and with reckless license set up an idol spirit in the house of God, dishonoring the third member of the Trinity in His own name. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) viii–ix.

The Spirit’s True Work

The incredible irony is that those who talk the most about the Holy Spirit generally deny His true work. They attribute all kinds of human silliness to Him while ignoring the genuine purpose and power of His ministry: freeing sinners from death, giving them everlasting life, regenerating their hearts, transforming their nature, empowering them for spiritual victory, confirming their place in the family of God, interceding for them according to the will of God, sealing them securely for their eternal glory, and promising to raise them to immortality in the future. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) xvi.

Lutherans Are Better than Charismatics (proof #2)

The Lutheran denomination in which I was raised was formed in 1962 by a splinter group from the merger of its parent denomination with one of the largest liberal denominations (those interested can an illustrated history here). It was a church formed by evangelical Christians who were willing to fight for truth, and never mind the cost. Over the years, we watched as the mainline Lutheran denominations grew more and more liberal. There were more mergers. The rest of Christendom was watching, too. When I and my friends identified ourselves as Lutherans, we often had considerable explaining to do. Non-Lutheran Christians, quite reasonably, assumed we were apostate. Most had no idea there were any Bible-believing Lutheran churches left. So we explained, wearily, but willingly. The Lutheran church was a mess, and not just a few fringe elements. We, the evangelical believers, were the fringe. The vast majority of nominal Lutherans had never heard the gospel. The vast majority of nominally Lutheran pastors were not preaching the gospel. So we spoke out against the apostates who had bastardized the title of Lutheran. Evangelical Lutheran pastors wrote books with titles like The Church’s Desperate Need for Revival and Who Has Stolen My Church? We loudly called out and separated from heresy and apostasy. I am no longer Lutheran, but the battle for evangelical Lutheranism goes on, and there are heroes, men who lead the fight, knowing they are the scant minority, but soldiering on. That’s how it should be, isn’t it? In contrast, there is the charismatic movement. In this movement, there is a scant minority of evangelical, doctrinally grounded believers who virtually refuse to acknowledge the vast scale of heresy and apostasy of the movement, pretending it to be a fringe problem, hardly worth addressing. And so they remain silent. They remain silent, until an outsider says what they won’t. Then, they become angry. They are outraged and offended, and demand the right to be left alone to manage their own house. As if! But it isn’t their own house, not really, not if they claim to be members of the body of Christ. I don’t remember any Lutheran outrage at Baptists who pointed out the apostasy of Lutheranism at large. I remember grieving because it was true. Every Christian on the planet has a right and, I dare say, a responsibility, to call out heretics and apostates in the church, wherever they are. Mature Christians will bless, not curse, those who do.

The Fatal Flaw

According to a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, more than ninety percent of self-identified Pentecostals in most countries hold to the beliefs known as the “prosperity gospel.” How is this possible for such a blatantly heretical philosophy to so thoroughly infest the movement? The answer explains more than just the embrace of prosperity teaching. It is a critical and systemic defect within charismatic theology—a flaw that accounts for just about every theological aberration or abnormality that makes its home within the Charismatic Movement. It is this: Pentecostals and charismatics elevate religious experience over biblical truth. Though many of them pay lip service to the authority of God’s Word, in practice they deny it. If Scripture alone were truly their final authority, charismatic Christians would never tolerate patently unbiblical practices— like mumbling in nonsensical prayer languages, uttering fallible prophecies, worshipping in disorderly ways, or being knocked senseless by the supposed power of the Holy Spirit. They ought to reinterpret their experiences to match the Bible; instead, they reinterpret Scripture in novel and unorthodox ways in order to justify their experiences. As a result, any aberrant teaching or practice can be legitimized, especially when a new “revelation from God” conveniently authenticates it as having His approval. Though written nearly a half century ago, the words of René Pache still ring true: The excessive preeminence given to the Holy Spirit in their devotions and their preoccupation with gifts, ecstasies, and “prophecies” has tended to neglect of the Scriptures. Why be tied to a Book out of the past when one can communicate every day with the living God? But this is exactly the danger point. Apart from the constant control of the written revelation, we soon find ourselves engulfed in subjectivity; and the believer, even if he has the best intentions, can sink rapidly into deviations, illuminism or exaltation. Let each remind himself of the prohibition of taking anything away from Scripture or adding anything to it (Deut. 4: 2; Rev. 22:18–19). Almost every heresy and sect has originated in a supposed revelation or a new experience on the part of its founder, something outside the strictly biblical framework. By abandoning the final authority of the text, the Charismatic Movement has made itself susceptible to the worst kinds of doctrinal deception and spiritual exploitation. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014) 16–17.

Missionaries to the Gibbers

The Gibbers are, of course, the inhabitants of Gibb, speakers of—well, you figure it out. Pentecostal father Charles Parham was a nut by anyone’s standard. Contrary to cessationist—i.e., biblical—orthodoxy, he expected the gift of tongues. Contrary to today’s Pentecostal/charismatic dogma, he believed that biblical tongues were actual languages, intended to be understood. He boasted to the Topeka State Journal, “The Lord will give us the power of speech to talk to the people of the various nations without having to study them in schools.” Several weeks later, he told the Kansas City Times, “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.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 22. As the best laid plans of mice and mystics often go awry, so Parham’s plans were to be disappointed. S. C. Todd of the Bible Missionary Society investigated eighteen Pentecostals who went to Japan, China, and India “expecting to preach to the natives in those countries in their own tongue,” and found that by their own admission “in no single instance have [they] been able to do so.” As these and other missionaries returned in disappointment and failure, Pentecostals were compelled to rethink their original view of speaking in tongues. — Ibid., 23.

Spirit-Centered Is Off-Center

Tuesday··2014·04·22 · 1 Comments
A few years ago, I was down on Main Street with my family watching a parade. I forget the occasion, but I remember one entry in particular. It was an old pickup that’s wheels had been modified so that the hubs were eccentric, causing it to wobble up and down, front to back, side to side, and corner to corner. It was entertaining as a novelty, but no one would want to travel in a car like that, for obvious reasons. As a means of transportation, it was worthless. So it is with the religion of many. The glorious priority of the Holy Spirit is to point people to the Lord Jesus Christ. As Jesus told His disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. . .  He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you” (John 14: 26; 16: 14). The Spirit’s work is always centered on the Savior. Any ministry or movement He empowers will share that same priority and clarity. In contrast to this, an emphasis on the person and work of Christ is not the defining feature of the Charismatic Movement—where an intense fixation on a caricature of the blessing and gifting of the Holy Spirit has instead taken center stage. As charismatic authors Jack Hayford and David Moore affirm, “In the Pentecostal potpourri only one thing is the same for all: the passion they have to experience the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. This is the common denominator. This emphasis on the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is what defines the ‘charismatic century.’” Ironically, they celebrate a misplaced priority. While claiming to honor the Holy Spirit, charismatics generally ignore the very purpose of the Spirit’s ministry—which is to draw all attention to the Lord Jesus. As Steve Lawson rightly observes, “The Holy Spirit’s desire is that we be focused on Jesus Christ, not Himself. That is the Spirit’s chief ministry. He is pointing us to Jesus. Bringing Christ more clearly into focus. When the Holy Spirit becomes an end in Himself, then we have misunderstood His ministry.” Within charismatic circles, a proper focus on Christ is obscured by a preoccupation with alleged spiritual gifts and supernatural empowerment. 6 Listen to the typical charismatic and you might think the Holy Spirit’s work is to manifest Himself and call attention to His own works. In the words of Kenneth D. Johns, a former Pentecostal, many charismatic churches “are Spirit-centered rather than Christ-centered.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 41–42. A Charismatic Bicycle

The Spirit Glorifies the Son

Three more quotations on the subordinate ministry of the Holy Spirit, all from Strange Fire (44, 45). The Spirit does not glorify Himself; He glorifies the Son. . . . This is, to me, one of the most amazing and remarkable things about the biblical doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit seems to hide Himself and to conceal Himself. He is always, as it were, putting the focus on the Son, and that is why I believe, and I believe profoundly, that the best test of all as to whether we have received the Spirit is to ask ourselves, what do we think of, and what do we know about, the Son. Is the Son real to us? That is the work of the Spirit. He is glorified indirectly; He is always pointing us to the Son. And so you see how easily we go astray and become heretical if we concentrate overmuch, and in an unscriptural manner, upon the Spirit Himself. Yes, we must realize that He dwells within us, but His work in dwelling within us is to glorify the Son, and to bring to us that blessed knowledge of the Son and of His wondrous love to us. It is He who strengthens us with might in the inner man (Eph. 3:16), that we may know this love, this love of Christ. —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Great Doctrines of the Bible: God the Holy Spirit (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 2:20; emphasis added. If we are told that the Holy Spirit will not speak of himself but of Jesus, then we may conclude that any emphasis upon the person and work of the Spirit that detracts from the person and work of Jesus Christ is not the Spirit’s doing. In fact, it is the work of another spirit, the spirit of antichrist, whose work is to minimize Christ’s person (1 John 4:2–3). Important as the Holy Spirit is, he is never to preempt the place of Christ in our thinking. —James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1986) 381. Mark it down: the Spirit glorifies Christ. I’ll go one step further: If the Holy Spirit Himself is being emphasized and magnified, He isn’t in it! Christ is the One who is glorified when the Spirit is at work. He does His work behind the scenes, never in the limelight. —Charles R. Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1986), 188.

A True Work of the Spirit

Who do you suppose has a higher view of the Holy Spirit: those who describe his ministry as he does (i.e., scripturally), or those who attribute to him all sorts of nutty behavior? When the Holy Spirit commanded us to “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), he did not leave us wondering what his true work looks like. Ask the average charismatic what the Holy Spirit’s influence looks like in his or her life, and you’re likely to get one of several answers. The classic Pentecostal will probably emphasize speaking in tongues, being slain in the Spirit, or some other imagined manifestation of miraculous gifts. The mainstream charismatic will likely reflect the teaching of popular televangelists by pointing to a form of faith healing or the hope of a financial windfall. Those in either category might claim to have had an extraordinary encounter with God—such as a revelatory vision, a word of prophecy, or a tingling sensation of supernatural empowerment. Based on such criteria, they identify themselves as Spirit-filled Christians. But what do they mean by that label? Within a charismatic context, almost any subjective experience is construed as evidence of the Spirit’s involvement. Charismatics may think they are being filled with the Spirit when they utter nonsensical (and often repetitious) syllables, fall backward in a mindless trance, speak fallible words of so-called prophecy, feel a sensation of emotional electricity, or donate money to their favorite health-and-wealth prosperity gospel preacher. But none of those things is any indication of the Holy Spirit’s presence. A spirit may be at work in such phenomena, but it is not the Spirit of God. Despite what is commonly emphasized in charismatic circles, the genuine evidence of the Holy Spirit’s influence in a person’s life is not material prosperity, mindless emotionalism, or supposed miracles. Rather, it is sanctification: the believer’s growth in spiritual maturity, practical holiness, and Christlikeness through the power and leading of the Holy Spirit (as He applies biblical truth to the hearts of His saints). A true work of the Spirit convicts the heart of sin, combats worldly lusts, and cultivates spiritual fruit in the lives of God’s people. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 56.

The Sword of the Spirit

John MacArthur on the relationship between being Scripture-saturated and Spirit-filled: The Bible is the Holy Spirit’s book; He inspired it and He empowers it. It is the primary instrument He uses to convict the world of sin (John 16:8–11; Acts 2:37); to point sinners to the Savior (John 5:39; 1 John 5:6); and to conform believers into the image of their Lord (2 Cor. 3:18; 1 Peter 2:2). Accordingly, the Scriptures are described as “the sword of the Spirit.” For believers, that sword is a Spirit-empowered means of defense against temptation (Eph. 6:17); for unbelievers, it is an implement of precision used by the Holy Spirit to pierce hearts of unbelief (Heb. 4:12). A comparison of Ephesians 5:18 with Colossians 3:16 demonstrates that the command to “be filled with the Spirit” is parallel to the command to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” since they both produce the same results (cf. Eph. 5:18–6:9; Col. 3:16–4:1). As one commentator explains, “It is not possible for God’s Word to dwell in believers unless they are filled with the Spirit; and conversely, Christians can’t be filled with the Spirit without the Word of Christ dwelling in them.” Being Spirit-filled starts with being Scripture-saturated; as believers submit themselves to the Word of Christ, they simultaneously come under the sanctifying influence of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who illuminates their hearts so that as they grow in their knowledge of the Lord Jesus, their love for the Savior deepens accordingly (cf. 1 Cor. 2:12–16). —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 67. This theme is handled more fully here: The Fruit of the Filling.

Hearing God’s Voice?

Criticizing the Charismatic Movement is easy. From the speaking of gibberish to fake-healers and the prosperity gospel, charismatics present a target that just cannot be missed. But those, flashy and fraudulent as they are, are not the most problematic manifestations of charismania. The most insidious aspects of charismania are those that directly attack the sufficiency of Scripture, for example, the following statements quoted by John MacArthur in Strange Fire: Some object to the notion that God communicates directly with us, supposing that everything that God wanted to reveal He revealed in the Bible. This cannot be true, however, because there is nothing in the Bible that says it has 66 books. It actually took God a couple of hundred years to reveal to the church which writings should be included in the Bible and which should not. That is extra-biblical revelation. Even so, Catholics and Protestants still disagree on the number. Beyond that, I believe that prayer is two way, we speak to God and expect Him to speak with us. We can hear God’s voice. He also reveals new things to prophets as we have seen. —C. Peter Wagner, cited in John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 68. In order to fulfill God’s highest purpose for our lives we must be able to hear his voice both in the written Word and in the word freshly spoken from heaven. . . . Satan understands the strategic importance of Christians hearing God’s voice so he has launched various attacks against us in this area. One of his most successful attacks has been to develop a doctrine that teaches God no longer speaks to us except through the written Word. Ultimately, this doctrine is demonic even [though] Christian theologians have been used to perfect it. —Jack Deer, Ibid., 69. What troubles me most is that many evangelicals outside the charismatic asylum share similar notions, expecting to hear from God, though usually not audibly, but in some “still, small voice.” This looking for personal experience, as though Scripture has left us needing something more, is the zenith of folly. MacArthur, commenting on Peter’s account of the Transfiguration, writes, Speaking of his own eyewitness experience at the Transfiguration, the apostle Peter gave this revelation: For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:16–19 ESV 2007) At the Transfiguration, Peter witnessed an unparalleled supernatural spectacle. He had a genuine divine, heavenly experience. Even so, the apostle knew that Scripture (“the prophetic word”) is “more sure” than even the most sublime experiences. Peter’s point is precisely the issue that many charismatics fail to understand. Human experience is subjective and fallible; only the Word of God is unfailing and inerrant, because its Author is perfect. —John MacArthur, Ibid., 70.

Experience Driven

John MacArthur provides evidence that Charismatic doctrine has been driven by experience from the very beginning. When the original Pentecostals studied the text of Scripture, they were convinced that tongues in the Bible were authentic foreign languages. But what happened when it became obvious that their modern version of the “gift” did not consist of real languages? If Scripture had been their highest authority, they would have abandoned the practice altogether—recognizing the fact that what they were doing did not match the biblical precedent. Instead, they radically changed their interpretation of the New Testament, manipulating the text in order to justify and preserve a counterfeit. Thus, the clear teaching of Scripture about languages was twisted in order to redefine tongues as nonsensical gibberish and thereby fit the modern phenomenon. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 72.

Experience Trumps Truth

A casual survey of charismatic television further illustrates the fact that for many charismatics, personal experience trumps propositional truth. I have been waiting for many years to hear a charismatic television host interrupt a guest and say, “That is not true. That is not in the Word of God. We will not accept that. You cannot verify that by Scripture.” But that kind of confrontation never happens, no matter what is said. It can be the most bizarre theological assertion, or the most ludicrous misinterpretation of Scripture—where the text is ripped out of its context so that its meaning is hopelessly distorted—yet no one ever stops and says, “Hold it; that’s heresy. That is not true.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 73.

Hokie Pokie This

The difference between charismatic and biblical believers can be seen in their reactions to this video: Charismatic: Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Biblical: The “Holy Ghost Hokie Pokie”? That is nothing less than blasphemy. Furthermore, the claims of healing are laughable. There is no one there with anything that couldn't be temporarily relieved psychosomatically. Hypnotism, anyone? Placebo effect? Check on those people in a week, a month, a year, and see how they're doing. Show me before-and-after x-rays of that scoliosis and those knees. Where are the quadriplegics and amputees? Let's see you hokie pokie someone out of a vegetative state, cancer, or HIV. Again, document both the illness and the cure, and publish it in NEJM and JAMA. Take your camera and post the restoration of a veteran's legs on YouTube. Show me a real, undeniable illness or injury and its documented cure. Let me hear from the amazed CNN and NYT reporters. No takers? I thought not, because every single one of these healers is a fraud, with no exceptions. The difference? Credulous versus incredulous, gullible versus discerning, or, as already designated, charismatic versus biblical. Biblical thinkers are also critical thinkers (1 John 4:1). They do not simply believe everything.


Charismatics are under the illusion, based on their misunderstanding of 1 Corinthians 14:4, that self-edification is a good thing. Such self-centered motivation runs counter to the biblical commands to submit to one another and prefer others above ourselves. Seeking self-edification is really a failure to love others. To be sure, charismatics claim their movement is marked by genuine love for others. But Jonathan Edwards warned there is a counterfeit form of love that is often found in aberrant groups. His words of caution seem particularly applicable to the modern Charismatic Movement: Indeed, there is a counterfeit of love that often appears amongst those that are led by a spirit of delusion. There is commonly in the wildest enthusiasts a kind of union and affection that appears in them one towards another, arising from self-love, occasioned by their agreeing one with another in those things wherein they greatly differ from all others, and for which they are the objects of the ridicule of all the rest of mankind; which naturally will cause them so much the more to prize the esteem they observe in each other, of those peculiarities that make them the objects of others’ contempt: so the ancient Gnostics, and the wild fanatics that appeared in the beginning of the Reformation, boasted of their great love one to another: one sect of them in particular, calling themselves the Family of Love. But this is quite another thing than that Christian love that I have just described; ’tis only the working of a natural self-love, and no true benevolence, any more than the union and friendship which may be among a company of pirates that are at war with all the rest of the world. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 79. In other words, what passes for mutual love is largely just the pleasure of keeping company with those who share common goals.

The Apostolic Ministry to Afflicted Bovines

. . . or AMAB, as it is called by New Apostolic Reformation insiders.* Historically, the name “apostle Peter” has been reserved for only one individual: Simon Peter, the outspoken leader of the twelve disciples whose apostolic ministry is featured in Acts 1–12. But in the New Apostolic Reformation, that name has been co-opted by none other than Peter Wagner himself. Wagner began to recognize his own “apostleship” in 1995, when two prophetesses declared he had received an apostolic anointing. In 1998, his apostolic calling was confirmed by another prophetic word at a conference in Dallas. Wagner recounts the somewhat bizarre circumstances surrounding that event: I was sitting on the front row . . . when somehow or other I found myself kneeling on the platform with Jim Stevens of Christian International getting ready to prophesy over me in public. How I got there I still don’t know! I glanced up and there was Charles Doolittle, one of our recognized intercessors, standing over me. Charles was a six-foot-four muscular African-American police officer on the Glendale, California, police force, with an aggressive look on his face and holding a huge three-foot sword over my head! I quickly decided that I’d better behave myself and listen carefully [to] what Jim Stevens said. . . . I have since considered that time to be my prophetic ordination as an apostle. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 86–87. Thus, an apostle of the “New Apostolic Reformation” is commissioned. Conspicuously absent from the ceremony is the one who holds sole authority to create apostles. “Apostle” Peter Wagner went on to end mad cow disease in Europe. Never mind that mad cow disease, despite the best efforts of European governments against it, is still a problem—just like every other malady that Charismatic charlatans claim to fix. However, if you disagree with me, and a career in apostleship appeals to you, you may have a future in Wagner’s International Coalition of Apostles. Membership rates at the end of 2012 varied slightly, depending on the apostle’s nation of residency. The base fee was $350 for “International Apostles.” The fee for apostles living in North America began at $450 per year, or $650 for married apostles (meaning, apparently, a husband-and-wife team who both consider themselves apostles). Native Americans (“First Nation Apostles”) could join for the same fee as an “International Apostle.” —Ibid., 88. * Excercising my apostolic prerogative to make stuff up.

Apostolic Qualifications

Charismatics, and others who build entire theological systems on single verses or even words, will ask, “Where does the Bible say the apostolic office is no more?” This is unlikely to satisfy them, but it should convince you, the logical, biblical thinker. It would be impossible for any contemporary Christian to meet the biblical qualifications required for someone to be considered an apostle. The New Testament articulates at least three necessary criteria:(1) an apostle had to be a physical eyewitness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22; 10:39–41; 1 Cor. 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; Gal. 1:1); and (3) an apostle had to be able to authenticate his apostolic appointment with miraculous signs (Matt. 10:1 –2; Acts 1:5–8; 2:43; 4:33; 5:12; 8:14; 2 Cor. 12:12; Heb. 2:3–4). Those qualifications alone conclusively demonstrate that there are no apostles in the church today. No living person has seen the risen Christ with his or her own eyes; no one is able to perform miraculous signs like those done by the apostles in the book of Acts (cf. Acts 3:3–11; 5:15–16; 9:36–42; 20:6–12; 28:1–6); and—in spite of presumptuous claims to the contrary—no one in the modern church has been personally and directly appointed as an apostle by the Lord Jesus. Of course, there are some charismatics who claim to have seen visions of the resurrected Lord. Not only are such claims highly suspect and impossible to verify; they simply do not meet the apostolic criteria—since an apostle had to see the resurrected Christ in the flesh with his own eyes. . . . Wayne Grudem, popular author and professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary, is a committed charismatic himself and perhaps the best theologian and apologist for the movement. But even he acknowledges that “since no one today can meet the qualification of having seen the risen Christ with his own eyes, there are no apostles today.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 92–93.

The Negotiable Word

As posted last week, Charismatic C. Peter Wagner has founded an International Coalition of Apostles. Never mind that it is impossible for any contemporary Christian to meet the biblical qualifications required for someone to be considered an apostle. Wagner gets around that little obstacle by doing what Charismatics do. After articulating a version of “apostleship” that fits his New Apostolic Reformation, Wagner admits he intentionally leaves out the biblical qualifications in defining an apostle. In his words: There are three biblical characteristics of apostles which some include in their definition of apostle, but which I have chosen not to include: (1) signs and wonders (2 Cor. 12:12), (2) seeing Jesus personally (1 Cor. 9:1), and (3) planting churches (1 Cor. 3:10). My reason for this is that I do not understand these three qualities to be non-negotiables. . . . [I]f a given individual lacks the anointing for one or more of them, this, in my opinion would not exclude that individual from being a legitimate apostle. We might quibble over whether or not “planting churches” is one of the biblical criteria for apostleship. However, the other two characteristics certainly are. Yet Wagner dismisses them as being negotiable. He treats them as moot, for no evident reason other than that the biblical standard would overturn his own claim of apostolic authority. Having declared himself an apostle, he acts as if he has the authority to ignore the clear teaching of Scripture if “in [his] opinion,” something the Bible teaches is inconvenient, or if it might exclude Wagner himself from the office he believes he is entitled to. That kind of cavalier, condescending attitude toward Scripture pervades the New Apostolic Reformation. After all, the only way Wagner and his supporters can advocate modern-day apostles is by turning a deaf ear to what the Bible clearly teaches. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 93. “What Charismatics do,” as exemplified by Wagner in the quotation above, is redefine words to accommodate their desires. Prophesy is no longer the infallible Word of God; tongues (which are a form of prophesy, by the way) are no longer real human languages; miracles are not undeniable, verifiable acts of God with no other possible explanation; and apostles are pretty much whoever wants to be one.

A Foundation and a Blueprint

Jesus built the foundation. When writing his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul explained that his readers were part of God’s household, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:19–20 NASB). That passage equates the apostles with the church’s foundation. It means nothing if it doesn’t decisively limit apostleship to the earliest stages of church history. After all, a foundation is not something that can be rebuilt during every phase of construction. The foundation is unique, and it is always laid first, with the rest of the structure resting firmly above it. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 96–97. The Holy Spirit gave instructions for the completion of the building. When the apostles gave instruction regarding the future of the church and how the church ought to be organized, they did not suggest new apostles should be appointed. Instead, they spoke of pastors, elders, and deacons. Thus, Peter instructed elders to “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2 NASB). And Paul told Titus to “appoint elders in every city as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 NASB); he similarly outlined the qualifications for both elders and deacons in the third chapter of 1 Timothy. Nowhere in the Pastoral Epistles does Paul say anything about the perpetuation of apostleship, but he says a lot about the organization of the church under the leadership of qualified elders and deacons. As faithful men filled those offices, the church would thrive. Thus, Paul told Timothy, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2 NASB). —Ibid., 97–98.

False Doctrine, False Prophet

John MacArthur provides “three criteria for identifying . . . spiritual pretenders [false prophets].” The first, which should be obvious, is false doctrine. [A]ny self-proclaimed prophet who leads people into false doctrine and heresy is a false prophet. In Deuteronomy 13:1–5, Moses told the Israelites: If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods”—which you have not known—“and let us serve them,” 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. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has spoken in order to turn you away from the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of bondage, to entice you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall put away the evil from your midst. 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. Even if such a person makes accurate predictions or performs supposed wonders, he is to be disregarded—since Satan himself is able to perform counterfeit miracles (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9). —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 106–107. Most notable to me is, first, the fact that false prophets will come “for the Lord your God is testing you.” False prophets do not come to confound God’s will, but to serve it; and second, that we are expected to pass judgment. God is testing not only our discernment, but our love for him. If we love him to the fullest extent of our beings, we will be willing to make the hard and controversial calls for his honor and glory.

Judging Modern Prophesy

Charismatics insist that God continues to give fresh revelation but, like the other miraculous gifts they claim, today’s revelation is not to be held to biblical standards. Today’s revelation may be erroneous. One wonders, then, how to tell what is genuine revelation and what isn’t. John MacArthur looks to Wayne Grudem for an answer. Wayne Grudem, for example, wrote his doctoral thesis at Cambridge University in defense of the idea that God regularly gives Christians prophetic messages by bringing spontaneous thoughts to mind. Strong impressions should be reported as prophecy, he says, though he freely admits that such prophetic words “can frequently contain errors.” Grudem goes on, “There is almost uniform testimony from all sections of the charismatic movement that prophecy is imperfect and impure, and will contain elements which are not to be obeyed or trusted.” In light of such an admission, one wonders, how can Christians differentiate a revelatory word of divine origin from one concocted in their own imaginations? Grudem struggles to find an adequate answer to that question: Did the revelation “seem like” something from the Holy Spirit; did it seem to be similar to other experiences of the Holy Spirit which [the person] had known previously in worship. . . . Beyond this it is difficult to specify much further, except to say that over time a congregation would probably become more adept at making evaluations of prophecies, . . . and become more adept at recognizing a genuine revelation from the Holy Spirit and distinguishing it from their own thoughts. Elsewhere, Grudem compared the evaluation of modern prophecy to a game of baseball: “You call it as you see it. I have to use an American analogy. It’s an umpire calling balls and strikes as the pitcher pitches the ball across the plate.” In other words, within charismatic circles, there are no objective criteria for differentiating prophetic words from imaginary ones. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 114–115.

How God Moves Us

[F]rom childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. —2 Timothy 3:15–17 Those verses make a solid, brief statement on the truth, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. It could hardly declare more clearly the folly of looking for more revelation than what is already given. To seek further unmediated communication from God is plainly contrary to the Word already given. However, we also want to know what this does not mean. MacArthur writes, Does this mean God has stopped speaking? Certainly not, but He speaks today through His all-sufficient Word. Does the Spirit of God move our hearts and impress us with specific duties or callings? Certainly, but He works through the Word of God to do that. Such experiences do not involve new revelation but illumination, when the Holy Spirit applies the Word to our hearts and opens our spiritual eyes to its truth. We must guard carefully against allowing our experience and our own subjective thoughts and imaginations to eclipse the authority and the certainty of the more sure Word. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 117.

Who Is the Cessationist Now?

It is another wonderful irony of the Charismatic debate: continuationists claim that with the New Testament age came a cessation of the Old Testament standard for prophesy, while cessationists insist on a continuation of the Old Testament standard of infallibility. John MacArthur responds to one Charismatic appeal to Scripture in defense of fallible prophesy: No doubt, someone will object by pointing to Romans 12:6, where Paul wrote, “Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith.” Charismatics use this verse to argue that the accuracy of prophecy is dependent on the measure of a person’s faith. However, that is not even close to Paul’s true meaning in that verse . The word translated “our” in the New King James is actually the definite article in Greek. It is most accurately translated simply as “the.” Hence, Paul is instructing his readers that those with the gift of prophecy must prophesy in accordance with the faith—the body of previously revealed biblical truth (cf. Jude 3–4). Furthermore, the word prophecy in this context does not necessarily refer to future predictions or new revelation. The word simply means “to speak forth,” and it applies to any authoritative proclamation of God’s Word where the person gifted to declare God’s truth “speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men” (1 Cor. 14:3). So a fitting paraphrase of Romans 12:6 would be: “If your gift is proclaiming God’s Word, do it according to the faith.” Again, the idea is that whatever is proclaimed must conform perfectly with the true faith, being consistent with previous biblical revelation. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 121.

Semi-Lunatics with Stupid Messages

Charles Spurgeon had a way with words that could not be borne by this sissified, sensitive generation—and so I love him. Take care never to impute the vain imaginings of your fancy to him [the Holy Spirit]. I have seen the Spirit of God shamefully dishonoured by persons—I hope they were insane—who have said that they have had this and that revealed to them. There has not for some years passed over my head a single week in which I have not been pestered with the revelations of hypocrites or maniacs. Semi-lunatics are very fond of coming with messages from the Lord to me, and it may spare them some trouble if I tell them once for all that I will have none of their stupid messages. . . . Never dream that events are revealed to you by heaven, or you may come to be like those idiots who dare impute their blatant follies to the Holy Ghost. If you feel your tongue itch to talk nonsense, trace it to the devil, not to the Spirit of God. Whatever is to be revealed by the Spirit to any of us is in the word of God already—he adds nothing to the Bible, and never will. Let persons who have revelations of this, that, and the other, go to bed and wake up in their senses. I only wish they would follow the advice and no longer insult the Holy Ghost by laying their nonsense at his door. —Charles Spurgeon, cited in Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 130–131.

Biblical Tongues

The only detailed description of tongues speaking in the Bible: Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. They were amazed and astonished, saying, “Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we each hear them in our own language to which we were born? Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of God.” —Acts 2:5–11 Is anyone, anywhere, claiming this ability?
What Did Paul Mean When He Said Tongues-Speakers Speak to God, Not to Men? Charismatics sometimes cling to this phrase in 1 Corinthians 14:2 as a justification for their unintelligible glossolalia. But once again, the context belies that interpretation. The entirety of verses 1–3 reads as follows: “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men.” In those verses, Paul was not extolling the gift of tongues; rather he was explaining why it was inferior to the gift of prophecy. Whereas prophecy was spoken in words that everyone could understand, the gift of foreign languages had to be interpreted in order for others to be edified. Paul defined exactly what he meant by the phrase “does not speak to men but to God” in the very next line, “for no one understands.” If the language was not translated, only God would know what was being said. Clearly, Paul was far from commending such a practice. As he had already established (in chapter 12), the purpose of the gifts was the edification of others within the body of Christ. Foreign languages left untranslated did not fulfill that purpose. That is why the apostle put such an emphasis on the necessity of interpretation (vv. 13, 27). —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 149–150.

A Shiny New Buick

Oral Roberts exemplified the worldly mindset and the truly low expectations of the prosperity gospel. In Oral Roberts: An American Life, biographer David Edwin Harrell Jr. describes how Roberts discovered the prosperity gospel and how it became the centerpiece of his message. One day he opened his Bible randomly and spotted 3 John 2: “Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.” He showed it to his wife, Evelyn, and—utterly divorcing that one verse from its proper context—the couple “talked excitedly about the verse’s implications. Did it mean they could have a ‘new car,’ a ‘new house,’ a ‘brand-new ministry?’ In later years, Evelyn looked back on that morning as the point of embarkation: ‘I really believe that that very morning was the beginning of this worldwide ministry that he has had, because it opened up his thinking.’” Roberts testified that a shiny new Buick, acquired by unexpected means shortly after that experience, “became a symbol to me of what a man could do if he would believe God.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 155–156. Get this: “A shiny new Buick” is a symbol “of what a man could do if he would believe God.” A shiny new Buick. And here I was thinking God was a Ford aficionado. Be that as it may, new cars are hardly what the Holy Spirit had in mind when he wrote 3 John—is it even possible to have a lower view of God and his intended use of men and ministries? When Jesus promised that his disciples would do greater works than he did (John 14:12), he wasn’t promising new horse-drawn chariots or even old donkeys. But that, sadly, is what prosperity means to charismatics.

Fakes’ Failures Feeble Folks’ Fault

Ersatz faith-healers like to place the onus of failed healings on the recipients for their inadequate faith. Ironically, they claim to model their “ministries” after Jesus’, whose healings were given unconditionally. In Luke 17:11–19, only one of the ten lepers expressed faith, yet all were made clean. The demoniacs of Matthew 8:28–29 and Mark 1:23–26 did not express faith before being set free, the crippled man beside the pool of Bethesda did not even know who Jesus was until after he had been healed (John 5:13), and the blind man in John 9 was similarly healed without knowing Jesus’ identity (John 9:36). On several occasions, Jesus raised people from the dead, such as Jairus’s daughter and Lazarus; obviously, dead people are not able to make any kind of “positive confession,” much less respond with any show of faith. Our Lord also healed multitudes of people in spite of the fact that not all of them believed (cf. Matt. 9:35; 11:2–5; 12:15–21; 14:13–14, 34–36; 15:29–31; 19:2). The healing ministries of the apostles, likewise, did not require belief from the sick in order to be effective. Peter healed a lame man without requiring faith from him (Acts 3:6–8). Later, he revived a woman named Tabitha after she had died (Acts 9:36–43). Paul likewise delivered an unbelieving slave girl from demon possession (Acts 16:18) and later raised Eutychus after he fell to his death (Acts 20:7–12). A profession of faith was not a prerequisite for any of those healing miracles. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 163.

The Real Thing

The differences between modern miracle-workers (so-called) and the miracle-workers of the New Testament are glaring and undeniable. As we have seen, New Testament healings were never dependant on the faith of the one healed. New Testament healings were also not for sale. As [Benny Hinn] told a TBN Praise-a-Thon audience in 2000, “I believe that God is healing people while they’re making a pledge tonight. There are people getting healed making a pledge.” Hinn’s message at another Praise-a-Thon was equally forward: “Make a pledge; make a gift. Because that’s the only way you’re going to get your miracle. . . . As you give, the miracle will begin.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 166. Furthermore, New Testament healings actually healed. The healing miracles of Jesus never failed. Neither did those done by the apostles in the book of Acts. In Matthew 14:36 all who touched the hem of Christ’s garment “were made perfectly well.” When lepers were healed, their recovery was total, such that they could pass a thorough inspection by the priest (cf. Lev. 14:3, 4, 10). The blind were given 20/20 vision, the lame could run and jump, the deaf could hear a pin drop, and the dead were restored to full health. No New Testament miracle was ever attempted that was not ultimately a complete success. —Ibid., 167–168. On the other hand, As ABC Nightline reported in 2009, “Hinn admits he doesn’t have medical verification of any of the healings.” —Ibid.

A Process of Elimination

Jesus and the apostles performed miracles for a specific purpose. Knowing that purpose should make cessationists of us all, but at the very least, it enables us to rule out any possibility of genuine divine miracles through Benny Hinn and heretics like him. A final characteristic of New Testament healings is that they served as a sign to authenticate the gospel message preached by Christ and the apostles. As Peter explained on the day of Pentecost, the Lord Jesus was “a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs” (Acts 2:22). Christ Himself told the skeptical Pharisees, “Though you do not believe Me, believe the works , that you may know and believe that the Father is in Me, and I in Him” (John 10:38). And the apostle John explained the purpose of his gospel with these words: “Truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:30–31). The apostles, as Christ’s ambassadors, were similarly authenticated by the miraculous signs they performed (cf. Rom . 15:18–19; 2 Cor. 12:12). Speaking of that apostolic witness, the author of Hebrews explained, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?” (Heb. 2:3–4). Those signs validated the fact that the apostles were truly who they claimed to be—authorized representatives of God who preached the true gospel. Those who would preach any gospel other than that established by Christ and proclaimed by the apostles show themselves to be “false apostles” and “deceitful workers” (2 Cor. 11:13). Paul cursed such people—twice in quick succession , to make the point as emphatic as possible: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8 –9). The God of truth only validates the true gospel. He would not authenticate bad theology or give supernatural power to people who teach bad theology. Thus, self-proclaimed miracle workers who teach a false gospel either cannot perform miracles or do so by a power that does not come from God (cf. 2 Thess. 2:9). —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 173–174.

God’s Power Has Not Ceased

Biblical miracles had recognizable characteristics not found in today’s “healing ministries.” The miracle-working ministries of Christ and the apostles were unique. . . . the healings they performed were supernaturally powerful, entirely successful, undeniable, immediate, spontaneous, and purposeful—serving as signs that authenticated the message of the gospel. They were not predicated on the faith of the recipient, they were not performed for the sake of money or popularity, and they were not preplanned or choreographed in any way. They were true miracles that resulted in real diseases being instantly cured: the blind saw, the lame walked, the deaf heard, and even the dead were raised to life. Such biblical-quality healing miracles are not being performed today. Benny Hinn may claim to have an apostolic healing ministry, but he obviously does not. Healing miracles of the kind recorded in the Gospels and Acts were unique to the first-century church. After the time of the apostles, healings such as those ceased and have never since been part of church history. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 175–176. Charismatics like to misrepresent cessationism as diminishing or denying the power of God, but it is not God’s ability to heal that has ceased. God still can and does do as he pleases, according to his own purposes and in his own way. It is the revelatory purpose for and the accompanying means that has ceased. While the New Testament does instruct believers to pray for those who are sick and suffering, trusting the Great Physician to do that which is according to His sovereign purposes (cf. James 5:14–15), that is not equivalent to the supernatural gift of healing described in Scripture. Anyone who claims otherwise is fooling himself. —Ibid., 176.

The Spirit’s Work in Salvation

John MacArthur writes, “If we are to honor our divine Guest, treating Him with the reverence and respect that is His royal due, we must rightly discern His true ministry—aligning our hearts, minds, and wills with His wondrous work.” Toward that end, he lists “six aspects of the Spirit’s work in salvation.” The Holy Spirit Convicts Unbelievers of Sin As the general, external call of the gospel goes forth, through the preaching of the message of salvation, unbelievers in the world are confronted with the reality of their sin and the consequences of their unbelief . For those who reject the gospel, the Holy Spirit’s work of conviction might be likened to that of a prosecuting attorney. He convicts them in the sense that they are rendered guilty before God and are, therefore, eternally condemned (John 3:18). The Spirit’s convicting work is not about making unrepentant sinners feel bad, but about delivering a legal verdict against them. It includes a full indictment of their hardhearted crimes, complete with irrefutable evidence and a death sentence. Yet for those whom the Spirit draws to the Savior, His convicting work is one of convincing, as He pricks their consciences and cuts them to the quick. Thus, for the elect, this work of conviction is the beginning of God’s saving, effectual call. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 184. The Holy Spirit Regenerates Sinful Hearts Regeneration is a transformation of a person’s nature, as the believer is given new life, cleansed, and permanently set apart from sin (cf. 2 Thess. 2:13). Those who formerly operated in the flesh now operate in the Spirit (Rom. 8:5–11). Though they were dead, they have been made alive, indwelt by the very Spirit who raised Christ Jesus from the dead (v. 10; cf. 6:11). The Spirit of life has come upon them, empowering them to resist temptation and live in righteousness. This is what it means to be “born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). —Ibid., 188. The Holy Spirit Brings Sinners to Repentance A vivid illustration of this is found in Acts 11:15–18, where Peter reported the conversion of Cornelius to the other apostles in Jerusalem: ”As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” As Peter and the others realized, the undeniable proof Cornelius and his household had truly repented was that they had received the Holy Spirit. They had been convicted of their sin; their hearts were regenerated; their eyes were opened to the truth of Peter’s preaching; and they were given the gift of repentant faith (cf. Eph. 2:8; 2 Tim. 2:25)—all of which was the Holy Spirit’s work. —Ibid., 188–189. The Holy Spirit Enables Fellowship with God The Spirit produces an attitude of profound love for God in the hearts of those who have been born again. They feel drawn to God, not fearful of Him. They long to commune with Him—to meditate on His Word and to fellowship with Him in prayer. They cast their cares freely on Him, and openly confess their sins without trepidation, knowing that all has been covered by His grace through the sacrifice of Christ. Thus, the Spirit makes it possible for believers to enjoy fellowship with God, no longer fearful of His judgment or wrath (1 John 4:18). As a result, Christians can sing hymns about God’s holiness and glory without cowering in terror—knowing they have been securely adopted into the family of their heavenly Father. —Ibid., 190. The Holy Spirit Indwells the Believer It is important to emphasize that there is no such thing as a genuine believer who does not possess the Holy Spirit. It is a terrible error—one tragically promoted by many within Pentecostalism—to assert that a person could somehow be saved and yet not receive the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Spirit’s work, no one could be anything other than a wretched sinner. To reiterate Paul’s statement from Romans 8:9, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” Put simply, those who do not possess the Holy Spirit do not belong to Christ. Genuine believers—people in whom the Holy Spirit has taken up residence—think, talk, and act differently. They are no longer characterized by a love for the world; instead, they love the things of God. That transformation is evidence of the Spirit’s power at work in the lives of those whom He indwells. —Ibid., 192. The Holy Spirit Seals Salvation Forever The Holy Spirit Himself personally guarantees that fact. As Paul told the Ephesians, “In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:13–14). Believers are sealed by the Holy Spirit until the day of redemption. He secures them unto eternal glory. —Ibid., 193.

Spirit Filled

John MacArthur writes, “As those who claim to have the primary, if not exclusive, right to the title ‘Spirit-filled Christians,’ charismatics invariably define being filled with the Spirit in terms of ecstatic experiences.” Babbling gibberish, falling down, rolling or crawling on the floor, hysterical laughter, animal noises, drunken behavior, or, at least, being overcome with emotion, are all (according to charismatics) signs of being filled with the Spirit. Scripture describes the fruit of the Spirit somewhat differently. After commanding believers to be filled with the Spirit in Ephesians 5:18, Paul continues in the subsequent verses by giving specific examples of what that looks like. Those who are Spirit-filled are characterized by joyful singing in worship (5:19), hearts full of thanksgiving (5:20), and selflessness toward others (5:21). If they are married, their marriage honors God (5:22–33); if they have children, their parenting patiently unfolds the gospel (6:1–4); if they work for an earthly master, they work hard for the Lord’s honor (6:5–8); and if they have people working for them, they treat their subordinates with benevolence and fairness (6:9). That is what it looks like to be a Spirit-filled Christian. His influence in our lives makes us rightly related to God and to others. In Colossians 3:16–4:1, a parallel passage to Ephesians 5:18–6:9, Paul explains that if believers “let the word of Christ dwell in [them] richly,” they will likewise respond by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. They will do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, “giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Wives will be submissive to their husbands; and husbands, in turn, will love their wives. Children will obey their parents, and parents will not exasperate their children. Servants will work diligently for their masters, and masters will respond by treating their workers with fairness. A comparison of Colossians 3:16 with Ephesians 5:18 demonstrates the inseparable relationship between the two passages—since the fruit produced in each case is the same. Thus, we can see that obeying the command to be filled with the Spirit does not involve emotional hype or mystical encounters. It comes from reading, meditating on, and submitting to the Word of Christ, allowing the Scriptures to permeate our hearts and minds. Said another way, we are filled with the Holy Spirit when we are filled with the Word, which He inspired and empowers. As we align our thinking with biblical teaching, applying its truth to our daily lives, we come increasingly under the Spirit’s control. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 205–206.

The Real Ministry of the Holy Spirit

Rather than being hopelessly distracted by charismatic counterfeits, believers need to rediscover the real ministry of the Holy Spirit, which is to activate His power in us through His Word, so that we can truly conquer sin for the glory of Christ, the blessing of His church, and the benefit of the lost. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 212.
John MacArthur on sola scriptura and the charge of bibliolatry: Occasionally, someone will suggest that such a high view of Scripture makes the Bible itself an object of worship. Point out that Scripture is vastly superior to (and infinitely more authoritative than) the dreams and visions of contemporary charismatics, and you are practically guaranteed to be labeled a bibliolator. Such an accusation utterly misconstrues what it means to honor God’s Word. It’s not the physical book that we revere, but God, who has revealed Himself infallibly therein. Furthermore, Scripture is pictured in 2 Timothy 3:16 as the very breath of God—meaning it speaks with His authority. There can be no more reliable source of truth. To entertain any lower view of Scripture (or to suggest that belief in the absolute trustworthiness of the Bible is a kind of idolatry) is a serious affront to God. He Himself has exalted His Word to the highest place. David made that point explicit in Psalm 138:2. Speaking to God, he exclaimed, “You have magnified Your word above all Your name.” —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 218–219.

“This May Seem a Bit Strange …”

Continuationists who are otherwise orthodox like to think that they represent the mainstream of charismaticism, and that the extreme errors of the movement are found only on the fringes. In fact, it is they who reside on the fringe of an aberrant movement, performing the service not of moderating it, but of lending it credibility. Doing so requires either a redefining of the miraculous gifts, or, as seen below, some pretty amazing gymnastics. One of the most respected New Testament scholars in the evangelical world provides an example of this very thing [i.e., lending credibility to the broad charismatic movement]. As a careful exegete who seeks to be faithful to the New Testament text, this man correctly identifies the gift of tongues with authentic languages. However, his continuationist presuppositions inhibit him from concluding that the gift of languages has ceased. As a result, he is forced to devise a baffling hypothesis in which he asserts that modern babbling may seem like gibberish, but can constitute a rational language at the same time. In an extended discussion on this point, he provides the following example to illustrate his view: Suppose the message is: Praise the Lord, for his mercy endures forever. Remove the vowels to achieve: PRS TH LRD FR HS MRC NDRS FRVR. This may seem a bit strange; but when we remember that modern Hebrew is written without most vowels, we can imagine that with practice this could be read quite smoothly. Now remove the spaces and, beginning with the first letter, rewrite the sequence using every third letter, repeatedly going through the sequence until all the letters are used up. The result is: PTRRMNSVRHDHRDFRSLFSCRR. Now add an “a” sound after each consonant, and break up the unit into arbitrary bits: PATARA RAMA NA SAVARAHA DAHARA DAFARASALA FASA CARARA. I think that is indistinguishable from transcriptions of certain modern tongues. Certainly it is very similar to some I have heard. But the important point is that it conveys information provided you know the code. Anyone who knows the steps I have taken could reverse them in order to retrieve the original message. . . . It appears, then, that tongues may bear cognitive information even though they are not known human languages—just as a computer program is a “language” that conveys a great deal of information, even though it is not a “language” that anyone actually speaks. While such a suggestion is innovative, it has no exegetical basis and adds layers of unnecessary complexity that are not warranted by the New Testament description of the gift of languages. Unique explanations like this, though well intentioned, attempt to do the impossible. All efforts to reconcile the biblical miracle of speaking foreign languages and the modern practice of nonsensical jabber fail. —John MacArthur, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 235–236. The “respected New Testament scholar” quoted above is none other than D. A. Carson (Showing the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1987), 85–86.), a man whose scholarship has indeed earned the respect he receives. That his charismatic presuppositions, juxtaposed on a biblical understanding of tongues, force him to concoct such a risible theory should be an obvious indicator of the impossibility of reconciling continuationism with biblical Christianity.

Early Church Cessationists

Once upon a time, I issued a challenge to charismatics to show historical proof that the gift of tongues did not pass away with the apostolic age. That challenge has yet to be met. On the other hand, John MacArthur provides several quotes from the Early Church Fathers, Reformers, Puritans, and notable theologians from the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries supporting the cessation of the miraculous gifts. Most telling, of course, are the words of these two second century fathers: This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as then used to occur but now no longer take place. —John Chrysostom, Commenting on 1 Corinthians 12, cited in Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship (Thomas Nelson, 2014), 252. In the earliest times, the Holy Spirit fell upon them that believe and they spoke with tongues, which they had not learned, as the Spirit gave them utterance. These were signs adapted to the time. For there was this betokening of the Holy Spirit in all tongues to show that the gospel of God was to run through all tongues over the whole earth. That thing was done for a sign, and it passed away. —Augustine, Ibid., 252–253. For who expects in these days that those on whom hands are laid that they may receive the Holy Spirit should forthwith begin to speak with tongues? But it is understood that invisibly and imperceptibly, on account of the bond of peace, divine love is breathed into their hearts, so that they may be able to say, “Because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us.” —Ibid., 253.

Focused on Christ, or Deceived

In The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, Michael Beasley warns against undervaluing Christ’s gifts to the church. Without such gifts, the church will most certainly be carried about by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:11–16). Since the purpose of these gifts is to magnify Christ through the proclamation of His word, they are indispensable with respect to the church’s spiritual purity and growth. Christ’s gift of the Apostles, along with their attending signs, wonders, and divine revelation; the gift of His prophets in the Spirit who also disclosed God’s divine revelation of the mystery of Christ (Ephesians 3:1–13); the gift of His evangelists who advance the message of the Gospel to the lost; His pastors and His teachers who rightly divide the Word of God for Christ’s sheep—all of these provisions come from Christ for the maturation of the body so that His saints would not be like children tossed about by the trickery of men (Ephesians 4:14), but would become mature to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). In everything, such gifts are given so that Christ’s body would be collectively built up “in love.” In view of these matters we should avoid the extreme of making light of these gifts, or deriding their nature and purpose. To do so would be to dishonor to the One who sacrificed Himself in order to lavish such gifts upon the church. —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 10–11. On the other hand, we should also beware of another tendency, one that leads to their exaltation and over-valuation: Luke 10:17–20: 17 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.” 18 And He said to them, “I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightning. 19 “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. 20 “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven.” This portion of Luke 10 reveals the disciples’ response to their brief missionary journey (Luke 10:1–16). Remarkably, the disciples’ joy and exuberance was not reciprocated by the Savior. Rather than joining in their celebration that even the demons were subject to them in Christ’s name, Jesus corrects their focus entirely by instructing them to rejoice because their names are recorded in heaven. We must not underestimate the gravity and importance of the Savior’s teaching, after all, a soul that is not centrally focused on Christ and His kingdom is a soul that is fully deceived: Matthew 7:22–23: 22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” —Ibid., 11–12.

Fallible Prophesy: Problematic and Dangerous

The following includes two of “several reasons why such a notion of [fallible] prophecy is problematic and even dangerous to the church in any age.” Within the doctrine of fallible prophecy, Agabus is traditionally utilized as the central example of a NT fallible prophet (Acts 21:10–11). However, there are several inconsistencies concerning the interpretation and application of his example. If Agabus’ example was followed logically (according to the logic of fallible prophecy), then no fallible prophecy would ever require obedience from a believer due to the corrupting presence of error. This reality guts fallible prophecy of any positive value or purpose whatsoever. From the standard of Scripture, it was no small thing for a person to claim to be a prophet of God. The Bible explicitly affirms only two classes of prophets: true prophets and false prophets. In the Old Testament, the penalty of death fell upon those who falsely claimed such a gift and office. However, according to the doctrine of fallible prophecy, neither grave error nor immaturity should serve as a barrier to the exercise of such a gift by nearly everyone within the local church. Such thinking is a tragedy for the body of Christ which is called to holiness and truth in all aspects of life and servitude. —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 17.

Celebrity Culture and Error

Fallible prophesy has an accomplice: Additionally, there should be concern for the integral problem of celebritism which continues to plague the body of Christ in the modern day. In many cases, such Evangelical celebritism serves as the vehicle for problematic teachings like fallible prophecy, whether such an influence is intended or unintended.—Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 27. How far in the orthodox, Reformed world has this notion of fallible prophesy spread because the leading teachers have treated it as a non-essential and promoted its promoters, and because the celebrity culture has rendered them all virtually untouchable?

A God Who Does Not Misspeak

To claim that prophesy can be fallible is a serious offense against the character of our infallible God. I believe that we can confess that God is a God who does not misspeak. Clearly, Old Testament history reveals that the variance of God’s servants and messengers is striking, but what He accomplishes through them is the same: unhindered divine Revelation. He has spoken through multiple prophets and unique leaders (like Abraham and Moses) in order to disclose His revelation; He has used the wicked to declare His word and can use asses and rocks to render utterances that are pleasing to Him. Overall, despite creaturely frailty and fallibility, God has used kings, priests, judges, and prophets to disclose the glory of the One who is the King of kings and Lord of lords; the Prophet; our Great High Priest; the uniquely chosen Servant; and returning Judge—Jesus Christ. When we pause and consider the collective force of all these principles, we learn an essential lesson about the character and nature of God: He is utterly sovereign in the delivery of His infallible message—a message that supplies the bedrock of real assurance to believers of all generations, in the Old Covenant and the New: 2 Peter 1:16–21: 16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”—18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. Clearly, Peter wanted his audience to know that what was being revealed to the New Testament church was not a fabrication of human invention. To do this, Peter reminded his readers of God’s nature and sovereign work through His chosen messengers. God’s actions throughout history have been delivered through the perfectly trustworthy record of Scripture because no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. Simply put, this is how God works. Our Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever and He takes His revelation very seriously. Throughout history, God’s prophetic revelation has been central to this precious matter of revealing the glory of Christ. It is for this reason that Satan has sought, throughout history, to corrupt such revelation from the very beginning. —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 33–34.

The Test of Love

How important is it that we reject false (extra-biblical) prophesy? It is as fundamental as our love for God. It is this same emphasis on the centrality of love that we find throughout the Old and New Testament. Remember that it was the Savior who cited Deuteronomy 6:4–5 and Leviticus 19:18 when He gave these instructions concerning the foremost commandment: Mark 12:28–31: 28 One of the scribes came and heard them arguing, and recognizing that He had answered them well, asked Him, “What commandment is the foremost of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The foremost is, ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; 30 and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 “The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” If there is a central motive and affection emphasized within the full corpus of Holy Writ, it is love. The harmony of this theme is transcendently beautiful, reminding us that whatever we do in life, if it is not done out of love for the Lord first then our servitude is counted as nothing. Let the reader know that we have not wandered away from the topic of prophecy. What we have already examined regarding the centrality of love leads us to other central truths: Deuteronomy 13:1–5: 1 “If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom 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 find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 “You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. 5 “But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. I would ask the reader to consider the central test supplied in Deuteronomy 13:3. We would miss too much if we only gleaned from this passage the specific tests supplied for evaluating a claimant of the prophetic gift. Though extremely important, those tests are only a subordinate component of God’s broader test for His people, as He said: for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. . . . Those who genuinely herald God and His word are revealed to be those who love Him truly; those who tolerate error and the corruptions of God’s revelation simply fail such a test of love. —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 36–37, 38.

Grudem’s Lexical Lunacy

Michael Beasley calls into question—rather embarrassingly, I think—Wayne Grudem’s lexical basis for tinkering with the definition of New Testament prophesy. [Grudem’s] list of examples of prophetes is derived from page 794 of Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT). Though I can credit him for supplying the reference, it would have been better for him to mention the section/subsection from which he harvested his data. I say this because lexical articles found within TDNT normally peruse a variety of scriptural word uses from OT, LXX, rabbinic, intertestamental, profane Greek, and NT sources. The value of this is that the student of Scripture can learn about the full lexical spectrum of words that are used in the Bible, from the good, bad, and ugliest examples. What is so striking about Grudem’s citation is that TDNT’s complete section dealing with the word prophetes begins on page 781 and ends on page 861 of volume VI in the series—a fairly large section for just one biblical word. Thus, for the full span of 80 pages, there is a wealth of information supplied concerning the use of prophetes—most of which deals with the OT and NT uses of the word. However, Grudem chose to draw from the least relevant section: profane (secular) Greek, a section which spans thirteen pages. —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 54–55.

Merely Human Words

Posting from The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, it has occurred to me that not everyone knows what this doctrine of fallible prophesy is all about. This bit of hokum from Wayne Grudem should give the sense—or, rather, nonsense—of it. So prophecies in the church today should be considered merely human words, not God’s words, and not equal to God’s words in authority. But does this conclusion conflict with current charismatic teaching or practice? I think it conflicts with much charismatic practice, but not with most charismatic teaching. Most charismatic teachers today would agree that contemporary prophecy is not equal to Scripture in authority. Though some will speak of prophecy as being the ‘word of God’ for today, there is almost uniform testimony from all sections of the charismatic movement that prophecy is imperfect and impure, and will contain elements that are not to be obeyed or trusted. For example, Bruce Yocum, the author of a widely used charismatic book on prophecy, writes, ‘Prophecy can be impure—our thoughts, or ideas can get mixed into the message we receive—whether we receive the words directly or only receive a sense of the message.’ But it must be said that in actual practice much confusion results from the habit of prefacing prophecies with the common Old Testament phrase, ‘Thus says the Lord’ (a phrase nowhere spoken in the New Testament by any prophets in New Testament churches). This is unfortunate, because it gives the impression that the words that follow are God’s very words, whereas the New Testament does not justify that position and, when pressed, most responsible charismatic spokesmen would not want to claim it for every part of their prophecies anyway. So there would be much gain and no loss if that introductory phrase were dropped. Now it is true that Agabus uses a similar phrase (“Thus says the Holy Spirit”) in Acts 21:11, but the same words (Gk. Tade legei) are used by Christian writers just after the time of the New Testament to introduce very general paraphrases or greatly expanded interpretations of what is being reported (so Ignatius, Epistle to the Philadelphians 7:1–2 [about A.D. 108] and Epistle of Barnabas 6:8, 9:2, 5 [A.D. 70–100]). The phrase can apparently mean, ‘This is generally (or approximately) what the Holy Spirit is saying to us.’ —Wayne Grudem, cited in Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 66–67. If you can subdue your laughter over the term “responsible charismatic spokesman” for a moment, I think you can see just how thoroughly emasculated “prophesy” is in this scheme. “Merely human words”? One wonders why there would even be a word to describe something so inconsequential.

Grudem’s Hermeneutical Hijinx

As we have seen, Wayne Grudem’s doctrine of fallible prophesy depends on some desperately selective lexicology. On top of that, his hermeneutics make a pretty desperate stretch, leaning heavily on the much-debated prophesy of Agabus (Acts 21:11). The advocates of fallible prophecy have analyzed Agabus as never before in church history. Grudem insists that Paul was not bound by the Jews, but by the Romans. Recalling the simplicity of Agabus’ prophecy, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands, and declared, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” Within this prophecy, nothing is said about the timing, duration, or final outcome of Paul’s captivity. When we consider Paul’s initial arrest by the Jews, Luke tells us nothing about how Paul was restrained, except that the Jews took hold of Paul and dragged him. Concerning this last observation, it is helpful to note that the Jewish attorney, Tertullus, testified before Felix that Paul had been arrested [ekratesamen] because he “stirs up dissension among all the Jews through the world.” When we consider this account, we should note that the concept of Paul’s arrest by the Jews raises further questions about the manner in which he was restrained by them seeing that the concept of being formally arrested typically included the idea of being bound, as in the case of John the Baptist and Christ: John the Baptist: Matthew 14:3 For when Herod had John arrested [kratesas], he bound [edesen] him and put him in prison because of Herodias, the wife of his brother Philip. (NASB95)Jesus Christ: John 18:12 So the Roman cohort and the commander and the officers of the Jews, arrested Jesus and bound [edesan] Him, (NASB95) Though none of this explicitly proves that the Jews temporarily bound Paul directly, it does raise serious questions about the veracity of those who insist that such a matter is impossible. Despite this, Grudem insists that Paul was never directly bound by the Jews. It would be one thing if Grudem dismissed this discussion for a lack of scriptural evidence, but this has not been his approach. One of the central arguments of fallible prophecy rests upon the absence of any explicit reference to the Jews binding Paul. By rendering an argument which rests on the absence of data, Grudem supplies nothing more than an argument from ignorance. To his mind, the fact that Luke says nothing about Paul being directly bound by the Jews actually proves that it never actually occurred. In reality, the lack of such a record proves nothing by itself. —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 88–90.

Grudem’s Exegetical Error

Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. —1 Corinthians 14:29 Wayne Grudem imagines that this verse demonstrates a difference between Old and New Testament prophesy. He explains, When Paul says, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Cor. 14:29), he suggests that they should listen carefully and sift the good from the bad, accepting some and rejecting the rest (for this is the implication of the Greek words diakrino, here translated “weigh what is said”). We cannot imagine that an Old Testament prophet like Isaiah would have said, “Listen to what I say and weigh what is said—sort the good from the bad, what you accept from what you should not accept”! If prophecy had absolute divine authority, it would be sin to do this. But here Paul commands that it be done, suggesting that New Testament prophecy did not have the authority of God’s very words. —Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1054, cited in Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 147–148. According to Grudem, prophets used to be held to a standard of absolute veracity, but now, anyone can be a prophet, and leave it to the listener to separate the filet mignon from the bologna. Michael Beasley replies, Grudem’s repeated use of this text is simply stunning. In his book, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, he manages to refer to this passage 72 times. Such repetition reveals his dependency upon his interpretation of this one passage. Grudem assumes that Paul’s use of the word diakrino eliminates the idea of passing judgment over the claimant of prophecy. He believes that this is the case in view of his stress on an interpretation of diakrino whereby a partitive analysis of the prophecy is in view only, but not the prophet. Yet . . . the principal means by which any prophet was evaluated was through the passing of judgment of what was said. Therefore, the concept of a partitive analysis of a prophetic utterance does nothing to advance the thinking of fallible prophecy. Grudem’s resistance to the notion of judging the claimant of prophecy has no scriptural basis, yet he offers not much more than a farcical offer by Isaiah: “Listen to what I say and weigh what is said—sort the good from the bad, what you accept from what you should not accept.” Indeed, Isaiah would never say, sort the good from the bad, for a simple reason: he was a genuine prophet of God. However, this does not mean that Isaiah would have resisted critical evaluation as a prophet, for this would have been a contradiction to God’s word as we have already examined in Deuteronomy 13:1–5, 18:18–22, and Jeremiah 14:13–15. The need for prophetic testing is rooted in the presence of false prophets, not genuine ones. A genuine prophet will always withstand scrutiny, but the false prophet will fail when evaluated by God’s prescribed tests. What Grudem resists is the idea that the scrutiny prescribed in 1 Corinthians 14:29 is in any way similar to the Old Testament standard whereby the prophet was principally scrutinized by the accuracy or inaccuracy of his utterance. For him it would be sin to scrutinize an infallible messenger like Isaiah. Yet, the Apostle Paul was willing to subject himself to scrutiny over his own words: Galatians 1:8: But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! Critical analysis and testing are absolute necessities for the body of Christ. Paul’s willingness to be scrutinized demonstrates the need for the church to be discerning, and it also demonstrates the primacy of the message over the messenger. When the Bereans heard the word of God through the Apostle Paul, they examined what he said by the standard of God’s word. Rather than calling this sin or rebellion, Luke called the Bereans nobleminded: Acts 17:11: Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 148–150.

Two Kinds of Prophesy

Michael Beasley demonstrates the consistency between the Old and New Testaments in the judgment of prophesy, concluding that in the New, just as in the Old, there are only two categories of prophesy: not fallible and infallible, but genuine, and counterfeit. [In the Old Testament], when the claimant of prophecy was found to be false, the prophet was declared to be “evil” (H. ra’, G. poneron) such that he was to be purged from Israel’s assembly: “that prophet shall die” (Deut. 18:20) and “So you shall purge the evil from among you” (Deut. 13:5). This familiar injunction, “you shall purge the evil from among you,” which is repeated ten times in Deuteronomy, consistently referred to the death of the one deemed as evil. In the Septuagint, the word used for evil is poneros which is the same term that Paul used in 1 Thessalonians 5:22 and 1 Corinthians 5:21 (“. . . remove the wicked man from among yourselves.”). As we already discussed, the new order of the New Covenant calls for church discipline rather than the death of the offender. Such was the case for Paul’s dealings with the Corinthian church, and such is the case for his instructions to the Thessalonians. Paul’s antithesis between good and evil in 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 is quite strong and clear: “. . . hold fast to that which is good, abstain from every form of evil [ponerou].” We should also note that Paul’s injunction is devoid of any exceptions: “abstain from every form [pantos eidous] of evil.” The Greek word for form [eidous] speaks of the form of things based upon sight or observation. Thus, this term speaks of the form or substance of things based upon empirical analysis of that which is observed. Thus, Paul’s command to abstain from such evil is rooted in this matter of observation and analysis. Such observation and analysis we have already seen prescribed in texts such as Deuteronomy 13:1–5, 18:18–22; Jeremiah 14:14–16; Matthew 7:15–23, 24:24; Corinthians 12:3, 13, 14:29, 16:22; and Galatians 5:2–23. False prophesy encompasses multiple forms of evil, and all of it must be rejected: prophesies issued in the name of false gods; prophesies falsely issued in the name of the true God; prophesies issued by prideful presumption, fleshliness, malicious intent, and lovelessness—all such forms of false prophecy, and the false prophets who deliver them, are to be classified as evil and resisted as such. Alternately, valid prophecies and the prophets who deliver them are to be embraced as good. Any form of compromise from these prophetic tests is not only dangerous, it is unloving. In all of this, we must recognize that the notion of a third category of prophecy (fallible prophecy) is nothing less than a human contrivance. Scripture presents only two categories of prophecy: prophetes (prophet) and pseudoprophetes (false prophet). Out of this reality, Christ warned the disciples concerning the manner in which false prophets present themselves: Matthew 7:15–23: 15 “Beware of the false prophets (pseudophrophetes), who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? 17 “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 “So then, you will know them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’ —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 162–164.

Fallible Prophesy, Impotent God

One of several ways in which the doctrine of fallible prophesy is dangerous: By changing and redacting the scriptural concept of prophecy, the advocates of fallible prophecy have created a host of doctrinal problems and points of confusion within the church. God’s promise is clear: “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire” (Isaiah 55:11), yet in fallible prophecy, such a promise is negated by human corruption. Thus, fallible prophecy . . . raises fundamental questions about theology proper, that is, what can be said about a deity that tries, ineffectually, to communicate through prophetic intermediaries? —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 170–171.

A Saga of Subjectivity

Last week, I posted on the damage done to our view of God if we embrace the doctrine of fallible prophesy. Second only to that, its most dangerous product (in my opinion) is this: In light of its problematic interpretations of prophecy, fallible prophecy promotes subjectivism among Christians and supplies a dangerous form of protection for false prophets, whether they are self-deceived or intentional deceivers of others. —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 171. John Piper tells a story of a “prophesy” he received from a member of his congregation in which his wife, pregnant at the time, was to give birth to a girl, and die in childbirth. This was his response: I went back to my study, I got down and I just wept. I said, ‘Lord I have been trying to help these people take this gift seriously and I don’t know what to do with this. This is . . . I cannot imagine why this would be helpful. It doesn’t feel like it’s of You, and yet I don’t want to discourage people.’ So I kept it totally to myself. I didn’t tell Noel my wife about it and when we delivered our fourth boy, not girl, I gave a ‘whoop’ which I always do, but this ‘whoop’ was a little extra because I knew as soon as the boy was born this was not a true prophecy and Noel is still alive and Barnabas is, what, 27 years old today; but that’s the sort of thing that makes you despise prophecy — you just say ‘I don’t want anything to do with that kind of stuff’ and I don’t blame people for feeling that way but the Bible says, don’t despise them; be careful and discerning and so, my answer to your question is: if you sense something you have for somebody, offer it them as a gift, don’t thrust it at them as a demand — ‘I sense’ — I would use the words like, ‘I sense that God wants me to say to you.’ . . . Offer gifts to people — these are spiritual gifts, these are not spiritual hammers. And so, offer it to them and say, ‘just test it and if it seems to help, wonderful. —David Matthis, Piper on Prophecy and Tongues, cited in The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism, 177–178. Beasley recognizes Piper’s doctrinally-induced helplessness to respond in any sensible manner. Though Piper recounts the story from the standpoint of hindsight, we should wonder how he could have known that this was a false prophecy from the beginning, as he said: “I cannot imagine why this would be helpful. It doesn’t feel like it’s of You . . .” In what sense might this not have felt to be of the Lord and by what scriptural standard did he make such an initial assessment? Apart from any scriptural test, is the criterion for testing a fallible prophecy to be reduced to the subjective question of one’s own “feelings?” —Beasley, Ibid., 179. Then there is the danger, from which Piper—the shepherd—should have protected his flock, of the false prophet left free to practice her “gift” among the sheep. In Piper’s cited example, no single aspect of this woman’s “prophecy” was valid, except for the mention of pregnancy—a fact that would have been visibly evident to all. Piper correctly calls the prophecy “false,” however, we hear nothing in his testimony about the scripturally requisite tests of love being applied to this situation (Deuteronomy 13:1–5, 1 Corinthians 13). With the presence of a false prophet in the church, such tests are not an option. Perhaps there was a follow-up provided to this situation, but if this is the case, we are left without the central lesson of such follow-up. Thus, one must wonder if this woman is still in the church today practicing her “gift,” thereby binding the consciences of others with her falsely claimed prophecies; or has she moved on to other churches unabatedly spreading her influence to others? —Ibid. When the shepherd allows wolves among the sheep, who will protect the flock?

What God Has Indeed Said

A final, brief word on the erroneous doctrine of fallible prophesy: In the end, the task of a true shepherd is not to direct people to what God may have said or what He is trying to say, but to direct them to what He has indeed said. —Michael Beasley, The Fallible Prophets of New Calvinism (2013), 191.

Modern Tongues-speaking (as I see it)

Therefore let one who speaks in a tongue pray that he may interpret. —1 Corinthians 14:13 This morning we’re on the road to a wedding. We’ve got 500 miles ahead of us today, so there’s no time for frivolity. Therefore, here’s a very serious example of tongues-speaking and interpretation as practiced in modern Pentecostal/charismatic churches, courtesy of Disney. Hana mana ganda, Hana mana ganda; We translate for you: Hana means what mana means, And ganda means that too. Context, for the cartoon-deprived Disclaimer: I have some doubts about the veracity of the historical claims* presented in the video above. * The “million years” part. The rest, I’m sure, is reasonably accurate.

Spirit and Word

The ministry of the Holy Spirit is not to be separated from his written Word. The Holy Spirit so inheres in His truth, which He expresses in Scripture, that only when its proper reverence and dignity are given to the Word does the Holy Spirit show forth His power. . . . For by a kind of mutual bond the Lord has joined together the certainty of his Word and of his Spirit so that the perfect religion of the Word may abide in our minds when the Spirit, who causes us to contemplate God’s face, shines; and that we in turn may embrace the Spirit with no fear of being deceived when we recognize him in his own image, namely, in the Word. So indeed it is. God did not bring forth his Word among men for the sake of a momentary display, intending at the coming of his Spirit to abolish it. Rather, he sent down the same Spirit by whose power he had dispensed the Word, to complete his work by the efficacious confirmation of the Word. In this manner Christ opened the minds of two of his disciples [Luke 24:27, 45], not that they should cast away the Scriptures and become wise of themselves, but that they should know the Scriptures. Similarly Paul, while he urges the Thessalonians not to “quench the Spirit” [1 Thess. 5:19–20], does not loftily catch them up to empty speculations without the Word, but immediately adds that prophecies are not to be despised. By this, no doubt, he intimates that the light of the Spirit is put out as soon as prophecies fall into contempt. What say these fanatics, swollen with pride, who consider this the one excellent illumination when, carelessly forsaking and bidding farewell to God’s Word, they, no less confidently than boldly, seize upon whatever they may have conceived while snoring? Certainly a far different sobriety befits the children of God, who just as they see themselves, without the Spirit of God, bereft of the whole light of truth, so are not unaware that the Word is the instrument by which the Lord dispenses the illumination of his Spirit to believers. For they know no other Spirit than him who dwelt and spoke in the apostles, and by whose oracles they are continually recalled to the hearing of the Word. —John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Westminster John Knox Press, 1960), 1.9.3.

Word-Centered Prayer

Many people in the charismatic movement have declared that one of the chief reasons for their pursuit of the gift of tongues is a keen desire to overcome or bypass the deficiency of an impoverished vocabulary by way of a special prayer language. People often feel their own language is inadequate to express adoration. This sense of inadequacy from having to use the same tired, haggard words yields frustration. A similar view is expressed by Charles Wesley in his hymn “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” The hymn complains that the restriction to one tongue is a lamentable hindrance to praise, to be relieved only by the addition of nine hundred and ninety-nine other tongues. The Psalms were written in simple but powerful vocabulary through which the hearts of several writers expressed reverence for God without bypassing the mind. Opening their mouths, the psalmists uttered praise. That praise was given under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to be sure, but by men whose minds were steeped in the things of God. . . . How does one pen love letters to an unknown God? How do the lips form words of praise to a nebulous, unnamed Supreme Being? God is a person, with an unending personal history. He has revealed Himself to us not only in the glorious theater of nature, but also in the pages of sacred Scripture. If we fill our minds with His Word, our inarticulate stammers will change to accomplished patterns of meaningful praise. By immersing ourselves in the Psalms, we will not only gain insight into the how of praise, but also enlarge our understanding of the One whom we are praising. —R. C. Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things? (Tyndale, 2009), 47–49.

Tongues of Angels

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. —1 Corinthians 13:1 What language do angels speak? I wouldn’t even try to guess, but if I did, I’d say Hebrew. Hebrew, after all, is the first language through which God has revealed himself to us, and I think it’s safe to say (though not with complete confidence) that it was Adam’s language, which he learned from God, but even if that is so, it doesn’t prove that Hebrew is the language of heaven. That’s one discussion we could have over this verse. Or, if we’re a little loopy, we could claim it as proof that “tongues” in the New Testament aren’t limited to known languages. But none of that is remotely relevant. It simply is not the point. When he speaks of the tongues of angels, he uses a hyperbolical expression to denote what is singular, or distinguished. At the same time, I explain it rather as referring to the diversity of languages, which the Corinthians held in much esteem, measuring everything by ambition—not by fruit. “Make yourself master,” says he, “of all the languages, not of men merely, but even of Angels. You have, in that case, no reason to think that you are of higher estimation in the sight of God than a mere cymbal, if you have not love.” —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:419.

An Index of the Mind

If then I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be to the one who speaks a barbarian, and the one who speaks will be a barbarian to me. —1 Corinthians 14:11 The tongue ought to be an index of the mind—not merely in the sense of the proverb, but in the sense that is explained by Aristotle in the commencement of his book—“On Interpretation.” How foolish then it is and preposterous in a man, to utter in an assembly a voice of which the hearer understands nothing—in which he perceives no token from which he may learn what the person means! It is not without good reason, therefore, that Paul views it as the height of absurdity, that a man should be a barbarian to the hearers, by chattering in an unknown tongue, and at the same time he elegantly treats with derision the foolish ambition of the Corinthians, who were eager to obtain praise and fame by this means. “This reward,” says he, “you will earn—that you will be a barbarian.” For the term barbarian, whether it be an artificial one . .  . or derived from some other origin, is taken in a bad sense. Hence the Greeks, who looked upon themselves as the only persons who were good speakers, and had a polished language, gave to all others the name of barbarians, from their rude and rustic dialect. No language, however, is so cultivated as not to be reckoned barbarous, when it is not understood. “He that heareth,” says Paul, “will be unto me a barbarian, and I will be so to him in return.” By these words he intimates, that to speak in an unknown tongue, is not to hold fellowship with the Church, but rather to keep aloof from it, and that he who will act this part, will be deservedly despised by others, because he first despises them. —Calvin’s Commentaries Volume XX, Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians (Baker Books, 2009), 1:441–442.

He Will Testify

I believe in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was sent for a purpose. Unfortunately, that purpose is missed by many. When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning. —John 15:26–27 A wonderful mystery surrounds this passage as Jesus revealed an order of authority in the Trinity. The order of authority in no way postulates a hierarchy of divinity and power within the Trinity. Each member of the Trinity is consubstantial, equal in divinity and power, very God of very God. The Bible, however, also presents us with the mystery of the triune God, a glorious mystery in which all in Christ will glory forever and ever. In these verses from John, Jesus revealed that the Spirit will come and not bear witness of himself, but of Christ. This essential truth explains why we do not speak of the Holy Spirit with the same language and knowledge we do about the Father and the Son. The Holy Spirit comes to bear witness and testify to the person and work of Christ. The Holy Spirit, therefore, exalts the Son and testifies to his accomplished work at Calvary. This amounts to an important reality check for churches across the world: Where you find the Spirit of God present, you do not find so much testimony about the Holy Spirit as you find a testimony about Christ. Where you find, therefore, a bold, biblical, urgent, accurate, enthusiastic, joyful, and life-changing testimony of Christ, you can rest assured that the Holy Spirit is vibrantly at work. This truth protects us from the errors that plague so many churches that place an unbiblical emphasis on the Holy Spirit. The Spirit becomes the center of their faith. The Spirit consumes their thoughts as they try to arouse manifestations of the Spirit in their own lives and congregations. Jesus, however, reminded his disciples what testimony the Spirit will bring: a testimony about Jesus, exalting Christ, and pointing us to the hope we have in union with him. —Albert Mohler, The Apostles’ Creed (Crossway, 2019), 140–141.


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