John MacArthur is taking a lot of flak from Pentecostal-Charismatic folks during the Strange Fire Conference in his church at Sun Valley, California. He says in his Strange Fire guide, “While claiming to represent a special work of the Holy Spirit, many in charismatic ranks—joined now by many in mainstream evangelicalism—are actually guilty of blaspheming Him.”
A charismanews.com blogger bewails MacArthur’s new book, Strange Fire, quoting, “In recent history, no other movement has done more to damage the cause of the gospel, to distort the truth, and to smother the articulation of sound doctrine… Charismatic theology has made no contribution to true biblical theology or interpretation; rather, it represents a deviant mutation of truth.” He argues against the charge that Pentecostals are lacking in sound Biblical interpretation:
While attributing gross doctrinal error to charismatics—in a pre-conference video, pastor Steve Lawson claims the fundamental problem with charismatics is their lack of serious engagement with the Word—Pastor MacArthur himself is guilty of poor exegesis of the scriptural passages that point to the ongoing, miraculous work of the Spirit today.
While I’m not a “fan” of MacArthur—and I’m not saying that there are no true Pentecostal believers—I absolutely agree with him in his criticism, even condemnation, of this movement. Why? Here are my Top 7 reasons:
1. Pentecostal-Charismatic theology and practices are the result of bad, subjective and aberrant interpretation of Scriptures. Here I summarize the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s “Report of the Committee on the Baptism and Gifts of the Holy Spirit” in its 1978 General Assembly.
a. Pentecost Sunday was a once-for-all event in redemptive history, along with the first coming of Christ (Ac 2:32, 33). These are not repeatable events, just as the Exodus, the Mount Sinai covenant, and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. are not repeatable. The structure of the book of Acts follows Jesus’ Great Commission in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” See note below. [ref]So Luke traces in the Acts the salvation of four distinct people groups: Jews (Ac 2:1-41), God-fearers (Ac 10:44-48), the Samaritans (Ac 8:14-17), and the Gentiles (Ac 19:1-7). These four “Pentecost” events were unique and foundational to the church, validating the Great Commission. As G. W. Knight III concludes, “An examination of these passages shows, however, that each passage displays a specific reason for the timing of the baptism by the Holy Spirit that is recorded, and that reason is unique to each situation and therefore is not intended to be a model for others.”[/ref]
b. It is essential to recognize a distinction between the gift of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. The gift of the Spirit is bound up in salvation (Ac 11:18). The gifts of the Spirit, on the other hand (e.g. 1Co 12:4-6), such as prophecy and tongues, are provisional and temporary.
c. The apostles and prophets were foundational to the church (Ep 2:20), and so were the extraordinary gifts given to them. Since the foundation has been laid, no other foundation has to be laid, but the building itself, the church, is now being built (1Co 3:10-11).
d. The signs in the apostolic era accompanied the gospel for authentication of its divine origin, “God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Hb 2:4). The extraordinary gifts of prophecy, tongues and healing were given to the apostles, and therefore also ceased after they died.
e. Tongues were a temporary judgment sign against unbelievers in general and unbelieving Israel in particular (1Co 14:20-22).
Two other articles by Dr. Richard Gaffin are helpful: “What About Prophecy and Tongues Today?” and “Challenges of the Charismatic Movement to the Reformed Tradition.” Another scholarly and exhaustive paper, “The Vitality of the Reformed Faith: Facing the Challenge of the Charismatic Movement” by George W. Knight III, can be downloaded here.
2. It demeans the authority, sufficiency and clarity of Scriptures. Are “new revelations” proclaimed using tongues or prophecies the Word of God or not? When someone says, “The Lord told me,” isn’t this the same as Isaiah declaring, “Thus says the LORD,” or when Paul “proclaimed the Word of God” (Acts 13:5; 17:13)? Therefore, these tongues and prophecies are additions to the completed canon of Scriptures, a violation of God’s strict commandment against and condemnation of adding to or subtracting from his Word (Dt 4:2; 12:32; Rv 22:18-19). See Rod Rosenbladt’s “Thus Saith the Lord?”.
3. It runs contrary to all of church history. In the first 1,500 years of church history, there were only isolated instances of “new revelations.” The worst ones were the Montanist heresy about 150 A.D., when Montanus and his two “prophetesses” predicted—through “direct revelations” of the Spirit—the Second Coming during their days; and the radical Anabaptist Thomas Müntzer who taunted Martin Luther, claiming his superiority through a higher word from the Spirit than that which “merely beats the air.” Luther famously responded, “I wouldn’t believe you if you had swallowed the Holy Ghost, feathers and all!”
Modern Pentecostalism can be traced back to the Second Great Awakening (2GA), specially in the teachings of John Wesley (Methodism) and Charles Finney (“altar call” revivalism) in the early 19th century. But not until the Azusa Street “revivals” in 1906 did tongues, visions and healings become popular in revivalism. Thus, the Pentecostal-Charismatic movement that we know today spread only in the last century as an aberration of historic Christianity. See excerpt from Scott Clark’s “Less A Problem of What the Spirit is Doing and More a Problem of What We Say Part 1” below.
4. It is contrary to all of the historic Protestant creeds and confessions. All the ancient and historic creeds and confessions from the early church through the Protestant Reformation know nothing of tongues, prophecies and other extraordinary gifts after the apostolic era, except to reject them. For example, the Westminster Confession of Faith vigorously condemns “new revelations” (all emphasis added):
Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterwards… to commit the same wholly unto writing: which makes the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased (1:1).
The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men (1:6; see also Belgic Confession Article 7).
The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture (1:10).
The Second Helvetic Confession (1566) says about the offices of the church:
The Apostles. The apostles remained in no certain place, but gathered together divers church throughout the whole world: which churches, when they were once established, there ceased to be any more apostles, and in their places were particular pastors appointed in every Church. Prophets. The prophets, in old time, did foresee and foretell things to come; and, besides, did interpret the Scripture; and such are found some among us at this day… Therefore the Church ministers that now are may be called bishops, elders, pastors, and teachers (18:5).
5. It devalues the church and the ordinary means of grace. Since Pentecostals and Charismatics focus on and emphasize extraordinary gifts, the ordinary means by which God gives grace through the church—preaching and sacraments—are neglected. Michael Horton writes in “Reformed and Charismatic?”:
Today, the Spirit validates this ordinary ministry of the gospel through preaching and sacrament: the signs and wonders that Christ instituted to confirm his Word. If it is true that the apostles understood their work to be an extraordinary ministry of foundation-laying and their miraculous signs as its validation, then “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ [1Co 3:11].
6. It is the most common source of false teachings, false prophecies and sub-Christian cults. It is almost a given in all of church history, but especially in our day, that false teachers come from those who claim “new revelations of the Spirit.” See Montanus, Thomas Muntzer (watch “Who Were the Zwickau Prophets” by R. C. Sproul), Edward Irving (Irvingites), Joseph Smith (Mormons), Aimee Semple McPherson (Foursquare), William Branham (Serpent Seed), Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen (Word-Faith and prosperity gospels), Jim Jones (People’s Temple), David Koresh (Branch Davidians), Sun Myung Moon (Unification Church) César Castellanos (G12 Movement), Felix Manalo (Iglesia ni Cristo), Apollo Quiboloy (Name Above All Names), among countless thousands. These heretics have deceived not only those who go to their churches, but also millions of TV followers around the world.
This is only a logical outcome, for who else would come up with all kinds of insanity other than those who say, “The Lord told me” this or that, or “The Lord showed me a vision.” For example, in 1980, God showed Oral Roberts a vision of a 900-ft tall Jesus!
7. If I’m Pentecostal or Charismatic, I’m not Reformed. Period. Being Reformed and Charismatic or Pentecostal is an absolute impossibility. As Scott Clark concludes (emphasis added),
Those things are rather less visible and spectacular than the sorts of things that our Charismatic and Pentecostal friends claim but there you have it. The Reformed are not Pentecostal or Charismatic. We had this debate with the Anabaptists in the 16th century. They weren’t satisfied with the sufficiency of God’s Holy Word, the Holy sacraments as instituted by Christ, and the decent and orderly piety as instituted by the apostles… The modern renewal of the early Anabaptists, the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements, seek to reproduce apostolic phenomena. They can’t do it but bless their souls they keep trying.
As they say back home, you can put lipstick on a pig but he’s still a pig. Thomas Muntzer wasn’t Reformed in the 16th century and he’s still not Reformed.
“Reformed” Pentecostalism is an oxymoron.
Excerpt from “Less A Problem of What the Spirit is Doing and More a Problem of What We Say Part 1” by R. Scott Clark
Since the early 19th century American Christianity has been largely dominated by a revival of the original Anabaptist theology, piety, and practice. One can transpose much of what took place in the 19th century over the fist generation Anabaptists (1520s) and it matches up quite well. The original Anabaptists would have understood completely the Millerite eschatological fervor of the 1820s–40s. They would understand completely the claims of continuing revelation made by Joseph Smith and the Mormons in the same period. At least some of the original Anabaptists would have understood the bald Pelagianism of Charles Finney (1792–1875). The Cane Ridge Revival (1801) would have made perfect sense to the original Anabaptists as it fit their vision of piety almost perfectly.
Evangelical Christianity in America as it has been received in the 20th and 21st centuries is very much the product of that revived Anabaptist theology, piety, and practice. The Second Great Awakening was a radically democratic, egalitarian, entrepreneurial, enterprise. Theologically, it was by turns mystical and rationalist. Further, the Second Great Awakening didn’t just happen out of the blue. It did not fall out of the sky like golden plates and magic spectacles. There’s a direct, organic connection between the 1GA and the 2nd but we’ll press on lest we move from preaching to meddling.
The enthusiastic (in the strict sense) piety of the 2GA faded in the second half of the 19th century but “fresh light” broke forth again in the revivals in Topeka, KS and Azusa Street (Los Angeles) at the turn of the 20th century. The patterns established in the earlier “revivals” have been formative for American evangelicalism.
One aspect of that revivalist pattern is the claim to renewed apostolic phenomena. Suggestions were made in the 18th century and proclaimed loudly in the 19th and 20th centuries that the apostolic phenomena had been restored to those with faith to receive and exercise them. Since the 19th century at least evangelical Christianity (defined broadly) has been divided between the “haves” and “have nots,” i.e., those who claim to have recovered the Apostolic gifts and powers.