John MacArthur is one of the key opponents of what he calls continuationist theology, including that of people with whom he has a serious dialogue.
MacArthur is championed by many so-called discernment sites, including chookwatcher, who has recently featured some of McArthur’s Reformed theology anti-charismatic disciples, Cameron Beuttel, Jeremiah Johnson and Justin Peters, in an attack on contemporary Pentecostal worship, something MacArthur is particularly annoyed with.
But his big beef is with continuation theology. In an extraordinary sleight against these continuationist evangelicals, MacArthur blames them for encouraging charismatics to believe their charismaticism is authentic.
Of course, this is a double-edged attack, dismissing both charismatics and evangelical Reformed continuationists in one breath.
You will most likely already know that McArthur is a cessationist. Cessationism is the theology that the gifts, manifestations, miracles, signs and healing of the Holy Spirit have ended, gradually dwindling away sometime between when the last of Christ’s Apostles passed away, to around the time the canon of scripture was completed and ratified in the fifth century.
There is no scripture to confirm this. So much for Sola Scriptura.
He is also from a Reformed background, heading up a faction from which most of the hyper-criticism of the charismatic wing of the Body of Christ is directed.
His Strange Fire Conference was essentially an attack on the theology of continuation of the gifts and manifestations of the Holy Spirit as much as it was an attempted exposé of the charismatic movement. Most charismatics ignored him. They do not believe in cessationism, so why listen to a man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about?
In closing his Strange Fire Conference, McArthur had this to say about Reformed evangelicals who believe in continuitionism.
‘Firstly, the continuationists’ position gives an illusion of legitimacy to the broader charismatic movement. If you say, “I’m a continuationist,” you’ve just given credence to that movement. You may want to contain that a little bit. You may want to control that.’
You see how MacArthur seeks to control the agenda. By putting theological pressure on the men he considers theologically sound apart from their belief in the continued work of the Holy Spirit, he sets himself up as the top-gun. He is apportioning blame to them for encouraging charismatics to believe that scripture points to a continuationist position.
His argument is very weak, however, and it’s surprising how often MacArthur puts up weak unscriptural arguments to make a point. If the continuationists are correct, which, according to scripture they are, then surely the only thing they can do is preach and teach the truth regardless of whether a controversial group latches onto their credibility or not.
If saying that the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit continue today, and it can be backed with scripture, then there is no illusion of legitimacy for those who also believe in the current work of the Holy Spirit. The legitimacy isn’t given by the theological stance, but by scripture itself. This is the highest legitimacy. MacArthur’s argument is mute.
He goes on…
‘Secondly, the continuationist position degrades the miraculous nature of the true gifts that God bestowed upon the first century church.’
There is no possibility of degrading the miraculous nature of the true gifts of the Spirit if they are still available to us and we teach, preach and enter into the manifestations of the Spirit as they did in the days of the Book of Acts, which was part of the beginning of the works of Christ performed through the Church by the Holy Spirit.
There is no scripture to suggest the work of the Holy Spirit in and through the Church has ended. Cessationism is a failed premise and a false position.
‘Thirdly, the continuationists position severely limits the ability of its advocates to confront others who fall into charismatic confusion.’
This is not true. MacArthur is stating this from the position of a cessationist. However, if the continuationist position is correct, and we obviously say it is, then there is clearly less confusion taking place amongst charismatics than the cessationists claim.
In fact, it is more likely that the cessationist position is leading those taught by cessationists into confusion.
‘Number four, by insisting that God is still giving new revelation to Christians today, the continuationist movement opens the gates to further confusion and error. ‘
Well, there is no new revelation. This is an implied argument made by cessationists who do not understand how prophecy, tongues and interpretation, words of knowledge and wisdom, and the revelatory gifts operate in the local church.
They have confused the revelation given to the writers of the canon with simple revelation of what is already written given through the Church by the Holy Spirit in specific situations. MacArthur adds to this thought…
‘They say there’s prophecy today, but it can be wrong. There’s tongues today, but it’s not languages. There’s healing today, but it’s not like the healings in the time of Christ and the apostles. ‘
How can he say it’s not like the healings of the time of Christ and the Apostles? He is speaking with his cessationist hat on again. Surely any healing reflects that of the early Church, simply because it is healing and a sick person recovers.
His statement that there is no current prophecy works against the Word of God. It denies scripture, and denies the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a serious error.
He cannot say that tongues are not languages when it is clear that they are languages of some sort. Does he know all languages? I doubt it. Who does? Only God. Besides, Paul tells us tongues is speaking to God in mysteries and no man understands the speaker.
1 Corinthians 14:1-2 Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries.
We are to be zealous for spiritual gifts. How can we be zealous if they have ended? We would have to disobey God’s command to pursue love and desire the gifts, especially prophecy, if we believe what the cessationists tell us. They are clearly Biblically wrong.
‘Number five, by insisting that God is still giving new revelation to Christians today, the continuationist movement tacitly denies the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.’
Again, MacArthur joins the chorus of false claims when he says this. He sounds like someone judging a trick cyclist when he’s never ridden a bike.
It is a stock cessationist fake argument which misses the point that the basis of revelation, prophecy, has to be judged by those elders in the assembly who are familiar with prophecy and know scripture. The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets. How is it judged, then? By the scriptures that already exist.
The gifts and manifestations are His
Since the speach gifts are all by the utterance of the Spirit, being the manifestations of the Spirit, one can safely assume that they will not conflict with existing doctrine, and therefore will not go outside of Sola Scriptura. That is why Paul admonishes that all things are done decently and in order in the assemblies.
MacArthur’s true fear, it seems, is that he would not know how to manage an outbreak of the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit if he allowed Him into the assembly to work through the membership as He wills. There’s a difference between decently and in order in allowing the Spirit to move amongst the people and control over the people to exclusion of the Spirit.
Notice MacArthur mentions ‘new’ revelation again. This is a misrepresentation of the gifts of the Spirit. They were not revelation added to the scripture. Revelation has more than one meaning and application. Paul spoke of revelations he could not utter, so not all revelation refers to the canon.
Does MacArthur think that in the Corinthian assemblies some scribe was writing down the prophecies, tongues and interpretation, words of knowledge and wisdom and adding them to what would become the canon? That is such a ludicrous argument.
It wasn’t ‘new’ revelation. It was information given to the hearer which was inspired and backed up by scripture. If it is not found in scripture or countermands scripture then it is not viable. These arguments simply demonstrate the ignorance of those who oppose the gifts.
‘Number six, by allowing for irrational tongues speaking even as a private prayer language, continuationists open the door to a mindless ecstasy of charismatic expression. ‘
This is just a prejudiced opinion of speaking in tongues. There is nothing ‘irrational’ about a believer speaking in tongues according to scripture.
This statement is an attack on the Holy Spirit as much as anything. Tongues are by the utterance of the Spirit. He is speaking through us. MacArthur is in serious danger of blaspheming the Spirit with this kind of ‘irrational’ logic.
The claim of a ‘mindless ecstasy of charismatic expression’ is pure ignorance of what takes place when a person prays or sings in the Spirit. It also defies scripture.
1 Corinthians 14:39-40 Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues. Let all things be done decently and in order.
This scripture alone refutes cessationist theology with such precision that it could have been the only verse we needed to use in this article.
‘Number seven, by asserting the gift of healing has continued to be present, the continuationist position affirms the same basic premise that undergirds the fraudulent ministry of charismatic faith healers.’
This is an ugly argument on more than one count. First he attacks continuationists for believing what the scripture clearly says, then he accuses them of promoting what is, in effect, the truth amongst charismatics. Surely promoting truth is what we’re supposed to do.
Is MacArthur saying that we should neglect to tell the truth in case the charismatics catch hold of it? Not only this, but McArthur is stating categorically that God the Holy Spirit no longer heals people.
The blindness of some of these arguments is incredible. But his adherents, like chookwatcher, Beuttel, Johnson and Peters, seem content to lap it up.
‘And finally, the continuationist position ultimately dishonours the Holy Spirit by distracting people from His true ministry, enticing them with counterfeits.’
No. The one who dishonours the position of the Holy Spirit is the person who rejects His presence in the Church doing what He has done since He was sent from the Father at the ascension of the Son.
It is obedience to the Word of God in partnership with the Holy Spirit that honours the Father and the Son.
There is no ‘distraction from’ His true ministry when that ministry reflects the Word of God as it is handed down to the Church in scripture.
What distracts us is silly arguments that condemn even those who are of the Reformed persuasion who acknowledge that the gifts and manifestations of the Spirit are Biblical, scriptural and current.
1 Thessalonians 5:19-20 Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.