A Young Pentecostal Leader's response to #StrangeFire

My name is Chris. I used to work in a Pentecostal church. I am currently a student at a well-known Pentecostal Seminary AND I currently serve on staff at a Pentecostal Bible College. By denominational standards, I’m mixed (My dad is a charismatic anglican and my mom grew up Pentecostal. Dad attends a Pentecostal church now but when he goes to Barbados, out comes the Book of Common Prayers), but I’ve identified closer with Pentecostalism my teenage and adult life. 

I have experienced the power of God’s Spirit at salvation, through the studying of scripture, through moments of mediation and prayer and through times of deep experience. And because I have regard for scripture, I have never let experience trump truth. Instead it reaffirms it. The seeking of God’s truth has led to amazing moments in Him that confirm the promises detailed in His word. 

I do not believe that there are more words to be written after John’s final “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen (ESV)” in Revelation 22. I do believe that God does speak through people in words of knowledge, wisdom and prophecy that speak situationally but in most cases reaffirm what one has already had stirring in their heart (the one being the person RECEIVING the prophecy, not someone speaking to themselves.). I do believe that God heals today, not only through doctors but supernaturally. I believe that sometimes God breaks through and his kingdom shows itself through these moments. And I believe that God still infills people with his Holy Spirit subsequent to salvation (in which his Spirit dwells in us) and flows out of us with Spirit-enabled and inspired speech. This speech is a sign that our mouths and lives have been set apart for missional purposes and must be backed up through holy lives.

And in saying this, I know that there are friends of mine who believe in the same Father, Son and Holy Spirit but don’t believe in those elements at all. They believe that those gifts no longer exists or better still aren’t necessary for today’s church. 

And my job isn’t to tell them about how wrong they are. Even though my natural tendency is to, through sarcastic rhetoric, debase an argument and laugh at one’s attempt to defend their position. (That said: Selfies are dumb, Kobe over LeBron, Kendrick over Drake, still not a fan of Christian Rap, Romo is bad because he’s Romo, not because of his Offensive Line, Apple over PC...) Well this week, a certain movement among Christian believers did such a thing specifically to what I and many other adhere to. And my natural reaction was to be sarcastic, make jokes, tweet at random people who decided to tweet at me (I guess if you feel froggy, you gon' leap?) and then read a lot about what was communicated. All while watching Pacific Rim, no less (Go Army Stringer Bell). 

It was funny watching a certain leader’s words be defended by his followers and then debased by those offended. And it was even funnier getting into the fray, all connected by the hashtag “Strange Fire”. This was until my good friend Josh called me and said

“Dude, this is dumb. Get out of the game. You’re a leader.”

Boom. He was and is right. After a great phone call where I received his correction and then laughed and talked about what was being said, I went away thinking about the night in a new way. Based on John MacArthur’s thoughts, here’s some of my lasting impressions:

1 - Mark Driscoll is Right. What Chase? What are you saying? You're propping up "The Drisk" (a new nickname I JUST gave him.)? Well, in a September 2010 interview, Driscoll said,

“When I hear the word “dogma,” I think of the taking of secondary issues and making them primary issues. I always use the language that there are “open-handed issues” and “closed-handed issues.” Open-handed issues are those issues which Bible-believing Christians can debate over, disagree over, even discuss over, but not divide over. The closed-handed issues are those issues we really have to remain committed to, to remain Christian.”

Much of what was being argued, in my opinion was simply opinion based on scriptural and sociological research (and even this could be debated.) and the opinion was on open-handed issues. Some people don’t believe in miracles. I guess that's cool. And well, hopefully they have really good health insurance. That’s not the same as not believing that Jesus rose again. Not even close. If someone started on that road, then we have a problem.

2 - Platform Comes With Responsibility. If you have a platform, you have the distinct opportunity to influence people, even up to how they themselves see scripture. The average person in a church will simply trust that the guy or girl (cause I believe that ladies can throw down in leadership) studied and knows what they are saying and will defend it SIMPLY because their hero said it. It’s like defending your favourite actor’s bad choice in films even though they are TERRIBLE choices. Because you “love” them, you blindly endorse them, without even figuring out why. It was funny watching people tweet, “Well have you HEARD what he said?” “That’s not what he meant!” How you can find a secondary or deeper meaning to

The Charismatic movement as such has made no contribution to biblical clarity, interpretation, or sound doctrine. We’ve had an accurate biblical interpretation and sound doctrine long before the Charismatic movement happened, going all the way back to the Apostles, a clear stream of truth. The Charismatics haven’t added to that, but have brought chaos, confusion, misinterpretation...” 

...would prove to be a challenge. But people are believing that. Check out twitter and Facebook. The truth is, people on many sides have used the Bible and a platform to make many claims and for each, they have fans. 

3 - The world is watching. #StrangeFire was trending worldwide yesterday. And while some would see that as a victory, people all over the world saw Christians policing one another, condemning each other and more. We often think of outreach as “we invite, they come. We preach, they change”. Well, we invited them alright, and they came to a messy house with no welcome or courtesy of their visit. Instead, they saw a family argument over thanksgiving turkey. They’d get more out of watching the VMAs again.

4 - We All Need To Read and Learn More. Ed Stetzer, a brilliant writer, church planter, researcher and teacher wrote and posted an amazing history of the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Third Wave Movement that is worth the read (http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2013/october/continualists-overview.html). He is not a Pentecostal but he appreciates what has been contributed to Christendom by said movement, as he appreciated the best of what other denominations have done. He words remind me that I need to constantly be learning about others; not to win an argument but to simply know people and build relationships. I don’t know how that’ll be possible for a minute (I mean I WAS called a false teacher last night after admitting I worked at Master’s College AND SEMINARY in Ontario Canada but hey...) but I do think that it’s doable.

5 - Keep The Good Stuff. To say that MacArthur didn’t speak some truths would be painting him with a bad brush. Even in his most critical or controversial moments, I need to look at what he is saying and think “Where have we failed to explain this BEFORE he spoke?” Or “Yup, he’s got some of us here!” Along with that, when he says THEY, I have to be able to say, “I’m not in that THEY category.” Finding good truth may be hard when it seems like all that is being pitched is accusations, but the best leaders are able to find gold in the grossest sludge and filth (not saying that about HIM per se but you know what I mean!). 

For example, in a full transcript of his teaching, MacArthur said,

"What is the work of the Holy Spirit? He convicts, regenerates, illuminates, justifies, sanctifies, adopts, baptizes, indwells, guides, empowers, delivers, produces fruit, secures us. What Scripture doesn’t say is that the Holy Spirit knocks us down, makes us laugh in a silly way, amps up our body heat, gives us hiccups and convulsions, causes us to fall down, to speak gibberish, and to speak with primal sounds. That’s absolutely ridiculous."

In our movement...the truth is, we at times have highlighted what the Spirit FEELS like over who the Spirit IS and what He DOES inside and through the believer. Our focus has been often only on experience without teaching. While he is in the extreme position here, it reminds me that we need to remind people of the Spirit as described in the back end of John's gospel, throughout Luke's gospel, the book of Acts and the epistles and from there let that affect how we respond. And in the same breath, we remind ourselves of Paul's words to the Corinthian church, "...and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.…" (14:32)

He also says:

"You’re not going to go to a Reformed church and find false miracles, false visions, false prophecies, false anointing, bizarre mindless pandemonium breaking out, shaking, rolling over, and falling down, saying false things about the Holy Spirit. That’s not going to happen in that environment, because they’re anchored to the truth. Once experience and emotion [and not truth] become the definition of what is true, then all hell breaks loose."

And I would say, you won't find that in most Pentecostal churches either. Where I worked, we'd always be on the lookout for any odd behaviour to guard truth and protect the flock.

Lastly he wrote, "Benny Hinn says: “No no, never ever go to the Lord and say, ‘if it be Your will.’ The acting of the Holy Spirit is dependent on my words. He will not move until I say it.” Really?
In [that] quote, you’ve just seen the Holy Spirit's sovereignty called into question. Benny is sovereign, the Holy Spirit is not. This comes from a false teacher who says he has the anointing from God. That’s a manufactured farce. He says he received it at the graves of two women preachers."

Well, John...ahhh...ummm...we've been having issues with Benny for some time too :)

 6 - I need to lead better. Last night I was privileged to serve some well-placed and hard working youth pastors in the local area where I live and their students through the teaching of the Word. All that was said, I believe, was sound doctrine and if it hadn’t been, I know those pastors would have shot me down because THEY as Pentecostals believe in sound doctrine. While there, i got to promote our school with words, all while wearing a school shirt. That was leading! I then went home and joked and prodded a movement’s thoughts in front of every twitter follower I have and any retweets. And many of those following me are students who I have pastored and currently serve at our school. And truth be told, that was leading too:( I needed a call from my bro to remind me of an important truth: I am leading all the time. Games must be stepped up! Young MCS students and leaders, let's be on the frontline of conversation and not get sucked into cynical conversation to prove who's right. We're humans and we're prone to error: theologically, morally, ethically, spiritually. Let's never let pride blind us from growth or correction. Tweet less, grow more:)

Is there place to have conversation online? Of course and that’s good. But once I go negative (and because I love comedy, it doesn’t take much), I have to remember that students are watching and taking note. My family is. My tweets represent my Jesus, my family, my boss and my school. Does that mean I won’t ever be sarcastic? Are you cray?!?!! But it DOES mean wisdom. It does mean processing over-time rather than in real time. It does mean thinking first and tweeting second. And it does mean a willingness to learn within the kingdom that I am a part of.

The lesson here? Growth happens all the time. I’m just thankful for friends who remind me of that.

http://marccortez.com/2013/10/18/the-good-the-bad-and-the-ugly-in-john-macarthurs-opening-address/ (Good and Bad)

Full transcript of MacArthur's teaching here.