MacArthur’s Return to Old Battleground

It seems that John MacArthur has caused a bit of a stir with his latest attack on Pentecostals and Charismatics. A few blogs I follow have addressed his “Strange Fire” conference.

From what I’ve read, it seems like none of the arguments presented at the conference have their basis in scripture. Instead they point at the excesses of the charismatic movement and then use those as the basis to deny the continuing validity of Spiritual gifts.

The common argument is that Charismatics are focused on experience rather than scriptural truth – and yet, aren’t those anti-charismatics like MacArthur also basing their own beliefs on experience or more accurately a LACK of experience of Spiritual gifts instead of scripture?

In the almost 40 years since I became a Christian I’ve seen absolutely NO biblical evidence that God withdrew the Spiritual gifts given to the early church. In fact I believe scripture supports their ongoing importance.

This denial of Spiritual gifts isn’t something new from MacArthur. It is merely a return to an old obsession that he’s promoted for decades, but it’s an obsession that could have a significant cost. Not only does he deny the validity of spiritual gifts, but it seems from the reports that I’ve read that he believes the gifts* that ARE evident have a satanic origin. If that is true MacArthur is stepping on dangerous ground. It was similar accusations made against Jesus that led Jesus to warn of the dangers of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit; something HE said could not be forgiven.


* By this I’m not referring to spurious “gifts” such as the appearance of gold dust, gem stones and “angel” feathers, but to the biblically identified gifts such as tongues, prophecy, healing etc.


9 thoughts on “MacArthur’s Return to Old Battleground

  1. You’ve hit exactly the two points I find relevant on this old/new controversy: whether there’s any scriptural basis for teaching the charismata have ceased; and whether denial of the Spirit’s true manifestations doesn’t verge on unforgivable sin.

    Profound questions with profound repercussions, touching on God’s very Nature and will. To be handled with prayerful honesty and humility: not to be bandied about as “issues” of controversy.

    In Jesus, Steve

  2. By the end of what you wrote here, I was sad with tears considering that might be what he thinks. I listened to him on the radio for a while decades ago. I ran across that controversy over his conference recently, although I don’t normally follow Christian news. I’m trying to remember why I followed the rabbithole to various blogs. Oh, it was because of a google search for recent activity of someone less well known I like to learn from who doesn’t have a blog exactly and is more a scholar than a big “personality” [while I like his personality] but had been discussed in a blog — and then there are the other topics of the bloggers and curiosity got hold of me for a while. I may share a couple links sometime. Anyway, back to the topic, i liked that you said something like that Paul didn’t conclude “God isn’t in the thorn-removal business” in your previous post. I once asked God to heal me after, years before, I had asked this over something smaller and not gotten the healing. This time, my attitude and circumstances were different in a few ways. And I wanted to know as well if God does still heal (in an immediate sense like that over the fact God gives all life). I was healed in that instant and had my answer. But, yes, there can still be matters that don’t go how we ask.

    {My using a healing example doesn’t mean I disagree with you as to the thorn not being an ailment.}

  3. Steve, you said: “Profound questions with profound repercussions, touching on God’s very Nature and will.”

    In the OT there are strong warnings about false prophecy and false prophets are identifies as those who 1) predict things that don’t happen and 2) say things that lead people to follow “other” gods.
    What cessationists like MacArthur are doing is more or less portraying God with different characteristics and actions from the Divine characteristics and actions revealed in scripture. They are effectively promoting a “different” God and their words possibly qualify as false prophecy under the second example above.

  4. I grew up in churches that did not talk like a person might reasonably expect that healing could happen if you pray for it (not that they said it couldn’t happen, they just didn’t bring it up) and churches that talked like it would be a reasonable thought. I didn’t see healing or prophecy or anything like that in either type of place. What I did see were outstanding, thoughtful people. Alternate shortcomings in each, and some overlap.

  5. Scripture does not reveal a God who gave Spiritual gifts for only a short period of church history and then withdrew them. Neither does scripture portray the gifts as being solely “apostolic” with their validity restricted to the times of the apostles and only available to the original 12 + Paul as some seem to suggest.

    I’m having problems with this blog at the moment and can’t edit my previous comments. The above was intended to be added to my previous comment. I also can’t correct any typos so please overlook any spilling mistooks.

  6. I have no doubt there’re excesses in the Charasamatic movement, and I’m not always sure where the line is crossed that goes from “bold trust” in God’s ability to heal, and “commanding” Him to do so, which seems to be the case for at least some.
    For me, God is not to be placed into a box. The only appropriate “restraints” are those He reveals about Himself in scripture–i.e., sovereign, righteous,good, just, merciful, loving, holy, truthful, longsuffering, etc…

  7. “Spilling mistooks” : )

    Christianity (with or without the favorite or listed gifts) has been teaching people things for over a millennium that are different from the truth and thus is probably eligible large-scale for the category of false prophet; scary. These people are muddling through a sludge of confusion (as are we to some residual extent most likely even if we are heading in the right direction, maybe not so much muddling if heading in the right direction but still dealing with the sludge). As to prophecy and tongues and healing, I think we do see that most prophecy promulgated is false — and for the most part people who call themselves prophetic (amongst the charismatic, evangelical or whatever) are more manipulative or power- or limelight-hungry than much else; sad. Tongues is easily mimicked, or fake, and again sadly the churches where I see this pushed (not accepted* but pushed) lack in more important traits such as those I saw in the churches (and church schools) where I grew up (which also the Bible says are more important: self-control, soundness of mind, patience, hope, and so on). Healing is so apparently a good thing that it would be shocking for someone to be against it. The only ways I can think of that “healing” would be in a bad light is if it’s more a magic trick (in the sense of slight of hand or camera schemes or lying) or one has been in the company of sorcery and an ailment has been inflicted and then removed as a power play (for instance). Still, the Bible doesn’t teach these giftings to be past-only phenomena at this time.

    * Even acceptance in general still has to involve discernment and vigilance against naive fetish or worse.

    Sometimes I wonder if some prophetic functioning can be more an outcome of having a sound mind and loving truth when people are more open to truth rather than hegemony and positioning and so forth. So, in that kind of situation, prophecy might not be so showy. One doesn’t need to be, say, knocked off the horse when listening.

  8. Hi Marleen,
    I think on of the reasons that so much “prophecy” is false is that the church has formed false ideas of what prophecy is. The situation in charismatic/pentecostal circles seems to have become worse over the last three decades with more emphasis on “personal words” and even predictive words (that usually fail and the failure brushed under the carpet). The charismatic approach to prophecy is far too casual and undiscerning, not taking into account how serious the warnings are relating to those who prophecy falsely.

    Non-charismatics seem to equate prophecy with scripture-standard revelation, and therefore since the scriptural canon is believed to be complete, any so in their eyes, any subsequent prophecies must be false because they would be adding to scripture.

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