For those who are unable to view the free live stream of the Strange Fire Conference here at Grace Community Church, I thought I would do my best to provide a written summary of the various sessions as they unfold (Session One; Session Two; Session Three; Session Four, Session Five, Session Six, Breakout Session 1). I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep this up, or if I’ll be able to other sessions (check out Tim Challies‘ blog for his coverage) But I thought a little would be better than nothing. It provides us with a helpful opportunity to interact with what is actually being said at the conference. Having said that, the following was transcribed in haste, and so please forgive any typos. I pray it’s a benefit to you.
Moderator: Todd Friel
Participants: John MacArthur (JM), Steve Lawson (SL), Tom Pennington (TP), and Justin Peters (JP)
For each of Todd’s questions, he had video clips that he showed the panel and asked them to respond. I don’t have access to those videos, but they were absolutely horrifying. I imagine they’ll be made available on the conference video when it becomes available.
Friel: Do we want fire to come down from heaven?
TP: That was in context for a specific period of Redemptive History, as R. C. Sproul taught us yesterday.
JM: This is mind manipulation. That’s what this is about. Fire came from heaven in Leviticus 10 and consumed the “worshipers.” That was judgment. These people are so unbiblical, so acquainted with Bible words without Bible sentences, without Bible context, and without Bible doctrine, that they throw words around and that become means by which they manipulate people’s minds. The next time fire comes from heaven it’s going to engulf the world in judgment (2 Peter 3). I don’t think anyone in his right mind would be calling down fire from heaven, because after the Day of Pentecost, going forward, that is a metaphor for judgment.
Friel: We hear a lot about different “anointings.” Could you define for us the biblical understanding of anointing? Can we be anointed today? And if so, how?
JP: Scripture teaches that if you are a Christian, you’re anointed. If you’ve been regenerated by God’s Holy Spirit you are anointed. It’s not a feeling, or a buzz, or an experience. It’s a reality. 1 John 2:20. This is not for a select few. It’s not that some Christians have a super-special anointing that the common Christians don’t have. That is a division of Christians into classes: the haves and the have-nots. If you’re in Christ, you are anointed. There’s no division of classes within Christianity. We are one in Christ. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. This is a false understanding used to manipulate people’s emotions and behavior. It’s also used to elevate the false teacher you’re looking at—to elevate him to a status above everyone else. He has a different source of authority, a unique access to God. That is their way of insulating themselves against biblical criticism. “If you can’t find this in the Bible, don’t worry about it because I have the anointing.”
JM: The anointing is essentially the promise of illumination of the Holy Spirit to understand the Word. And we all have that. We have not only the Word, but also the Teacher and the Author of the Word. We have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). Why? Because the Spirit teaches us the deep things of God. That’s the anointing. But they throw that word around in kind of an Old Testament sense—like a prophet, priest, or king was anointed in some official ceremony—as if they’ve been pulled up above the hoi polloi. And so they are beyond criticism. I think the other thing to say is: that is pagan. That activity has nothing to do with Christianity. It is a blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, a dishonor to the Word of God, a mockery of Christ. I don’t know how God can exercise as much patience as He does. If you ever question the patience and the forbearance of God, look at how much that stuff goes on. Why is He so patient? He has people in that movement who have yet to be redeemed.
Friel: Let me play devil’s advocate. “Your problem, Pastor MacArthur, is you like organs and cellos. This is our way of expressing ourselves in worship. What’s the problem with our way of worshiping?
JM: It’s mindless emotional hysteria. It’s not about worship. Worship only goes high when understanding goes deep. The deeper your understanding of the truth of God, the higher your worship goes. Worship is directly correlated to understanding. The richer your theology, the more elevated your worship becomes. You don’t have to turn the music on for me to worship. In fact, I sometimes wish the music would all go away, and that I didn’t have to deal with sensations along with my thoughts. Low understanding of God, superficial, shallow understanding of God, leads to shallow, content-less, superficial hysteria. That’s not worship. Why have you been singing hymns this week? Because there is rich theology in hymns. We don’t have to go hysterical. We want your mind fully engaged.
Friel: The next word I’d like to talk about is “glory.” [Video] Gentlemen, respond to that please.
TP: That is mind-numbing and blasphemous. I was thinking of Moses. He wanted to see the glory of God and have the glory of God declared to him. The Hebrew word for “glory’ is kavod, which means heavy and weighty. Glory is what makes God weighty. There’s nothing weighty about any of this. It’s a blasphemy of Him. And what does God do with Moses? He hides Moses in the rock so he couldn’t even see everything of God. But when God finally does reveal His glory to Moses, He declares His name. His glory is propositional.
JM: If that [in the video] was the glory of God, everybody in the building would be dead. Even Moses couldn’t look on the glory of God. The only way that the glory of God could be revealed without people dying is when it was revealed in human flesh in Jesus Christ. When Jesus was transfigured, God protected the disciples and they only went into a coma and not death. That kind of folly— it doesn’t get more serious than that, when you start tampering with the glory of God. And the guy before that [Crowder], if he hasn’t figured out how to do that and make that up, that’s demonic. He’s either adept at pulling that off, or he’s under some power and it’s not the Holy Spirit.
SL: If you turned in the dictionary to see the word “moron,” you’d see these pictures. These are absolute morons, and the word moros, in the Greek, means foolishness. The word “glory” is used in two different ways: the intrinsic glory of God and the ascribed glory. The intrinsic glory of God is the sum and substance of all the divine perfections—all of the attributes, the fullness of His eternal being. And there’s nothing we can do to add to it or take away from it. Ascribed glory is the glory we “give” to God, which is to render to Him the praise and the worship that belongs to Him alone. And the more we understand of His intrinsic glory, the more we will ascribe to Him glory. And so a low view of God leads to low worship. And a high view of God leads to high worship and high and holy living. So what we see here are people who have no knowledge of God, or who have so little knowledge of God that they don’t know enough to get out of that kind of worship. That first guy does have a strange spirit about him.
Friel: Equip me to respond to that in a pithy way.
SL: We most probably need to share the Gospel with them and bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I don’t see how a born again, converted person would stay in that environment for two seconds, especially given the anointing that we just talked about. I’d be scared to even be in the building with that going on. I’d feel like somehow I’m going to be trafficking in dark, devilish spirits.
Friel: So why is this bad? David danced before the Lord.
SL: It’s mindless. It’s a-theological. There’s no Christ. John spoke about that this morning from 1 John 4. That’s just responding to crowd-control—mind-numbing music. I think you have to be emotionally unstable to even want to be in that.
JM: The thing with David. David, in response to the truth about God expressed himself physically. That’s all that’s saying. That kind of dancing is not sensual dancing or stupid, out-of-control behavior. It’s just that with every means he had humanly available, he expressed his joy and gratitude to God. That’s very different than [what we saw in the videos]. And this is why I believe that we are not dividing the body of Christ in this conference. We are trying to identify the body of Christ and show that these people [in the video] aren’t part of it. People have been hitting the Twitter thing all day. One of the criticisms that’s coming is: this is divisive, these are our brothers and sisters. But they’re not. Should we be happy about that? No, we should be heartbroken. If we want to talk about “fire,” we need to talk about snatching brands from the burning (Jude 23).
Friel: People might say, though, that their friends would tell you that they’re Christians. And they’re nice people.
JM: So are the Mormons. They’re nice, and polite, and well-dressed.
JP: This is very serious, and the people who are in this movement aren’t saved. One of the things that so confuses and so blurs the line is that they use some of the same terminology but use different definitions. One of the things that makes it so hard to warn people about false teachers is when the good guys start associating with the bad guys. People always ask, “What about so-and-so? I saw him with Paul Crouch or Marcus Lamb?” It makes it very hard for us to warn people about the wolves when the leaders of the sheep are associating with the wolves. Paul Crouch loves to have the good guys on his set, because the good guys give him a level of credibility that he doesn’t have on his own. These guys are the tips of the spears that are exporting this theological poison to the rest of the world. When people see people like Robert Jeffress get on TBN and Fox News with Bill O’Reilly and give endorsements to Catholicism, calling Catholics our brothers in Christ, that is an offense to the Gospel. These guys should know better. It’s a shame that the “good guys” are breaking metaphorical bread with the “bad guys.”
Friel: I’d like to discuss the word “dominion.” They believe that there are seven mountains in culture: politics, society, family, the arts, etc. And the New Apostolic Reformation raises up kids to conquer each of the seven mountains, and as soon as we do, Jesus will return. How do we understand “dominion” biblically? What are the eschatological implications of this? Where are they going wrong?
SL: That’s postmillennialism. That is contrary to what we read in the word of God. We see that it will be desperate times at that period before Christ returns. Not better and better, but worse and worse. They really have it totally backwards. We cannot usher in the kingdom until the King comes back, the Lord Himself. If you read the New Testament and try to see that we are to restore dominion in arts and media and all of that, that was laughable in the first century. Like, ok, they’re going to restore these different dominion hills in the Roman Empire. They’re just trying to survive with their lives! It’s a false eschatology.
JM: I don’t think it starts with a false eschatology. I think it starts with an egotistical madness, that you actually think you have the kind of power that could pull that off. And if you tell people that long enough, it gets a life of his own. We know how young people are interested in social justice, and how much of Charismaticism has turned away from the Gospel. If you go to New Orleans where there’s been a hurricane and tell people affected by it why they need to turn to Christ, they’ll run away from you. But show up with food and clothes and they’ll love you. That’s easy. What’s hard is Gospel ministry. I think they’ve captured some of this desire to change the world, and with a kind of crazy megalomania and a vast overestimation of the power that they have, they define their eschatology. I don’t think it comes from studying the Bible and coming up with a postmillennialism. I think it comes from an egotism gone mad. And it may be, literally, the kingdom of darkness behind it all.
TP: The passage that immediately jumps to mind is Daniel. We hear about the kingdoms that are going to exist, human kingdoms described as vicious animals. And that’s what the world is going to be [i.e., it’s going to be bad]. And then we approach the Ancient of Days, and to Him is given dominion.
Friel: Why are young people drawn to that?
JM: I don’t think it has to do with what the teachers are saying. I think it’s the music. It’s like getting drunk so you don’t have to think about the issues of life. If you shut down the music, turn on the lights, and have someone get up there and try to sell that with just words, it’s not going to work. You’ve got to have some way to manipulate their minds.
JP: And all the healing crusades I’ve ever been to have always got the music going. Extended repetitive music that lulls people into the first stage of hypnosis. Disengage your mind and thought. You now become susceptible. And there are a lot of psychosomatic healings, all the time. But you don’t see medically documented healings. People are very susceptible to emotionally-driven music that goes on for 17 minutes. It wouldn’t work without the music.
JM: You won’t find that music in a Reformed church. Why? That’s not who they are. They’re going back to all the great Reformed teachers. Their world is sound theology, Bible exposition, obedience, discipline, order. This is a completely different stream. This is the world invading the so-called church and carrying it away with things that have nothing to do with the kingdom or the history of the church or sound doctrine.
TP: The New Testament shows two groups of people. Those who aren’t saved are driven by their feelings and emotions and their body’s appetites. And those in Christ are driven by their minds, by their understanding of the truth. There’s nothing about the mind in any of that [in the video].
JM: The attraction is the same thing as in a bar. It’s a sensual experience that disconnects you from the realities of life.
Friel: This is Jesus Culture asking to be filled up. [Shows video] This is wildly popular. I’m a parent. Some of what they say is good. My child loves it, should I be concerned?
JM: Obviously you’re concerned. A broken clock is right twice a day. If you never say anything that is acceptable, you’re not going to be accepted [i.e., so we should accept that they get some things right]. But that [what we saw] has nothing to do with Christianity or with God. I’d be afraid to put my mind in neutral and start yelling, “Fill me up.” I think you’re inviting a spirit, for sure, but it isn’t the Spirit of God. This is paganism. This is the Kundalini cult. This is paganism. This is what Hindus do. The mindlessness of this. And if you accept any of it, if you say, “Well, there’s some good in it,” you literally have left your young people open to demonic powers. I would run from this so fast.
Friel: They’ve got 50 songs, a couple of them have nothing bad in them. People will say, “Well these are OK. It doesn’t hurt anything.” Does it hurt?
JP: The music is just an avenue to get them into their teaching. The music is popular and they’re wanting to draw people in. Mormons do the same thing. Mormons don’t approach you with a full-bore list of their heresies. They look normal. They look Christian. And they suck people in. Same with this. It’s to draw people in to their belief system. It’s sad that, today, theology and doctrine have almost become bad words. That is a mark, supposedly, of spirituality. But it’s totally opposite.
JM: I would go so far as to say that evangelical noncharismatic churches are using music that is unacceptable to draw people in. They’re using the music of the world to suck people in as if somehow people would get saved through the music. The two have no connection. This is so close to what’s in a normal evangelical environment that it’s a very small step to getting sucked in, because the style is the same. That’s not heavy metal or extreme rock-n-roll, it’s melodic. But the theology inherent in it is unbiblical.
SL: The theology of that little chorus is wrong. We’re not filled up with the Holy Spirit as if we get more of the Holy Spirit. The issue is the Holy Spirit gets more of us. In Ephesians 5:18 we are to be filled by the Holy Spirit, not with more of the Holy Spirit. It’s a wrong pneumatology—of understanding how the Holy Spirit works in sanctification—as if that is what you need to do to be filled with the Holy Spirit. No, you need to die to self, resist temptation, mortify the flesh, let the Word richly dwell within you, buffet your body and make it your slave, confess sin, turn away from the world, love Christ. Those are the things that accompany being filled by the Spirit.
Friel: Let me take you to Bethel Church in Redding, CA. This is a “fire tunnel.” [Video of teenagers rolling on the ground laughing incoherently.] Pastorally, how grievous is this?
TP: It’s shocking. We live for the glory of God and to teach the Word of God, and to see Him denigrated in such a way, my mind goes immediately to the first two Commandments. We don’t get to decide how we think God ought to be worshiped; we are shaped by what the Scriptures themselves teach. Why do we do what we do in corporate worship? We don’t come to decide we’re going to do this because we like it. We do it because it’s prescribed in the New Testament. You don’t find that prescribed in the New Testament. We sing the Word, pray the Word, preach the Word. There’s nothing that’s Word-focused there. It’s idolatrous.
Friel: One of the most oft-repeated criticisms is, “Nowhere in the Bible does it say the Spirit can’t do that. I know you might think it’s strange, but nowhere does it say the Holy Spirit can’t cause that. Therefore who are you to put the Holy Spirit in a box?”
TP: My response is: God put the worship of Himself in a box in the Second Commandment and we need to respect it. He set the standard.
JM: You either have a direct mandate for how to worship in the Bible, or you have a model. Elements of worship are commanded: “Read the Scripture till I come.” You also have examples of what went on in worship. You have regulations in 1 Corinthians. [Speaking of Eutychus, in jest:] Teach the Word of God till people are so tired they fall out of the window and die, raise him from the dead, and keep teaching. You can’t find barking, falling over, and flopping. The only people who were ever slain were unbelievers who were knocked over by the power of God. So the burden of proof isn’t on us. That’s the cheesiest argument there is. But it’s consistent with their entire view of revelation, because they will not prescribe themselves to the fact that the end of the New Testament was the end of revelation. So if God is still speaking to me, then of course, who’s to say we can’t bark and squirm around and dive and jump, because, yeah, revelation is going on and coming through me.
Friel: “Well Dr. MacArthur, the Bible never says there should be organs and hymns with four-part harmony.”
JM: Well, the Bible says we’re to use instruments in worship, especially in the Old Testament. And I don’t think the New Testament cancels that out. The organ is just another instrument, a wind instrument, along with wind instruments, pipes, and horns as we see in the Bible. And the reason the church found its way to organs and instruments were because they were following the biblical pattern. Psalm 150, you take every possible means there was. I even think guitars and modern electronic instruments can be used to praise the Lord. But they’re only accompaniment. The primary praise God wants in their ears is not instrumental but lyrical.
Friel: This is IHOP, Mike Bickle in Kansas. A young lady visited their ministry for equipping and training. And then a video with Kundalini cult practices.
JM: My heart goes out to that young girl, because if Satan would want to cloak himself in a convincing way he’d put himself in a pretty young lady like that. Of course, their history isn’t admirable: Bob Jones, Paul Cain. But that’s the way Satan would want to dress himself. It’s my sense that if Jesus were around, He would do with those two women what He did in the synagogue with the demon-possessed person. I don’t know that, but that would be my suspicion. That someone who says, “This never happened to me before,” that’s a very frightening thing. It’s so sad to think of a place that says it represents Christ would induce people into the kingdom of darkness. Now, I don’t think that that can happen to a true Christian. So we’re backing up into this reality that this thing is full of people who are not saved. I remember speaking to a woman early on in my ministry. She was speaking in different voices, as from a demon, and was flipping tables over, etc. At one point I asked the demon, “Who are you?” And it said, “Jesus.” So if Satan can make people think this is Jesus, that’s the ultimate deception.
Friel: We need to understand that this is not a fringe activity. Millions of people in the US, millions of more around the globe. These leaders and false teachers and wolves are to be rebuked and called out. The people following are slaves to sin and Satan and are lost like we were. We see this and are grieved. And as we focus tomorrow on how to respond to this, might I suggest it begins with making sure we’re evangelizing as many people as we can with the Gospel? Because these people are just lost. With that thought in mind, Dr. Lawson would you pray?
Steve Lawson closed in prayer.