Desiring a more measured response

Saturday draws to a close, but the remains of the week still resonate. What am I referring to you ask? Dr. John MacArthur spearheaded a conference called Strange Fire, which sought to shed light on the doctrinal error within the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement and its leaders. Over the years, Dr. MacArthur has been vocal in his dismay over the excesses and abuses of biblical doctrine and practice associated with the Pentecostal-Charismatic wing of the church. To be clear, Dr. MacArthur is not alone in his views; however, he’s one of the most articulate and revered pastor-scholars in the US and the world. His words carry immense weight within the Evangelical community as demonstrated by the following published books: The Charismatics and Charismatic Chaos.

The Strange Fire Conference occurred over three days starting this past Wednesday, October 16 and ending on Friday, October 18, 2013. It was hosted by Grace Community Church, which is the community that Dr. MacArthur shepherds. Grace Community is also the home of the radio ministry Grace to You. The following websites are good starters for acclimating oneself to the content and rhetoric of the Strange Fire Conference: http://www.challies.com and http://www.thecrippleagte.com.

I’m the first to admit that there are excesses within the Pentecostal-Charismatic wing of the church. In fact, Oneness Pentecostalism grew out of the Azusa Street revival in 1914. This aberrant stream denies the Orthodox teaching of the trinity or the triune God. When John Wimber founded the Vineyard Movement in the early 70s, he pursued a middle of the road position between the Pentecostal expression and the other Evangelical camps who denied the present-day manifestations of the spiritual gifts. Some say Wimber failed at this endeavor while others believed that he succeeded. Vineyard pastor, Rich Nathan, coined a term called Empowered Evangelicals in order to characterize the adherents to the Third Wave Charismatic movement.

There remain rough edges in the Pentecostal-Charismatic wing of the church. I think we should expect those edges. The key has to do with addressing such teaching in love. Are the leaders, teachers, and followers of the Pentecostal and Charismatic wing of the church straying from the key text of 1 Corintians 12-14? In this case, the burden of proof rests with the one bringing the accusation, namely Dr. MacArthur. I’m sure there are helpful critiques about the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement, which could benefit its leaders. Still, the whole issue between those espousing Dr. MacArthur’s view about the gifts ceasing or their continuation has to do with 1 Cor 12-14. What do those chapters teach about the spiritual gifts?

Personally, I think the key section is 1 Cor 13:8-12 where Paul talks about the spiritual gifts ceasing. In the eighth verse, Paul writes that “love never ends,” but that prophecies, tongues, and knowledge will pass away. The word for love here in the Greek is agape, which comes from God and is eternal. Paul contrasts love with the gifts of knowledge and prophesy, which are partial or incomplete (1 Cor 12:9). These spiritual gifts only serve a specific purpose during the present, church age; consequently, they will pass away when the “perfect comes,” which alludes to the Second Coming of Christ (1 Cor 12:10). To develop this even further, the apostle Paul uses an analogy of a child’s ways passing away as he becomes a man. For Paul, believers in Christ are like children as they operate in the spiritual gifts until Christ returns, which brings the believer into full maturity (1 Cor 12:11-12). This section of scripture makes it perfectly clear that the spiritual gifts cease only at the Second Advent of the Messiah.

I write this post as a call to Christ followers everywhere to examine the scriptures with the Holy Spirit. In the midst of prayerful study, the hope is that believers will be able to speak the truth in love regardless of where one lands with respect to the spiritual gifts. Each person is to be convinced in his or her own mind. I leave you with this benediction: “In essentials – unity; in non-essentials – liberty; in all things – charity.”

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