Strange Friendly Fire

Strange Friendly Fire. While I appreciate John MacArthur’s ministry and agree with him on a lot of things (like him, I’m a Calvinist who believes in credo baptism), I wonder if he went too far with his new book and accompanying conference.

I’m not a cessationist. I see no evidence in the New Testament that the work and gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased either with the death of the Apostles or with the closing of the canon of scripture in the fourth century. Further, I spent a lot of my Christian life in Pentecostal churches and the Lord brought me to salvation in 1976 through what was then a decidedly Pentecostal ministry (Pat Robertson’s The 700 Club).

However, much of what goes on in Pentecostalism – the gibberish that they call “tongues” (the tongues of the New Testament were real languages and all languages have structure – things like grammar, vocabulary, syntax, and these are discernible), that which one group of Pentecostals I was acquainted with called “shockamoo” or the practice of whipping the church up into such an emotional frenzy that they’re running around the church and doing all kinds of strange things like a bunch of crazed maniacs (of course, they attributed this to the Holy Spirit and not to the emotional manipulation by the preacher or the “worship leader” that, in some circles, is now called a “music pastor” or “worship pastor” even though the biblical work of pastor is not what he is doing), the phenomenon of being “slain in the Spirit,” the barking and laughing fits at the Brownsville Revival (Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida, not to be confused with the city of Brownsville, Texas or any churches there) or the Toronto Blessing – is clearly not of God. The excesses and, I would dare say, ungodly practices and many of the teachings within Pentecostalism may very well be the Church’s equivalent of “strange fire,” but, I agree with J. I. Packer, who was quoted as saying in the linked article:


For whatever threats and perhaps instances of occult and counterfeit spirituality we may think we detect around its periphery (and what movement of revival has ever lacked these things around its periphery?), its main effect everywhere is to promote robust Trinitarian faith, personal fellowship with the divine Savior and Lord whom we meet in the New Testament, repentance, obedience, and love to fellow Christians, expressed in ministry of all sorts towards them—plus a zeal for evangelistic outreach that puts the staider sort of churchmen to shame.


(I would argue, however, that those “instances of occult” aren’t necessarily around Pentecostalism’s periphery).

The article linked above presents a reasoned critique of MacArthur’s conference and his perhaps questionable motivation behind it (an understandably visceral reaction to the antics on Trinity Broadcasting Network).

Don’t turn away from John MacArthur or the other excellent speakers at the Strange Fire Conference just because of this misguided event. These are excellent pastors and teachers who generally have solid, biblical teaching. I would definitely recommend pastors and teachers like MacArthur and Ferguson, even though they’re ardent cessationists, over anything you will find on TBN or in denominations like the Assemblies of God and Church of God in Christ (thankfully, God brought my pastor out of that organization), or in the whole realm of Pentecostalism. (I would, however, recommend the denomination called Sovereign Grace Ministries and some of its pastors and teachers like C. J. Mahaney).


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