October 29, 2013

Strange (Friendly) Fire

In case you missed it, the Strange Fire Conference, hosted by John MacArthur and featuring R. C. Sproul and Joni Eareckson Tada, kicked up a lot of dust in the evangelical world. American Protestants endured a veritable soap opera when cessationist, continuationist, and charismatic forces clashed over the role of the Holy Spirit in churches and Christian life today.

MacArthur might not have been helping the one hundred year old debate over spiritual gifts by attributing such things as speaking in tongues to satanic forces or various kinds of deception. A bit of a fundamentalist, MacArthur did not offer his criticism with gentleness or a tone of reconciliation.

Chest-thumping reached an all-time high when hyper-macho Neo-Reformed celebrity pastor Mark Driscoll showed up to “give away” free copies of his pro-charismatic book without permission. This ended with a rather nasty showdown between conference organizers and Driscoll, analyses of which can be found here and here.

All kinds of classy hit the internet when the open letters started getting published while the story was still hot. Notable examples include publically-aired epistles from Driscoll and one of MacArthur’s fans. The internet equivalent of talking heads blogged about what we should learn from the whole brouhaha here, here, and here (and a million other places).

Several trends caught my own attention. First, many charismatics appeared to be offended that people would gather together to criticize their entire movement. With their popularity and coexistence with other traditions, charismatic Christians seemed to have thought that they should now receive mainstream acceptance as a perfectly normal expression of the Church. However, since it’s been roughly a hundred years since the Azusa Street Revival, maybe they should not make such assumptions. On the other hand, maybe this points to the fact that continuationists have been readily incorporated into the norm of what evangelicaldom considers Christianity. Nevertheless, it might be good for continuationists to realize that cessationism isn’t a preference of taste, but a serious doctrinal position.

For cessationists, it is telling that the more rigid MacArthur is the one who’s leading the barn-burning talk of “false worship.” If the worship methods of, say, Pentecostals is illegitimate, what else can one call the phenomenon besides “false worship?” If cessationists (or evangelicals in cessationist churches) feel uncomfortable saying such things about charismaticism or continuationism, a re-evaluation might be in order. Similarly, MacArthur misconstrues most Pentecostalism as prosperity gospel; this is slanderous. Are there other more important things that tie us together? How do we know what pleasing worship order looks like, anyway? It seems to be telling that, in North America, the liturgical, sacramental, and apostolic ways of Anglicanism and Catholicism contain both positions in peace.

Finally, giving out books and passive-aggressively saying you didn’t know what you were doing was a problem? Really, Pastor Driscoll? Really?

It’s apparent that there’s some old-buck/young-buck drama going on between MacArthur and Driscoll. May cooler heads prevail.

2 Responses to Strange (Friendly) Fire

  1. Ezekiel9 Lament says:

    Recently the term “emergent” church popped out of Christian circles. Here is yet another term, “divergent” Church. The diverse direction the Church is going grows exponentially! The Church, the Body of Christ, is so fractured; those who claim to be Christians are seemingly at war with one another. Is it possible for the Church to be so fractured and watered down that it becomes irrelevant? Is this part of Satan’s plan; capitalize on man’s pride [wisdom and knowledge]? Everyday a “new” Theology seems to pop up; derived from a “new” hidden truth/ Gnosis. It does not take much to split the Body of Christ.

  2. Dr. Daniel Mercaldo says:

    In 1970, I changed my position as a Pentecostal to an Evangelical. It was bucking the tide at that time, as the new Charismatic Movement emerged. But while changing my view on the baptism of, with, by the Holy Spirit, I could not attack my brethren who disagreed with me, and some even hurt me with their response. Yes, Pentecostals can also be unloving at times just like cessationists can be. Much of what I experienced as a Pentecostal was real. I was encouraged by men like Dr. Stephen Alford and David Wilkerson, who taught that our “sovereign” God could give any gift to anyone at anytime in any way He described in His Word,
    by His Holy Spirit. I was asked to write a book on why I left the Pentecostal movement but declined because I know too many Godly Pentecostals who still believe that there is a second baptism, and that everyone has to speak in tongues to receive it. I rejected that teaching, but not my brothers and sisters who hold to it. During the last 43 years I still practice the gifts as God blesses me with them in my ministry. I feel bad for the cessationist who have cut off their benefit, and the Pentecostals who often misuse them. I have been forced to seek God for wisdom to develop a teaching on spiritual gifts that has united factions here and abroad. Yes, I have decided to write that book, but with the intent of uniting rather than dividing. I hope it will do what A.B. Simpson tried to do in 1914. I believe that the Holy Spirit’s listings of gifts in Romans 12 (Motivations), Ephesians 4 (Ministries), and 1 Corinthians 12 (Manifestations) must be looked at again by the Body of Christ, and exercised decently and in the Divine order
    of the blessed Holy Spirit. Pray for me as I enter the debate. You know what happens to soldiers who wear blue jackets and gray pants!!!

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