IS IT “STRANGE FIRE” -OR- “HOLY FIRE”?
You will soon be hearing about two books: Strange Fire by Dr. John MacArthur and Holy Fire by Dr. R.T. Kendall. Dr. Kendall has written only in the emergency to defend Scripture and Charismatic Christians from Dr. MacArthur’s attack.
John MacArthur is a man of significant Christian stature. He is the author of more than 150 books, a study Bible, other best-selling material, and a college president. R.T. Kendall is equally a man of great achievement. He holds a PhD from Oxford University, authored more than 60 books, for twenty-five years was pastor of London’s Westminster Chapel near Buckingham Palace, and a leading voice in Reformed theological circles around the world. More recently he has become an outspoken defender of the plenary inspiration of the New Testament, including spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12,13,14). Unlike Dr. MacArthur, Dr. Kendall does not believe that portions of the New Testament or miraculous gifts of the Spirit have passed away.
While no group of Christians has ever been exempt from undesirables in its ranks, Dr. MacArthur has taken the position that all ministers today who claim to experience spiritual gifts are “Satan’s false teachers…spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans.” One would think that such an indictment leveled against godly men and women would be beneath Dr. MacArthur’s standard. Of necessity, his accusation points toward Jack Hayford, Mark Rutland, Derek Prince, Kenneth Hagin, Sr., Duncan Campbell, David Du Plessis, Demos Shakarian, Smith Wigglesworth, and a thousand other saintly prominent Pentecostal/Charismatic preachers/leaders.
My purpose is not to attack Dr. MacArthur. Instead, I want to speak defensively for the Bible’s full message and its reliability. The New Testament contains six passages in which gifts of the Spirit are identified. I have now been in ordained ministry 64 years and have been on both sides of this tragic fence. In my youth I was taught that all gifts identified in First Corinthians 12 were obsolete. Later I was told that only knowledge, tongues, and prophecy, had been removed. My denomination preached nothing about it. For us, those verses weren’t even there, and in the confusion I walked away from all of it. For me, there was no sensible answer. Then, in 1977, I had a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit that changed everything. The decision was no longer left to me and I emerged from that holy explosion not only believing but experiencing spiritual gifts. To my amazement I found they were very, very real.
Believe me when I say that the gospel that is blazing in First-Century-power in remote parts of the globe today is not coming from those who deny the truth of the New Testament. These are marooned in their own religious mud. Only “full gospel” believers are winning. If you don’t believe that, go!, find out for yourself. Millions of Africans have come to Christ in recent years through Charismatic preaching.
Am I “Charismatic?” Yes! Absolutely!, and as such believe that the New Testament is still intact, none of the Scripture has lost its validity and every line should be accepted by the modern church. Opposing Christians—usually called “cessationists”—believe that many New Testament passages have lost their authority and should be ignored. Though still in the Bible, these select scriptures are no longer true. Astonishingly, no one has yet been able to supply a list of these invalid verses. While the argument usually centers on the reality of spiritual gifts, the debate fundamentally regards whether or not the New Testament is reliable.
My question is this: If Moses sanctified the Old Testament by sprinkling it with the blood of animals and Jesus sanctified the New Testament by sprinkling it with His own blood (Heb. 9:11-23) and Moses’ book was unalterable—can Jesus’ book be less so? Was the Old Testament inviolate while the New Testament is not? Was there spiritual power in animal blood that Jesus lacked? For myself, I can take only one position: The New Testament was, is, shall ever be, true in each line. None of it has lost is power or purpose. The need of the church is not to edit the Bible but to believe it.
Observe these Scriptures and their obvious message:
Jesus said: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Mat. 4:4).
Jesus said: “Heaven and earth shall pass away but My words will by no means pass away” (Mat. 24:35).
God the Father said: “My Covenant I will not break nor alter the Word that is gone out of my lips” (Psa. 89:34).
Jesus said to the Father: “For I have given to them the words which You have given Me, and they have received them …” (John 17:8).
Peter said: “But the word of the Lord endures forever. Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you” (1 Pet. 1:25).
Peter said again: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21).
Paul said: “Be diligent … rightly diving the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Paul said again: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Paul said once more: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8).
David said: “Forever, O Lord, Your Word is settled in Heaven” (Psa. 119:89).
When the New Testament was canonized in 367 and all its books identified, Bishop Athanasius, the leader, demanded the same qualification for every writer whose work they included:
1. The writer had to have been an eye-witness to the life and ministry of Jesus.
2. His writing had to have been inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Without those two qualifications, no writing was accepted. Even writers whom they believed had been genuinely inspired were rejected because they had not been eye-witnesses. Had Athanasius believed that any writing would lose its inerrant purity after being canonized they would have rejected it instantly! That would have included Paul’s Corinthian letters. No exceptions were made. The team involved in that holy work guarded it with such jealous devotion and care that today we can only be awed by it. Athanasius said, “These books are fountains of salvation….Let no man add to these, neither let him take out from these.” Those who now make the absurd claim that Scriptures authorizing spiritual gifts lost their validity at the same time they were canonized are woefully ignorant of the Bible’s Divine inspiration and are insulting the character of the men involved in that holy work.
In response to Dr. MacArthur’s graceless attack, Dr. Michael Brown, a significant Pentecostal voice said:
I have worked side by side with some of these fine men and women myself, precious saints who have risked their lives for the name of Jesus, giving themselves sacrificially to touch a hurting and dying world with the gospel, literally shedding their blood rather than compromise their testimonies.
According to Dr. MacArthur, however, the ministry of these is actually “a farce and a scam,” and he insists that this work of the Spirit actually represents “the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity.” He calls for a “collective war” against these alleged “pervasive abuses on the Spirit of God.” Pastor MacArthur argues, “The ‘Holy Spirit’ found in the vast majority of charismatic teaching and practice bears no resemblance to the true Spirit of God as revealed in Scripture,” even accusing the modern charismatic movement of “attributing the work of the devil to the Holy Spirit.” In fact, he claims that leaders of the movement are “Satan’s false teachers, marching to the beat of their own illicit desires, gladly propagating his errors. They are spiritual swindlers, con men, crooks, and charlatans.” — Michael Brown.
What is the argument all about? Are spiritual gifts that important? The Apostle Paul encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road and was born again. Three days later in the Damascus Room, through the laying-on-of-hands by Ananias, he experienced the Holy Spirit and received the Spirit’s baptism. Later, this same man wrote an 84 verse treatise on spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12,13,14). His Biblical explanation provides the most comprehensive, authoritative information we have on the subject. More importantly, it is the only resource bearing the seal of Divine Authorship. All conflicting opinions, no matter how cherished or long-established, are but human speculation and must be discarded. That includes Dr. MacArthur’s theory. Scripture is our final, absolute authority.
The Apostle begins his dissertation with the plea: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant.” 12:1. This appeal that we “not be ignorant” appears seven times in the New Testament concerning different topics. Once, it is by Peter and six times by Paul. Each time, the request reveals an especially deep concern of the writer. Its appearance here should command the attention of every conscientious believer.
The Apostle then proceeds carefully to detail the operation of nine grace-works of the Spirit. These are the direct result of the Spirit’s baptism. Having defended the need and purpose of the gifts, Paul then concludes his discourse with the stirring rebuke, “But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant!” 14:38. In other words, he says, “After this careful explanation of spiritual gifts, if anyone refuses to learn, I have nothing more to say to him. Let him remain illiterate!” Paul seemingly anticipated that some believers would reject his teaching on miraculous works of the Spirit and added this harsh warning:
“If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). What are the “commandments” of which he speaks? The answer: The Apostolic teachings on spiritual gifts! First Corinthians 12 and 14 speak with God’s authority as much as any other of Paul’s writings. We are no more at liberty to reject these Biblically mandated instructions than any other commandment of the Lord. Instead of heeding Paul’s instruction, the modern Church has engaged in open warfare against them. This was done in spite of Paul’s exhortation that we:
1. “Earnestly desire spiritual gifts” (1 Cor. 12:31).
2. “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor. 14:1).
3. “Since you are zealous for spiritual gifts, let it be for the edification of the church that you seek to excel” (1 Cor. 14:12).
These admonitions do not indicate the reluctance that typifies the modern church’s attitude against spiritual gifts. There was no such lukewarmness on the part of Paul or the Corinthians. Identically, believers today are encouraged to exercise the gifts for the benefit of everyone:
But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all; for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills…But if anyone is ignorant, let him be ignorant. (1 Cor. 12:1;4-11;38).
In the introduction of his Corinthian letters (29 chapters and longest of all New Testament writings) Paul exhorted believers to “Come short in no gift, eagerly waiting for the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7). In that brief statement, Paul equated the duration of spiritual gifts to be the same length as the Church’s waiting for Jesus’ return. Examine it for yourself. This is precisely what the Apostle said.
On the Day of Ascension, Jesus told the disciples at the Mount of Olives, “John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now…You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:5-6). In a single statement, Jesus connected baptism in the Spirit to the imparting of His power. That wonderful event occurred on the Day of Pentecost when 120 disciples in the Upper Room received the blessing. Scripture carefully explains that others who were not present at Pentecost experienced the same empowering later. That included the Samaritans (Acts 8:14-17), Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9:17), the household of Cornelius (Acts 10:44), and the Ephesians (Acts 19:1-7). Young Timothy followed the example (2 Tim. 1:6). Identically, today, multiplied millions around the world have stepped into the Spirit’s wondrous baptism. I had been preaching nearly 30 years before it happened to me.
We are told seven times in the New Testament to “be not ignorant.” The same Greek word for “ignorance,” agnoeo, is used in all seven references though the King James version is probably the only one that translates it consistently. If you listen carefully you can detect the similarity between agnoeo and ignore. (agno/igno). It simply means “not to know;” that ignorance can come from lack of information, inadequate intelligence, or willful rejection of truths. These seven topics are fundamental to the Church. Notice they are in pairs. Two concern Israel, two concern the gospel, two foretell the end of the earth, and the final topic, #7, the Church’s spiritual gifts. Quoting from the King James Version, the seven are:
1. Israel’s rejection and restoration; Gentile fullness: “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.” Romans 11:25.
2. Israel’s dual baptism in the cloud and sea: “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10:1). Israel’s baptism unto Moses in the cloud and sea portrays Christian baptism unto Christ in the Spirit and water. The parallel is exact.
3. Opposition to the gospel in Asia: “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8).
4. Opposition to the Gospel in Europe: “Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you (but was let hitherto), that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles” (Rom. 1:13).
5. Jesus’ Second Coming; Resurrection of the saints: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope” (1 Thes. 4:13).
6. The “thief in the night” destruction of the earth: “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day … But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night …” (2 Pet. 3:8,10).
7. The Holy Spirit’s miraculous gifts to the Church: “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I would not have you ignorant” (1 Cor. 12:1).
Having said all this, we must pray for Dr. MacArthur to accept the full New Testament message, and experience the incredible blessing that Jesus promised when He said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8).
Also, be sure you buy and read Dr. Kendall’s book “Holy Fire! Amen!###