Holy or Strange Fire?

Psalm 97:10-12 NASB

“Hate evil, you who love the Lord,
Who preserves the souls of His godly ones;
He delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown like seed for the righteous
And gladness for the upright in heart.
Be glad in the Lord, you righteous ones,
And give thanks to His holy name.”

Last evening my husband and I were watching a documentary, of sorts, on a particular subject of interest. When the video had finished, I noticed off to the side that there was a video of John MacArthur – a renowned preacher in evangelical Christianity here in America. In the video, he was being asked a set of questions which had been asked of him by a select group of professing Christians whom he had trashed – condemned, criticized, censored, and judged strongly in his book, “Strange Fire” (1). So, we watched that, as well.

I will state up front that I have not read John MacArthur’s book, so my comments here will be based solely on the Q&A discussion (link to video provided below), and on the Word of God and what it teaches, and as I am being led by the Holy Spirit in what to say here.

Evidently, the book is a strong condemnation against the charismatic movement (Pentecostal movement) as a whole. And, one of the criticisms against John’s book, given by those whom he was judging, was that he was painting with a broad brush, and that he was clumping all charismatics together in his censorship. It appears that he did do that in his book.

But, it isn’t just the charismatics who are being trashed here. It is all believers in Jesus Christ who believe in the filling of the Holy Spirit and of the anointing of God on their lives in ministry, and who believe all the gifts of the Spirit are still alive and active and are being used of God still today. His comments are directed at all of us. And, I don’t identify myself with any particular movement. I am just a child of God doing the will of God.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” 1 John 4:1 NASB

But, are there abuses and false teachings and false prophecies going on within the charismatic movement? Absolutely! And, that is a serious issue! And, it is one that needs to be addressed. I agree! But, this is not unique just to them. There are abuses and false teachings and false teachers among the Baptists, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, and the Christian & Missionary Alliance, too.

One of his criticisms of the charismatic movement was the amount of immorality that was rampant within the movement. But, that is not peculiar only to them. With the cheap grace gospel permeating much of today’s evangelical churches, immorality is running rampant throughout all of Christianity, at least here in America, even among the strict conservative churches which preach repentance, obedience, holiness and sanctification.

Nonetheless, scripture says…

“‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says,
‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
And your young men shall see visions,
And your old men shall dream dreams;
Even on My bondslaves, both men and women,
I will in those days pour forth of My Spirit
And they shall prophesy.” Acts 2:17-18 NASB

So, as I was listening to this Q&A, and I was taking notes on what was being said, I heard the term “cessastionism,” so I looked up its meaning:

Cessastionism: “The concept, amongst most Christians, that the works of the Holy Spirit (speaking in tongues, prophecy, healing, and miracles) ceased at some point in history” (yourdictionary.com).

I disagree with that theology, but I don’t have time in this writing to discuss that subject in massive detail. So, I will share a few scriptures here which I believe speak to the contrary. But, that theology is one of the big foundations behind why MacArthur feels the way he does about all who believe in the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and who believe all the gifts are still valid, and that they are being used of God still today.

In this discussion, he stated that the people in the charismatic movement live in a paradigm outside of scripture, and that they are not submitted to the true and accurate interpretation of scripture, although later on he indicated that there were a few on the fringes of the movement who were submitted to the truth of scripture. That is a very broad brush, indeed.

And, then he went on to say that communion with the Holy Spirit occurs through the Word of God, in understanding, applying, and obeying it, and that communion with the Holy Spirit is not induced by people playing on our emotions. I agree with that, but still that is a pretty narrow point of view.

For, MacArthur doesn’t really believe we can hear the Holy Spirit speak to our hearts except through the study of scripture, but within the confines of his theological leanings. He leans very heavily on theology and on the great theologians of the faith for his Christian heritage and for his understanding of scripture and even for his guidance and inspiration for his sermons.

He said, “What do I do when I want to prepare a message? I go read a dead person in my family,” referring to the great theologians of the faith of years gone by who are now dead. He goes to them for his sermons. He didn’t say he prayed to God, or that he sought the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit in what he should preach, but that he consulted with the dead, instead, i.e. with the writings of mere mortals long gone.

“Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 NASB

Here is the bottom line, I believe, in this whole matter. Good things of God, which are truly of God, of the Spirit of God, and which are supported scripturally, in context, in truth, are being twisted, abused, misused and misrepresented across evangelical Christianity, but not just in the charismatic movement.

And, where they are being misused, they often give a bad reputation to what is legitimately of God, and of the Spirit of God. And, thus people will often reject them as false because of the misuse. But, just because some people misuse them doesn’t mean they are not valid.

I agree with John MacArthur that there is a massive number of people today in evangelical Christianity who are basing their faith in Jesus Christ on their emotions or on their experiences rather than on the truth of scripture, but not just among the charismatics. I agree that there are many abuses of the Spirit of God and of the Word of God existing within today’s church. And, I agree that immorality is running rampant. So, I empathize with him.

But, I believe he is “throwing out the baby with the bathwater.” I believe he is discarding, suppressing, and quenching many legitimate workings of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives by putting God in a box that is based in the theologies of men, but that is not fully supported scripturally.

And, it appears, from the things he stated in this Q&A, and in other sermons I have heard of his, that his faith is based primarily in the theological teachings of human beings and in their interpretations of scripture, rather than from the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit leading him into all truth and in giving him the words to speak to the people.

And, strange fire is that of men, not of the Spirit of God, and holy fire is that of the Spirit of God, and not of men.

Although I agree with a lot of what John MacArthur teaches, for he does teach on repentance, obedience, holiness and sanctification, and he does teach against the abuses of scripture and against the abuses of faith, too, it appears to me that he is quenching the moving of the Holy Spirit in people’s hearts and lives by limiting God to the confines of his theological viewpoints.

And, I believe he is injuring the faith of many legitimate followers of Christ who are following the scriptures, and who are walking in obedience to Christ. And, he may be turning many of them away from hearing the voice of the Holy Spirit who is leading them in where to go, and in what to say, and to whom, by convincing them that they are in error.

But, I agree with him that we must test the spirits, even within our own selves, to make certain we are hearing clearly from God, and to make certain what we are hearing others say is clearly from God and in line with scripture. So, we must be those who test all things against scripture.

But, if you are one of the injured, via men in our pulpits who are putting out the Holy Spirit’s fire, then be encouraged that God is still on the throne.

Broken and Contrite

An Original Work / May 13, 2012

I come before You, Lord, my Savior,
With humble heart and crushed in spirit.
I bow before You, I implore You,
Heal my broken heart, I pray.
Love You, Jesus, Lord, my master,
You are the King of my heart.
Lord, purify my heart within me;
Sanctify me, whole within.

Oh, Lord, I long to obey fully
The words You’ve spoken through Your Spirit.
I pray You give me grace and mercy,
Strength and wisdom to obey.
Father God, my heart’s desire,
Won’t You set my heart on fire?
Lord, cleanse my heart of all that hinders
My walk with You, now I pray.

Oh, Jesus, Savior, full of mercy,
My heart cries out for understanding.
I want to follow You in all ways,
Never straying from Your truth.
Holy Spirit, come in power,
Fill me with Your love today.
Lord, mold and make me;
Your hands formed me;
Live Your life through me, I pray.

(1) Strange Fire Q&A: Answering the Critics (Selected Scriptures)

*Caution: This video may contain ads

For your discernment: False Teachers Exposed: by Justin Peters

*Caution: This video may contain ads

13 thoughts on “Holy or Strange Fire?

  1. I’m not a fan of Mcarthur at all and I think you summed him up perfectly. I believe him, and many others similar, have placed their faith in the wisdom of man in regards to how they, in my opinion, seem obsessed with dead theologians. It’s like their god is theology and deceased men. Many in the reformed movement have placed McArthur on a pedestal much like how the Roman Catholics have placed their popes. I used to listen on occasion to MacArthur’s sermons and have on occasions agreed with some things he has said that were biblical but he has taught error on the mark of the beast and have said some disturbing/confusing things at one time about the blood of Christ, and even his stance in pretrib rapture. I don’t trust him and many others similar who twist God’s word and whi regurgitate what they were taught in seminary and who I don’t believe were taught by God at all. I feel it’s men like him we have to be most careful of because he can seem like the real deal but I don’t find him to be trustworthy.

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    • Leah, we are not all going to agree on everything. You and I might not even agree on everything. But, it is critical that we follow the gospel of Jesus Christ and not the gospel of men, no matter the source of that man-made gospel. It is critical that we allow the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth and that we examine everything we hear against scripture, in context. And, this is where we need the discernment of the Spirit to know what is truth and what is not, but always, always in accord with the Word of God under New Covenant teaching.

      We can learn from the writings of men as long as we are comparing what they say to the teachings of scripture, in context, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. But, we need to get our view of God and how he works from scripture, allowing the Spirit of God to teach us, and not from theologies of men who may or may not be correct in their assumptions and/or interpretations. And, we should never raise any human being to God status to where we follow him or her blindly without question.

      Yet, the purpose of this is not to bash John MacArthur, but to expose the lies and to exclaim the truth that is in Jesus Christ, our Lord. For, we don’t want to ever follow the teachings of men over God and end up putting out the Spirit’s fire and end up following a religion rather than God. For God has a plan and a purpose for each one of our lives, and an assignment for us within his body and gifts he has given us to be used for the building up of the body of Christ to maturity in Christ, and we don’t want to not do what he has called us to do because some men decided God no longer works that way.

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  2. Also, the way he handled the situation with Beth Moore was arrogant, unchristlike, and immature and a horrible example of a minister of God in that moment. I don’t follow Beth Moore and know of some things said about her and her teachings which can be a post on it’s own but the way he handled that situation really in my opinion was poor and reflected his true character.

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    • Leah, I did not follow that situation so I can’t really speak to that. I have not listened to Beth Moore’s teaching in a long while, so I can’t speak to that, either. I will say that she had a tremendous influence on my life, not because of what she said, but because of how she led me to dig deep into God’s Word and to really hear from God on a deeper level. She taught me to really examine the scriptures to see what they taught and to really listen to the Spirit’s voice within me in allowing him to lead me. So, I am thankful for her ministry, for the time that I sat under her teaching, but that has been about 18 years ago that I did so.

      I have heard rumblings about her ministry in the past several years, but any of the complaints that I read were mainly from those who did not believe all the gifts of the Spirit were still alive and well or they didn’t like that a woman spoke publicly with such authority, or like MacArthur, they didn’t believe that the Holy Spirit speaks to us through anything other than the written word of God and only strictly as applied to the people of the Bible at that time.

      If I let those kind of naysayers influence my life, I would not be doing what I am doing today, and what I have been doing the past 15 years. I would not have written any songs or any poems, either, for those came from God, and I would not be blogging, because this is under the guidance of the Spirit that I write what I write. I don’t write from my own thinking or reasoning. This is my calling, and I take that seriously. But, I wouldn’t be here if I let humans tell me that God no longer works this way. And, I know God put me here.

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  3. Hi Sue,

    I found your post very interesting because it would seem to correlate or agree with my gut instinct I have been getting as of late regarding the way in which I should judge all things. Maybe that’s a bad choice of words, how about the internal leading I receive from Jesus through His Holy Spirit.

    To be candid with you, I’m almost to the point where I only want to really dive into God’s Word and maintain communion through prayer and trust in His guidance, while at the same time, maintaining union with other members of His body as civilly and lovingly as I am able to.

    There are undoubtedly many areas within the body of Christ today and in the past where there is disagreement and legitimate cases of abuse. Satan hates the Church and as time draws short, I believe it is being attacked like never before, both from without and also from within. I can’t help but feel that Satan has a large deck of cards that he uses to cause discord and division and he doesn’t care one hoot which one you choose, just as long as you choose one, which will further his cause of us taking our eyes off of Jesus and becoming side tracked with issues of discord and division. Sometimes it feels like one is going through a car wash where you are continually being hit on all sides and the rate in which the water is being dispersed is intensifying. The thing is, Jesus is in the car with me and His Word and guidance is what I need to stay the course or get through this onslaught.

    As you have indicated, each one of us is unique and our experiences along the path that we have walked is not identical. In addition, as we walk individually with God, He is the one who guides us to the part of the relationship that He deems needs attention, be it our understanding in a given area of disagreement or the manner in which we treat and respect each other within the body of Christ.

    I also agree with you that far too often we have a tendency to throw out the baby with the bathwater, especially where it involves the moving of God’s Holy Spirit and His gifts. I am acutely aware that there are many men and women who have a greater knowledge of God’s Word than I do, but knowledge alone is not enough, there must be the accompanying fruit of the Holy Spirit, where the manner in which we interact with one another, in a diversity of situations, brings credit to Chist for who He is.

    I’ve been corrected by God as of late for the manner in which I interact with others. I did the same thing with you when we first conversed with one another. God healed that misjudgement on my part with you but now He is expanding my perspective. No, I don’t do it to everyone but even one is too many. I agree with S.Leah.R, about the manner in which John MacArthur dealt with Beth Moore, who I also have theological disagreements with. Human pride is a terrible thing and there are few of us that it does not raise its ugly head.

    Two times within the last three days I have been made aware that I am allowing myself to become sidetracked and that is not God’s desire for me. You and I have been discussing the coming world order and the implications that surround that whole area of discussion. I have spend a fair amount of time amassing a large amount of information and to be candid with you, I still don’t have a total handle on it. But, and this is what is important, right now, that is not the area that Jesus wants me to focus on. The area of focus for me is concentrated on my one on one with Jesus and working through the Gospel of John.

    As you are aware, I became involved with some exchanges with a couple of Christian men regarding politics and criticism recently. It didn’t go completely off the rails with either of them and I did apologize for any dissention that I had caused, but the long and the short of it was that it could have gone a lot better and the primary problem area that God identified with me, was my attitude and perception of wanting others to see things the way that I saw them. It did not necessitate that what I saw was necessarily wrong but the manner in which I handled the disagreement left a lot to be desired. I really have to take that seriously.

    Then last night I inadvertently ran into a blog where a Christian gentleman articulated exactly what I saw and how I felt about the political situation in the USA right now, from a Christianity credibility damage perspective. I was going to follow the gentleman and send him a comment but just before I did, the thought ran through my mind, “Do you really want to do that?” The immediate answer was no, that is not what God would have me do. I would be feeding my need to be right and that is the problem that still needs working on.

    I kind of see myself in the Garden of Eden with Jesus right now, where my direction and dependency is learning to be totally on Him. I am aware of my deficiencies, or at least some of them, so Jesus and I are working through them. That’s where I am supposed to be.

    That’s for me, not you or anyone else, because Jesus is dealing with me specifically. And He does deal with us individually, because we are all different, yet part of His body. I am in the same sheep pen as a lot of you and sometimes I wander to the far end of the pen, Jesus is telling me to stay close to Him and that is where I need to be.

    So Sue, I am going to put the study on the coming world order down for the time being, maybe I will look at it again later on, when God leads me to do so. I am not necessarily disagreeing with any of your conclusions in this area of study, you could be totally correct. I just don’t personally have that confirmation yet. As you know, I have spent an inordinate amount of time studying the New Apostolic Reformation movement and I did that for a good number of months. But there came a day when the drive to go in that direction dissipated and I felt led to refocus on Jesus, just like I am doing now.

    I sincerely thank you for the time and effort you spent with me discussing the coming world order subject and trust me, I have accumulated a substantial amount of reference material to plow through, when and if I get the go ahead to proceed. I trust, that you of all people, know and understand my reasoning right now.

    Our granddaughter had a ear infection, a virus and pneumonia, but she is on the mend and recovering now with medications. God is good.

    God’s continued grace, peace and blessings to you and yours.

    -Bruce

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    • Bruce, first of all, I am glad to hear that your granddaughter is recovering from her illness. I pray for continued healing in her body.

      Secondly, thank you for your candidness and your honesty in sharing with me what is on your heart. Yes, we have to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and we have to not be led by the flesh or by what we have decided is right or is wrong, because if we are the ones deciding, we could be dead wrong.

      As I told Rick, the bottom line in all of this is that we need to remain open to the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and we need to listen to his counsel and direction. We need to not be following after dead men’s religion, but we need to be following after the Holy Spirit and the living and active Word of God which still speaks to us personally and to our life situations today. And, we need to be testing everything we hear against the Word of God, in context, to make certain that what we are hearing is from the Holy Spirit and not from the minds or the emotions of men.

      Yes, God made us all different. We are all uniquely designed by him for his purposes. We all have different gifts and ministries, of the Spirit of God, and we are not all going to be clones of one another. We are different parts with different functions, but we are all necessary who are walking in the Spirit of God by faith in Jesus Christ.

      We are not to treat the ministries and gifts of others with contempt unless they are obviously contrary to God’s divine nature, and his divine will and purpose, and if they are against the living and active Word of God. But, we must test these things, not against the dogmas of men, but in prayer, and under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, for we could be wrong in our assessments.

      So, the big thing here is that we not quench the Spirit, that we not put out the Spirit’s fire because it doesn’t agree with our theology, but that we test the spirits to see if they are of God against the Word of God and in prayer, seeking God’s face.

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  4. Thank you for writing this difficult article. I know you spent many hours on this praying and researching to try to be fair and get it right and to write what you believed God had for you to write, and it is very good.

    As you know, John MacArthur is one of my favorite preachers, for I believe he strives to be true to the Scriptures regardless of how unpopular that makes him. He also stands up when he feels something must be said on various subjects. Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit motivating him to do so, though I’m not sure he would agree with that concept.

    He also appears to be strictly loyal to his theological foundations, perhaps above even the teachings of the Bible at times. I have found in my journeys that most folks, whether one school of theology or the other, are reluctant to stray beyond their church fathers’ dogma, whether Calvin’s writings, or Wesley’s, or the Westminster Confession, or the Baptist Faith and Message. While most state they follow the Bible, they rarely are open when a passage seems to contradict their theology. As unbelievably smart and serious about the Bible as MacArthur clearly is, I find it amazing he never seems to find a knot hole in his Calvinistic fortress, when so many others, just as serious and sure of their theology, differ with him in some important areas.

    I believe you have addressed well the topic of the Holy Spirit and how those like MacArthur have stuffed him in a box, either because of theological requirements or fear or arrogance (my words). A cessationistic view of God’s plan for humanity carries a lot of responsibility to prove God in his sovereignty will not and possibly cannot, one time after the apostolic age, speak through his Holy Spirit a message not specifically contained within the canon but not contrary to it, nor will not heal someone using as an instrument his saints upon whom he has assigned gifts of healing as the Bible clearly teaches, nor will not empower one of his children to speak in another language not his own supernaturally when that is what is needed for a situation. Perhaps he is also unable under the new covenant to speak through a donkey or the rocks either? Jesus healed on the Sabbath as a clarification of God’s law that love was to be considered a higher qualification for one’s actions even over some good theology.

    My final comment is that MacArthur’s sidestep of the question of his broad brush of all Charismatics (in the Q&A) was quite unreasonable. While it is true that someone under the Charismatic umbrella should have spoken up and insisted upon making many of the corrections he identified in his “Strange Fire” book, that does not justify him trashing all of them, as you said. He clearly provides proof of the extent and severity of the heresies and abuses, including the serious damage to perhaps millions of lives. That alone demanded someone to speak up, and Big John is not one to chicken out when something needs to be said.

    However, I think the dogmatic inclusion of his Calvinistic theology weakens and clouds his argument, making it more about theological differences than gross abuses and a serious misrepresentation of the Gospel by some camps in the Charismatic movement. It might have been more productive to focus on exposing just how big a scam is going on today in many of those “churches”, perhaps most of them? The Holy Spirit is used as a push-button emotional high under the alleged approval of God in many of those churches, but in many thousands more in non-Charismatic circles, so is Jesus, where he is used as a quick ticket to heaven with no repentance or life change. And people are being sent to hell and don’t even know it in both cases.

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    • Thank you, Rick, for sharing all of your thoughts on this subject. Yes, because you are a fan of John MacArthur, I have been exposed to his teachings. But, the bottom line here is really whether we are following dead men’s dogma or whether or not we are following the leading, direction, and guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and whether or not we are breathing into our lives the living and active word of God. Are we suppressing the working of the Holy Spirit in people’s and are we putting out the Spirit’s fire? Or, are we examining what is being said and taught, and are we seeking God’s wisdom and counsel in knowing what is of him and what is not? The scriptures are still our measuring stick, but we need the voice of the Spirit of God leading us into all truth, not the theologies of dead men.

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    • Rick, I was rereading some of these responses here, and my responses, and one comment you made stood out to me the second time around that I did not really notice the first time around. So, I feel as though the Lord would want me to reply to it specifically, just in case it could cause confusion or misunderstanding.

      Your comment: “Jesus healed on the Sabbath as a clarification of God’s law that love was to be considered a higher qualification for one’s actions even over some good theology.”

      What I believe I need to share here is that not all theology is bad. For, from what I understand, “theology” includes the study of God, of our faith and practice, and of God’s relationship to humankind, etc. So, the study of scripture and learning about God and our relationship with God and how that works is a good thing if it is done under the direction of the Holy Spirit of God with an openness to listen to and to obey our Lord in what he teaches us. I would term this “good theology.”

      “Bad theology,” on the other hand, would be that which is based in humans and their thinking and reasoning, or that is an intellectual exercise only, but that it never moves from the intellect to the heart, or that which denies the working of the Holy Spirit in people’s lives but is just a dead faith (head knowledge only), or it is just following a bunch of rules, but it is not really walking in obedience to the Lord in doing what he says and in going where he sends us, etc.

      And, I also want to share here that “love,” in this context, is God-like (agape) love which gives moral preference, i.e. it prefers what God prefers, which is what is holy, righteous, honorable, trustworthy and honest, etc.

      So, the reason for this clarification is that there are many people who are teaching that “love” is greater than obedience to God’s commands, but love is obedience to God’s commands. So, Jesus wasn’t teaching or demonstrating some “love” that was just human love, but the love was God-like love which gives preference to God’s commands for holiness, purity, truthfulness and faithfulness, etc. So, this kind of love upholds “good theology,” i.e. that which submits and surrenders our lives to Jesus Christ to walk in obedience to his will and to his ways. I just don’t want anyone to get the wrong impression.

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