(Photo: Lukas VanDyke)
John MacArthur, influential author, pastor and seminary president, has organized what has already proven to be a controversial conference, as he and several other evangelical Christian ministers will gather in October at his Sun Valley, Calif., church to take a corrective stance against what he describes as "strange fire" practices in the charismatic movement.
"There is a dramatic account of God's judgment in Leviticus 9 and 10. The people had been ready to worship. They now had priests. They had standards by which they were to come before God and offer Him their worship," explains MacArthur in one of many promotional videos highlighting areas the conference will touch on. "In the ninth chapter, they came according to God's law, a sacrifice was offered, and God sent down miraculous fire and consumed the sacrifice. In chapter 10 (verses 1-3), however, another sacrifice was offered, and God consumed the offerers because they violated His standard and offered strange fire."
MacArthur adds, "But it's in the context of Leviticus 9 and 10 that I want to direct your attention toward strange fire that's being offered to God today, and it could well bring His judgment.
"What I'm talking about is the charismatic movement that offers to God unacceptable worship, distorted worship. It blasphemes the Holy Spirit. It attributes to the Holy Spirit even the work of Satan. People are caught up in it, deceived, led astray."
MacArthur, who has long been an outspoken advocate of weighing the claims and activities of those in the charismatic movement against Scripture, insists in the promotional video that the Strange Fire conference will focus on "the false worship" coming from the movement, and is not about worship styles or preferences.
"This is about honoring the Holy Spirit, rather than blaspheming him," says the 73-year-old Calvinist minister, who adds that the message of Leviticus 9 and 10 for today's Christians is that "worship is a very serious matter. How you come before a Holy God is the most important thing you will ever do."
Watch Pastor John MacArthur discuss the Strange Fire conference in the video below:
As a Cessationist, MacArthur does not believe that spiritual gifts like speaking in tongues (or languages), interpretation of tongues or the power to heal others are made available by the Holy Spirit to Christians today. Cessationists, as opposed to Continuationists, believe that the Bible and history shows that such specific gifts were made available only for the mission of the early Christian Church and ceased with the deaths of Jesus' first-century apostles.
One of the major emphases of the charismatic movement, traditionally cited as emerging among mainstream Protestant churches in 1960, is speaking in tongues, which is often phrased as "baptism of the Holy Spirit" at the moment of conversion. Although charismatic and Pentecostal Christians hold similar theological views on glossolalia and other spiritual gifts, the former has become characterized by unusual "manifestations of the spirit" and decidedly bizarre behavior, such as worshippers barking like dogs or claiming to have miraculously received gold fillings.
Evangelist Benny Hinn, a popular member of the modern charismatic movement, claims that at large-scale "miracle crusade" gatherings God anoints him with power to heal people, in some cases administered by Hinn blowing on worshippers, waving his hands at them or even waving his suit jacket in the direction of an entire group only to have everyone fall back to the floor seemingly immobile. Another charismatic evangelist is Todd Bentley, who attracted attention in 2008 through the Lakeland Revival meetings in Florida. Bentley, who was banned from the U.K. last year, has testified of divinely healing people with tumors and cancer by kicking or punching them.
Another noted member of the charismatic movement, Rodney Howard-Browne, a Tampa, Fla., pastor and evangelist who leads Revival Ministries International with his wife, has spoken out against MacArthur's Strange Fire conference which he characterized as a coming "massive attack on the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement."
Howard-Browne, who made headlines several years ago when his worship meetings became marked by "holy laughter" and other "manifestations of the spirit," suggested in a Facebook post last month that Cessationists like MacArthur "have no fear of God and are in grave danger of blaspheming the Holy Ghost."
In another promotional video for his Strange Fire conference, MacArthur, who is president of The Master's College and Seminary, addresses "faithful Pentecostals" in an effort to assure them that the October conference plans to address "the aberrations, the heresies, the terrible, terrible kind of manipulation and deception that many in the charismatic movement have been able to pull off on unwitting people."
While affirming "people in the traditional Pentecostal movement who love Christ," the California pastor and seminary president calls on them to "begin to speak out against these people." MacArthur's message of "encouragement to faithful Pentecostals" is below:
The Strange Fire conference, to be held at MacArthur's Grace Community Church in Southern California from Oct. 16-18, features the following speakers: Dr. R.C. Sproul, Conrad Mbewe, Dr. Steven J. Lawson, Tom Pennington, Phil Johnson, Nathan Busenitz, Justin Peters, Todd Friel and Joni Eareckson Tada. More information about the conference can be found at www.tmstrangefire.org. In November, MacArthur will release his new book, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship, copies of which will be made available to conference attendees.