Monday, 28 October 2013

Strange Fire and the Corinthians

Reflecting on the Strange Fire Conference and Scripture one can’t help but wonder how John MacArthur would have written to the church at Corinth.
Here was a church where things were out of order – here was charismatic chaos! And what is Paul’s answer, what you are doing is of the devil? Or/and, I don’t think any of you are saved? No, his answer is to recognise the Spirit’s activity among them, and their responsibility in it.
And so he speaks to them about the fact that you can only confess that Christ is Lord by the Spirit, of being members of a body and everything being done for the benefit of the body – not selfish edification or enjoyment. About God being a God of peace and not of disorder, and of the spirit of the prophets being subject to the prophets – that even though they are moved upon by the Spirit they are responsible for the when and how – but one thing he just doesn’t say is that it’s not the Spirit and that they are not saved.
Rather he goes on to stir them up for more, not to hold back, or stop it, just make sure you do it well, in a way that honours God, and blesses all, and is not a stumbling block to the lost.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Strange Fire - Further Thoughts

Well the Strange Fire Conference has certainly stirred something up, let’s pray that all sides benefit from the continuing conversation.
Having been brought up a cessationist I have been for many years a scripturally and experientially convinced continuationist, though I must confess I did have a spell where because of the abuse of spiritual gifts I was tempted to go back to cessationism – it would be safer, easier and less painful.  I questioned their authenticity, and whether we could really know what was of God or not (interestingly this is a question raised at this conference, how can we know that tongues are the same today as in New Testament days, yet we could also ask how do I know or you know that our born-again experience is exactly the same as in the New Testament?!). But then I began to realise that if I were to do that I would have to deny scripture, and I couldn’t do it. I realised that abuse mustn’t lead us to non-use, or even the the denial of gifts, that’s exactly what the enemy wants, but rather we needed to learn how to use and manage them correctly.
That journey has opened my own heart and life and ministry more directly to the dynamic of God’s presence and the hearing of his voice, and there is no way I could go back on it. Yes there are those round the edges who discredit the movement through excess and bad teaching, but lets not cast the baby out with the bathwater, or throw all our money away simply because of a few forgeries – Paul didn’t write off the faith and experiences of the Corinthian church because of what was going on, rather he wrote to establish a proper understanding and order to the exercise of the gifts!
If there’s something that I’ve observed having been in pentecostal and charismatic churches, old church and new church, it is that we are not pentecostal/charismatic enough!  Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said many years ago to those who were cessationist, “Got it all? Well, if you have ‘got it all’, I simply ask in the Name of God, why are you as you are? If you have ‘got it all’, why are you so unlike the Apostles, why are you so unlike the New Testament Christians?” The same could be said of some pentecostals and charismatics today, only they know the doctrine, but not enough of the experience.  There is indeed the very real danger of following generations arising who do not know the experiences their forefathers had – something that history documents in other movements/denominations, where over time form and the way things are done take over, professionalism becomes the order of the day, cold orthodoxy sets in and seats empty, until a generation arises that asks afresh, where is God? Where is he in all of this?
In the same way that we need to keep preaching the gospel and calling people to Christ or we end with a church full of religious people, so also we need to be making sure that they receive the gift of the Spirit, and encouraging them in the gifts, otherwise we’ll have a generation in pentecostal and charismatic churches with none of the life and power of their forefathers.
The fact that Paul has to write and encourage the believers to earnestly desire and stir up the gifts that God has given implies that they don’t automatically perpetuate themselves, rather we have a responsibility to keep them alive among us. More is what we need, not less. Doing it right is what we need, not quenching the Spirit for fear of getting it wrong. Paul’s strong desire was that all would speak in tongues, and even more that they prophesied.
What about you?

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Strange Fire

This week has seen the Strange Fire Conference in the United States hosted by John MacArthur, a conference accusing those in the Pentecostal and Charismatic movement of being in error, of wrongly dividing Scripture and encouraging experiences and ministries that are false and so leading the church of God astray.
The big questions being asked and answered are, should people be experiencing the baptism in the Spirit today? Should they prophesy and speak in tongues today? Should we lay hands on the sick and expect healing today? All answered in the negative, because it is argued Scripture says so, and they want those who believe otherwise to know and be corrected.
The fact is, it doesn’t, you have to draw lines where there are non, read things into rather than out of Scripture. Yes they may call Calvin to their defense, but please Calvin’s word doesn’t have the same authority as Scripture. And yes they may call the lack of such experiences at some periods in church history as evidence, but that is not to argue from Scripture, but experience or the lack of it.
I was brought up a cessationist, I know the arguments, I encountered Pentecostals, was impacted by their life and witness. They spoke in tongues and believed God heals today. I wrestled with the Scriptures. Was encouraged to believe that it was of the devil. But I had never seen such devotion and passion for Jesus, such a desire to know him and witness to him, such passion in worship and prayer, and no they weren’t speaking in tongues all the time and neither were they swinging from the chandeliers!
Yes, frequently the stories and objections were based on hearsay, frequently generalisations – yes there are some that do the movement no good, but please that applies across the whole church. Such arguments are false and misleading and sadly this seems to be the approach of this conference.
Praise God I came to see that I was reading Scripture through the lens of my own tradition, and my, how tradition can be blinding. Praise God for the witness of those I encountered. And oh, I wanted God, not just words. I wanted reality, not just form. Praise God I met him, I was powerfully baptised in the Spirit and suddenly my Christian life took on a whole new dynamic, a dynamic that was rooted in Scripture itself.