Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Strange Fire: Sorting Out the Issues Part 4: Lists and Assessments, Visions, Tongues, Healings

Thought I'd try to list the main problems with Charismatica as I've come to see them, as brought out by the Strange Fire Conference :
  • Dishonoring / insulting the Holy Spirit by imputing either fleshly or demonic phenomena to Him;
  • Profaning worship, which is what "strange fire" means (see Leviticus 10:1) by various antics designed to conjure up counterfeit phenomena that have nothing to do with worship as defined by the Bible;
  • Misleading people by a false gospel into a false salvation, all over the world;
  • Defrauding people by promises of prosperity or miraculous healing in the name of Christ, all over the world;
  • By mistaking counterfeits for the gifts of the Spirit, either encouraging the development of psychic powers ("soul power" which has demonic implications), or outright demonic possession or at least oppression of people who either wrongly think they are Christians or ARE Christians (I'm not sure MacArthur is right that a Christian can't be demonized).  
These are obviously not minor or secondary issues, but so far, with the rare exception of the Pentecostal pastor I quote a couple posts back, Charismatics continue to accuse the Strange Fire Conference of unfairly criticizing fellow Christians about trivial matters, dividing the true body of Christ, and even being the heretics themselves.  But if these things I've listed are true,  Christians need to recognize that fact and leave the movement.

In Part 2 of the interview at Challies' blog, MacArthur defines his main objective this way:
Rather than initiating another conference, I am more interested in sparking a movement committed to reclaiming the honor of the Holy Spirit. And I would be glad to stand with these men in that effort, for the glory of Christ and the good of His church.
Here are some more topics touched on in the MacArthur interview as he answers questions and objections posed to him:

Do I believe that people in the Muslim world are actually seeing Jesus Christ? No, I do not. Paul stated in 1 Corinthians 15:8 that he was “the last of all” to see the risen Christ. So, I believe that precludes anyone outside of those listed in 1 Corinthians 15 of being able to claim legitimate visions of the resurrected Savior.

(The apostle John, of course, was one of those included in 1 Corinthians 15.  Accordingly, I don’t believe the book of Revelation sets a precedent for believers to expect genuine visions of Jesus to occur throughout church history.)

Furthermore, it is important to note that these individuals are still unbelievers when they reportedly have these experiences. Consequently, these experiences (whatever they are reported to be) cannot constitute examples of the charismatic gifts having continued, since spiritual gifts are only given to believers (1 Cor. 12:7)—and these people do not come to saving faith until later.

Finally, the New Testament clearly states that the way in which the gospel is spread in this age is through preaching. As Paul explains in Romans 10:14–15, unbelievers will not hear the gospel unless missionaries go to them proclaiming the good news of salvation.
He refers us to this blog  concerning the claims of Muslims being brought to salvation through visions, and to this one.

These blogs discuss the gullibility of Christians in believing uncritically whatever is reported of such miraculous events and show how the claims of visions fail by the Biblical standard, which says people come to faith through the preaching of the gospel, which leaves out visions.  They also discuss the validity of other charismatic claims, and the second blog has a link to another article at the first blog that discusses the claims to Muslim salvations through visions even more thoroughly.

I'm reminded of the book that may have been the first of this trend of Muslims coming to salvation through visions of Christ, I Dared to Call Him Father, written in 1978 by Bilquis Sheikh, which recounts her visions and dreams, including at least one of Jesus Himself, by which she came to the gospel completely on her own.  She even baptized herself in her own bathtub with nobody else present.

Then recently Ravi Zacharias on the radio mentioned a friend of his who when he was dying had a vision of Jesus coming into his bedroom and holding his hand, and Ravi raised no question about it, even said how Jesus knew that's just what his friend needed at that moment.

If these visions are not from God, what is their source?  Visions of Jesus can't be "Soul Power," something our own human powers could accomplish, nor even the "miraculous" powers Nee says were originally given to Adam.  What does that leave?  Well, it leaves Satan and his demons, right?  What else? 

SO:  If it's from Satan and his demons, that ought to be recognized as no mere secondary matter, right?  Not something to celebrate as Christians so often do.  How alarmed should we be about this?  Pretty alarmed, wouldn't you say? 


I've already brought up tongues in another context but MacArthur also discusses it:
In terms of potential dangers, I do believe that modern tongues is an unsafe spiritual practice. True worship takes place in spirit and truth (John 4:24), meaning it involves both the emotions and the mind. By contrast, a worship practice that empties the mind or consists of vain repetitions (Matt. 6:7) has more in common with pagan religion than true worship. The fact that modern glossolalia parallels pagan religious rites should serve as a major warning of the dangers inherent in this unbiblical practice...

A lot of the interpretative issues in Acts and 1 Corinthians 12–14 become clear by simply applying the basic rules of hermeneutics. For example, one of the most fundamental principles of Bible interpretation is that Scripture interprets Scripture, and that the clearer passage ought to be used to interpret the less clear passage. Regarding tongues, Acts 2 is explicit that the gift of tongues produced real human languages. When we allow the clearer passage of Acts 2 to govern our interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12–14, we can make a strong case that the tongues of 1 Corinthians were also real human languages. That simple observation undermines the modern charismatic practice of vocalizing irrational speech...
Phil Johnson also wrote a post today on the GTY blog specifically on tongues.

OK, then:  Either the practice of charismatic "tongues" is "Soul Power" which I've discussed here before, a misuse of a natural human ability that was given to Adam but distorted by the Fall and therefore not to be exercised but suppressed; 

OR those who speak these "tongues" are at least partially demon-possessed.  That is, the devil somehow has access to the tongue.  This is no minor matter.     

Seems to me this implication will eventually need to be discussed by those in the thick of these issues.

Claims to healings were mentioned at the above-linked blogs, and were discussed at the Strange Fire Conference, but didn't come up in John MacArthur's interview.

The problem with the claims to miraculous healings you hear all the time in Christian circles is that there's NEVER any evidence given for them.  You're supposed to just believe the reports, but the reports may be many times removed from the event and the event may look nothing like the report you heard if you can ever get any kind of real information about it.  And besides, once you've become aware of the great number of claims that are either self deceptions or frauds, nobody's reports should be taken at face value.  Somebody is very very convinced that a family member was suddenly and miraculously healed of bursitis when the elders prayed for her, and that COULD be true of course, since they were praying according to the Biblical instruction, but still it makes you want to know details that you'll never find out from people who simply take such things without questioning them.  It's as if faith can only exist for such Christians if there ISN'T evidence.

Some charismatics seem to equate the idea of faith more with things like having faith in miraculous healings than faith in the word of God as such or faith in Christ as our Savior.  If you can't hold onto a prayer for a miraculous healing then you might as well regard yourself as lacking in faith, period.  Some see miraculous healings as practically essential for winning people to Christ, at least as the best possible kind of witness.  I'd say that's a pretty puny idea of faith but that doesn't win me any points with those of that opinion.  Nor does answering that it's the same as walking by sight rather than by faith.  No, holding on to a prayer for a miraculous healing forever and ever if necessary is some Christians' idea of true faith. 

You may hear of people who finally give in to medical solutions to serious physical problems after many years of praying for a miraculous healing, but who then feel almost like they committed a sin by doing that.  I know of one person who scheduled surgery only to get the strong sense that she was finally to be healed miraculously which led her to cancel the surgery.  Months went by and she was not healed, so she rescheduled the surgery.  But that hasn't changed her mind about expecting a miraculous healing.  Those of this persuasion may also believe the gospel promises to take care of us financially, which is a version of the Prosperity gospel, or health-and-wealth gospel.  They can get very impatient with Christians who are suffering financially, because of their supposed lack of faith.  (Didn't Jesus say "the poor you'll always have with you?"  Well, that's explained as people who lack faith I guess, they will always be with us).   This version of the gospel usually means the person watches TBN.   I don't know if TBN promotes this or not but I remember being startled to hear from a regular TBN viewer the very carnal interpretation of "the abundant life" Jesus promises us, as if it means having all the comforts of this life, rather than the spiritual life and power in Christ.   

How many of the claimed miraculous healings are INDISPUTABLY of God?  I personally don't know of a single one.  The evidence always comes out against the claims or isn't forthcoming at all.

How many of the claimed visions of Jesus Christ are of God?  Well, none of them are, if MacArthur's biblical evidence is correct.

And I don't know of a single proven instance of a charismatic tongue being an actual language.  And again, if MacArthur's biblical reasoning is correct, they are all not from God.

While I've heard of some supposed predictions by "prophets" coming true, I haven't actually seen any of these claims proved either.

And again, none of these miraculous claims are anything like those reported in the New Testament anyway.  The "prophecies" are more like psychic readings, and nobody claims infallibility for them as the Bible requires;  the "healings" are never provable and are usually limited to minor things like bursitis anyway;  the "tongues" are not a known language.  And so on. 

When I think back on my own experience as a fairly new Christian in the charismatic movement, what stands out for me is not any particular failed claim to the miraculous but the undermining of my fledgling discernment, the confusion I experienced with the nagging anxiety that some of the phenomena I'd been witnessing were just not right somehow, that the rationalizations weren't holding up, while I was being told it was all of God and I shouldn't question it.

This is what I consider to be the biggest offense of the Charismatic movement from my own personal point of view.   Of course God ordained my experience and He has His reasons for it all, but it seems to me the Charismatic movement is just about as big an Antichrist cultic snare as the Roman Catholic Church and as dangerous, preventing genuine salvations in many cases, perhaps even being a source of demon possession.

The first clear problem I saw was when my little charismatic group prayed for the Pope and that was an eye-opener, the first step onto solid ground outside the charmed circle.  Then I prayed for light on various "prophecies" and some other rather strange goings-on that had been bothering me, which I then began to see by the light of the Bible, and that pushed me over the edge and out of the movement.  Still, despite being MOSTLY freed from it I've never felt I was COMPLETELY freed from it.

So for me the anxiety and uncertainty I've gone through trying to understand all this over my entire Christian life is a big enough reason to describe the movement as dangerous.  It takes a huge toll on the Christian life.  It makes me think of Daniel 7:25, about the Devil wearing out the saints.   Being unable to resolve some of the questions leaves one in an uncomfortable state of inner conflict. 

I know many have taken up sides on these things and don't experience the sort of conflict I've experienced, but I've got to say it seems to me they should because the conflict concerns what the Bible says;  it's not a personal matter.

No comments: