May 8, 2014

Authentic Fire Review: Chapter 1

by Lyndon Unger

Authentic Fire is Dr. Michael Brown’s book-length response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference. Because of the importance of this debate, TheCripplegate is using every Thursday to respond chapter-by-chapter to Authentic Fire. You can find an overview of this debate, as well as links to the reviews for each chapter by clicking here.

Chapter 1 Summary Michael Brown 1.  The chapter opens with Dr. Brown paying respects to John MacArthur, commenting on his extensive contributions to the church, his gospel proclamation and his integrity in both public and private spheres.  He then shifts gears into and writes several sweeping statements:

1a.  “Pastor MacArthur’s criticisms of the charismatic movement are inaccurate, unhelpful, often harshly judgmental, sometimes without scriptural support, and frequently divisive in the negative sense of the word.” (Kindle Locations 193-195)

1b.  “Where he rightly points out some of the most glaring and serious faults in the charismatic movement, I add my ‘Amen,’ having addressed these same abuses for many years myself.” (Kindle Locations 195-196)

1c.  “But when he damns millions of godly believers, demeans the real work of the Spirit, accuses true worshipers of blaspheming the Spirit, and calls for an all-out war against the charismatic movement, a strong corrective is needed, along with a positive statement of the truth of the matter. That is the purpose of this book.” (Kindle Locations 196-198)

condemned

2.  Dr. Brown then presents John MacArthur’s indictments against the charismatic movement.

2a.  Dr. Brown quotes John MacArthur in an interview with Phil Johnson from 2011 where Pastor MacArthur blames the charismatic movement for “virtually every area where church life is unbiblical…” (Kindle Location 201), “bad theology, superficial worship, ego, prosperity gospel, personality elevation” (Kindle Location 202).

2b.  Dr. Brown then quotes a sermon from John MacArthur  saying that the movement has theology that is “bad, it is unbiblical, it is aberrant, it is destructive to people because it promises them what it can’t deliver” (Kindle Locations 203-204).  Dr. Brown further refers to Pastor MacArthur’s statement about how the charismatics attribute the work of Satan to the Holy Spirit and how charismatics have “stolen the Holy Spirit and created a golden calf and they are dancing around the golden calf as if it is the Holy Spirit. . . The charismatic version of the Holy Spirit is that golden calf . . . around which they dance with their dishonoring exercises” (Kindle Locations 206-208).

Exercises Dishonoring Spandex

2c. Dr. Brown then quotes the Strange Fire book saying that the charismatic movement was “a farce and a scam ”since the beginning and that it “has not changed into something good” (Kindle Locations 210-211) and Dr. Brown quotes the book as saying that the charismatic movement represents “the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity” (Kindle Locations 211-212), against which Pastor MacArthur calls for a “‘collective war’ against these alleged pervasive abuses on the Spirit of God'” (Kindle Location 212).

Dr. Brown spends three more paragraphs quoting Strange Fire on how the Holy Spirit in much of the charismatic movement/teaching is unlike the Holy Spirit in the Bible, how the charismatic movement has done more damage to the gospel, truth and sound doctrine, how the charismatic movement has”has made no contribution to true biblical theology or interpretation” (Kindle Location 219), how Satan’s false teachers gladly propagate errors, and how “By inventing a Holy Spirit of idolatrous imaginations, the modern charismatic movement offers strange fire that has done incalculable harm to the body of Christ. Claiming to focus on the third member of the Trinity, it has in fact profaned His name and denigrated His true work.” (Kindle Locations 222-224).

Dr. Brown then writes “when Pastor  MacArthur has called for a collective war against charismatics, he means just what he says, believing that the vast majority of charismatics are not truly saved, while those who are saved are involved in serious error and some level of deception” (Kindle Locations 226-227).

3.  Dr. Brown shifts gears to comment on how various evangelical leaders find Pastor MacArthur’s statements to be errant and grossly overstated.  Dr. Brown references Mark Galli (of Christianity Today) as “finding great sympathy” with Dr. Brown’s article written on the eve of Strange Fire, Dr. Timothy George (of Beeson Divinity School) and his article on First Things, Dr. Tom Schreiner’s (professor at SBTS) review of the book Strange Fire, Ron Phillips (of Abba’s House Church) in an article he wrote saying that John MacArthur’s “stance on the gifts of the Spirit, support of cessationism, and his related and unrelenting attacks upon his brothers and sisters who believe and walk in the fullness of the Spirit are – quite simply – wrong” (Kindle Locations 266-268), a cessationist commenter from Facebook, and an unkind blogger. People shout at a town hall meeting on healthcare reform hosted by Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) in Littleton 4.  Dr. Brown closes off the chapter asking “What then is the truth about the charismatic movement? Where has Pastor MacArthur spoken accurately and where has he misspoken? And what do the Scriptures have to say about these critically important issues? We’ll take these questions up in the rest of the book” (Kindle Locations 287-289). ****** Chapter 1 Comments Top-Gun-Slider 1. It’s good to see at least some recognition of the fact that John MacArthur isn’t the outright enemy.

1a.  Remains to be proven (at this point in the book/response), so no further comment.

1b.  Michael Brown has suggested previously that he has addressed the same abuses (and mentions them at length in chapter two), but those he addresses aren’t even really on the radar for John MacArthur (or other cessationists like myself).  Just watch from 0:48 – 2:07 & 9:30 – 11:00 to get an inkling for what the debate is about:

1c.  Dr. Brown has to admit that he doesn’t know how many believers there are in the charismatic movement, at least on the basis of their profession of faith. Surely this is part of the very point being argued; namely the authenticity of the claimed numbers of “converts”. Most of Dr. Brown’s complaints are only legitimate if charismatic theology is biblically defensible, but that itself is the debate at hand

2.  The accusations:

2a.  Looking at the interview with Phil Johnson, one should realize that Pastor MacArthur was talking about the impact of the charismatic movement after 1960, when the charismatic movement entered the liberal mainline protestant churches (and a few years later, the Roman Catholic church), but that doesn’t really change the thrust of his comment…except that it looks relatively true in that contextual light.  Was bad charismatic theology found outside charismatic circles before the 1960’s?  How about superficial worship, at least in the sense of biblical content and philosophy?  What about the celebration of ego?  The prosperity gospel?  Personality elevation and Christian celebrity culture?

I cannot answer that from my personal experience, but my understanding of 20th century church history suggests that such may actually be the reasonable case…  I just consider:

The Jesus movement

…led to Calvary Chapel’s founding….

…which lead to the Vineyard Church’s founding…

…which lead to the Toronto Airport Vineyard barking revival and a whole lot of other related insanity…like this:

I’d suggest that one read the interview.  John MacArthur actually makes a reasonable case to back up what look like amazing claims.  Then, check out those claims on your own.  For example, it’s worth noting that the Jesus movement was an almost exclusively charismatic movement involved with the worst false teachers from the beginning (that’s Chuck Smith on the right in the blue suit, Ted Wise [i think] introducing the segment, Kathryn Kuhlman and Lonnie Frisbee – faith healer, power-evangelist and unrepentant homosexual who also helped start the Vineyard movement – read pages 132 to 135 of this).  Not exactly an exemplary beginning, and I’m immediately suspicious of someone who lacks the theological discernment to see through Kathryn Kuhlman (Doesn’t the singer in that video look familiar?).  Do some reading on the rest of it, and see if the line of argumentation doesn’t start to look at least reasonable.

Ted

2b.  Does the charismatic movement have theology that is unbiblical?  Well, if tongues was earthly languages, if there are no more apostles, if nobody heals in the same manner as Jesus and the Apostles or has the gift of healing that they had, etc., then yeah.  Speaking broadly about a global movement, charismatic theology (meaning the theology that is distinctive to the movement) is generally unbiblical.

2c.  The same can be said at this point too.  Was the charismatic movement a farce and a scam from the beginning? If the charismatic movement was started by scamming charlatans who got their ideas from hucksters, new-thought cranks, eschatological quacks or farcical misunderstandings of scripture, then yeah.

Has it changed into something good?  Well, depends on where you look.  I’ve previously documented, at some length, how the Foursquare church (one of the larger charismatic denominations) was started by Aimee Semple McPherson, a complete and utter fraud, and they still proudly embrace her teaching today. Now I wouldn’t say the charismatic movement is all bad, and the bad beginnings can be redeemed with a return to biblical fidelity.  We’ve seen that in various places, but why has the Foursquare church not recognized the biblical deficit of their foundations, left that behind, and matured as a denomination?  Where’s the charismatic denomination that openly rejects their founders as quacks and has gone full circle in returning to biblical fidelity?  In many ways, the only component of the movement that has improved since the beginning is the marketing…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ll gladly admit that the various denominations/streams of the charismatic movement are mixed bags with some churches that are great churches of mature and dynamic believers, but no denomination (that I know of) on the whole has cleaned up it’s act beyond the theological fumbling of the founders.

Does the charismatic movement equate the explosive growth of a false church?  Well, globally speaking, a statistical majority of the charismatic movement is represented by the prosperity gospel (and other more even more prevalent heresies – generational curses, positive confession, the idea of physical healing being provided in the atonement, the spiritual death of Jesus, etc.).  That’s the mainstream.  I mean, doesn’t the fact that Michael Brown wanted to reach Benny Hinn’s giant audience (and not vice versa) suggest something rather obvious?

Is the charismatic movement more dangerous than a cult?  Well, Even if there’s only 50 million prosperity gospel folk in the 500 million strong charismatic movement (giving them only 10% of the movement and not including the Oneness Pentecostals or charismatic Catholics), they’re a numerically significant form of pseudo-Christianity equal to Mormonism (with a claimed worldwide membership of about 15 million) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (with a claimed worldwide membership of about 19.2 million) and Seventh Day Adventists (with a claimed worldwide membership of about 17.5 million) combined.  Not only that, but the prosperity preachers they run around in charismatic circles mostly unhindered and definitely unchallenged.  The prosperity gospel is not only one of the numerically largest forms of pseudo-Christianity, it’s also the only one with a cloaking device.

Klingon_Bird-of-Prey

Does not that make it more dangerous than the three previously mentioned cults combined?

Has the charismatic movement ever made a contribution to biblical theology or interpretation?  Well, consider the question. The question is not “has any one academic charismatic ever made a contribution to biblical theology or interpretation?”  People love tossing out Grudem or Fee or Keener and thinking the case is closed.  The question is talking about the movement as a movement.  What doctrine/interpretation has come from the distinctives of any stream of the charismatic movement that did not precede it?  Another way of asking this is “what new doctrine or  interpretation has been introduced, specifically from charismatic circles as emerging from their distinctives, in the last 110 years?”

Honestly think about that for a moment.

I cannot help but agree with Pastor MacArthur on this one.

Finally, are a majority of charismatics unsaved?  Well, I’d suggest that a majority of the people in prosperity gospel/N.A.R. & Oneness & Catholic churches are likely unsaved…simply because they haven’t ever heard the gospel and therefore cannot believe the gospel (and that accounts for tons of charismatics, including all the biggest charismatic churches in almost every country on earth…).

The Catholic Church proclaims a gospel that cannot save.

Oneness Pentecostals proclaim a gospel that cannot save.

Prosperity gospel churches proclaims a gospel that cannot save.

Many of the other big denominations have the gospel correct on paper, but it’s my uniform experience that rarely is the gospel proclaimed coherently in the various churches themselves.

Call me crazy, but “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Rom. 10:14)

Jesus_ascending_to_heaven

I suspect that this reason is why the Reformed charismatics are growing so quickly; Reformed charismatics offer the gospel to many who are the Almost Christian.  There surely are many believing charismatics who aren’t Reformed charismatics, but I’ve only met a few that have stayed in the non-reformed churches for any serious length of time.  Most of the people I knew back in my charismatic days have either abandoned the faith or gone to reformed charismatic/cessationist churches.  Few have remained in churches void of the gospel for more than a decade.

3.  As for the evangelicals of clout who disagree, I basically say “so what”?  I don’t really care about Mark Galli’s sympathy; I don’t go to Christianity Today for opinions on anything. Regarding Timothy George (who quotes none other than yours truly in his article – and I’m flattered that the folks at Beeson read my blog instead of watching Scooby Doo), here’s a micoscopic summary of his points:

– There’s godly men on both sides.

– “Some folks are “not prepared to declare spiritual gifts obsolete tout court.”

– A few crazies don’t ruin the whole movement.

– John MacArthur has declared that only non-charismatics are true Christians.

– George O. Wood and J.I. Packer disagree with John MacArthur.

– In 1978 John MacArthur recognized the good in the charismatic movement and was way nicer.

Here’s my responses:

– The “godly men disagree” line isn’t an argument; it’s a cop out for not having a position.

– John MacArthur isn’t tossing out spiritual gifts in general.

– The crazies are the mainstream.

– John MacArthur has never suggested that every charismatic is an unbeliever.

– Disagreement doesn’t dictate truth.

– The charismatic movement has slightly changed since 1978.

 Dr. Schreiner and the “broad brush” complaint are common, but that’s to be expected when addressing a global movement of half a billion. As for Ron Phillips, anyone who does conferences with prosperity preachers and Benny Hinn hucksters has about as much theological credibility as your average North Korean journalist. Finally, Facebook and a confused blogger?  I’d respond to that, but really? 4.  The argument is, and will be, settled on an exegetical level. Now I’ve said more than enough, so that’s a wrap. wrap

Lyndon Unger

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Lyndon is a pastor/teacher who’s currently between ministry work and in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren Witness Protection program. If you think you saw him somewhere...you didn’t.
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  • Don Smith

    Dr. MacArthur has been completely gracious even while defending the truth. God bless him.

  • Link Hudson

    One could take the same approach and look at cessationist movements, like the Bible church movement for example. When it comes to spiritual gifts their theology is seriously flawed. The Bible teaches that gifts like tongues, prophecy, and healing are given ‘as the Spirit wills.’ Yet there are millions of Christians who reject this based on their experiences, really bad eisegesis of I Corinthians 12, extrabiblical church doctrinal statements about ‘sufficiency of scripture’ that contradict scripture, and human reasoning.

    I don’t believe in the ‘initial evidence doctrine’ about tongues, but comparing that belief to John MacArthur’s on spiritual gifts, John MacArthur seems a lot further from the truth. What could bring a man to call the very manifestations of gifts of the Spirit IN THE BIBLE of being ‘pagan.’ If you are unfamiliar with what I’m writing about, he’s indulged in a bit of sophistry, whether he realizes it or not, trying to tie in the idea of tongues being a ‘mystery’ to the mystery religions in I Corinthians 14. But his spin on the verses would lead an interpreter of scripture to the conclusion that Paul wanted Corinthians to speak in pagan tongues and interpret them.

    The cessationists want their followers to believe in a form of Christianity not revealed in scripture, a philosophy that limits God in ways He has not stated that He is limited in scripture.

    Isn’t this error just as dangerous?

    I also notice the harshness with which a cessationist discounts Pentecostals who have fallen into some error or sin. I suspect you wouldn’t be as harsh with a Baptist or conservative Presbyterian pastor who fell into sexual sin or was found guilty of some sort of crime related to taxes. On what basis do you say McPherson was a total fraud? She may have had some failings in her life related to marriage, but that doesn’t make her an utter fraud. That doesn’t mean God couldn’t use her in the gift of healing. People with spiritual gifts can sin, too. Would a cessationist who had affirmed a church board member’s gift of administration claim he had no gift of administration if he fell into adultery or some other error?

    And on what basis do you say that people at ‘prosperity churches’ can’t be saved? Some of these churches tend to be kind of Baptist in their thinking about salvation when compared to traditional Pentecostals.
    You admit to a lack of knowledge of certain aspects of the Charismatic movement. Your line of reasoning that Calvary Chapel birthed the Vineyard which birthed Toronto, and something must be wrong with it… that’s just a lousy line of reasoning. Alester Crowley was raised Plymouth brethren. Does that make the Plymouth Brethren bad? You probably just know little snippets about the Vineyard,too, that you consider incriminating. Most of the criticism of the Vineyard I’ve read is based on the unbiblical assumption that spiritual gifts have ceased. You may be able to find an individual who was into some sin who preached in the Vineyard. If I can find a Baptist preacher who sinned, have I proved that all Baptists are evil? What if I can show that your movement sprung from a church where someone sinned, does that discredit your movement?

    I also wonder what your definition of the Gospel is. Are you one of those radical Reformed types who thinks if someone doesn’t believe in TULIP, he isn’t saved?

    • Lyndon Unger

      Link, it seems you’re trying to address far too many issues simultaneously.

      Pick one thing. Pick your main problem. Give me a single question that I can actually address. I’d like to interact with you, but when we have 20 questions and 20 answers, everything becomes total chaos.

      • Link Hudson

        I think I addressed fewer issues than the article. The main points of my post are.

        1. Cessationism directly contradicts scripture, so why are ideas from Charismatics that you consider to be false so damnable while cessationism gets a free pass?
        2. Why are you so quick to reject someone from a Pentecostal/Charismatic background as a fraud or unbeliever. If you had a Biblical view of spiritual gifts, you would probably be less likely to do so.

        • Lyndon Unger

          You’re right. You did address fewer issues than the article. Interaction isn’t effective when you write an article in response to my article.

          Here’s my initial responses:

          1. Cessationism doesn’t directly contradict scripture in any way that stands up to a modicum of rational scrutiny and hence cessationism doesn’t get a free pass.

          2. I’m not quick to reject anyone because they’re Pentecostal. I have Pentecostal friends who are delightful brothers/sisters in the Lord. I’m quick to reject the profession of faith by people who openly don’t profess a gospel that saves (notice how I specifically named the Catholics, Oneness Pentecostals, and prosperity gospel folk?).

          Thanks so much for the focused questions. See how clear and easy that makes things?

          I imagine that you’re wanting to come back with a volley, so try to give me specific questions and I’ll try to give them specific and clear answers in a timely fashion.

          • Link Hudson

            About cessationism contradicting scripture, suppose someone taught that salvation by faith was for the first century, and that salvation by faith ceased. Then they ask for a specific verse that says that salvation by faith would continue past the 100 AD, 300 AD or the 1600s. You’d still say their doctrine contradicted scripture. For a real life example, I’ve encountered hyper-dispensationalists who believe that water baptism was for the first century.
            Specific questions: How do you define prosperity Gospel? Are you as broad as Phil Johnson seemed to be (describing JM’s view on it) calling everyone who answered a question on a survey that God grants prosperity to all who ask in faith, a prosperity Gospel adherent?

            Why do you think people who believe in the ‘prosperity Gospel’ can’t be saved?

          • 4Commencefiring4

            I’ll take a stab at it.

            You’re right–there’s no specific verse that says the doctrine of salvation by faith was to have a perpetual shelf life. But Scripture also never gave us anything else to go on, and the history of the church has never stumbled upon some other prescription we were supposed to follow at a later time. The whole of the N.T., in fact, expanded and depended on that theme (salvation by faith), unlike any discussions of sign gifts being the norm for believers of the future.

            When it comes to miracles and sign gifts, I think it’s a given that they began to evaporate in a somewhat short period of time after the Apostles. The 2,000 year record of the church with regard to miracles is nothing like what happened during the days of Jesus, Peter, etc. Paul even wrote, “the signs of a true Apostle were worked among you…”, implying that they were not something widely distributed to any and all believers throughout history.

            And while “tongues [and other sign gifts] shall cease”, it doesn’t say when, granted. That’s a debate in itself. But at least we know there was some cutoff scheduled.

            As to the “prosperity Gospel”, sure–anyone CAN be saved. The issue is, what do you see as the essence of God’s promise to believers? Riches? Or salvation? What is the sign of true saving faith? A Rolls Royce? Or a changed life? As I heard someone else put it once, if material prosperity was the sign of God’s favor, then God’s most favored people would be drug lords and rock stars.

    • 4Commencefiring4

      Spiritual gifts can be exercised at will by the one possessing them, can’t they? If I have the gift of teaching, I don’t have to wait for God to move me to teach before I can engage in teaching. If I have the gift of administration, all I need is a place and context where such a gift would be helpful, and I’m off and running. There would be no reason to think that when someone needed a person with administrative gifts, that such a one would not be able to perform that function well, and right now.

      So if the sign gifts are a present reality, as you seem to claim, then the one who claims to have the gift of healing should be able to exercise that gift when he encounters someone with a malady of some sort. And if that’s so, the national health care debate is over, America, because all we need to do is assemble a few thousand people with the gift of healing and set them free to heal us. We’ll even agree to pay them a modest fee per patient…perhaps even toss in a low copay and no deductibles. Preexisting conditions would be moot, employer-based insurance can now safely disappear…in fact, all health insurance can disappear. Win-win.

      I think you could really be onto something here. But just to be sure we’re not chasing a shadow, let’s first try this with just a few healers. Bring them before the press, introduce them to several people suffering from a variety of demonstrable problems–I’d personally start with burn victims so we could see the results immediately–and, if that goes well, widen the project to others on a “needs” basis. The number of parents with terminally ill children would elbow each other out of the way to get to these healers just as they must have done during the days of Jesus.

      And if all goes well, prophecy claimants can have the next round. We’ll send them to Vegas and watch them defeat the house without even counting cards.

      This is the kind of Hope & Change so many were originally looking for, but never got.

      • Link Hudson

        4Commencingfire,

        Do you really believe that all spiritual gifts mentioned in scripture could be performed instantly at will, at man’s will? Let’s think about the implications of that.

        Let’s suppose someone came up to an Old or New Testament prophet and said, “Please prophesy long life and wealth for me and my family.” If prophecy happened at the will of the prophet, he could do so, and it would come to pass. How convenient it would be for the prophet to put words in the mouth of God, and God be required to fulfill them. But that is clearly not how it worked. The Bible teaches that those who heard Christ did signs, wonders, and gifts of the Holy Spirit according to God’s will. I Corinthians 12 tells us that 9 spiritual manifestations are given as the Spirit wills.
        The prophet gets his message from God. We see in the case of Elisha, he was asked to prophesy. He couldn’t prophesy from the Spirit of God at that moment. He called for a minstrel. The minstrel played, and then he prophesied, not a message he made up, but one from the Spirit of God.

        When it comes to healing, Jesus healed multitudes who came to Him for healing. He responded to their faith or requests for healing with great compassion. But we don’t see Him taking the initiative to go heal every sick person waiting for an angel to stir waters of a pool to be healed. He did heal one person, apparently someone that God had a specific plan for that involved His healing. And Jesus said that He did what He saw the Father doing.

        On one occasion, a couple of apostles wanted to call down fire from heaven on some Samaritans. Jesus corrected them. Do you think the apostles had the power to instantly call down fire from heaven, anyway, if they wanted to? That would be ‘miracles on demand’. The apostles were apparently dependent on God to do miracles. If they could do as many as they liked without any regard for the will of God, why did they pray for God to stretch forth His hand to heal and to do signs and wonders in Acts 4.

        Which is an important point, because we have apostolic example that shows that it is okay to pray that God do signs and wonders and heal for the sake of Jesus. We also see in the example of the apostles, as in the teaching and example of Christ, that miracles are desirable in the preaching of the Gospel. All of this is inconsistent with the typical cessationist mindset. But it is consistent with scripture.

        Before Peter raised Tabitha from the dead, he prayed? If he could do miracles without regard to the will of God or without any particular empowerment at a particular moment, why didn’t he just raise her up right then and there?

        We also see that apostles were limited in doing miracles if their faith was limited. Peter did walk on water, but when he doubted, he ceased to be able to perform that miracle. And other apostles could not cast out a certain demon because of their unbelief.

        Our Lord referred to casting out demons, which some were doing in His name without following with the apostles, a miracle or sign. If one believes casting out demons in Jesus’ name is still possible, one must acknowledge that cessationism is false.

        Btw, your thinking on paying people with the gift of healing to replace health care reminds me of Simon of Samaria’s ideas about buying spiritual gifts. Also, notice Peter did not say he had no part in this ministry because Simon wasn’t an apostle, but because his heart was not right before God.

        • 4Commencefiring4

          Most of your examples are not “spiritual gifts” as the N.T. lists them. In fact, “spiritual gifts”, as understood in the N.T. age, was unknown in the O.T. So let’s not use O.T. examples of events to evaluate a N.T. promise. Calling down fire from heaven, whether by Elijah or one of the Apostles, wasn’t a “spiritual gift.” And people didn’t request that a N.T. prophet declare “long life and wealth” for them. The prophet spoke what he was given by God, not necessarily what the giftee wanted. Paul pronounced blindness on a magician and it happened, but that wasn’t “the gift of prophecy.” God was simple working through His people in special ways–for a time–until the Gospel was well established.

          Peter walked on water; but that had nothing to do with his being assigned a spiritual gift by the sovereign will of God, as in the gift of helps, or the gift of mercy, or the gift of giving. He exercised faith–and then doubted–in the context of a one-time event, not a continual “gift of faith.” Casting out demons isn’t a listed “spiritual gift”, either. (If you’d like to take Mark 16 as your proof text that believers will have those signs forever following them, then I’ll let you explain why numerous similarly-minded preachers are dead today from diamondback rattlesnake bites or why they don’t also volunteer to drink strychnine).

          But let’s forget mass healing, if you prefer. Let’s just have one good example of it to prove that the gift is still in effect today. If anyone claims the same gift that some of the Apostles had, surely someone can demonstrate a clear healing of a visible, verifiable disease or condition. Not a Pentacostal-type healing, where someone with “back pain” or high blood pressure says they’re healed. And let’s not settle for some unverifiable “healing” in a remote African village that “someone” saw. No, let’s bring someone in who has severe burns or a traumatic brain injury. And if it doesn’t work, and we claim God doesn’t always allow His spiritual gifts to be used when they are needed, then the whole Body won’t work very well. When we need someone with the gift of administration, and someone who believes they are so equipped shows up to help, we’ll expect to see them pitch in and get the job organized and done. They can’t say, “Well, God allows me to exercise my gifts only when He wills it.” No, they have a gift given them by God. It’s a tool to be used. If someone has the gift of healing, same deal. Let them show us.

          • Link Hudson

            4Commencefiring4, I’m inclined to see prophesying in the Old Testament as coming from grace, and falling in the ‘charisma’ category, though don’t know of any specific scripture that calls it that. I do see that prophecy is called ‘charisma’ in the NT, and I don’t think it’s a huge leap to see it as charisma in the Old Testament. Abraham apparently had God’s grace, so grace is not confined to New Testament times. I see no reason not to consider things that the New Testament calls ‘gifts’ to also be gifts in the Old Testament.

            Is casting out demons a gift? Jesus refers to it as a ‘sign.’ He doesn’t use ‘dunamis’ as in I Corinthians 12. But it’s still a miracle/sign. And walking on water is an expression of dumanis, so why wouldn’t it be considered a case of the working of miracles?

            It’s funny, though, that you get technical about what is and what is not called a gift when it comes to casting out demons. But you overlook the fact that the Bible doesn’t specifically call Peter or Paul healing crippled men or Peter raising the dead ‘charisma’ either. So why do you believe that a gift is not genuine if it doesn’t meet the standard of what the apostles did? It seems to me your idea of the standard of what the apostle’s did is based a lot on your own assumptions.

            You acknowledge that the content of a genuine prophet’s prophesy was determined by God and not from men. So the gift was not completely ‘at will.’ The prophet was dependent on God for whether there would be a message and what the content of the message would be. So why is it inconceivable that this would be the case for healing or miracles? Why would the apostles pray for God to stretch forth His hand to do signs and wonders if they could do miracles completely at will?

            Even the gift of administration has limits. Let’s suppose you have a church accountant who has a gift of administration. Might he not make a typo? Couldn’t’ he have some limitations to his knowledge? I’ve been in an accounting class where students with CPAs could get scores of 60% on exams. Someone with the gift of teaching has limitations. If you have the gift, unless you are completely exhausted, you may be able to teach on something any time 24/7 if you’ve studied to show yourself approved. , but if you are asked to teach on some obscure topic, you may be unable to do so properly without some preparation.

            There are lots of people who testify to having been healed. I don’t go around researching these things and collecting medical records. If you are serious, you could do a little research of your own, visiting people who put testimonies on CBN, in Charisma magazine, blogs. There are also numerous vloggers on YouTube who put together low cost videos of healing on the streets while doing street evangelism. You could fly out and interview people who claim to be healed. There are also videos of Delia Knox’s video of a brain injury that led to paralysis for a decade or two. She is a gospel singer, and you can find some televised videos of her singing in a wheelchair if you want to. It would be foolish to pretend such things don’t happen if you haven’t done any basic research to see if they do.

            Biblically, I can see why there might be more miracles on mission frontiers where the Gospel is being preached for the first time, so tales from mission frontiers shouldn’t be surprising. Cessationism is popular in the west because so many people have been influenced by philosophies like deism and modernism. Cessationists tend to reject gifts that are difficult for modernists and atheists to wrap their thinking around. Many people in Africa and Asia didn’t grow up watching Scooby Doo, either.

            In spite of that, there are still gifts of the Spirit operating in the United States.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Seems to me that any local congregation of any decent size has a variety of people whose gifts are apparent to others, and other people whose abilities and gifts are somewhat misdirected. For instance, I’m sure you’ve been in classes where the teacher is just not cut out for teaching: he doesn’t hold your attention, he’s scattered, the subjects are remote or are of little interest to anyone, his style is rigid or stiff or uninteresting. And then there are teachers you can hardly wait to hear again because they are so naturally gifted to teach. It just comes easily to them and they are effective. And everyone can see their gift.

            Then there are those like a friend of ours who has been largely bedridden for years with MS, yet she has done more to evangelize total strangers–by phone or over the net–than I’ll ever be able to do with two working legs. Even though we’re all instructed to evangelize, she is a dynamo with it. Everyone who has ever known her comes away seeing the living Christ in her life. The light explodes in her. She truly has the gift of evangelism.

            Then there was the man in our church (he’s with the Lord now) whose whole life was one long line of “coincidences” that boggled the mind. He could rattle off story after story of things that happened to him that were clearly God’s hand: he was an international attorney, and in the course of his work, for instance, he recalled someone he hadn’t seen in 20 or 30 years who would be perfect for a project he had, but he hadn’t kept up with this person and had no idea where they were today. The next day, his phone rings, and guess who is in town and would love to get together? His whole life was this kind of thing. The man just had the gift of faith. He just knew God would come through no matter how hopeless it may have looked to others. It was a high-wire act that defied all explanation.

            We all know people like this, don’t we? Some are constantly helping, or teaching, or serving tirelessly, or have an ability to give and give beyond measure. They are spiritually gifted that way. But I’ve never known anyone who had an equivalent “gift of healing” who was always going about performing miracles. Have you? Do you know anyone who was possessed of the “gift of prophecy” who seemed to have a direct line to God and could say what would occur in a particular circumstance? I haven’t. But I have known many with the gift of teaching or the gift of serving. Those are gifts that can–and are–used on a daily basis in any congregation. Not so with the so-called “sign gifts.”

          • Link Hudson

            4Commencefiring4,
            One of the things about gifts is that they seem to operate differently in different people. Also, it seems like gifts can come in ‘spurts’. Moses did several gifts all clumped together there in Egypt and right when Israel came out. Mana continued on, but we don’t know that Moses did a new miracle every day. If he did it isn’t recorded.

            As far as prophecy goes, it’s not always about the future. Prophecy can also be about the secrets of men’s hearts like we read in I Corinthians 14, or whatever the Lord wants to say to comfort, exhort and encourage.

            I haven’t been around someone who prophesies the future every single day and it happens. But I have been around people who get a lot of obviously supernatural prophecy and words of knowledge about things they couldn’t know naturally. My wife prophecies at times, and like I said, it can come in spurts. I’ve also had this thing that I’d put in the ‘word of knowledge’ category where I’ll be praying with someone and pray details about their life that I didn’t even know about, but it makes perfect sense to them.

            I dropped by to visit a church I used to go there. An older man had started going there who comes in with disciples, young people he led to Christ. One of them was telling me how he’d often get specific prophetic words when he’d led him to Christ. I’d been talking with a pastor about helping him plant a church at a certain location, though we hadn’t hammered out how my wife might be helping with that. Then this brother told my wife he’d seen a dream of her singing at a church in the part of town we’d been praying about helping with the church plant, and even told her the intersection. I listened to that. I’ve witnessed a number of specific words of knowledge like that, and I’ve experienced that sort of detail first-hand when praying with people. I suppose one could either attribute anything like that to the Devil and risk doing what the Pharisees did in Matthew 12, or else attribute it to ‘Providence’ when one is clearly talking about gifts of the Spirit. (Providence and spiritual gifts are compatible concepts, not mutually exclusive ones.)

          • 4Commencefiring4

            Well, once again, I cannot assign the term “spiritual gift” to any O.T. person. It wasn’t something given to all believers before the the Comforter, the Spirit, was given to us. So what Moses or Elijah or Saul or anyone did cannot be called a “spiritual gift”, in my view.

            But that aside, all I can say is that your experiences and mine–and that of every believer I’ve ever known since 1970–are worlds apart. I don’t know a single soul who has claimed and demonstrated any ability to speak–or pray–with specific information about something they would have no reason or opportunity to have learned. And if someone told me they had a dream about me or my wife, and told me some specific fact about one of us to which I know he’s not privy, I’m not sure I’d ever turn my back on him, frankly.

            So God–or someone–sure is playing games around here because I have no idea about any of that It is totally foreign to me. But good luck with it anyhow. If your wife ever sees me in a dream where I’m at the blackjack tables in Vegas, let me know how I make out.

          • Link Hudson

            4Commencingfire4, It seems like you rely a lot on your Christian experience, not having experienced people having supernatural knowledge, first hand, since the 1970s. Of course, my experience is different.

            The real question is, what does the Bible teach? The Bible teaches that the Spirit gives gifts like the word of knowledge and prophecy as the Spirit wills. So if you hear of people who actually operate in these gifts, you shouldn’t be too skeptical. If you approached prophesyings with the attitude that they all must be false and anyone who gets one is likely to stab you in the back, you’d probably be violating the command of scripture, ‘despise not prophesyings.’
            I believe you that you haven’t experienced these things. I suspect many cessationists would change their tune if they had. I’d also guess the people they hang around with don’t seek or pray to be used in these gifts, and people in their church who have gifts or desire for these gifts may end up going elsewhere. I’m trying to think how many people I’ve known or encountered who’ve given specific prophecies or received specific words of knowledge that I’ve witnessed. If I really thought about it, I could probably think of a few dozen. I can think of eight specifically off the top of my head. Make that nine.
            Spurgeon seems to have operated in something like the word of knowledge or prophesy, looking at members of his audience and telling them specific details that he could not naturally know (like how much a shopkeeper had made in sales one Sunday he skipped church.) Ironically, Spurgeon was at least theoretically cessationists. There is evidence of prophecy and other spiritual gifts in the early days of the Scottish Reformation as well.

          • 4Commencefiring4

            It’s not that I “rely” on my experiences over the Bible; but what you say the Bible “teaches” has not played out for me and countless other sincere and seasoned believers who read the same Scripture. You’re making claims about how God works that I and so many others haven’t witnessed, so either some of us are being beguiled or some are missing an essential benefit of having a relationship with the God we say we know and Who knows us. I’m sure you can appreciate the gravity of both.

            Well, if you or someone you know has the “word of knowledge” from on High, then ask them what my middle name is, what the make and model of my first car was, or what my initial major was in college. Better yet, ask them if Hillary is going to be the next president, because I might need some time to decide which country to move to in that case.

          • Link Hudson

            I can understand what you are saying about missing out. I was thinking when reading your last post that it’s kind of sad to go through a lifetime without witnessing some of these works of God. If we love God, we should love His ways, the way He does things. The man you talked about with all the evidence of God sovereignly moving in His probably had a sense of joy and excitement to see how God did things. God also works through spiritual gifts, and can also a joyful experience to see God working in this way and to witness His care for a local church or an individual.

            Of course, God blesses us with other gifts like teaching, administration. There is also the joy of seeing our prayers answered and other ways God works in our lives apart from the I Corinthians 12 gifts.
            As far as words of knowledge go, I can’t choose what knowledge to get. Sometimes I’ll get some detail, occasionally. It has happened a lot more when I’m praying a lot with people one on one.

            Biblically, we should expect these gifts to occur. But the Bible also shows us that it is possible to quench the Spirit. Some translations say do not put out the Spirit’s fire. The Bible says, “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings.” Doesn’t it make sense that if a church teaches against God speaking to individuals today, that it could quench the Spirit? Might not there be a dearth of prophecy in churches that reject prophecy, a dearth of miracles in churches that teach that God does not work through the working of miracles today?

            The Bible also teaches gifts are given as the Spirit wills. The Corinthians came behind in no spiritual gift, while Paul wanted to impart some spiritual gift to the Romans. Paul mentioned prophecy to the Romans, but the rest of the gifts he listed were the less spectacular kind. But Paul mentioned all kinds of supernatural gifts to the Corinthians. I take this as evidence that one church could have a lot of gifts that another doesn’t. The church without the gifts may not have them because they haven’t yet been imparted to that church.

            The Corinthians were zealous of spiritual gifts, and the had a lot of them. Maybe they prayed to be used in spiritual gifts and were open to them. Paul didn’t want to squash their enthusiasm, even for speaking in tongues, and was careful to explain some rules for order regarding these gifts, carefully building his case without discouraging them.

            But it is unbiblical for believers who don’t have the gifts to say to the brethren who have them, “I have no need of thee.” We are supposed to desire spiritual gifts.

  • Eric Davis

    Lyndon, thanks for serving us w/ this thorough review.

    • Lyndon Unger

      You’re welcome Eric!

  • Ajones

    Michael L. Brown did a great job in bringing out – AUTHENTIC FIRE!!! In my part of the world (India – Shillong!) the “cessationist” are the most carnal and worldly christians I’ve ever come across. The smoke, drinks, party, tell dirty jokes all through out the week, and goes to worship on sundays as if they are the holiest saints! If not for the Charismatic Church that preaches the gospel, a person like me would not have found Christ as my personal savior. And by now I would have been a dead sinner. Thank God for the Charismatic Church that comes and reach out to a lot more of people like me. If I am to wait for the “cessationist” people to bring Christ into my life, It would have been too late. I would have ended in hell by now. So before we are against the Charismatic people we better think a million times, as they get more people come into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, than the “cessationist” did in my part of the world.

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