John McArthur, as you may have heard, has organised a conference called Strange Fire, which will basically attack the charismatic section of the Body of Christ.
In this video clip from the Strange Fire site, McArthur makes some claims which are so far from the truth it gives an indication of what lengths he will go to with his conference in demonising charismatics.
He starts the video clip with an incorrect premise based on a half truth. Because he is a Reformed theologian, he is a believer in Sola Scriptura, which is, officially, the doctrine that the Bible contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness, but is interpreted by some, including McArthur in this clip, as the notion that every single word in the Bible is written by God, and that Scripture is elevated above the Spirit. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable, but the inspiration is of the Spirit – God-breathed.
Word vs Spirit or Word and Spirit?
Reformed Theologists have more of a relationship with the Word of God than with the Spirit. In reality the Word and Spirit are complimentary, but Reformists set one against the other when speaking of charismatic ministry. The first part of this clip is an indication of this doctrine of the Word where McArthur tells us we are solely saved by the work of the Word of God.
Whilst it is true that we are born again through the Word, the Holy Spirit also plays a massive part in salvation.
“Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.” John 16:7-14
The Helper is the Paraclete, the One Called Alongside, the One exactly like Jesus, the Holy Spirit, also called the Spirit of Christ. So, whilst we are born again through the preaching of the incorruptible Word of God, we are born of the Spirit, according to Jesus. We cannot separate the two.
Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” John 3:5-6
As well as this, it is the Spirit who convinces us of our need of salvation, and it is the Spirit who leads us into all truth, confirming the Word preached. The reason for this is made plain by Paul, when reminding us that the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.
Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 2 Corinthians 3:5-6
The Word without the Spirit is deadly. It is the Spirit of the Word which is our sufficiency. And, as I have said, we are born through the preaching of the Word, but of the Spirit.
Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because “All flesh is as grass, And all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, And its flower falls away, But the word of the LORD endures forever.” Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:22-25
The Reformed attitude is often hardline. It also tends to legalism. As we have seen the Word is important, because it produces faith in the hearer, but we are born of the Spirit. The Reformed emphasis is on the Word at the expense of the Spirit. They make the Spirit dependent on the Word, when in truth they are of equal substance and of God.
Reformists will talk of the Spirit, but in a legalistic way which subordinates the Spirit. Apart from this the Reformed teaching is classically wary of the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit, and their attacks on the charismatic movements demonstrate their aversion to a sound understanding in regard to the Spirit.
Seeking God for the Spirit
It is because of the absence of accurate teaching on the Spirit in the Church for so long that those who studied their Bibles and read of the Spirit sought God, resulting in the various revivals or moves of God which gradually brought the correct understanding of the role of the Spirit back into the Church, but the legalist Word-only people have a hard time accepting that the Holy Spirit of today is the exact same Holy Spirit of Jesus’ day and of the Apostles’ day, and is still alive and ready to work through the Church.
The Spirit was sent by the Father at Jesus’ request as evidence of His resurrection, according to Scripture. We can no longer deny the work of the Spirit as current and vital. It is true that some charismatics have not followed the exact instructions of the Word, but that is not the case in every instance, and the movement must be allowed to be drawn into correct doctrinal understanding of the Word and Spirit rather than be demonised and targeted as unsaved or not required through a negative conference.
But McArthur commits to an inexcusable attack on the charismatic movement.
He says, first of all that the charismatics ‘do not have this’ – that is, the understanding that we are saved through the Word.
This is an outrageous claim, and unsustainable. I have been involved with charismatic ministries for years and the emphasis is on the teaching I have just outlined that we are saved through the preaching of the Word and by the new birth through the Spirit.
Much of the charismatic movement came into being through Baptists reading their Bibles, being curious about the Spirit, seeking God, being filled with the Spirit and speaking in tongues, praying for the sick, being earnest to prophesy, and recovering the teaching on the manifestations of the Spirit. Their Baptist background means they have a fundamentally evangelical doctrine which also took on a more lively understanding of the ministry of the Hoy Spirit.
Amazingly, McArthur adds to his first claim by stating that “they’re not even saved!” This is an outright lie. They are as saved as any evangelical. They have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
He goes on, “They’re in the movement struggling to be sanctified but without the means!” Well, he makes the claim but gives no reason for his baseless conclusions. This is a preposterous assumption. If they have received Jesus as Lord, they have been born again, they have been justified, they have been sanctified. Sanctification is through the new birth, not through works. We cannot sanctify ourselves. We are justified through faith and sanctified by the Word and Spirit.
But wait, there’s more. He goes on that there are “people in the movement looking for hope and comfort and they can’t find any!” Well this is an unbelievable slur on the movement. Here McArthur sets himself as expert enough to set up an entire conference dedicated to sowing discord amongst the brethren by attacking the charismatic movement, and he doesn’t even know the doctrine of salvation himself, then presumes to claim things which are simply not true.
And his conclusion – “Therefore if they don’t have it themselves, they can’t give it to anybody else!” Presumably he is referring to salvation. Well, this is an utter nonsense. the fact is that the charismatic churches have been thriving on preaching salvation for at least 40 years and are part of one of the fastest growing movements in the Christian fold. Their teaching is basically evangelical with an advanced understanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. But McArthur’s teaching of the Word sans Spirit means he teaches a legal gospel devoid of the Spirit, including the notion that only an exclusive elect will be saved anyway.
Salvation is by grace through faith
In fact, we are saved by grace through faith, not through a legalistic application of the Word of God. We are saved because we hear the preaching of the gospel, faith comes, and we acknowledge our need of a saviour through the conviction of the Holy Spirit. When we confess Jesus as Lord, we are born again – born of the Spirit.
Charismatics know this and teach this throughout their assemblies. It is the basis of doctrine that a man or woman must be born again as Jesus said. The also teach that we cannot receive the Spirit without the new birth, which only coms through accepting Jesus as Lord and saviour. This alone refutes McArthur’s claims
I am not ignorant of the fact that in some charismatic circles there are excesses which bring a bad taste to the whole movement, but they are a vocal minority and the majority of charismatic churches quietly go about their work without rocking any boats. Sadly, the growth of the charismatic movements have troubled the legalists and liberals alike, and there is a growing antagonism resurfacing not unlike in the beginning days of the movement.
This conference is a set up designed to tear down a growing group of Christian churches. I predict it will cause division and that the attacks on charismatics will increase through blogs and in pulpits in Reformed churches, but that the charismatic and Pentecostal church will continue to grow exponentially despite the undeserved attacks of men like McArthur.
Paul had this to say about schisms and division – that they were the work of immature Christians and have no place in the Body.