Strange Fire Conference

There is a conference taking place in California at the moment. I don’t very often comment on conferences that I haven’t been to, but there are some big issues surrounding this one.

As I understand it, the purpose is to expose what the main speaker, Dr John Mc Arthur, considers to be the errors in the Charismatic Movement. Now I am not from a Charismatic church, and would certainly not label myself as such. My background is Reformed Evangelical, as is  that of Dr. Mc Arthur. However, the fact that there is a conference organised with the express purpose of criticising a large section of the Christian church sets alarm bells ringing.

Having read about the opening sessions, the tone does not seem to be in any sense irenic – there have been sweeping generalisations made about whether good has come from this movement. The criticisms have been strong and uncompromising. I am not going to detail them here, but if you look for the hashtag #StrangeFire on Facebook or Twitter, you will get a flavour of what I mean.

Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe anyone is above correction – none of us will have everything right this side of Eternity. But whatever happened to “restoring a brother gently”? (Galatians 6: 1). And yes, our charismatic brothers and sisters are being accused of sin. Looking at the comments made on Facebook and Twitter all this conference has succeeded in doing is reinforcing the position of those who agree with Dr Mc Arthur and annoying those who disagree. 

The irony is that John Mc Arthur has shared platforms people with the views he is criticising. I don’t think he has mentioned them by name, but I am sure that John Piper, Wayne Grudem, Sam Storms and C.J. Mahaney would be among those he is firing at. These are Reformed brothers who have been greatly used of the Lord. Is he prepared to dismiss them completely because they differ with him on these issues. Given his tone, I wonder how he could welcome them in the future. Even though he acknowledges that there are those in the Charismatic movement who are Bible believing and Christ – centred, his cristicisms are so strong as to condemn anyone who has a different view. And what does he make of Dr Martyn Lloyd – Jones – certainly not a charismatic, but not completely closed to the supernatural working of the Spirit?

I am deeply saddened by all of this. As I said, I am not from a charismatic background and personally do not like some of their worship. That said, I would not dream of criticising their motives or hearts before the Lord, which Mc Arthur is doing. He is putting himself there as judge and jury. The Lord alone judges the motives of the heart.

I could go on….. One final disappointment is that Joni Erickson – Tada has been part of the conference. She was there to show how God was glorified even though she has not received physical healing. As far as I am concerned, Joni has one of the most powerful testimonies I have ever heard to God’s work in her life, and I along with many others praise God for her. And I would not criticise her for being there – I don’t believe in guilt by association! However, I think that it is wrong for the organisers of the conference to use her simply to further their own agenda.

Sorry this post has been a bit of a rant, I realise that as I read it through. It does, though, express the way that I am feeling. Last week I was in a conference here in Ireland – perhaps I should Blog about that; it was really good. We were reminded that God’s ultimate purpose is to bring “all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ.” (Ephesians 1:10). I am not sure how far the Strange Fire conference is working towards that end. It seems to me to be more fragmenting than bringing together. Dr Mc Arthur will be spending all eternity with those he is now criticising.

I am sure there are more constructive ways forward.

As a postscript, I have just read a report on the latest session by Tom Pennington. He does strike the right note – yes, arguing for cessationism, but doing so graciously. That’s more like it!

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