Sunday, December 20, 2015

Spiritual Gifts Means Gifts possessed by men, not miracles done by God

Keep running across charismatic/continuationist reactions to the Strange Fire Conference.  Besides the surprisingly common responses that seem not to have heard a word of the Conference at all but just go on and on elaborating their own familiar opinions, the main misunderstanding persists: they miss the point that it's supernatural gifts possessed by human beings that are said to have ceased, not God's doing of miracles Himself.

 This was said at the Conference but nevertheless keeps being overlooked. Tom Pennington's talk showed that gifts to men had the specific purpose of identifying the possessor as God's messenger, and there was no need for such messengers after Jesus' ministry was shown to be from God. But God may still do miracles Himself, nobody is denying that.  Pennington answers this among other persisting misunderstandings of his arguments HERE.

It's a common confusion the Conference should have definitively resolved, but it persists. Even Martyn Lloyd-Jones seems to have misunderstood this, which you can see on a You Tube video of John Piper on Lloyd-Jones, Piper also having this misunderstanding.

When you then see that the gifts claimed for today aren't at all the same as those in the New Testament, the whole issue ought to be closed with finality.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Praying for Revival

It's surprising and exhilarating to be thinking again of revival.  It's still scary to think of all the counterfeits that are out there that would try to distort it, but I'm refusing to be intimidated.  We need revival desperately, there is absolutely no other hope.  Either God blesses us with revival or America goes down as Europe has pretty much already gone down.  We know it's the last days so watching and praying is our job but that can't preclude doing everything in our power to resist it.  "Oh God isn't going to give us a revival now."  Well maybe He isn't.  Or maybe He would if we approached Him as He wants us to.  Committing ourselves to the last-ditch attempt has to be the right thing to do. 

We're weak and flabby spiritually, at least I am and I know most of the Church is.  I hope those who are spiritually strong have been holding up us weak ones in prayer.  In any case we have to GET strong.  Anyone who even has a glimmer of an inkling of how much we need to do this should set aside more time than usual just to ask God to help us overcome our inertia, focus our thoughts, show us what we need to repent of, in ourselves first, then in the Church at large, learn His will, grow in fervor where now we can barely form an idea about what we should be doing.  I have no doubt He'll supply everything we need for such a task if we ask Him to do it. 

I've begun at least that much.  If just one other person would join me in the effort and pray for me too, and pass on the project to someone else, before long we could have a praying army.   Pray for the Church to be purified first of all, then pray for the nation, pray for Europe too, even they could be revived, why not?  Pray for all Christians on the planet.  With intensity, giving much more time than usual to prayer and seeking the Lord.  Determined to get all sin out of our lives.  Determined to reach God's ear.

For some inspiration, go listen to the sermons at Sermon Audio and Sermon Index on Revival.  I've listened to many at Sermon Audio.  Here's that page at Sermon Audio.

Who are we, Church?  "Terrible as an army with banners?" (Song of Solomon Ch 6) Isn't that what we SHOULD be? If we belong to God shouldn't we be about His business, especially now?  Throw out the TV if you have to, at least turn it off for 80% of the time you normally watch it.  Reorganize your schedule to throw out anything that isn't absolutely essential for the tasks of living.  Go into the prayer closet and prepare to wrestle with a blank mind, a distracted mind, the onslaughts of the devil, beg God to help you pray  ask and keep asking for God's help to overcome it all and give you fervor for revival.  Revival is what we need.  Don't pray for anything else in that prayer sitting, just revival, just God's power in blessing on His people.

Listen to some of those sermons, they really are inspiring.  Ian Paisley is a great preacher of the old fire-and-brimstone thundering style which may be hard to listen to but what he says is very inspiring.  Interestingly two other preachers who are also originally from Northern Ireland are also inspiring on revival:  Alan Cairns and Rev. Cranston in Ontario Canada, Port Hope, who has a series of sermons on revivals in the Bible.  And E. A. Johnston America, Revival or Ruin is also very inspiring.  And of course Leonard Ravenhill. 

Somebody, just one other person.  We can make a difference.  I'm sure others are praying too, but we need to give LOTS of time to it, not just sandwich a few words for revival into prayers for other things. If hundreds of us set ourselves to do this God might really hear from heaven and heal our land before He comes in judgment.

I can get a lot more specific but I'll save that for another post.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

How We Need a Visitation From God

In the last post I mentioned that I think supernatural touches from God can increase sanctification, which I know is likely to be a controversial idea.  I had quoted Brian Edwards saying that revival is an increase in the spiritual life of believers, and I jumped from that to sanctification, which I think can be defended.  He went on to say that a desire for holiness is increased, and strength in evangelism is increased.  I'd add that conviction of sin is greatly increased, in fact revivals often start with people being deeply convicted of sin, some saved and drawn to confession and repentance, some needing to be saved, which becomes a struggle they endure until the Lord gives them the grace for salvation. 

Spiritual truths are learned and put into effect through these experiences of God, which means that people are permanently changed.  Normal sanctification is a process of growth by learning the same truths and acting on them in normal time over your lifespan.  What happens when God comes in power as in a revival is that the learning is intense and dramatic, which seems to me can be called speeded-up sanctification.  Believers are conformed more to the character of Christ and unbelievers are saved.

The Holiness Movement has claimed that the experience of "baptism in the Holy Spirit" brings about complete holiness or complete sanctification.  I've never understood how that is possible, but I don't think it's the same thing as happens in revivals.  I don't doubt that they are talking about genuine experiences of the power of God in what they call the baptism of the Holy Spirit, I just can't see how total sanctification is possible all at once. So either they are misinterpreting their experience or they are not doing the best job of getting it across.

As I suggested in the previous post, personal experiences of the presence of God may come to those who are seeking God with particular intensity.  As Hebrews 11:6 says, He who would come to God "...must believe that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him."  This intense diligent seeking through prayer and discipline and obedience is what characterizes those who get called "mystics" -- but their mysticism is Biblical, unlike the mysticism of the Emerging Church's mindless mechanical repetitious prayer they oddly call "contemplative."  Or the "mysticism" of the unchristian "worship services" of the Word-Faith and Charismatic churches, with their repetitive music and strange manifestations. 

So we need revival.  Christians need revival to correct us and promote spiritual growth, and the world needs revival, REAL revival, to slow the downward slide to Perdition and allow some to get saved. And we need REAL "mysticism" which is God's gracious presence where He is rightly worshipped, whether in the assembly or in the private prayer closet.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Strange Fire Revisited Pt 2: True and False Doctrine, True and False Revival, True and False "Mysticism"

This is to pick up where I left off in the previous post.

There may also be Genuine God-sent "Mystical" Experiences

At the very least, the fact that some people believe this, whether or not it is true, could work against the Strange Fire Conference's apparent achievement of completely demolishing the Charismatic Stronghold.  I personally do believe there are genuine supernatural/spiritual experiences given directly by God, but I'm open to being persuaded out of this idea just as the Strange Fire Conference finally freed me from my lingering doubts about the authenticity of the Charismatic Movement.

So what I want to do here is make the best case I can for the authenticity of some "mystical" experiences.

There are two ways these come to us I think:  in revivals and in the personal exercise of obedience and prayer. 


Strictly speaking I don't think the Reformed movement is a revival as the term is usually used these days (though Jonathan Edwards' phrase "reviving of religion" fits it) but without it there would be no hope for a genuine Holy Spirit revival so I'm happy enough to consider it God's answer to the many prayers for revival that have gone up to Him for decades, from so many of His people who feel the miserable state of the Church and the world.  This may certainly include many Charismatics, but a major need of the Church before we should even desire revival is that a great number of Charismatics would come to see the errors they've embraced, and that the bogus charismatic phenomena be widely recognized as bogus and abandoned with contrition and repentance.   I started to write on this subject because of how I think the Conference, which because of its biblical thoroughness should by all rights have left the Charismatic Movement a smoking ruin, may have failed to finish it off because of some entrenched mistaken bias against "mysticism."

Genuine revivals are characterized by powerful supernatural effects of the Holy Spirit.  Here's how Brian Edwards defines it in his book Revival! (written in 1990):
A true Holy Spirit revival is a remarkable increase in the spiritual life of a large number of God's people, accomopanied by an awesome awareness of the presence of God, intensity of prayer and praise, a deep conviction of sin with a passionate longing for holiness and unusual effectiveness in evangelism, leading to the salvation of many unbelievers. [pp 28-29]
A genuine revival is completely a work of God.  It "effects an increase in the spiritual life" or sanctification of believers. 

It may also be attended by counterfeits (such as the bogus "gifts of the Spirit" or the strange physical manifestations mentioned in the previous post), which according to Jonathan Edwards in the Preface to his book about the Great Awakening, The Religious Affections, it is crucial to discern if a true revival is to be successful and lasting:
It is by the mixture of counterfeit religion with true, not discerned and distinguished, that the devil has had his greatest advantage against the cause and kingdom of Christ all along hitherto... And so it is ever likely to be in the church, whenever religion revives remarkably, till we have learned well to distinguish between true and false religion, between saving affections and experiences, and those manifold fair shows and glistering appearances by which they are counterfeited;  the consequences of which, when they are not distinguished, are often inexpressibly dreadful. By this means the devil ...[brings] it to pass that that should be offered to God by multitudes, under a notion of a pleasing acceptable service to him, that is indeed above all things abominable to him. By this means he deceives great multitudes about the state of their souls ... and so eternally undoes them; and not only so, but establishes many in a strong confidence of their eminent holiness, who are in God's sight some of the vilest of hypocrites... Thereforeit greatly concerns us to use our utmost endeavours clearly to discern, and have it well settled and established, wherein true religion does consist...[in order to know] clearly and distinctly what we ought to contend for.
Sounds a lot like today's Charismatic Movement, doesn't it?  And his advice describes what the Strange Fire Conference aimed to accomplish in exposing it as counterfeit.

So there he has described the counterfeit and the importance of discerning it from the genuine.

Back to Brian Edwards, who describes in the Introduction to his book revival as witnessed by Howel Harris who was visiting the revival under Daniel Rowland in March of 1743:
...Their singing and praying is indeed full of God! O! How did my soul burn with sacred love when I was among them! They fall almost as dead by the power of the Word, and continue weeping for joy, having found the Messiah, some mourning under a sense of their vileness, and some in the pangs of the new birth.!
Then he gives a report of revival in Scotland in 1905 after hearing a report of the Welsh revival:
It was at a late prayer meeting, held in the evening at 9:30, that the fire of God fell. There was nothing, humanly speaking, to account for what happened. Quite suddenly, upon one and another came an overwhelming sense of the reality and awfulness of His presence and of eternal things... Prayer and weeping began, and gained in intensity every moment...Friends who were gathered sang on their knees. Each sermed to sing, and each seemed to pray, oblivious of one another. Then the prayer broke out again, waves and waves of prayer...One who was present says, 'I cannot tell you what Christ was to me last night. My heart was full to overflowing. If ever my Lord was near to me, it was last night.
Burning with sacred love, falling under the power of the Word, (as opposed to the magic wave or shove of the charismatic leader's hand), mourning over their vileness, experiencing the pangs of the new birth. What does any of that have in common with a charismatic "revival?"

Howel Harris also comments that Rowland's preaching was unusually powerful: 
O! Such power as generally attends the labours of brother Rowland, in particular, is indeed uncommon and almost incredible until one sees it himself.
This would be where the idea of a special anointing on preaching comes from, that MacArthur said Lloyd-Jones was always hoping for, and Lloyd-Jones had steeped himself in descriptions of revivals.

Jonathan Edwards believes that Satan undid the great revival in his time by introducing destructive counterfeits, but he does regard the revival itself as an extraordinary move of the Holy Spirit:
So the same cunning serpent, that beguiled Eve through his subtilty, by perverting us from the simplicity that is in CHrist, hath sudfdenly prevailed to deprive us of that fair prospect we had a little while ago, of a kind of paradisaic state of the church of God in New England.
Surely John MacArthur knows all this already, but how can he then speak as if there is no such thing as a special anointing on preaching, or special experiences of the Holy Spirit beyond His normal work in ordinary times?

Both of the books I've been quoting from discuss both the extraordinary effects of the Holy Spirit on individuals in revival, and the counterfeits that spoil it, such as the bogus phenomena of the charismatic movement. You can't just ignore the genuine or reduce it to "an emotional buzz" if you are trying to pull down the counterfeit.

But is there also a personal "mysticism" or heightened spiritual experience some individuals experience apart from Revival?

I think so, and I began my recent blog posts at Things of the Spirit to try to argue for it.  There are too many doctrinal errors committed by some of those called "mystics" to recommend any of them unreservedly, especially the Catholic mystics, and I know that even the highly admired A.W. Tozer is sometimes suspect for his unabashed love of the mystics.  I think it's clear that Tozer loved them because they convey such a powerful sense of the love of God.  That's what drew me to them too, back before I had become a Christian, eventually a Protestant;  in fact it was some of the Catholic mystics who turned me away from the Eastern religions to Christianity, though at that stage I thought that meant becoming a Catholic myself.  Even coming to see that Catholicism is an antichrist system hasn't completely tarnished my memory of the mystics I read in that early period on my way to becoming a believer.  They had heart-melting experiences of the exalted and majestic God and their descriptions are capable of creating a similar state of mind in the reader.  Or they did then for me, I haven't read them since I got my own theology straightened out along Reformed Protestant lines.  Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Madame Guyon, Fenelon, Blaise Pascal, Brother Lawrence, are all Catholics who inspired me with their high views of God and Christ, and often left me like the deer panting after the water brooks in Psalm 42:
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God.  My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God.
In those days I could also say "My soul doth magnify the Lord."  

Those experiences of heightened worship are what got me into the charismatic movement, which at least seemed to appreciate personal spiritual experience.   I eventually got "the gift of tongues" but it never felt right, never felt at all like worship or prayer.  The experiences I valued and still value are those that fill me with an exalted view of God and how lovable He is, and convict me of sin.  I don't see any of that in the charismatic movement, except in a couple of rare individuals I met there, but such experiences are common in revivals and in some of the mystics.  I should have been driven out of the movement at least by the lack of what I most valued, but eventually the odd things I was encountering are what led me to pray for light on what was really going on.  One thing, for instance, was a teaching by one of the "prophets" in the women's group I belonged to, about the twelve steps you needed to learn to come to the "throne of grace," whereas scripture teaches us to "come boldly to the throne of grace", never mentioning steps.  Another was an account of a visit to "heaven" with the usual strange unbiblical imagery;  another was a woman's story of how Christ set her free from drug addiction, which included allowing the demons that had possessed her to physically abuse her by throwing her against walls, for instance, so she said;  another was a small taste of the "laughing revival" when one woman started laughing during a retreat and couldn't stop until the next morning.  It didn't affect anyone else though.  Where was my "mystical" exalting and magnifying and love of God in all that, which was where I had started out?

None of those experiences proves the validity of the "mystical experiences" I'm arguing for, but at least it should show that they have nothing in common.

I'm going to post links to my posts about mysticism on the other blog for now.    
Mysticisms False and True -- or are they all False?  The Emerging Church and Contemplative Prayer

Is There a True Christian Mysticism?

Is it "mysticism" or just deeply living the Christian life?

More could and probably should be said about all this so I may come back to it, but I want to close for now with some thoughts about how to experience these things.

First, our motives have to be right.  We can't be seeking experience for experience's sake./  Lloyd-Jones wrote an article about the right motives for praying for revival: The real reason for revival, which comes down to seeking the glory of God. Considering how vilified our God is these days that's a motive we should be able to pray with easily enough.

Deeper personal experiences are given by God, in my experience, when we are seeking Him with all our heart, with more than usual prayer, possibly fasting, repentant for sin and praying to be cleansed, desiring God's glory in the church and the world. No gimmicks whatever, no mantra-style repetitions, nothing like that, just praying what we know from His word that God wants of us. The better we obey Him the closer we draw to Him. Moments of unusual presence of the Lord have come to me when I've obeyed Him best, such as earnestly desiring that His will be done, denying myself when it's most difficult and that sort of thing.

I wish there might be another conference like Strange Fire to address these questions I've been raising, to finish off the Charismatic counterfeits for good. Or maybe just some talks by people who spend time studying these things more carefully, study revival, study the mystics, work to differentiate what may be truly from God from the counterfeit. I'm going to reread Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections since he seems to think it's absolutely necessary for the success of revivals that we learn how to discern these things and how to keep the counterfeit from interfering with the genuine. He also seems to think it's possible. Because my hope for revival has been rekindled and I'm going to pray for it again.

This is all pretty sketchy, more of an outline than a discussion, but I'm going to leave it here for now.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Strange Fire Revisited: True and False Doctrine, True and False Spiritual Experience

Partly as an antidote to the discouragement and depressing effect of the End Times scenario that is looming over us, I've been immersing myself in good teaching, lately a lot of John MacArthur on You Tube videos, which got me back into the issues addressed by his Strange Fire Conference of a couple years ago.  I caught up with some of his answers to his critics among other things. 

MacArthur remains concerned that the moderates in the charismatic movement, as well as those outside who also believe that the gifts of the Spirit continue today, don't denounce the false teachers among them, because their silence gives tacit approval to what he considers to be the most serious threat to the Church in our time, and misleads individuals who get a false idea of salvation from the movement.

The Strange Fire Conference should have demolished the Charismatic Movement

As I've been reviewing some of the talks and follow-ups from the conference I conclude that the conference achieved its goal of showing that the Charismatic Movement is not Christian, even though there are Christians who are involved in it. The conference made their case, biblically, theologically and historically, that the "gifts of the Spirit" are not the gifts of the Spirit as described in the New Testament, they are something else, something false, misleading Christians into serious error.

I personally benefitted greatly from the Strange Fire Conference because although I'd come out of the charismatic movement years ago -- thanks to God's merciful answers to my prayers for truth about phenomena I'd encountered there -- I still had lingering doubts about the overall authenticity of the movement.  As MacArthur mentions in at least one of the videos I recently watched, one Reformed teacher said his eyes were opened by one particular revelation from MacArthur’s book based on the conference that completely exposed the errors of the movement and ended any doubts he had about it: the simple fact that all the practitioners of the movement recognize that the supernatural phenomena they are practicing are not the same as the gifts of the Spirit that were possessed by the New Testament Church.  The charismatics call the phenomena they experience "the gifts of the Spirit" nevertheless, while acknowledging this difference.  It seems to me that once this is acknowledged the whole charismatic movement is exposed as a deception and the hard thing to explain then is why some people aren't yet convinced.  The "prophecies" they promote, the "healings," the tongues-speaking, none of that is the same thing as the New Testament Church had experienced.

That revelation was one of seven Biblical arguments for the cessation of the spiritual gifts given in the talk by Pastor Tom Pennington, and was also crucial for setting me free from my lingering doubts, but that entire talk is what finished it off for me for good.  Those seven arguments he gave should be the end of the claim that scripture doesn't say that the gifts ended. What Pennington showed is that while it doesn't say that in so many words, there should be no doubt that the Bible makes clear that the gifts have ceased. He shows definitively, it seems to me, that the purpose of miraculous gifts throughout the Bible was always to authenticate the possessor of the gifts as God's chosen messenger. He then focuses on the gift of Apostleship to show that of all the gifts given to the New Testament church, that one has unquestionably ceased. He then shows that the New Testament Church was founded on the New Testament apostles and prophets, and once a foundation is laid it's laid and what follows in subsequent church history is building the temple on it. Then he makes the point mentioned above and elaborates it, that none of the phenomena practiced today in the charismatic movement that are claimed to be the continuation of the New Testament spiritual gifts bears any resemblance to the originals. Then he shows from scripture that the gifts had already declined during the time of the New Testament church, and then gives the testimony of church history that they had ceased. He argues then for the sufficiency of scripture, and goes on to point out that the rules given for the expression of the speaking gifts in the New Testament church are completely ignored by today's practitioners.

It seems to me that Pennington's talk alone should leave no charismatic claim still standing. All the talks contributed to that assessment, but another I found particularly illuminating was R.C. Sproul's talk on Undervaluing Pentecost, in which he demonstrated from the Book of Acts that the four major impartations of the gift of the Holy Spirit by the apostles were for the purpose of including separate groups of believers in the foundation of the Church, that is, the Jerusalem believers, the Samaritans, the "God-fearers" and the Gentiles. I'd never heard that before and it answers the major claim by the charismatics that those events argue for the continuation of the gifts today as if they represent the norm. If they were instead unique to the founding of the Church, as Sproul demonstrated, they argue against their continuation.

Those who continue to criticize MacArthur and the conference either can't have listened to it or understood it.  Judging by some of the criticisms I ran across, many just didn't hear it, because they are criticizing points that were clearly answered in the conference.


There is some confusion between the charismatic phenomena and other forms of “mysticism” that could keep the Strange Fire Conference from completely demolishing the movement as it should

As MacArthur says in an interview by Phil Johnson [27:05], as well as in a talk he gave to his seminary students, What has happened since Strange Fire, he doesn't understand what “compulsions” make an otherwise strong Reformed preacher and thinker step outside that frame of reference in order to endorse the charismatic movement. 

Two continuationists that were mentioned were John Piper and Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and both of them have said that the scripture doesn't show the cessation of the gifts, which I say above Tom Pennington seems to me to have answered definitively forever. Lloyd-Jones also made it clear in some of his writing that he thought the cessationists are saying all miracles have ceased rather than just the specific gifting of individuals as described in the New Testament. Pennington answers that objection too, and I’m sure MacArthur does in his book as well.

Both Lloyd-Jones and Piper certainly have a strong influence on continuationists today. I'm not as familiar with Wayne Grudem, but apparently he is another Reformed teacher who has defended the gifts. There remains a question why he and Piper haven't changed their view of the movement based on the conference, and especially on Pennington's talk, if they in fact heard it.

Lloyd-Jones died in 1981 but those influenced by him should be able to correct his views from the information given at the conference. Other influential evangelical teachers who accepted the charismatic movement were A.W. Tozer and Leonard Ravenhill, both very inspiring preachers it would be hard for serious Christians to criticize. This is a great value of the Strange Fire Conference, that it gives us solid grounds for rejecting their views of the charismatics apart from their valid theology.

According to MacArthur in the talk to seminary students, Lloyd-Jones often spoke of seeking a special "anointing" or power of God on his preaching, saying he'd experienced it three times in his career. MacArthur answered very effectively based on 1 John 2 that the anointing is there when the truth is preached, which is of course true and needs to be affirmed as he did.

But he fails to recognize that sometimes there is such a thing as preaching with a felt power that affects the hearers in an unusual way. MacArthur's argument would be stronger if he allowed that there very well may be valid supernatural spiritual experiences, although they have nothing whatever to do with the Charismatic Movement and are wrongly appropriated to it. He quite rightly says in that talk to the seminary students that he thinks Lloyd-Jones’ mysticism about the anointing “lends itself to being open to the charismatic gifts.”

But since he has never experienced this sort of thing himself he denigrates that mysticism and risks being unable to persuade those who take it seriously. My point is that one of the reasons for Reformed teachers to hold on to the idea of a special anointing, which then wrongly becomes the basis for supporting the whole charismatic movement, is that they themselves have had such “mystical” experiences and assume they are the same kind of spiritual experiences the Charismatic movement is based on. Lloyd-Jones didn't experience the big revival in Wales in 1905 (though his wife did), but he was very interested in revivals and studied them. Genuine revivals are characterized by supernatural experiences that leave an indelible impression on those affected by them, including the experience of a special power to affect people by the preaching of the leaders.

Tozer received what he understood to be the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” as a new believer, and often mentions the “Christian mystics” in his books as examples of a deep level of worship and a high view of God. The fact that such examples of "mysticism" are so often criticized along with the Charismatic Movement can be misleading, and confuse the false teachings the Strange Fire conference did such a good job of exposing with legitimate experiences given by the Holy Spirit. Today we also have a fast-growing new form of mysticism in the churches, this one the “Contemplative Prayer” movement within the apostate Emerging Church movement that teaches a form of Transcendental Meditation (I wrote about this recently on my Things of the Spirit blog).

The differences between the bogus mysticisms and the mysticism Tozer extols really need a whole separate conference because the only thing they have in common is experience of the supernatural. Or at least that is my opinion; perhaps a good Biblical study could show me that I’m wrong about this. Some of the mystics Tozer admires can be shown to have had some false ideas too, but the one thing they have that the Charismatics and the Emerging Church don't have is a genuine sense of worship that truly exalts God, whereas the phony mysticisms are all caught up on the level of the experiences themselves, which do not glorify God at all even though they claim they do.

Leonard Ravenhill's passion was praying for revival. Revival of the supernatural sort he had in mind did not come in his lifetime as a result of his prayers and books exhorting Christians to pray for revival. In fact the only "revivals" we've had over the last few decades are the bogus charismatic and Word-Faith spectacles in which people exhibit bizarre behavior under the influence of the flesh or some alien spirit. The Strange Fire Conference did provide the categories of discernment necessary to differentiate a true revival from the charismatic movement and from the false revivals associated with the movement over the last few decades, but without a clear idea of what true revival would look like the point can get lost.

MacArthur says, however, on the two videos linked above, that we are right now in the midst of the greatest revival that has ever been, far greater than the Reformation, and that is the recovery of Reformed theology, of which his church and seminary are a part. He gave some very interesting history of the movement which he experienced from its beginnings. That’s a very important perspective, brand new to me, and it lifted my spirits quite a bit to hear him say that because I’ve become so resigned to how God is judging the west and isn’t going to give us a revival. I do think it’s fair to call this resurgence of Reformed doctrine a revival, but nevertheless it’s not a revival in the sense that Edwin Orr wrote about revivals, which are characterized by supernatural phenomena. That is clearly what Lloyd-Jones had in mind, and Leonard Ravenhill, although they made the error of accepting the phenomena of the Charismatic Movement as the same thing, which it is not, and not differentiating these things is an error perpetuated by the Strange Fire Conference, which needs to be corrected if the conference is to be the success it should be.

When I’ve hoped for a revival, something I wrote about fairly frequently early on in my blogging, the wish would be almost immediately squelched by the knowledge of the false revivals we’d been having, such as the “Toronto Blessing,” and the fact that there is so much doctrinal error in the churches we would need a Reformation before a genuine revival could be possible. So MacArthur’s saying the Reformed movement is in fact a great revival cheers me immensely, because I read that to mean we are actually having the doctrinal Reformation we need to have before any experiential revival could be safe. A genuine revival of that kind has the supernatural effects of deeply convicting Christians of sin en masse, and of spreading wide in the community even without human intervention to draw people to the revival where they can hear the gospel. If the church isn’t founded on true doctrine the result could only be a chaos of misguided experiences, misleading any new converts as they are even now being misled in the megachurches. It’s no doubt a great blessing from God that all the praying for revival that has been done over the last few decades has not gone further than it did in the bogus charismatic events, and may even have been answered by the Reformed movement. But we aren’t yet where we should be in order to rest easy in the idea of a big move of God either.

Tozer warned (a few decades ago already) that a revival in the current condition of the church would be a disaster, not a blessing, and his words proved prophetic. It would only confirm the churches in their horrific man-centeredness and false ideas of worship, which is what happened with the Toronto and Lakeland and Brownsville “revivals” and now Redding if that is considered to be a revival. Despite the hopeful growth of Reformed doctrine, the doctrinal dangers continue now even worse than ever in the “seeker-sensitive” megachurches which are packed with people hearing messages of comfort to their fleshly and worldly self-interests instead of the gospel message of dying to self.

The Strange Fire Conference did a remarkable job of answering all that, but someone like John Piper might resist even the best biblical evidence against the charismatic phenomena based on having experienced spiritual phenomena that raised his Christian life above the ordinary. I don’t know the causes in Piper’s case but he clearly highly values a certain kind of “mystical” experience that leads him to endorse the Charismatics. Strange Fire did not answer this sort of objection because it's not at all in the same category as the Charismatic Movement though often confused with it, and would need a whole different set of arguments to answer it.

Different Kinds of Supernatural Experiences

When MacArthur said he doesn't understand why some Reformed teachers would persist in seeking a special anointing or other special feeling, he reveals a gap in his own thinking that may undermine the arguments of the Strange Fire Conference in some people's minds. Even if it's clear that the conference is not arguing for the cessation of all supernatural work by the Holy Spirit, there is still the fact that some people HAVE experienced something supernatural that isn’t the spiritual gifts but which he doesn’t consider valid, which he lumps with the charismatic phenomena as the same sort of “mysticism” and dismisses as false in the same way. But you can't just dismiss all that as an illusion. Somehow you have to answer it if it can and should be answered, and it has to be answered on completely different grounds than the charismatic phenomena, because they are not the same thing.

This is certainly true of the kinds of experiences Lloyd-Jones would have remembered from the Welsh revival, but even with the bogus charismatic experiences you can't just dismiss them as produced by imagination or “impressions” or "the flesh" because they are not voluntary experiences. To characterize the sought-for “anointing” as “some kind of buzz” as MacArthur did, is to completely discredit his own opinion of these things.

There needs to be a differentiation between the false and the God-sent experiences such as Lloyd-Jones would have in mind.

The Charismatic Experiences are not Voluntary

Even the Charismatic experiences need to be understood as something different from ordinary modes of experience and knowing. While emotions can be heightened by repetitive music it would be a mistake to think all that is going on in those charismatic “worship services” is emotion (and you could ask in any case WHAT emotion it is that is being invoked since it’s clearly not worship). Repetitious music or drumbeats or bodily movements can bring about altered states of consciousness, but also are part of shamanistic rituals that invite demon possession in tribal settings. While some of it may be faked, there is a real power that is imparted with the laying on of hands you can see in those videos where people fall over, sometimes apparently unconscious. That sort of thing can’t be chalked up to anything the senses or emotions could bring about.

Clearly there is a supernatural or spiritual power that is exhibited in some charismatic gatherings and "revivals" --  you can find video after video of people suddenly losing control of their bodies and thrashing around wildly, jerking spasmodically, being thrown to the floor, or their heads whipping about alarmingly even while they are speaking, and there should be no doubt whatever that this is a real power outside their control.  The "prophecies" and the "tongues" also come involuntarily, which adds to the overall impression that the whole array of such phenomena including what they wrongly call the “gifts of the Spirit” are of God.  The logic is pretty simple:  Well, all this is outside our control and what other source for such phenomena is there but God, since we're Christians aren't we?

The Charismatic phenomena I just described has been shown to be the same as the “Kundalini” experiences had by Hindu practitioners. Ex-“prophet” Andrew Strom has posted videos to You Tube demonstrating this which I’ve linked in the margin of my blog. You can also find videos of the “Toronto Blessing” and Todd Bentley’s Lakeland “Revival” which demonstrate the same phenomena. There is nothing Christian about any of this and the fact that it is the same sort of thing as practiced in Hinduism ought to open people’s eyes to this fact.

You can’t just impute these things to normal experiences of “the flesh” because the people experiencing them obviously can’t control most of it. It’s either demonic or it belongs to what Watchman Nee identified as “soul power” in his book The Latent Powers of the Soul, in which he ascribes them to original powers possessed by Adam and Eve that were for the most part lost or at least distorted at the Fall. These would include psychic abilities of the sort that become the source of the “prophecies” claimed by Charismatics. Nee says he himself had the experience of knowing things in other people’s minds that he couldn’t have known through normal experience, and at first thought it was a gift from God until he came to understand that God is not pleased with that sort of thing, so he made an effort to do away with it as you would with sin. The involuntary tongues-speaking experienced by charismatics can come from this latent “soul power” as well, certainly not from God. Nee also mentions that fits of laughter affected congregations in China in his time just as they have in the “laughing revivals” in Toronto and other Charismatic and “Word-Faith” gatherings, and they sought these experiences because they believed they were from God, and Nee advised them against it. The thing is all these phenomena are involuntary, produced automatically without the person’s conscious involvement, and that is what convinces them that they must be of God.

All this can be stimulated by demonic forces or twisted to their own ends too, since it is all part of the fallen nature.

There may also be Genuine God-sent "Mystical" Experiences

Next post continues from the last heading. =============================================== (Note: I discovered after posting this that Martyn Lloyd-Jones did not exoerience the Welsh revival personally, don't know how I had that idea. Turns out from a biography I found on him that his wife had been there, so he may have received a lot of his interest in revivals from her accounts. That same biography said he did study revivals. I tried to change my comments but it wasn't easy so those sections are pretty awkward.