MacArthur is a famed champion of conservative reformed evangelicals, and a figure of considerable influence. His comments at Strange Fire were anything but moderate. Dismissing charismatic Christians as being part of an explosive growth of a false Church, he also refused to acknowledge that they have made any contribution in serving their communities. Furthermore, in many cases, he said, he was not speaking out against fellow Christians, as the charismatic movement is ‘made up largely of non-Christians’
Understandably, outrage followed. But while disagreeing with MacArthur, I am wondering if these deeply unpleasant, prejudicial comments have been made partly because we charismatics have neglected to clean our own house. We should not be surprised when someone like MacArthur comes along, not with a broom, but a bulldozer, and with gross caricaturing tries to knock the whole house down.
I am a charismatic Christian. If it were not for the winsome witness of the Pentecostal church where I found Christ, I wonder where I would be now. I continue to be grateful for the ongoing active work of the Holy Spirit, including the supernatural gifts, not just because my experience demands it, but because scripture insists upon it. In my four decades of faith, my life has been punctuated with moments when, wonderfully and arrestingly, God spoke to me through prophecy. I believe that God still heals today, although I must immediately add a caveat: he certainly does not heal as often as we would like, or even as often as some claim.
But rather than lobbing a few salvos back at MacArthur, we’d do better to acknowledge that there certainly are some issues that charismatics must deal with, and some extremes that need correction. Too many predictive prophecies have been made with the promised outcome never coming to pass. In some churches, people speak in tongues and then an ‘interpretation’ follows, but sadly from a well-meaning enthusiast, rather than the heart of Almighty God. Any attempt to bring correction can be thwarted with the insistence that we should not quench the Spirit. Sometimes bizarre behaviour has been defended as being ‘deep’, and those who question it branded superficial. A fog of Gnosticism ? where some claim to have greater revelation ? haspervaded. Some of us have put aside our niggling concerns, fearful that we would be dismissed as insensitive or resistant to the moving of God.
In some charismatic gatherings, the ultimate objective is apparently to have a lot of people lying on the floor, allegedly knocked flat by the Spirit, but in fact ‘assisted’ with a shove from heavy-handed prayer ministry volunteers. And is the Lord really a divine dentist, providing gold fillings for the faithful? I’ve never understood the gold filling craze that has done the rounds in some circles. Wouldn’t a new tooth be better rather than a metallic filling, even if it is made of 24-carat metal? It seems a little like giving a wheelchair user a new set of tyres...
I haven’t even got started on the extremes of the prosperity movement, where cash giving is related to blessing and especially healing. While the vast majority of charismatics that I know would totally distance themselves from this unbiblical madness, perhaps we should have made our position clearer. Nevertheless, I believe that Mr MacArthur, with his huge ministry andhis now ironically named Grace to You television broadcast, is wrong in the tone and content of his accusations. But those of us who call ourselves charismatics are not entirely right.