(Photo: The Christian Post/Alex Murashko)
A lot of people seem to be angry with John MacArthur; it would be more comforting to me, and a greater testimony to American sensibility, if Christians were more concerned about Pat Robertson. That the former can openly state his opposition to what he believes the falsified expression of spiritual power, is far less offensive than a man who has openly and repeatedly claimed to be speaking the words of God, but whose failed prophesies have proven him heretical. Yet the former man is almost universally condemned as hateful and divisive, while the latter maintains his audience for what? Not one, but multiple generations, despite a televised broadcast in which he said that Jesus told him President Obama would lose the last election.
Call the former divisive, say he splits Christendom into factions, if you will. The Apostle may have said to reject a divisive man (Titus 3:10), but the divisive man is not always the man who, recognizing that to everything there is a season, acknowledges the time to part. If we can take the Apostle's words in any meaningful way, we must account for his statement that factions are oftentimes the result of sin and heresy (1 Cor 11:19); and certainly, if a faction exists because of sin or heresy, it would be unfair to blame the sects which separate themselves in opposition to the transgressions of heretics.
However broad the sect of Charismatics, however faithful the many within it, we must admit that certain abuses run rampant, and that these abuses are particularly reserved to the Charismatic sect. Who hasn't seen false prophesy on their behalf? What experienced Christian hasn't heard of "miraculous" works, so easily replicated that children could repeat them on any playground in any nation despite any form of religion? If falling over is the work of a sovereign God, if shaking and moaning is divine, if acting drunk is something which proves the presence of the Almighty, then every clumsy fool and every epileptic should be canonized into sainthood, and every bar considered a temple.
That a man may be healed of cancer is one thing; for a man to speak Spanish or Greek, though never having spoken them before, can only be considered miraculous. But to say "ra-ba-ba-ba-ba" as I've recently seen a woman say – of God's own tongue, no doubt! Or to hear another babble "shamlama kama taba" on national television, without an interpreter, without any form of translation, without anyone in history having recorded these words and proven any kind of grammatical structure, is something which borders less on religious excitement, and more on purposeful and destructive self-glorification. If Charismatics are speaking the language of heaven, let us record and prove it. Release every Christian scholar in its study; let us learn to speak it on our own, and therefore prove ourselves the sons of God. But if it remains a universally undecipherable mess, incomprehensible and unmanageable beyond every human means, then it is only fair to wonder either whether we really are speaking the language of heaven, or whether perhaps God divided the nations of angels because they built a tower of Babel in the clouds – a historical assertion neither provable nor sensible. And if we cannot even do this, then let us at least abide by the rules contained in Scripture for the orderly and Godly expression of spiritual gifts.
Protestants are quick to bash the superstitious and fantastical nature of Roman Catholicism, mocking the mountains of forged relics and "historical" happenstances amongst the canonized saints, too numerous and too ridiculous to be mentioned here at any serious length. But what ridiculousness we have lost of St Benedict or St Francis of Assisi, we have gained of Benny Hinn and Pat Robertson; excepting perhaps that the former saints performed miracles which – if true – could not possibly be recognized as anything other than acts of God. Of the latter kind we have babblings and "forthtelling" and fallings-over, the kind of side-show clown-acts better saved for circuses than serious men of any religion. And if we say that Roman Catholics in their obsession with the fantastical have only cheapened and rendered incredulous the world's only true religion and the actual miracles performed by saints – and I attest, as a person who has experienced what can only be described as miracles, that miracles happen amongst the living – then it is only fair to categorize the less reasonable charismatic leaders alongside the extensive lists of forgers and frauds responsible for calling into question our true experiences with the Divine, and making skeptical our most reasonable of children.
To say that within Christendom we must always have acceptance and brotherhood, when Jesus Christ Himself admitted that He would turn fathers against children, and husbands against wives (Matt10:34); when He said that the true bonds of Christianity bound together those alone who heard the commandments of God and did them (Matt 12:48-51); when our Lord taught that until the end of the age, when angels with divine authority separate the goats from the sheep and the wheat from the tares, the Devil's own would wreak havoc within the walls of every chapel and with their blasphemies taint the bell's ring from every steeple (Matt 13:24-30) – to say that despite these clear and obvious teachings contained in Scripture, that a single man should be held responsible for division within the church, when we are surrounded and infiltrated by every kind of quack and devil, robber and charlatan, testifies nothing of MacArthur's brashness, and everything of our spinelessness.
We may complain about MacArthur's broad stroke, but the only noble option, the only sensible option, the only Godly option for a man unconvinced that another is speaking directly from the power of God, when the latter man claims to be doing so, is to pronounce the latter man a menace. There is no middle option. Prophesy and speaking in tongues must mean something Godly, or they must mean evil; they cannot mean both. They cannot mean neither.
And if we are to end this essay, then let us end it as a beginning, and not a conclusion, admitting that there is much to examine and test; and that even supposing MacArthur is not entirely right, we may with utmost certainty admit that he is neither entirely wrong. If there exists a serious problem worth addressing, then let us address it seriously; but let's not play games and pretend to love only the quacks, while we abandon the sincere.