Archive for the ‘The Church’ Category

In October of 2013 John MacArthur hosted the Strange Fire Conference (followed quickly with the publication of a book by the same name). This re-ignited a serious debate among biblical Christians, one that split people within certain denominations and theological traditions while also uniting people of diverse denominations and theological traditions with one another.

The nature of the Strange Fire conference and book evoked a certain degree of outrage within Pentecostal and Charismatic circles. Having a great gift for remaining uncontroversial, I wrote a blog post titled “A Pentecostal in (General) Support of the Strange Fire Conference.” This blog, much to my surprise, drew a lot of attention. John MacArthur himself positively quoted it in an interview he did with Tim Challies. My guiding conviction in that post was that, while I believe the gifts have continued, they need to be exercised and practiced biblically. Far too often continuationism has provided cover for every kind of abuse, absurdity, and at times even heresy.

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There has been something of a kerfuffle regarding certain contributors over at The Gospel Coalition lately.  Tullian Tchividjian was planning on leaving TGC in August, but his departure is being hastened.  I am in no position to speak about individuals or ministries involved.  I simply do not know enough about what is happening or why, and I’d rather not wildly speculate at this point.  However, Tchividjian has made some comments that are worth reflecting on.

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Hello friends,

I’m excited to announce a new website, which serves as a front for a movement dedicated to promoting the Gospel in West Virginia. While our primary concern is with our home state, I think many of you will find the articles and blogs we’re setting up very useful.

The web site is: www.wv4g.org

I hope this site brings much glory to the Triune God,

Josiah

The issue of John MacArthur’s recent Strange Fire Conference (and forthcoming book) is all the rage in the Evangelical blogosphere right now. Truth be told, I’m impressed by the attention the whole thing is drawing. If you know anything about MacArthur you know he is a cessationist, and that he has promoted cessationism publicly for quite some time.

I gather the issue is not MacArthur’s cessationism, which is well-known. The issue is that MacArthur has thrown down the theological gauntlet. He’s not merely saying continuationism is wrong, he’s saying it’s wrong and dangerous. While I was not at the conference, reports I read had MacArthur likening Charismatics to Mormonism, saying that Evangelicals will challenge 14 million Mormons, but are silent in the face of half a billion Charismatics. This is inflammatory, perhaps even reckless, speech.

But as you may have gathered from the title, I’m not writing this post to point out MacArthur’s errors or where I disagree with him (though such disagreements do exist). That I’m writing in general support of Strange Fire implies I have particular differences with the conference and some of its themes. This post is about my support of the conference, not my differences with it.

You might be curious about how I, as a Pentecostal pastor, could possibly support any conference that fundamentally challenges the theological foundation  of my movement and condemns many of its practices. My reasons are simple:

1. Any error John MacArthur espoused at the conference, and any recklessness he demonstrated, is far less than the errors and recklessness we see in much of the modern Charismatic movement.

We may say that things like barking in the Spirit represent the fringe of the Pentecostal Charismatic movement. In some cases, this is true. I have no doubt that if the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God (George O. Wood) saw a congregant doing this that he would confront them about it. But George O. Wood is, unfortunately, NOT the public face of the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement. The most prominent and popular Pentecostal/Charismatic pastors tend to be TBN broadcasters. And what we get from TBN is error after error, from false prophecies galore to Prosperity “Gospel” nonsense. People hear “Charismatic” and they think “Todd Bentley” or “Bethel Church, Redding.”

I know many Charistmatic/Pentecostal leaders have responded to Strange Fire with calls for distinction. We want a distinction between those with common sense and Biblical fidelity in our movement and those who lack this (like Todd Bentley, Benny Hinn, and nearly every other pastor on TBN). But let’s be honest here, we Pentecostals have failed to make such a distinction, and that brings me to my second point.

2. Pentecostals and Charismatics are allergic to doctrinal distinction and discernment.

I wish I could say I was lying about the sentence I just wrote, but I am not. We want cessationists like John MacArthur to draw careful distinctions between different groups in our movement, but we ourselves refuse to draw such distinctions. This refusal has primarily come in the form of SILENCE regarding false teachers and false prophecies. While we Pentecostal pastors and academics often do not buy the Prosperity nonsense, we refuse to condemn those who teach it.

A few years ago, as an undergraduate student, I attempted to publish a paper in a peer-reviewed Pentecostal/Charismatic journal. In retrospect, my article was probably not up to academic par (I was an undergraduate student, mind you). The basic idea behind the article was to point out certain denials of the sufficiency of Scripture within some of the more popular teachings in our movement. I went after, for example, C. Peter Wagner and his book 7 Power Principles I learned After Seminary. I also challenged Prosperity teaching and one or two other things. My article was rejected for publication, but the editors of the journal did not cite academic quality (which could have been amended by adding a few more sources and revising a few footnotes) as the reason for the refusal. Instead, they said while they agreed with much of the content of my article it was too divisive and would not be published. I could have accepted something like “You don’t have the academic credentials we want” or “You need to add additional sources” or something like that. But no, the stated reason for the refusal was divisiveness.

I recognize the value of unity, but a unity not grounded in and centered on the truth is merely a superficial unity. If we Pentecostals want John MacArthur to make distinctions when he calls out the Charismatic movement for its abuses, then maybe we should be the first ones making distinctions and calling out heresy and excess where we find it.

Where are the orthodox Pentecostals condemning Oneness Pentecostalism (modalism)? Do we hold the nature and character of the Triune God in such low esteem? Where is the unified front of Pentecostal and Charismatic pastors speaking out against the Prosperity Gospel? Where are the Pentecostals warning about the creeping influence of Open Theism in our movement? Where are the Pentecostals upholding and demanding the regulative principle of worship in our services?

The answer is, sadly, that the Pentecostals/Charismatics speaking out on such issues are the real fringe. We put ourselves in the difficult position of upholding truth and doctrine in the midst of a movement that tends to value experience. When we do speak out against abuses and false teachings, even our brothers who agree with us tend to warn us about being too “divisive” and not being “sensitive to the Holy Spirit.” Perhaps those who are truly sensitive to the Holy Spirit are those offended by the abuses and lies taught in His Name. If we fail to expose known lies we become implicated in their continuation.

3. The false teachers have more influence than we think or admit.

While we’re on this topic, the abuses and excesses of the Charismatic movement are often rejected by certain pastors (though they are accepted and promoted by others) and denominational leaders. But let’s not forget the people in the pew. As an associate pastor, I often speak out against the Prosperity Gospel. But I know, despite this fact, that there are certain congregants who continue to believe it. In my involvement with Chi Alpha I’ve often spoken out against Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and T.D. Jakes. It seldom fails that I offend a brother or sister when I do so.

Why does this matter? Because I’m on staff at a small church. I’m around average Pentecostals in my congregation and campus ministry. I’m not constantly around denominational leaders or scholars. And among most congregants the likes of Osteen, Meyer, Copeland, and Shuttlesworth are incredibly popular.

I’ve heard demands for MacArthur to evaluate us by looking at French Arrington or Stanley Horton. To be completely honest, my congregants have no clue who those men are (apart from perhaps a vague familiarity established by sermon references). My congregants do know who Kenneth Hagin is, or who T.D. Jakes is. I don’t think MacArthur’s concern is primarily with the Pentecostals who hold Horton in high esteem. It’s with the congregants who hold Jakes and Copeland in high esteem, and given that priority, MacArthur’s approach makes more sense.

MacArthur wasn’t looking to spark a debate in peer-reviewed literature. He was looking to engage at the popular level, and he has been wildly successful at this. It’s the popular level where the false teachers and excesses are often a problem, and it makes sense to aim there.

It should also be noted that TBN is exported to other countries. They broadcast all over the world. They broadcast to Christians who don’t have the benefit of owning their own Bibles. The incredible damage of Prosperity teaching in world missions must be carefully observed.

4. We routinely ignore the regulative principle of worship.

Much of MacArthur’s criticism has been aimed not merely at doctrinal issues like the Prosperity Gospel, but at practical issues like what is allowed in worship. If you’re Todd Bentley, you say the Holy Spirit demands things like kicking women in the face. If you’re like most Pentecostals/Charismatics, you permit being “slain in the Spirit” despite the fact there’s scant Biblical evidence for such a practice. If you’re like me, you think we should only promote and permit that which can rightly be found to be the normative practice of Scripture.

Honestly, this puts me at odds with many fellow Pentecostals/Charismatics. The people promoting the really strange practices, people like C. Peter Wagner and his “power principles,” and their followers are incorrigible. They are not open to rebuke, even if that rebuke comes from the Bible. I speak from experience as a Pentecostal. But we Pentecostals have allowed things that seemed harmless, even though they don’t seem to come from Scripture, and now we are increasingly seeing things that are harmful and that still don’t come from Scripture. But we have no experience saying “no” to anything in worship, so we implicitly or explicitly say “yes” to everything.

What’s really concerning about the whole thing in most Pentecostal/Charismatic circles a debate about the regulative principle of worship is not even underway. We just don’t care about it. We’re at risk of nullifying the commands of God for the sake of our traditions. We need to rigorously Biblically evaluate our movement’s practices in worship.

5. We functionally ignore Sola Scriptura.

This point follows from the last one. While we tend to uphold Sola Scriptura intellectually and verbally, we tend to ignore it functionally. This is true not only in worship, but in evangelism, church growth, counseling, and church government. Let’s be honest, most of our Pentecostal churches (mine included) are run by boards of trustees that have more in common with corporate America than anything we find in the Bible.

We want to grow our churches by applying the marketing strategies of corporate America. We, a movement dedicated to the work of the Holy Spirit, consistently outsource our counseling to bloody secularists. We buy into pop-psychology about love languages.

If what I’ve just said sounds like Evangelicalism as a whole, you can probably understand why John MacArthur is so upset. I don’t think all (or even most) of the above problems originated in our movement, but our movement’s adoption of the above practices along with it’s explosive growth has gone a long way to carry these things further into the identity of the broader Evangelical movement. We Pentecostals and Charismatics are now very influential, and we haven’t always used our influence intentionally or responsibly.

We need to recapture our dedication to the sufficiency of Scripture and the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. We need to articulate our understanding of spiritual gifts in such a way as to not conflict with the sufficiency of Scripture. If the effect of our teaching is that people look to a subjective experience for guidance and assurance before they look to Scripture for those things then our teaching is dangerous and needs to be corrected.

Conclusion

I know in what I’ve said I probably have not sounded much like a Pentecostal. But it is because I love my heritage and my movement that I grieve deeply for it. What we love greatly is capable of hurting us deeply. And I have been hurt by the abuses and lack of Biblical fidelity in my own movement.

This doesn’t mean I agree with everything John MacArthur says. I remain a continuationist, he a cessationist. We have some real differences. This doesn’t mean I always agree with the way John MacArthur stated his rebukes, some of them were too general and lacked necessary distinction.

But an overly broad condemnation of real problems is better than no condemnation of the problems at all. We Pentecostals and Charismatics needed to be offended, I’m afraid it may be the only thing that will make us think critically and Biblically about ourselves as a movement. And for this offense I want to thank John MacArthur and the participants in the Strange Fire Conference. The most hurtful thing about that conference is not the broad generalizations, sweeping condemnations, or lack of distinctions. For me as a Pentecostal the most hurtful thing about the Strange Fire Conference is my knowledge that far too many of the criticisms are true.

Read more on this topic, and learn about a book I have co-authored on it, by following this link.

God bless,

Joey

On this fine snowy evening, I have come across Dr. Eric Seibert’s article titled “When the “Good Book” is Bad: Challenging the Bible’s Violent Portrayals of God.”  You can access it and Dr. Owen Strachan’s response to this foolishness via the links at the bottom of this post.

In respectable dialogue, it is characteristic to be friendly, courteous, and generous.  But this is the type of dialogue that takes place in peer-reviewed journals or over a drink at Starbucks.  When someone kicks in my front door and is threatening the welfare of small children, or when a wolf has entered the pasture and is not exactly considering a respectful dialogue with the sheep, our mode of engagement must be different.  We don’t at that moment start making coffee, we cock the Remington.  We land staff blows to the head.  To employ respectable discourse at this stage would be an act of surrender akin to parleying while Sauron’s army stands in the Pelennor Fields (see Douglas Wilson, “A Serrated Edge,” p. 11).

Some well-meaning but strategically challenged Christians will, no doubt, treat this as a tactical battle about how we interpret Scripture.  But this is no tactical battle at all.  It is a strategic one not about how we interpret Scripture (as important as that is), but about what Scripture itself is.  Seibert has left the Evangelical camp and is now lined up with the Philistines.  We Evangelicals take the Bible to be God’s inspired Word, and therefore to be inerrant.  Seibert takes the Bible to be a book that can be judged false by the standards of fallen man.

Of course, I should be thankful that unlike other theological liberals Seibert doesn’t actually pretend to esteem the Bible.  At least he is honest when he says “To put it bluntly: not everything in the “good book” is either good, or good for us” (Emphasis original).  If not everything in the “good book” is good, we can discern quite easily that it’s not exactly the “good book” (Seibert’s quotation marks here a good hint to his view on this as well).  But if the Bible is not the “good book,” what is it?  If it is not the very inspired and inerrant Word of God, what claim can it possibly make to our allegiance and trust?

Certainly Seibert does not look to the Bible as the source of his ethical standards.  In fact, it is the ethical teachings of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, with which Seibert has a problem.  So he does not take it as a valuable source of man’s moral duties.  Nor does he accept it as a source of truth about God’s character, for he says it portrays God in unacceptable ways.  I should certainly like to know the source of Seibert’s revelation about the nature of God.  If he rejects the Bible, which he obviously does, he is left without any standard for learning who God is and what He is like.

One might here say that Seibert doesn’t reject the whole Bible, but only parts of it (as it turns out, all the parts he happens not to like).  But the Bible is not the sort of book we can sever into distinct parts, some of which we accept while others of which we do not.  The claims and teachings of Scripture are an integrated and cohesive whole.  To reject the commands of God in the Old Testament as immoral is to reject the very God of Scripture Himself.  To say God is not able to command a life be taken is to say that God is not God at all, but a weak, ineffective sort of being held in check by a standard above Himself.  And if the commands of the Old Testament are rejected, the very need for a Savior is also rejected.  If God is not the source of morality, if we have not offended our Creator by our sins and disobedience to His commands, then the sending of His Son is an entirely pointless affair.  In short, we can’t reject the Old Testament commands without also rejecting the New Testament Savior.  And once we have done both of those, we have robbed Christianity of its core.

Some might here claim that it is just about believing in Jesus and the moral example He set, not about any other doctrinal baggage.  But  here again, Seibert does not have this road open to him.  If the Old Testament is as bad as Seibert claims, then Jesus was no moral example.  Jesus esteemed the Old Testament in the highest regard, living His entire life in light of its commands and claiming that not one iota would pass from the law and prophets until the end of all things (Matthew 5:17-20, an “iota” is the smallest written letter of the Greek alphabet).  If the Old Testament is immoral and teaches us bad things about God, but Jesus came to fulfill it and taught that it is completely true and the law is good, then Jesus Himself is implicated as a propagator of immorality and falsehood.

It is often said that God made man in His image, and man has been making God in his image ever since.  This is, unfortunately, a basically true statement.  As fallen men, we tend to paint a God who looks just like we do.  Theological liberals often say “Your God seems to hate all the same things you do.”  But the opposite is also true.  It’s funny how Seibert’s god tends to sound a lot like a 21st Century theological liberal.  Historically speaking, it is the conservative view of God that has always challenged the broader culture on issues like homosexuality, gender roles, the ownership and treatment of slaves, etc.  The liberal view of god has always matched the culture perfectly on these things.  The conservative view has been steady and consistent over millennia.  The liberal view varies in accordance with the polls.  Conservatism, by its nature, hasn’t done much in terms of changing its perceptions of and teachings about God.  Liberalism has changed and, by its nature, is always changing what it teaches about god(s).  Liberals are a thermometer that tells us what the cultural temperature is like.  Conservatives are a thermostat that sets the cultural temperature itself.

Ultimately, we must ask ourselves whether the Bible is revealed truth about God.  If we answer yes, our duty is to discern that truth, but never to sit in judgment upon it.  We, by the power of the Spirit, interpret what is said and apply it, but our job stops there.  The finite and limited must not attempt to correct the infinite and unlimited God.  If, however, we answer no, then we are left to despair in our meaningless state.  We will never be able to make sense of things, being ruled only by our own desires, impulses and arbitrary whims.  We will be able to make a god in our own image, but he will be a weak, powerless idol.

My message to Seibert is to repent of his idolatry and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  God abounds in mercy, despite the fact that Seibert argues otherwise.  His blasphemies against the character of God can be forgiven.

My message to my Christian brothers and sisters, perhaps confused and fearful about this whole fracas, is to learn how to better defend your faith.  An excellent book on this topic is Paul Copan’s “Is God a Moral Monster?”.  Additionally, we must always exercise great discernment.  There is no lack of wolves in sheep’s clothing, even at supposedly Christian colleges and even in Biblical studies departments.  Stand firm in your faith by the power of the Spirit, and learn to recognize the strategies and tactics of the enemy for what they are.  Expose the unfruitful works of darkness (Ephesians 5:11).  Grow in the Lord and in the knowledge of the truth.

Sincerely,

Joey

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/02/when-the-good-book-is-bad-challenging-the-bibles-violent-portrayals-of-god/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thoughtlife/2013/02/can-a-messiah-college-ot-professor-really-teach-the-bibles-immoral/

As some of you know, I have spent the past year working on my MA in Religion through Liberty Seminary.  I’m an online student, so I haven’t had to visit the campus.  But I graduate this May, and Liberty makes no distinction between online and traditional students.  Thus, my commencement is exactly the same as all of Liberty’s traditional students.

In terms of the quality of education, I have no qualms with Liberty.  In fact, I’ve greatly enjoyed my experience.  I’m three weeks away from having an MA that has equipped me to study and interpret the Bible, which is what I desired from the program.  I’m also prepared for further theological study.  Overall, I like Liberty, I’m glad I opted for this program.

With that said, Liberty has invited Gov. Mitt Romney to be its commencement speaker.  I may or may not vote for Romney.  I like some of his policies, but don’t like others, so I’m really up in the air toward Romney politically speaking.

But in terms of religion, Romney and I are worlds apart.  Mormonism takes certain Christian doctrines, redefines them, and comes up with an entirely new system.  In this non-pejorative sense, Mormonism is a cult.  Historic Christianity and Mormonism are in sharp contradiction to one another.  If you want examples, a few differences are in regard to the fundamental nature of God, Trinitarian theology, the person and work of Christ, the nature of eternity, the number of gods in existence, the possibility of becoming a god, the relationship of Jesus to Lucifer, the role of women throughout eternity, etc…

These are not just subtle differences.  Several of them are compromises on key doctrines upon which Christianity cannot compromise without ceasing to be Christianity.

This matters because Liberty is an explicitly Evangelical institution.  Liberty aims to “train champions for Christ.”  Liberty’s seminary, the school of which I am a part, has a statement of faith that students must be in “substantial agreement” with in order to enroll.  This “substantial agreement” excludes Mormon teaching that compromises historic Christianity.

When Liberty teaches in its apologetics classes that Mormonism is a cult (and it does), and the purpose of the institution is explicitly to train champions for Christ, what is one to think when they invite a Mormon to commission thousands of future pastors, teachers, church leaders, and Christian leaders in other fields?

We could think that Mormonism is an acceptable expression of Christianity, but it is not.  Liberty itself teaches that it is not.  Thus, we might suppose that Mitt Romney is a presidential candidate who needs to consolidate the GOP base, especially among Evangelicals who, quite honestly, don’t like him.  This seems to be the case.

Liberty is selling out to political clout.  They obviously don’t really care about upholding the historic Christian faith as much as they do about helping the GOP win.  The martyrs I learned about in my church history class would have never been martyred had they taken Liberty’s approach.  Just sell out to the powers that be, do whatever it takes to pander to the influential people.  Principle is obviously not as important as power.

It is outright hypocrisy for Liberty to teach that Mormonism is a cult to its seminary students, but to have these same students commissioned into future ministry by a member of said cult.  It is hypocrisy to teach about the cost of following Christ when the example Liberty sets is one of pandering for power. It is hypocrisy to hold your seminary students to a higher standard than that to which you hold yourselves.

If I invited a Mormon to address students graduating from my church youth group, I could be reprimanded by Liberty for that action.  It could be seen as violating the personal conduct standard and doctrinal statement to which I agreed.  In fact, I have some fear that I will be reprimanded for writing this.

But my professors at Liberty have taught me about not compromising the Gospel, regardless of the cost.  Liberty would do well to listen to its own theology professors in this matter.

Sincerely,

Joey

P.S.  – I already know many students who have decided not to attend commencement because of this matter.  I myself will not be attending, I had actually conditionally made this decision prior to the announcement about Romney.  The condition was who the commencement speaker might be.  Liberty is obviously unconcerned about politicizing upon the accomplishments of its students such that it discourages their participation.

Growing up Pentecostal I always held intellectually to various aspects of Pentecostal doctrine. Of course most notably were the doctrines that distinguish Pentecostalism from other theological camps. Among these doctrines are our beliefs about Baptism in the Holy Spirit (BHS) with initial physical evidence (IPE) of speaking in tongues (SIT). And of course this leads to the belief that the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit through the Church at large and individual believers in particular did not cease, but instead has continued to the present time and will continue until the return of Christ.

It’s a fine set of doctrine that I hold to today. But over the years I have grown concerned about the discrepancy between our doctrine and our practice. That is, our orthodoxy is not translating to sound orthopraxy.

It does precious little good to believe intellectually that the Holy Spirit works today in a way parallel with His work in the book of Acts unless that intellectual belief is translated into practical application. As debate about the nature of the work of the Holy Spirit increases, even in some of our most dedicated Pentecostal fellowships, I am led the the belief that the cause of many’s doubt about the present-day work of the Holy Spirit is rooted in being told they should expect to see Him move but never actually seeing it happen.

In such a circumstance one is led to believe that either the doctrine itself was wrong, or one’s experience is wrong. Given the vividness of personal experience, it is generally the doctrine that is discarded.

But this has led me to a problem. For I believe the Bible is inspired, inerrant, and infallible. What it teaches is true. And having considered arguments from every perspective, and doing much study on my own, I’m led to the conviction that the Bible teaches the Holy Spirit should be just as active in the Church today as He was in the first century. Thus the problem lies not with our doctrine of the Holy Spirit, but with our ability to live it out in practicality.

Leonard Ravenhill once commented that one of these days somebody is going to pick up the Bible, believe it, act on it, and put the rest of us to shame. I have often wondered what the result would be if we simply acted in faith on God’s Word.

Having read the history of my beloved Pentecostal movement I believe such a conviction is what led Charles Parham to challenge his students in Topeka to search the Scriptures regarding evidence for Baptism in the Holy Spirit. Surely we cannot believe that the Holy Spirit moved so powerfully just one hundred years ago only to let the Church wallow in spiritual stagnancy in the present time. Surely we cannot believe that God has stopped working.

Yet we will continue to go to services, simply going through the motions ritualistically while we generally lack the supernatural and transformative work of the Holy Spirit. I’m afraid that most people claiming to be believers have very low expectations regarding the Church, and outside of the work of the Holy Spirit it is only logical to expect this. Without the Holy Spirit the Church is not a living entity, but is instead a corpse of spiritual deadness.

At any given point I believe we are just one prayer and one act of faith away from seeing the Church rise from it’s dullness into the vibrant Body of Christ it is meant to be. The time is now for us to act by the authority of Christ, to believe that we can and must do what He says we can do, that we can the Body He has called us to be. We cannot put our faith in new strategies or methodologies. These are but tools to be used by a living Body, they cannot bring such a Body to life. For that we need the Holy Spirit working through Spirit-filled men and women.

With love,
Josiah