October 16, 2013

Strange Fire – Session One – John MacArthur

by Mike Riccardi

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. I’m not sure how long I’ll be able to keep this up, or if I’ll be able to other sessions (I’m not Tim Challies, after all! :)) 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.

Strange Fire


The biggest problem facing the church is lack of discernment. If you can’t discern the truth you can die of a thousand heresies. It’s just like spiritual AIDS. A deficient immune system leaves you susceptible to dying at the hands of a thousand illnesses.

Along with the responsibility to teach, preach, and instruct, part of the responsibility of ministry is to reprove, rebuke and exhort (2 Tim 4:2; cf. Titus 1:9). And in that vein, it needs to be said that a massive part of Christianity lacks discernment. The effort with this conference is to help you to be discerning.

We know there are people who are in the Charismatic movement who are deceivers and they know it. They are false teachers and they know it. They’re in it for the money and they know it. But we also know there are people who are caught up in this that are deceived and do not know it. They’re brands that need to be snatched from the burning (Jude 1:23). Our aim is to expose the deceivers and to help the deceived.

We want to be Bereans, measuring everything against the Word of God. That’s what this conference will hope to do.

There are a half a billion of professed Charismatics. For some frame of reference, there are a billion Roman Catholics, and 14 million Mormons. So you see that this is a massive issue. And yet, nobody would fault pastors for confronting Mormonism for their false view of God, Christ, and Salvation. Why then has the church been so reluctant to confront this movement that has captivated so many people?

Our aim is to faithfully, lovingly, compassionately, but straightforwardly help you see what the issues are and to be discerning. Then you can be a force of people who can help other people.

Leviticus 10

The highest duty and privilege, the most essential behavior, and the supreme responsibility for humanity is to worship God. The Father seeks true worshipers (John 4). Believers are those true worshipers. This is then our eternal duty and privilege and priority. In fact, any glimpse into heaven in the book of Revelation will reveal that all who are there, both saints and angels, are glorifying God, and give Him honor.

The most serious activity anyone will ever do is worship. Even on earth. When you say you’re worshiping God you take on a deadly serious responsibility. Yet in our culture worship has become frivolous, superficial, shallow, trivialized.

We are called to worship in spirit—with our emotion and human faculties—but we are also to worship in truth, according to revealed Scripture. With all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. In love. Our whole being.

God established worship in Israel in the book of Leviticus. The early leaders of worship were priests. It officially started with Aaron. He will be the head of the priestly family. They are the worship leaders for God’s people. In Leviticus 9, Aaron offers a sacrifice for the people to God according to God’s prescription. Aaron was told God would respond positively when such sacrifice was offered (Lev 9:6ff).

[John reads Leviticus 10:1–12]

Aaron was obedient and God consumed the sacrifice. His two sons were disobedient and God consumed them. We need to come before God as He commands.

We don’t know what the strange fire was exactly. It was simply fire from another source. That might seem like a minor matter, and our flippant generation might think that it’s an overreaction. But it wasn’t a minor detail to God. There may be more than we know. The reference to wine or strong drink may have indicated that they were drunk.

But the same fire that ignited the sacrifice in 9:24 torched them.

This is sobering, chilling, reminiscent of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. That also might seem to a casual, carnal culture to be an overreaction. But the most serious crimes against God occur in corrupt worship.

Exodus 32: Golden Calf

The golden calf was a false representation of the true God. They were worshiping the true God in a false form, transforming the glory of God into a blasphemous representation / image. There was a massive slaughter as a result. Brother rose up against brother with a sword and hacked his own family members to death.

Repeat: the most serious crimes against God are committed in corrupt worship.

This is where we need to say that the Charismatic movement dishonors God: the Father, the Son, and especially the Holy Spirit, with its irreverent actions, false claims, false promises, and fleshly behaviors. All of these things are attributed to the Holy Spirit. But it is a dishonor to identify these things with His name. This amounts to strange fire and deserves judgment.

Jesus said you’ve attributed the works that I’ve done to Satan. It’s fair to say that the reverse is happening in many places in the Charismatic movement. They are attributing to the Holy Spirit the works of Satan.

God is not to be trifled with. It is dangerous to offer strange fire, corrupt worship. It’s dangerous to declare things as works of the Holy Spirit that He would have nothing to do with. There is a radical seriousness in dishonoring the Holy Spirit that apparently escapes these people.

Watching the behavior of some Hindus who belong to the Kundalini cult. Their body movements are almost identical to that of people in the charismatic movement, the extreme behavior of pagans. This is the work of Satan, it is the work of darkness, and not to be attributed to the Holy Spirit.

While in some cases it’s so ridiculous you might laugh at it, it’s tragic. Those who claim to experience the power of the Holy Spirit are following patterns of those who blaspheme His name. Attributing things to the Holy Spirit that He didn’t do, say, authorize, is a very serious crime. In some ways the Charismatics have worshiped the calf

Am I discrediting everyone in the movement?

No. I think there are people to desire to worship God in a true way. They’re caught up in this as well, though, because intention is not enough.

But the movement itself offers nothing to enrich true worship. The Charismatic movement as such has made no contribution to biblical clarity, interpretation, or sound doctrine. We’ve had an accurate biblical interpretation and sound doctrine long before the Charismatic movement happened, going all the way back to the Apostles, a clear stream of truth. The Charismatics haven’t added to that, but have brought chaos, confusion, misinterpretation.

Do some in the movement believe the truth? Yes. Do some hold to sound theology on some issues? Yes. But none of those true understandings have come to them through that movement. The true understandings have always been there in the long line of preachers and teachers that God has used to keep the church and truth on track. The movement adds nothing to that. It detracts and confuses. It’s not a source for any advancement of our understanding of Scripture or sound doctrine.

In Spite of, Not Because of

Have people truly been saved in Charismatic churches? Yes. But nothing coming from that movement has been the reason they were saved. [That is, not that there is nothing good from Charismatics, but the good is in spite of the movement, and not because of.] The Gospel was the reason they were saved, and it wasn’t invented by that movement. In some places it’s still intact. In some it’s not.

Nothing coming from the Charismatic movement has provided recovery or strengthening of the biblical Gospel. Nothing has preserved truth and sound doctrine. It has only produced distortion, confusion, and error.  Yes, there are people in the movement who know and love the truth, have an orthodox Gospel, but are heterodox on the Holy Spirit. Not all of them are heretics. But I say again the contribution of truth from to the people in the movement doesn’t come from the movement, but in spite of it.

On the other hand, the movement is loaded with non-Christians, who don’t know God, who are involved for carnal reasons/desires and emotional experiences. I’m grateful for those who do know the truth, but the vast majority are in the dark. This is the greatest delusion of all. Matthew 7:21-23 – I never knew you. This is a prophecy, certainly in one sense, of this movement.

I glorify God for His grace to sinners who are in those churches and under that influence, that God has allowed the truth to survive in some of those environments. I glorify God for that. It’s possible in spite of the movement to become a believer, but not because of it. In the world over, my great fear is that people are lost in the movement, chasing carnal desires and false promises, with little interest in the true Gospel, true repentance, the true Christ, and true salvation.

Why is the movement so successful, then?

No movement based on an orthodox Gospel has done more damage to the church. I fear that its success comes not from its connection to the truth, but from its connection to the kingdom of darkness. It is “successful” because it’s promising what unregenerate sinners already want.

Evangelicalism has thrown its arms open and has welcomed the Trojan horse of the charismatic movement into the city of God. Its troops have taken over and placed an idol in the city of God. Not the truth. Is there anything more serious than this? There can’t be.

The Contrast of Reformed Theology

By contrast, Reformed theology, sound doctrine, is not a haven for false teachers. It’s not where false teachers reside. Reformed theology, sound doctrine, faithful biblical exposition among the long line of godly men, is not a place for false teachers, where frauds, deceivers, liars, and misrepresenters of the truth go. You’re not going to go to a Reformed church and find false miracles, false visions, false prophecies, false anointing, bizarre mindless pandemonium breaking out, shaking, rolling over, and falling down, saying false things about the Holy Spirit. That’s not going to happen in that environment, because they’re anchored to the truth. Once experience and emotion [and not truth] become the definition of what is true, then all hell breaks loose.

In 1657, John Owen wrote on communion with God. The title was: Of Communion with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Each Person Distinctly in Love, Grace, and Consolation; or The Saints’ Fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Unfolded. This book is a treasure because it discusses Trinitarian communion, and how we receive from and respond to each person in the trinity. Our covenant relationship is initiated by the Father, ratified by the Son, and communicated by the Holy Spirit. The Father expresses divine sovereign love. The Son shows divine sovereign grace. The Spirit dispenses divine sovereign life. We should be engaged in full worship of the Holy Spirit.

What is the work of the Holy Spirit? He convicts, regenerates, illuminates, justifies, sanctifies, adopts, baptizes, indwells, guides, empowers, delivers, produces fruit, secures us. What Scripture doesn’t say is that the Holy Spirit knocks us down, makes us laugh in a silly way, amps up our body heat, gives us hiccups and convulsions, causes us to fall down, to speak gibberish, and to speak with primal sounds. That’s absolutely ridiculous.

Owen quote on true work of Holy Spirit: “Here is the wisdom of faith,—to find out, and meet with the Comforter in all these things; not to lose their sweetness, by lying in the dark [as] to their author, nor coming short of the returns which are required of us.”

We can’t let the true work of the Holy Spirit lie dormant in the dark.

Packer on Owen: “We should dwell on the special mercy and ministry of each Person towards us, and make our proper response of love and submission distinctly to each. Thus we are to maintain a full-orbed communion with God.”

It displeases God to make a mockery out of the Holy Spirit. Romans 12 talks about acceptable worship. This is a priority. The ultimate priority.

Thomas Goodwin: “Our worship is sometimes with the Father and then with the Son, and then with the Spirit. Sometimes the believer’s heart is drawn out to consider the Father’s love in choosing, and then the love of the Son in redeeming. And sometimes His heart is drawn to the love of the Holy Spirit that searches the deep things of God and reveals them to us.” … “We should never be satisfied with our worship until all three persons lie level in us and we sit in the middle of them while they all manifest their love to us.

I love that phrase: that all Three Persons should lie level in us, such that we give them equal honor.

Insulting the Spirit of Grace

I want to draw your attention to a warning given in Hebrews 10:29. We often focus on the first part of that verse, which speaks of a hotter hell for those who trample under foot the Son of God. And over the last 25 years, there has been a well thought-out and extremely well done defense of the Gospel—organizations, conferences, etc. Everyone declared that we must defend Christ, His deity, His character, His nature, His crosswork, etc. Almost to a point of getting carried away now where everything is about the cross. And we had the same thing with the attack on the Person of the Father, in the form of Open Theism. There was a groundswell, and theologians and writers and preachers answered this attack on God the Father. But in Hebrews 10:29, you need to be reminded that there is a severer punishment for one who has insulted the Spirit of grace.

“Insulted” comes from the Greek word from which we get the word hubris—audacity and insolence; a violent, outrageous insult. This is Yahweh’s ruach, the breath of the Almighty. This is God the Holy Spirit. While we would all agree that hell would be hotter for people who trample under foot the Son of God, the same warning is given to people who are audacious and insolent and violently insult the Spirit of Grace. The next verse says, Vengeance is Mine. I will repay. And again the Lord will judge His people. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” People should be terrified in insulting the Holy Spirit.

The NT reveals to us that the ruachYahweh creates life, transforms, purifies, comforts, conforms sinners to Christ; equips, empowers, seals, illuminates. These are the things for which He is to be honored and loved.

Here’s a quote from a Charismatic leader: “The greatest satanic deception which has ever been offered is the false doctrine of once saved always saved.” But: who is it that secures us forever? That seals us forever? Who is the earnest of our inheritance? The Holy Spirit. The work of the Holy Spirit is to secure it forever. This is a quote from a charismatic leader. You’ve just accused the Holy Spirit’s work of being the work of Satan. Because of the work of the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us, everyone who is called is justified and everyone who is justified is glorified, Romans 8. This is insulting the Holy Spirit. This is dangerous stuff.

Benny Hinn says: “No no, never ever go to the Lord and say, ‘if it be Your will.’ The acting of the Holy Spirit is dependent on my words. He will not move until I say it.” Really?

In two quotes, you’ve just seen the Holy Spirit accused of demonic activity and His sovereignty called into question. Benny is sovereign, the Holy Spirit is not. This comes from a false teacher who says he has the anointing from God. That’s a manufactured farce. He says he received it at the graves of two women preachers.

Worship the Most Fundamental Responsibility

Back to the main point: Worship of the triune God is the most fundamental of all duties and the highest of all responsibilities. In Exodus 20, the first table of the Ten Commandments relate to God. The third commandment speaks of taking the Lord’s name in vain. This is to speak of God in any irreverent manner, not just using His name as a curse word. Any way that misrepresents Him in His nature, attributes, works, words. To think of God, to conceive of God as other than He is, and to assign to Him things He would never do and words He would never say, is taking His name in vain.

Deuteronomy 28:58–61 teaches that taking the name of the Lord in vain will bring punishment. Such will not go unpunished.

It does amaze me that the movement has survived as it has. People ask why God doesn’t strike it down. Because He is by nature patient, and his purposes are unknown to me. But the gross excesses of the Charismatic movement will not stop the hand of God in judgment.

We don’t need a fake Holy Spirit. We need the holy spirit that’s revealed in scripture: breath of the Almighty (Job 33), [he lists a number of names of the Spirit as recorded in Scripture].

The Spirit is as holy, as sovereign, as powerful, as gracious, as loving, as the Father and the Son. They are One in perfection.

A Call for Reform

All of that leads me to say that we’re here to call for the restoration of the true worship of the Holy Spirit in the church.

It’s hard for me to deal with. The zeal for God’s house has eaten me up. The reproaches that have fallen you have fallen on me (Psalm 69). When the Holy Spirit is so dishonored, I feel the pain. The church has risen up to defend the Father and the Son. Why will it not rise up to defend the Holy Spirit? There’s no way to explain that failure.

The Charismatic movement has successfully demanded acceptance on the basis of love and tolerance. It’s been welcomed, despite its confusing people about prayer, worship, praise, faith, contentment, humility, sovereignty, and a myriad of other things. In other time, in another part of history in the past, they would have been rejected as either heterodox or heretical.

Conclusion: The Spirit Makes us Like Christ

Let me close with some thoughts. Try to wash out of our minds some of the negative things that I’ve forced you think about. There is one great tribute to the Spirit of God that I want to leave you with. It’s a tribute apart from all that we’ve talked about with regard to deceivers and false teachers. This is His greatest gift to us. Turn to Romans 8. This is His greatest work for us.

[Reads Romans 8:26–30.] Romans 8 is the Holy Spirit’s chapter. Verse 26 says that He helps our weakness. He does so by interceding for us. He always intercedes according to the will of God because He knows the will of God. As a result of the intercessory work of the Holy Spirit, everything works together for good. Not just because God says so, but because the Holy Spirit makes sure it happens.

Another element of this: what is the essence of this goodness? What’s the good? Verse 29: the conforming of the believer to the image of Christ. There is the ultimate work of the Holy Spirit: to conform us to Christ. The Holy Spirit does His work in us so that everything works together toward one ultimate good, and that ultimate good is conformity to the image of the Son of God. Such that he becomes the preeminent one among many who share his likeness.

What does the Holy Spirit want to do in your life? Conform you to whom? Christ. To make you like Christ. To be conformed to the eikon of Christ. This is what Paul talks about in Philippians when he said, “I press toward the mark.” What’s the mark? The prize. What’s the prize? To be like Christ. What we will become in our glorification is what we can experience now in our sanctification.

To understand his work, then, we need to look at Christ. Because we’re going to see in Christ, who is fully man, a picture of the perfect work of the Holy Spirit. How did the Holy Spirit work in Christ? Did He knock Him down? Did He make Him look drunk? Did He cause him to fall, flop, roll, or laugh hysterically, or bark, or babble, or talk gibberish? It’s a bizarre thing to think about anything like that.

And people who make people do that, are not Spirit-filled. That’s not what the Holy Spirit does. The Holy Spirit was the constant companion of Jesus. It was the Spirit who gave Him life in the womb of Mary. The Son of God emptied Himself of His divine prerogatives, voluntarily submitted Himself to the will of the Father in the power of the Spirit. Jesus restricted the independent use of His divine abilities, privileges, and yielded Himself to the Holy Spirit.

So his life went like this:

  • Luke 1: Conceived by the Holy Spirit
  • Luke 4: Matured by the Holy Spirit
  • Mark 1: Anointed by the Holy Spirit at his baptism
  • Luke 4: Sustained by the Holy spirit in his temptation
  • Luke 4: Empowered by the Holy spirit for ministry
  • Filled with the Holy Spirit, so that He walked perfectly in obedience
  • Perfected by obedience, wrought in spirit-power and through suffering by which he learned obedience
  • Hebrews 9:14 – He faced death triumphantly in the power of the Holy Spirit
  • Romans 1 – Raised by the power of the Holy Spirit
  • Acts 1 – Post resurrection in the power of the Spirit as he taught things concerning the kingdom

The Holy Spirit was to Christ what He is to us. If you want to see the perfection of the Holy Spirit’s work in us, look at the work He did in the perfect man.

  • As the Spirit conceived Jesus, so He gives us life
  • As the Spirit matured Jesus, so He grants us power to grow
  • As the Spirit anointed Jesus at His baptism, so He baptizes us in the body of Christ
  • As the Spirit sustained Christ in temptation, so He strengthens us in the inner man in the midst of our temptation
  • As the Spirit empowered Christ, so He gifts and empowers us in ministry
  • As He filled Christ to walk in obedience, so He fills us and produces fruit in us
  • As Christ was perfected by obedience through the Spirit, so the Spirit perfects us
  • As the Spirit helped Christ in the face of death, so He sustains us in our suffering
  • As the Spirit raised Jesus, so He raises us up as well

If you want to see the ministry of the Holy Spirit and how He works in us, look at what He did in Christ. In Christ is perfect compliance, but the Holy Spirit is to the Son of God what He is to us. The Spirit has committed to do in us the work that He demonstrated in Christ.

John 16:7 – Jesus said, “It is to your advantage that I go away. If don’t go, the Helper won’t come.” Jesus said, “It’s better for Me to go.” Why? “Because if I go, I will send the Holy Spirit. This is better because the Holy Spirit will do in you what He did in Me.” That’s His ministry. I’ve had My ministry, that’s His ministry. Mine has come to an end, His is about to launch in its fullness.

John 14:16, 26; 16:13-14 – All that you may conformed to Christ’s likeness. The Holy Spirit does in us what He did in the Son, conforming us to the very image of Christ.

Jesus shows us what perfect humanity looks like. The Spirit is empowering God’s redeemed elect to triumph in time over the power of sin, flesh, Satan, and the world, empowering us to be more and more like the Son of God—working in us holy knowledge, holy doctrine, holy deeds, holy words, holy character, holy ambitions, holy longings, holy affections.

What a horrible hubris, what an insult to Him to say He’s responsible for the corruption and the unholiness and the foolishness and even the demonic elements that dishonor the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

The work of the Holy Spirit is to take corrupted image-bearers who cannot glorify God, in whom the divine image is so marred that they will perish in hell—to take those marred and scarred people and to restore in them the likeness of Jesus Christ.

I’ll start believing that the truth prevails in the charismatic movement when I see the leaders, who are the people who are most exposed to its principles, looking more like Jesus Christ.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.