I've been reflecting on and following some of the Twitter feed discussing John Macarthur's "Strange Fire" conference and I am actually becoming increasingly grateful both personally and as a church observer for what it has done. I think initially I was furious and thought "Here we go again" - re-living his influence on my beloved home church in Dunstable and the anti-charismatic spirit it brought.
But what it has done has made me reflect and remember why I AM an unashamed charismatic and STILL believe and hope and look for the encounters and interventions of God by His Spirit that the Word of God promises. I do bitterly regret the last few years of being "prone to wander" from God and His church but my hope and longing for Him has remained unchanged. I am aware that many of John Macarthur's spirit would immediately discount anything I have to say - "Well he's a backslider - and therefore probably unsaved anyway!". But the benefit to being on the outside of accepted church circles is that you can say what you like and not fear the consequences of being "excommunicated"! (I'm not sure if the double jeopardy legal principle applies to excommunication - I hope so).
A Small Testimony:
As I said in my previous post on "Strange Fire" I have been charismatic in theology and experience since I was baptised in the Holy Spirit back in 1999. But if I am honest I would say that while my theology and belief hasn't changed (if anything increased in longing) my experience hasn't been that much measured up to what many charismatics claim, believe or experience today. My beliefs and theology were built upon by much reading of many books after the senior pastor Dr Stanley Jebb changed his theology and thus the church's.
It wasn't long into my reading that a biographical sermon of John Piper's on Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones led me primarily to his glorious book "Joy Unspeakable" and then more broadly into the whole published works of the Doctor and his remarkable ministry (still take pride of place in my library!). I should add I still find it remarkable that my pastor Dr Jebb actually sat under Dr Lloyd-Jones for some time as part of his fatherly ministry to younger pastors - and I didn't seize on the link or pick up interest in Dr Lloyd-Jones over 18 years of being under Dr Jebb's ministry.
I heard balanced reformed/charismatics like Dr Ern Baxter (who rapidly became my number one hero!) and taught that a "tension" MUST be held between Word and Spirit. I think this explains my initial excitement when I first encountered C J Mahaney and PDI (now SGM) as well as of course my ongoing love and appreciation for Terry Virgo and Newfrontiers ("Fundamentally we are a Word and Spirit movement" - Terry Virgo, Brighton 2009). To go to Stoneleigh Bible Week in 1999 and 2000 and finally in 2001 was a taste of heaven itself almost! Heavenly worship and singing, the spiritual gifts in evidence and awesome preaching - a demonstration if you will of Ern Baxter's fervent belief that it WAS possible to experience God in all His fullness as the Word of God lays out!
Throughout my life I have sought to look for and hunger for more, and have had the opportunity to go to many conferences or hear great or renowned men and women of God. For example I went with my dear friend Pete Day to the Word, Spirit and Power Conference at Westminster Chapel in London in 2001. We heard and saw Dr R T Kendall (a man I already hugely respected) but also Paul Cain - a famous (now infamous) prophet who had links back to the Kansas City Prophet movement. I had heard his prophecies were acutely accurate and so I was fascinated, open and hungry to see him.
Was I impressed? If I'm honest - not particularly. I couldn't say in integrity any of his prophecies were as I had heard. Did that make me discount the gift of prophecy? No. Of course now it is well known that Paul Cain has fallen into sin - and for many that discounts him and his gift. Does it mean any of his prophecies were not true? No. It just means that Paul Cain was and is a human being and "prone to wander".
Through that conference we heard that Rodney Howard-Browne (of Toronto Blessing fame) was coming to speak at Westminster Chapel at R T Kendall's invitation. So me and my dad went down. Our church "missed" the Toronto Blessing due to Stanley Jebb's views on it - and I was eager to see if there was anything in it!
Was I impressed? Again not particularly. I wasn't "slain in the Spirit". At one point Rodney got us all to join hands and sing some sort of "silly" song and people at the end of our pew did fall - hence I "almost" did! It didn't bother or impress me, but neither did it make me discount the present moving of the Holy Spirit and the fact that some have been touched powerfully by God through Rodney's ministry.
Probably the most powerful visit I did make was a few years back, when I travelled alone to Hong Kong and to the very FIRST (and as yet only!) "Glory and Grace Conference" hosted by the incredible Rob Rufus and City Church International. I did encounter God powerfully, became over-awed by the true glory of the gospel and the power of the Cross and His resurrection and what that meant for me personally (far more in that one week than I had attending a Sovereign Grace ministries "cross-obsessed" church for 2 years!)
These initial experiences made me hunger to know more of God, alongside reading the Bible about promises such as from 1 Corinthians 14:24 and 25;
"But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or an ungifted man enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all the secrets of his heart are disclosed; and so he will fall on his face and worship God, declaring that God is certainly among you".
To me this is one of the clearest Scriptural indicators of the potential power of the prophetic gift. I admit I have not seen unbelievers convicted by much of modern prophecy today. But just because I have not seen or experienced it, does NOT take away from the Word of God! And one of my greatest frustrations with the cessationist viewpoint outlined by what seems like the WHOLE of the "Strange Fire" conference is exactly this;
Demonstration of excess and spurious means the genuine is not present or real.
RUBBISH! How can these men who so-called claim they honour and value the Word of God really discount entire portions of Scripture just by the presence of excess? I look forward to hearing the DVD strreams of "Strange Fire" but I am supremely unimpressed by Tim Challies summaries of the complete lack of exposition - particularly by alleged-"excellent" Bible teacher John Macarthur himself.
It seems appropriate to end this reflection by re-quoting Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones;
"The greatest sin of the evangelical church is to put God into a box and tell Him what He can and cannot do".
That is the only "Strange Fire" I see - but I remain grateful to Macarthur et al for re-stirring a passion within me to seek God through His Holy Spirit. I have sorely missed Him these past two years!
Reformed and Charismatic from Terry Virgo on Vimeo.