Charismatics, Cessationists, Strange Fire, Logic, and Bible Truth


Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
—1 Corinthians 12:4-11 ESV

Last week was something of a new low in the “conversation” between those who believe the gifts of the Spirit (charismata) continue today (charismatics or continualists) and those who claim those gifts ceased as of the closing of the apostolic age (cessationists). It’s almost a fact that charismatics don’t start battles with cessationists. If only the opposite were true, especially on the Internet.

Nadab and Abihu offered "strange fire" to God and were slainThe supposed reason for the Strange Fire Conference of last week was to address and correct “charismania”—out-of-control or flat-out bogus gifts and the people who express them. The authority question arises when the correctors included no charismatics. So much for cleaning one’s own house first or sticking to the log in one’s own eye before finding the speck in your brother’s.

There is no doubt that the charismatic movement is a mess. Most charismatics with orthodox theology will acknowledge this—and there are MANY of us. I know I’m not happy with charismania and have written EXTENSIVELY on it and its practitioners, decrying the nuttiness and flat-out heresy. And MANY of us have loudly proclaimed this.

Which is why it’s frustrating that some folks who reject the charismata waltz into the charismatic house and tangentially proclaim by live streamed conferences that every charismatic is borderline, and if we’re actual born-again Christians, we’re so in spite of our charismatic beliefs. Like I said, a new low. No end exists for the ways in which such reasoning can be reversed and delivered back upon the correctors. But then, most charismatics don’t want this fight and never asked for it.

I was working through a response to a teaching at the Strange Fire conference that was liveblogged by Tim Challies and given by Tim Pennington, “Strange Fire Conference: A Case for Cessationism.” Frankly, I was appalled at the teaching, not only for descending into the very argument types that the group giving the conference would ordinarily savage if they came from others, but also for the teaching’s extensive logical fallacies. In short, the entire teaching has so many obvious problems, it besmirches legitimate Christian scholarship. And I say that with great reluctance and sadness.

I was prepared to blog a response in light of Scripture, history, and logic, but someone else wrote an almost identical rebuttal. I’d say it’s amazing how similar my response would have been, but then that’s how the Holy Spirit works in like-minded charismatics.  😉

Anyway, please do read Andrew Wilson’s “Cessationism and Strange Fire,” as it mirrors my thoughts.

8 thoughts on “Charismatics, Cessationists, Strange Fire, Logic, and Bible Truth

  1. Chris E

    I do not disagree with much of what Andrew Wilson says, yet his arguments could equally be applied to the (in my opinion terrible) attempt by Grudem et al to distinguish two types of prophetic giftings and thus deal with the issue that a large amount of charismatic prophecy in the present age has proven to be extremely fallible (as contra what one would expect from a straight reading of OT passages on the same). The prime reason for accepting this teaching appears to be an attempt to avoid the conclusion that charismatic giftings are far rarer than popular movements would have us believe.

    Secondly, on a practical level I suspect that MacAurthur is in part reacting to his own context (southern california), and this is confirmed to me by how he seems to trace everything back to the influences of Calvary Chapel and John Wimber. Even though his previous writings on the subject show that he has a much better grasp on the historical roots of Pentecostalism.

    In dealing with that context, one can’t ignore the elephant in the room which is Bethel – a church which Andrew Wilson’s movement (NFI) has largely accepted uncritically, in spite of their somewhat extraordinary claims in the absence of extraordinary evidence.

    It’s all very well to admit in the abstract that not all is well in the charismatic world – but far too few are willing to do so in practice. FWIW I think you have done an admirable job of doing just that, but not many other people have your approach.

  2. Linda

    Hi Dan,
    The problems in the Charismatic church movement are big, and the solutions are difficult to see. The NT church had people like Paul to set the doctrine and theology correctly. What was Paul’s authority in their lives? He fathered many of the believers that he wrote to. These believers came to faith in Christ under his teaching and ministry. What else gave Paul authority? He could come to them with a rod of correction. I would assume he could deal with people in a way that is not seen or done in our day. Whatever the way, it could not be duplicated by another not provided with this ability by God.

    The way doctrine or instruction was given to the churches in NT days was based out of Jerusalem. James, headed this group up in Jerusalem. Testimony was taken, scripture was searched, others gave their thoughts, decisions were made, James set the final decision regarding questions that the churches had. This is how it was decided how much of the Jewish Law and traditions the Gentile believers coming into the church should follow.

    Teaching today does not seem to be translating into changed behaviour from believers. It seems like believers hear it but do not practice it. How does a believer get to the point where they accept ‘dog barking’ as a manifestation given to the church by God to encourage the saints. How does this encourage the saints? This manifestation should be disallowed in meetings by charismatic leadership. There is nothing in NT scripture that encourages exhibitionism by believers. This is all that ‘dog barking’ is. Attention getting.

    It seems that teaching goes on about evil spirits, but no one discerns it. Is there no one who can say in the charismatic movement ‘there is some question as to the validity of this manifestation. Therefore, until these questions are answered for us, believers will not be permitted to enter into this manifestation during the meetings’.

    Questions of fruit, of the benefit of this manifestation in a service, of all people being able to hear and receive the benefit, if there is one. The church is not a circus with three or four ‘rings’ going on at the same time.

    I look at God being of very sound mind. He’s grounded in goodness. If there is not goodness coming from some of the stuff going on in charismatic churches, get rid of it. A believer being able to jump 10 feet off the ground should be asked to discontinue this behaviour by the leadership. What benefit is this to the church or believers? Nothing. It’s only a demonstration and it is not profitable to anyone other than to bring attention to the one doing it.

    What brings holiness, righteousness, goodness, wellness to the believers? can be allowed. Prophecy can be a great encourager in meetings. Discernment has to be exercised by those hearing the prophecy. Almost all prophecy should be able to be taken back to the scripture in principle or teaching. If prophecy specifically says for someone to pack up their bags and move to Africa, that propecy would be suspect if it is given in a church gathering. Prophecy in church is for the group not the individual.

    enough said for now. I am also disappointed that John MacArthur chose to go after ‘cessation vs continuation’ of spiritual gifts in the conference. The issue seems to be more about management of the gifts so that they edify and not cause confusion.

  3. ccinnova

    Thanks, Dan, for your post and the link to Andrew Wilson’s post. Lee Grady also had an excellent response in his latest Fire In My Bones column, posted this morning.

    One of the things that disturbs me most about the Strange Fire conference is the divisions it has sown in the body of Christ. As an example, there’s an orthodox Anglican blog I regularly visit; the blog has numerous contributors. One of those contributors posted about the Strange Fire conference last week and indicated he agreed with John MacArthur’s views on the charismatic movement.

    A number of commenters posted dissenting views, which isn’t surprising since there are a number of charismatics among the Anglicans who’ve left the Episcopal Church in recent years, including yours truly. The contributor sharply criticized several of them, and another contributor went further by mocking and ridiculing those with dissenting views. One of the dissenting comments was even deleted. It grieves me to say this but I lost a lot of respect for those two contributors, both of whom have paid a price for their stands defending biblical orthodoxy during the Episcopal Church controversies.

    In spite of this, I have to remember one of the points Lee Grady made this morning, “We should love MacArthur anyway.” So too must I love those two contributors who were so uncharitable toward those who disagreed with them, because we still believe in and worship Jesus Christ.

    • ccinnova,

      My biggest problem with all of this comes from the relational verses that tell us we should talk with our brother about disagreements. Those people with a national and international stage should be the primary ones who contact others if possible to discuss any disagreements. This does not tend to happen, though. Instead, blanket condemnations occur with no attempt to reach the main targets. That is wrong.

      And before anyone accuses me of the same thing, I have attempted to contact offenders who violate this concept and have been rebuffed.

  4. Oengus

    It is sad that a conference like this is happening. But it doesn’t surprise me. In the end, there will be more smoke than fire.

    Dan, when you consider that Pentecostal/Charismatic xnty is fastest growing movement across the world, especially overseas, you have to conclude that for some people this long term trend is positively frightening because it means that it’s on its way to becoming the most dominant category in the vista of post-Reformation xtian history. In other words, the old line “reformed” Protestantism is becoming a minority position.

    • Oengus,

      Majority does not necessarily imply rightness, but in the same way that “minority position” seems not to be doing something correctly. Their complaint sounds mostly like sour grapes.

      • Dan: “Majority does not necessarily imply rightness”

        Of course that is true, Dan. But I understand that no charismatics were invited to speak, which is odd and shows me that the real purpose of the conference was not about correcting alleged “abuses” but about more about, in effect, blackwashing everything and pronouncing broad and sweeping “anathemas”. (By the way, I myself have done my share of criticising what I thought were abuses; for example, see “Exhuming the Mantle“.)

        I could go on an on about this, but I don’t see that much good would be accomplished by it.

        • Oengus,

          We’re on the same page on this. Even if the intention was not duplicitous, the outcome sure felt like it. If no charismatics were invited to partner in decrying charismania, then the intent seems obvious: daisy cutter.

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