But then, when I started to look back at the myriad of teachers and preachers, and fully realized how utterly devoid of good news many of these teachers and churches are, I was dumbfounded. How could any of these churches, preachers and teachers talk so much about us, about our works, our sanctification and leave out the radiant truth and beauty of the Gospel was beyond comprehension and still is.
But this past week, John MacArthur (to be referred to as Johnny Mac hence forth) hosted the "Strange Fire" conference, both to launch his new book and supposedly to start a conversation about Pentecostal belief and practice working it's way into mainstream Christianity. There's been a lot of give and take this week about this subject, and some people have asked me what my thoughts are on the subject one way or another.
People who know me know this: When the Gospel is at stake, I become a Raging Heart.
First of all, the premise of "Strange fire" is one that starts out focusing in the wrong direction. I want to shut this down, right now. I don't want to debate speaking in tongues, cessationism, spiritual gifts, or any of that sort of thing when the Gospel is at stake. This is not aimed at Pentecostals, however. No, it's aimed at Johnny Mac and his cohorts. Why? Because all of the discussion they may have about Pentecostalism is meaningless. I can give anyone a list of practices and command them to do them and they can do them easily enough. They can learn to speak in tongues, learn to cast out demons and speak words of positive power and still believe absolutely nothing about Jesus and his saving work on the cross for all people. Johnny Mac should know this. So should his cohorts.
So in this Radio Host's opinion, this conversation is a non starter.
What disturbs me is that Johnny Mac and his cohorts are criticizing the faith and practice of one group while glossing over their own glaring, heretical shortcomings. Johnny Mac himself is a "Lordship Salvationist". In his view Jesus paid it all and now it's your turn to pay. It's not enough to have faith alone in his view, but you also have to make Jesus your Lord. It's not enough that he's the savior of those who cannot save themselves. Johnny Mac's body of work testifies to this, over and over again. His recorded sermons, audio books, articles, print books, all point to his belief. What he preaches is what St. Paul calls "another gospel, which is no gospel at all".
The concept of strange fire, as Pastor Gary explained in our discussion on the topic on Radical Grace Radio yesterday, is talked about in Leviticus 10 when Nadab and Abihu offered "unauthorized fire" before the Lord. The fire they should have used was the fire that was kept burning from when fire came down from God and consumed the first sacrifice at the Tabernacle. That fire came from God himself. Any other fire is "strange", or "unauthorized". A man made fire is unacceptable. Period. No one is to offer that kind of fire before the LORD. In light of that context, how does this apply today? The simple answer is that to add anything to the already complete and authorized work of God is blasphemy.
But Matthew, someone may ask, what about the Christian's sanctification? That's a good question as long as you continue to understand that your sanctification and efforts to grow in Christ do not add to the finished work of Christ on the Cross. That's why your justification is predicated on Faith Alone. What Christ has done, HE alone has done, and you cannot improve on it, at all. Any "gospel" that adds to that work is no gospel. A gospel of Jesus' finished work plus your works to complete it IS strange fire.
I find it interesting that as this conference ended John Piper posted the following on his blog at Desiring God:
Either Jesus died to save his church or he didn’t. There isn’t a third option.He goes on to say:
Either he gave himself up for his bride, as Ephesians 5:25 tells us, or he died to create the possibility of her salvation that depends upon the skills of human decision-making.
Are we dead in our sins, as Ephesians 2:1–3 says, or are we slightly impaired? Are we “far from the peaceful shore” or are we gone, sunken to the bottom of the ocean with no chance of resuscitation? Does God toss us a floatation device, or does he raise us from the dead?
The Bible is clear. The gospel is God’s work, God’s victory. “He does everything, first to last, that is involved in bringing man from death in sin to life in glory: he plans, achieves and communicates redemption, calls and keeps, justifies, sanctifies, glorifies” (Packer, Quest for Godliness, 130). And here is where we see his love — the kind that breaks through the sternest soul in sovereign power to save. The love of Jesus is sin-crushing, serpent-stomping, death-defying, people-purchasing love.With all this in mind I therefore say, the discussion about "Faith and Practice" is irrelevant until all in the discussion come to agree on this, that Christ is the central figure, that it's his work, his death and his body and blood that Justifies his Church, nude, apart from works.
Only then will we talk.