Thursday, November 14, 2013

Strange Fire: Sorting Out the Issues, Part 5: In Spirit and in Truth: Disagreeing with John MacArthur

Much as I applaud the Strange Fire Conference and hope its influence will grow, I do want to clarify some points where I still differ with them.  I'll say up front that I'm open to being corrected on these points as well, if it should work out that way.

Although the speakers were very careful to affirm that the Holy Spirit is at work today in the Church and our individual lives, I've always believed and still do that there are authentic experiences of God that Cessationists don't recognize, often wrongly calling them "mystical" (in the sense they use that word that I don't think is always appropriate).   

When John MacArthur says "praying in the spirit" is simply praying with all our human faculties, I have to wonder why, if that is so, Paul made the distinction between that and praying with the mind, or "the understanding" as the KJV has it:
1 Cor 14:15, in KJV "with the spirit and with the understanding also"
--which certainly implies that the spirit is something separate from the mind and not understandable or graspable with the mind.

And why would John the Apostle, the author of Revelation, bother to say he was "in the Spirit on the Lord's Day" if the involvement of all our human faculties is all it means to be "in the Spirit."  

"Spirit" is capitalized in the KJV here, and also in Ephesians 6:18  where we are commanded to pray "in the Spirit" ourselves, so it's not some special mental state that only John was expected to experience.

The Greek word for "spirit" AND for "Spirit" -- the distinction was decided on by the KJV translators -- is the same word:  "pneuma" which literally means "breath."

"Mind" and "understanding" are translated from the Greek word "nous." 

The Greek word the KJV translated "soul" is "psyche," which we recognize as the root of "psychology." "Soul" or "psyche" includes both the emotions and the mind according to an online dictionary, but "nous" is just "mind."  

But "spirit" is something else.  "Spirit" and "soul" are clearly not the same word, and the fact that they are not treated as synonymous in scripture certainly implies that they refer to distinctly different human faculties.

MacArthur has the same idea of worshiping "in spirit and in truth," as he said in Part 2 of the Challies interview:
True worship takes place in spirit and truth (John 4:24), meaning it involves both the emotions and the mind.
Again he treats "spirit" as synonymous with "soul" or "psyche," but this isn't correct:  it is "psyche" and not "pneuma" which is the seat of emotions and mind.

I'm aware that John Owen, the great Puritan, also ignored the difference between "soul" and "spirit," and spoke of "body and soul" as the totality of human nature.  I don't know if a defense of this has ever been given.  Like Owen, MacArthur also insists on the understanding of human nature as made up of body and soul, against the views of some teachers that we are tripartite:  body, soul and spirit -- at least those who have been born again are tripartite, the spirit that was previously dormant or "dead" in the fallen nature having been quickened. 

There is scripture for this: 1 Thessalonians 5:23 distinguishes the three parts, and Hebrews 4:12 emphasizes the difference between soul and spirit by speaking of "dividing" them "asunder:" 

1 Thess 5:23 
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.''

Heb 4:12  For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart
At the Blue Letter Bible site, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary on this verse acknowledges this tripartite human nature:
All three, spirit, soul, and body, each in its due place, constitute man "entire."  The "spirit" links man with the higher intelligences of heaven, and is that highest part of man which is receptive of the quickening Holy Spirit ( 1Cr 15:47 ). In the unspiritual, the spirit is so sunk under the lower animal soul (which it ought to keep under) that such are termed "animal" (English Version. "sensual," having merely the body of organized matter, and the soul the immaterial animating essence), having not the Spirit. The unbeliever shall rise with an animal (soul-animated) body, but not like the believer with a spiritual (spirit-endued) body like Christ's (Rom. 8:11
This is in keeping with Penn-Lewis and Nee's understanding and both of them develop the idea at great length.
Matthew Henry's Commentary quotes the passage but only as a description of the "whole man," and doesn't go into detail.

While Charismatics and Pentecostals are likely to agree with the interpretation of the tripartite human nature, there is no necessary connection with the "gifts of the Spirit," and it also has to be acknowledged that it's possible for anything of the "spirit" to be counterfeited just as the gifts are counterfeited.  The great danger is ALWAYS the failure of Biblical discernment. 

Those who share this interpretation are likely also to believe in a special separate "Baptism in the Holy Spirit."  I've never had a clear idea of this concept except that those who hold it must have had some kind of special experience they are describing, whether they are understanding it rightly or not.

Obviously there is much more to discuss about this.

Strange Fire Side Trip: Interview with Michael Brown

So I did hear Michael Brown interviewed on Pilgrim Radio today.   The program will be repeated tonight at 9:30 PM Pacific Standard Time.

This constant refrain about how John MacArthur tarred all charismatics with the same brush when it's really only a few rotten apples that are the problem just doesn't deal with the issues the Strange Fire Conference sought to raise. 

It isn't about people, it's about DOCTRINE, BASIC doctrine, the doctrine that makes a Charismatic a Charismatic, the doctrine of the continuation of the gifts of the Spirit.  The rotten apples are a huge problem but their rottenness is really the natural fruit of the basic bad doctrine. 

Brown also thinks that the fact that some very respected teachers have believed in the gifts, such as A W Tozer and Oswald Chambers, is some kind of answer to the Conference.  But it doesn't have anything to do with who believes in it.  It's about DOCTRINE.  The Conference people have many times acknowledged that there are true Christians among them, but that they are simply mistaken.   It's about DOCTRINE. 

Brown thinks the gifts continue because scripture doesn't say they didn't;  MacArthur thinks the gifts stopped because he finds that implied in scripture. 

But there's also the question of exactly what is meant by the gifts of the Spirit.   Brown thinks the phenomena that are called the gifts of the Spirit today really are the gifts of the Spirit even though they are nothing like the gifts of the Spirit as described in the New Testament.  MacArthur and Company point out that if they aren't the same then they aren't the gifts of the Spirit.  

And if they aren't the gifts of the Spirit then they are either produced by the flesh or by demons.  Which is what one would expect if the gifts DID cease:  you wouldn't be getting the gifts but some kind of counterfeit.

And if they are produced by the flesh or demons then they are leading millions of Christians astray one way or another.

This IS a big deal.