A couple of days ago, I asked an audience, “Has anyone here experienced, as I have, that at some time in your life someone has attributed to you words that you did not say?” That seemed to touch a cord in them.
I continued with something like, “When that has happened to me, I’ve been tempted to retort, ‘I did not say that!’ or ‘That’s not what I meant!’” By that time, people were nodding. No one wants to be misrepresented. Now consider, if inaccurate attribution insults we mere humans, how much worse is it to attribute to the Holy Spirit words or messages He did not say or miracles He did not do?
Yet such false crediting is what I did with my experiences after I joined the Charismatic movement thirty years ago. Dishonoring the Spirit by false attributions is a serious problem among Charismatics. Therefore, I appreciate that the Strange Fire Conference intentionally urged people to honor the Holy Spirit based upon discernment.
The Grace toYou website is probably the best place to read summaries of the lectures. Even better, download and listen to the lectures and hear for yourself. Some videos are here. (More are coming.) Video will especially enhance your experience of the panel discussions and lectures by Justin Peters, as he plays video clips. You can also download transcripts at the GTY site. All free. No seed-faith needed.
Meanwhile, I would like to share a few of my observations, emphasis on “few.”
Intent – Call to Discernment
As I already pointed out, one intent of the conference was to call people to honor the Holy Spirit as He deserves. Who among those who profess to be on intimate terms with God would risk attributing to Him something He did not do or say? Isn’t that misrepresenting Him? That would be to take His name in vain.
Another intent was to call attention to the lack of discernment. If people would discern the truth, then those who truly love God would avoid dishonoring the Holy Spirit. Vulnerability lies in the fact that false teachers don’t present themselves as enemies but as friends offering truth; that is what makes them hard for the undiscerning to spot. For example, Creflo Dollar, who teaches that we are “little gods,” has a multitude of followers. First John 4:1 commands us to apply discernment.
Another intent of the conference was to call leaders in the Charismatic movement to police their own movement. The excesses, rampant immorality, scandals, and bizarre behaviors are ridiculous and disgraceful to the name of Christ. Leaders in it who are more doctrinally sound should call false teachers to account.
Speakers were careful to not lump everyone together. They distinguished between false teachers who knowingly mislead people for financial gain, followers who are deceived and unwittingly believe the lies, and also leaders who support the movement but otherwise maintain a right doctrine and do not practice the behavioral extremes or deceive people for money.
Mbewe, Sproul, and Peters
Conrad Mbewe was a person new to me. He is called the Spurgeon of Africa, and is pastor of Kabwata Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia. He is deeply concerned about the chaos being produced in Africa by Charismatic theology. Because of it, people professing to be Christians no longer hold Bible studies like they used to do; they are abandoning the Scripture. He explained how charismaticism has adopted African religious beliefs, applying African cultural definitions to “deliverance,” “healing,” and “break through.” The leaders do what witch doctors do but use Christian lingo. In Africa, when people in general use the term “born again,” they refer to the worst of charismaticism. Read his article, “Why is the Charismatic Movement Thriving in Africa?”.
RC Sproul related the history of the Charismatic movement. In the process, he made some observations from the book of Acts. He observed that:
- Each case was a replication of Pentecost to show that a particular group was accepted by God.
- Each time, everyone received the Holy Spirit.
- Each time, speaking in tongues was not something they sought. God initiated giving the gift.
- Each time, an apostle was present.
None of these characteristics are true today.
Justin Peters gave two hours of his longer seminar in which he shows video clips of Charismatic leaders teaching and then logically explains what is truth and what is error. We watched for ourselves the teaching of doctrines such as that God wants people Christians to be financially rich, that He wants Christians to be healed of diseases, that people are “little gods,” and that the teaching that people should study and rely upon the Scriptures is heretical. His seminar was very helpful.
There are 500 million Charismatics in the world in a number of denominations. (Compare with fourteen million Mormons.) Twenty-four million or more deny the Trinity. The majority believe in the prosperity gospel. The big-name leaders make millions off of their followers and live in luxury. Even the extreme and bizarre are not unusual but mainstream. This becomes apparent when viewing the packed auditoriums where faith healers perform and when considering how ubiquitous TBN has grown.
Primary issue: Sufficiency of Scripture
A primary issue at stake in modern Christendom, and charismaticism in particular, is the sufficiency of Scripture. In his two lectures, Steve Lawson hammered on this issue. Either revelation from God is found in the Bible or it is found in the Bible plus prophesies/tongues/impressions, etc. Tongues and such are subjective and emanate from within ourselves. The Bible is objective and outside of ourselves. The question is, when we seek to know the will of God, shall we rely on sola Scriptura (Scripture only) or will we look to another source also?
In his first lecture, Lawson spoke on what Calvin would say to Charismatic Calvinists. He repeatedly quoted Calvin’s responses to the Libertines and Anabaptists of his day who believed they were getting special messages from God not found in Scripture. Reading the many quotes of Calvin shown by Lawson, what Calvin believed was unmistakable.
Calvin believed that the point of the New Testament miracles was not miracles or healing. The point of the miracles was to validate the truth of Christ and His message, the gospel. For example, Calvin wrote of his critics:
In demanding miracles from us, they act dishonestly; for we have not coined some new gospel, but retain the very one the truth of which is confirmed by all the miracles which Christ and the apostles ever wrought.
His opponents were demanding that he perform miracles and he wrote that he didn’t need to because he wasn’t bringing a new message. The gospel he preached had already been attested by the miracles of Jesus and the apostles. Miracles were for the attestation of Christ and His message.
Lawson ended with three main points:
- Biblical revelation holds exclusive authority. At the time of Calvin, the Roman Catholic Church taught that there were two equal streams of revelation–the Bible and the Roman Catholic Church. Similarly, today’s Charismatics rely on two streams–the Bible (very seldom) and subjective revelation which they claim is from the Holy Spirit. Instead, we need to live by faith in sola Scriptura.
- Staying close to the text in biblical preaching is essential. People need the Word, not stories of a preacher’s dreams or impressions. It is by knowing the Word that they can discern truth and error and know how to obey God.
- The Holy Spirit is in unity with His Word. Do we want to hear from the Holy Spirit? He inspired the Word. So if we heed the Spirit, we will be heeding His written Word.
Lawson’s second lecture hit the ball out of the park! He taught on the Puritans’ defense of Scripture, specifically against the Quakers. Point by point, he explained the Puritan view of Scripture, its authority, perfection, perspicuity, sufficiency, etc. Then he explained Quaker doctrine and its similarity to the Charismatic view of revelation, that we can hear from God outside of the Bible. He concluded by telling how John Owen combatted Quaker doctrine and defended the Scriptures. That lecture was so captivating that it seemed to fly by in the blink of an eye. This brief outline of it is inadequate. Listen for yourself.