The Rev. John MacArthur, influential author, pastor and seminary president, responded to critics of the three-day Strange Fire conference at his Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, Calif., that many pastors believe is causing dissention among the faithful because he's teaching that the Charismatic movement is leading people astray and dishonors the Holy Spirit.
MacArthur commented that some of his critics have said that he's fixated on the Charismatic movement, a claim he countered by noting that in his 45 years in ministry, this was his first conference he's held on the movement, and believes it has come too late.
"In response to this conference, there have been some attacks, and we've been unable to escape them," MacArthur said to the more than 3,000 attendees at the conference Friday night. "I just want to address those, because I do think that it's important to answer the criticisms that have come."
He first said that he hosted the Strange Fire conference to help the Church, and people who believe the Bible is the word of God and that God has revealed Himself clearly and consistently and without contradiction.
"This is for the true church, so that they can discern; so that they can be protected from error; and so that they can be a source of truth for others outside the church," he said, adding that his book, Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit With Counterfeit Worship, can withstand the most intense scrutiny, when measured against the word of God in the Bible.
MacArthur also commented that the conference wasn't for nonbelievers within the Charismatic movement, for which there are many, he contends. "I don't expect nonbelievers to have a desire for the truth, a hunger for the truth or to search out the truth. That's not what unbelievers do unless they're being prompted by the Holy Spirit."
According to MacArthur, even before his conference started he was being accused of being unloving. He countered that assertion by saying that the most loving thing anybody could ever do, would be to tell someone the truth, because that's how love acts.
"It is unloving to leave people in darkness and error," he said. "In Acts 20 it says 'to warn you with tears,' knowing that perverse, deceptive men will rise up to lead you astray." He then added that Titus 1:4 outlines the duty of pastors and church elders to point out errors and give biblical arguments against them.
"We have also been accused of being divisive. I would agree with that. Truth by its very nature is divisive. That's why Jesus said, 'I came to bring a sword.' To divide people, to divide families. Truth by its very nature is separated from error. And it is far more important to be divided by truth than united by error."
He continued: "I remember years ago when I wrote the book, The Gospel According to Jesus, a leading evangelical preacher took me to lunch and said, 'You have divided the body of Christ.' And I said, may I ask you a question? And he said, 'Yes.' Is what I wrote true? That's the only question I have. Of course, the truth divides."
A third criticism of MacArthur's Strange Fire conference is that some believe the issue is not clear in the Bible, and even some well-known Bible scholars have demonstrated that the scripture is not clear on this issue.
"I would like to say, in response to that, that if the issue is unclear – as some are claiming – it has only become unclear under the influence of false teachers. It was clear to the apostles. It was clear to the early church fathers. It was clear to the reformers. It was clear to the puritans. It is clear in creeds like the Westminster confession. It has been clear to reformed theologians like BB Warfield. It was clear to Spurgeon. It was clear, in the more modern times, to R.C. Sproul. Has it now become unclear, because of Aimee Semple McPherson, Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and Kenneth Copeland? That's a ludicrous idea."
Another accusation has been that MacArthur and cessationists are talking about something that is only true of the extreme, lunatic fringe of the movement, to which he contends is "patently not true." Because he believes there is error in the Charismatic movement that sweeps through the entire movement.
"Ninety percent of the people around the world connected to the Charismatic movement take ownership of the prosperity gospel," he said. "Twenty-four to 25 million of them deny the trinity. One hundred million of them are Roman Catholics. This is not some fringe; this is the movement. And it is growing at a rapid rate."
According to MacArthur, other critics feel that he's attacking a movement that has given Christians rich worship, and have said that the music is enriching the worship of the church.
"I'm convinced that the contemporary style of Charismatic music is the entry point for Charismatic theology into church. If you buy the music, the theology follows," he continued. "I think that the Charismatic movement has significantly diminished worship. It has taken it out of the area of truth, out of the mind, and reduced it to the feelings of the flesh."
For those who've told MacArthur that he's attacking his brothers in Christ, MacArthur responded that he "wished he could affirm that." In his opinion, he and his fellow speakers noted throughout the conference that the Charismatic movement is made-up largely of non-Christians.
"If reformed leaders who know the truth, Gospel and word of God don't police this movement, the spiritual terrorists will dominate," he said. "I hope that I told the truth with kindness and love, but when I open the word of God, it must speak. I do care about the feelings of people; I do care about offending them; but not nearly as much as I care about offending God."
According to MacArthur, the Charismatic movement is an "alien movement" whose roots can be traced back to 1966 when the hippies of San Francisco moved to Orange County and joined Calvary Chapel and the "barefoot, drug-induced young people told the church how the church should act." he said. "Hymns and suits went out. For the first time in the history of the church, the conduct of the church was conformed to a sub-culture that was born of LSD and marijuana."
MacArthur contends that the Charismatic movement is a culturally-bound, culturally-driven and seeker-driven church movement that depreciates and diminishes the glorious way the Holy Spirit worked in the foundation of the church.
"If the gifts practiced in today's Charismatic church are equivalent to those described in the New Testament, then those original gifts were nothing special," he said, adding that it degrades the true gifts God gave to the first century church.
He added that the movement dishonors the Holy Spirit by enticing people with counterfeits, and it makes people think they don't have what they need, and that there's something out there they need to chase.
MacArthur also pointed to those who call themselves continuationists as aiding the problem, because they want to give a place to the Charismatic movement, and said they are not helping to resolve the issues of false doctrine.
"The broader Charismatic movement has opened the door to more theological error than any other doctrinal aberration in this modern day," MacArthur added, noting that in chapter 12 of his book, he has written an open letter to his continuationist friends.