An interesting conference took place in California little more than a month ago. The “Strange Fire Conference” was hosted by Grace Community Church — senior pastor John MacArthur — for the purpose of bringing a bunch of evangelical leaders together to deal with the heresy and blasphemy of the Holy Spirit that is the Charismatic movement.
Here’s the intro video for the conference:
The whole Charismatic movement was attacked in this conference…all half-a-billion people therein, as though it were a denomination or some sort of institution with inherent leadership and structure that could exact change if only they would repent and steer the organization in another direction. Identifying “heresy” and “blasphemers of the Holy Spirit” was the main thrust of the movement, which was dealt with in such a way that all people who would espouse charismatic theology were declared to not be in the family of God. By far the most troubling thing to me in understanding the thrust of the conference was this excerpt:
The places where applause erupts is haunting.
It seems to me — and maybe I’m overstating things here — that MacArthur is adding to the Gospel in saying that in order to be saved, all Christians must concretely believe the same thing about the Holy Spirit and the usage and application of sign gifts in the Church today. Which essentially means believing the same things he believes about the Holy Spirit and sign gifts. I’m not sure that should be a part of our soteriology.
Don’t get me wrong, there are false teachers and crooks who call themselves charismatics. There are also false teachers and crooks who call themselves evangelical, Catholic, mainline, Protestant, etc. There is some seriously hurtful craziness in the Charismatic movement and some seriously hurtful hermeneutics in the Fundamentalist movement. Drawing hard, fast exclusionary lines based on a singular systematic interpretation of Scripture seems to me dangerous and divisive. I’m not sure we have the authority to examine, analyze and name other people — let alone other brothers and sisters in Christ — as being in or out of God’s saving grace.
I don’t see a lot of difference between the manipulative excesses of Benny Hinn and the militant, exclusionary rhetoric of John MacArthur. I have major issues with both, but honestly, what is there to do? I’ve freaked out about it before…hasn’t done much for me.
I don’t want to use this post to just go on a tirade against Fundamentalism or to defend the Charismatic movement. Interestingly, I was raised in one (Fundamentalism) and would now — by the standards of the Strange Fire Conference — be a part of the other, so there’s a ton of emotion in me that would love to go off forever against this thing and offer you ways to think about it.
Problem is, having drunk deeply of both “sides”, what I most feel is deep sadness punctuated with moments of rage.
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him. — Mark 3.1-6
Anger and grief go hand in hand. It makes me angry being told that I don’t know God or that I’m a false teacher as someone who teaches others that prophecy is important or that the Holy Spirit manifests Himself through sign gifts. Theological arrogance makes me angry too; which is either a sign of God’s transformation in my life or a point of humor for those of you reading this who know me well.
We should be concerned with being right. It’s a valid thing; righteousness matters. But righteousness without humility is dangerous, because that is self-righteousness. Having a conviction that something is right is one thing; being convinced you’re the only one who is right is another thing; and believing that because you are right, you and those like you are the only one(s) who know God or how to please Him is a wholly other thing altogether.
That is what caused the anger and grief of Jesus in this text. The Pharisees were people deeply loved by God, for whom Jesus willingly lived and died. Jesus had a strong desire for their lives, the same desire He has for all humans everywhere: that they would know Him, love Him and worship Him forever, living in the family of God with their brothers and sisters. Their hard hearts, though — hardened through their own self-righteousness — kept them from receiving Jesus as He fully was, and they sent Him to the cross one-hundred-percent confident they were right.
When love is unrequited or despised, what else is there to do but mourn?
When someone you love is knowingly or unknowingly hurting themselves, anger and mourning are very present, right?
When a son or daughter distrusts and flees from parental love, the parental response is anger and grief.
When a brother or sister pulls away in fear, isolation or defensiveness, grief is the response.
I don’t know how to resolve these experiences. Frankly, I don’t know that God means for them to be resolved. Billions of people down through history have rejected God’s love, to the point of leaving this world without ever knowing Him or receiving His love. Living in love means living with risk, vulnerability and pain. God deeply experiences all of these things, and I’m slowly learning that it’s situations like my reaction to this Strange Fire Conference that are invitations from God to receive His heart and grieve with Him at the refusal of His love, the sorrow of His heart and the anger He has toward sin and division within His Body.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” — Matthew 5.4