How the #StrangeFire conference confirms my continuationism

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SF-LogoJohn MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference of just over a week ago was a bit of a shaker to the evangelical culture of North America and England.

In it MacArthur and his colleagues at Grace To You Church in California argued, based on their cessationist beliefs (the interpretation of the Bible that says that the Holy Spirit sign gifts reported in Acts–tongues, healing, prophecy–ceased with the Apostles),  that modern-day Pentecostals and Charismatics are wrong in their doctrine of the Holy Spirit. When they worship as they do, speaking in tongues, healing, and prophesying, they are doing it under the power and influence of another spirit. Thus they are offering “strange fire” (Leviticus 9 & 10) and many are hell-bound because of this “blasphemy.”

I did not listen to the live-stream of the conference (though someone in my house did) but base my reaction to what was said on the transcripts and quotes from the talks that I have read.

This challenge to my continuationist beliefs has caused me to check back in the Bible as to why I believe as I do. And I am thankful for this conference for that reason. Many online articles have also helped me find resources and in some cases expressed my thoughts more articulately than I could. This post is a collection of links to some of those articles from both sides.

Tim Challies (Reformed blogger from Canada) has transcribed many of the sessions from the Strange Fire conference. His blog articles are linked on THIS page:

The Cripplegate blog  also has some detailed reports of the Strange Fire sessions. Check the links on THIS CRIPPLEGATE PAGE.

Challies has an article on and transcript of “John MacArthur’s Opening Keynote.” These quotes from Tim Challies’ article help give a sense of the focus, tone, and spirit of the conference. In the transcription part of the post he credits MacArthur with saying:

“The charismatic movement continually dishonors God in its false forms of worship. It dishonors the Father and Son, but most specifically, the Holy Spirit. Many things are attributed to the Holy Spirit that actually dishonor him. In many places in the charismatic movement they are attributing to the Holy Spirit works that have actually been generated by Satan.”

“People have been saved in charismatic churches, but nothing coming from that movement has been the reason they were saved. Nothing within the movement has strengthened the gospel or preserved truth and sound doctrine. It has only produced distortion, confusion and error.”

Adrian Warnock is the pastor of a charismatic church in England and also a blogger. Here is his response to John MacArthur’s opening address: “Strange Fire: John MacArthur claims no good has come out of the Charismatic Movement.”  A little later he wrote “Strange Fire: a Charismatic response to John MacArthur.”

I was especially interested in reading about the conference talk “A Case for Cessationism” in which Tom Pennington outlined the basis on which the Grace To You crowd (and probably many others) believe these gifts should no longer be in evidence. I was looking for strong biblical proof and references (these are sola scripturites, after all).

Thus I was surprised (well, maybe not really) that in Pennington’s seven so-called “biblical arguments for cessationism” there is no clear scripture cited to support the belief that these gifts have ceased. All the Scriptures given only support that conclusion arrived at by inference. In several cases I would submit that the premises that foundation these arguments are also faulty.

(Example: Reason No. #1 “The unique role of miracles. The argument is: 1] There were only three primary periods in which God worked miracles. 2] The primary purpose of miracles was to establish the credentials of the miracle-worker as a messenger from God. 3] The apostles’ miracles served that same purpose. 4] We conclude the pattern continues: “because we see this pattern throughout Scripture, it is reasonable to conclude that with the death of the apostles and end of their ministry, miracles ceased. Just as they ceased when Moses passed and Elijah and Elisha passed” [quote from Tim Challies’ transcript of the address].

I don’t agree with the opening statement: “There were only three primary periods in which God worked miracles.” Jack Deere in his book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, tells the story of how he took a seminary student applying for doctoral studies at Dallas Theological Seminary through the Old Testament, showing him the miracles that flow through the entire OT. He concludes:

“In chapter after chapter the student was forced to list miraculous and supernatural occurrences that contradicted his assertion that miracles only occurred at three points in the history of Israel. The student was forced to admit not only that could he not defend his position, but that the Scriptures actually contradicted it” Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, pp. 49-52.)

Which brings me to another great find–a list of top Charismatic theology books. “My list of top 10 books of Charismatic theology” by Luke Geraty reminded me that I had his #1 choice, the Jack Deere book I quoted  above, sitting on my bookshelf. I got it out and began reading.

Here are a couple of quotes from that book–a reminder of why, 13 years ago, we left the continuationist-professing but experience-denying and -discouraging congregation, of which we had been a part for many years, for a Pentecostal church:

“If you were to lock a brand-new Christian in a room with a Bible and tell him to study what Scripture has to say about healings and miracles, he would never come out of the room a cessationist.

[…] This (cessationism) is not a system of doctrine that I would ever come up with on my own. I had to be taught that the gifts of the Spirit had passed away. … I am absolutely convinced that the Scriptures do not teach that the gifts of the Spirit passed away with the death of the apostles. It is not the teaching of the Scriptures that causes people to disbelieve in the contemporary ministry of the miraculous.

There is one basic reason why Bible-believing Christians do not believe in the miraculous gifts of the Spirit today. It is simply this: they have not seen them” – Jack Deere, Surprised by the Power of the Spirit pp. 54, 55.

Then yesterday I came across an article that expresses pretty closely what I was feeling about the lack of biblical evidence for cessationism in Pennington’s list. In the article “John MacArthur, Cessation Theology and Trainspotting for Cave Dwellers,” Jack Rutland says:

“Cessation theology, so-called, is, astonishingly enough, exactly what it denounces: completely nonbiblical. There is absolutely no clear biblical statement that the gifts of the Spirit have gone anywhere, especially away. How could they go away? What could that possibly even mean? The Holy Spirit has not taken the last train for the coast. The gifts are His gifts. They were not the possession of the apostles nor of the church in any time or location. Where the Spirit is, the gifts are.

[…] “The problem is the Bible never says the gifts would stop this side of heaven. That is the crux. Show me in the Bible. That is the bottom line.”  Read entire  …

Finally, one of the things that bothers me most about this conference is how it has the cessasionist vs. continuationist camps slinging mud at each other. It isn’t as evident on the blog posts as it is in the comments. In that department, I appreciated editor of Charisma Magazine Lee Grady’s  balanced and gracious article “To My Fundamentalist Brother John MacArthur, Grace to You.”

All that to say that this Strange Fire Conference probably had the opposite effect than what its originators had hoped, at least on this simple Bible-loving Canadian woman.

Check out my daily devotions – Other Food Daily Devos.

5 thoughts on “How the #StrangeFire conference confirms my continuationism

  1. I’m grieved by such quarrels. They weary and discourage me. But I applaud you for taking the time to defend your beliefs, although I’m sad that you were attacked and felt a need to engage in apologetics.

    I wish men who hold conferences would stop having “conferences” in which all they do is yammer and hammer about what we “ought” to think, and instead get out into the suffering world to perform the necessary work. We are called, in fact, we are commanded, to actively demonstrate love–compassion, forbearance and kindness–to one another.

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    • Thank you, Tracy! Of course I wasn’t personally attacked. No one at the faraway conference or in the world of theology whose-who cares a fig about what I think. And that’s just fine by me. But I do feel exercised when beliefs I’ve struggled with and won hard are misrepresented. It was a good exercise for me to lay out my thoughts and how I’ve come to the conclusions I have. Writing about it is my way of thinking it through.

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  2. In the past, I wanted to “run and hide” to avoid this kind of conflict. I’m thankful that I now want to dig more deeply into God’s Word. That is where we must find our answers. Thank you, dear lady, for presenting such a clearly thought out post. I look forward to following the links you included. Bless you!

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    • Thanks, Steph! Actually, that too has been my first impulse in the past–to run and hide instead of expressing my beliefs on issues, especially if conflict might be involved. However, something in the tone of this conference crossed the line, or maybe I should say, prompted me to cross the line of not caring any more. It just felt important to me to write down what I believed and how I got there. Enjoy the links. There’s a lot of reading there 🙂

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