About Strange Fire

I don’t normally post mid-week, but consider this a bonus! Actually, I realize this post won’t apply to many of my readers, so maybe for some it’s a bother rather than a bonus. And it’s a little heavier (more intense?) than most of my others. But for those who are interested ...

This is my contribution to discussions about last month’s “Strange Fire” conference that basically attempted to delegitimize the experiences of all charismatics everywhere. As a cross-denominational guy with lots of latitude and grace for those working their way through the Christian faith, I’m jumping in. I actually appreciate the wide variety of doctrinal expressions in the Christian community, even though I don’t agree with all of them. But I don’t appreciate narrow judgments about people who love Jesus, follow him wholeheartedly, and seek his will in everything. Hence this response.

Specifically, this post addresses some assumptions and critiques I’ve heard in the "Strange Fire" aftermath about the New Testament gift of prophecy. I’ve seen abuses of it in churches today, to be sure. No argument there. But I’ve also seen it practiced in an authentic, healthy, powerfully effective way, and have participated in that ministry myself. And some of the criticisms I’ve recently read about it simply are not valid. Such as:

It’s attempting to add to scripture! No, it isn’t. In the book of Acts, Agabus and the daughters of Philip are said to have a reputation for giving prophetic words. In 1 Corinthians, members of the Corinthian church are also said to have given prophetic words. There were entire groups of prophets in the Hebrew scriptures whose words weren’t recorded. All of these prophetic voices are considered authentic by the biblical text, but none of them were ever included in scripture. Clearly God is fine with saying things that are never meant to be included in the sacred canon. They won’t contradict the sacred canon, but they aren’t an attempt to add to it. They are specific application of truth in specific situations.

The Bible is all you need. No, it isn’t. You need a living, growing relationship with God in which you can hear His voice. That means interacting with him in the pages of scripture, but it doesn’t just mean reading scripture. The scribes and Pharisees knew the Bible in excruciating detail, and it wasn’t enough. Jesus told them “you search the scriptures.” He also told them “you’ve never heard God’s voice.” They aren’t the same thing.

The Bible is everything we need for doctrine, insights about the nature of God and salvation, and general revelation that applies to all people at all times. It’s the standard that can’t be violated. No argument there. But it won’t tell you in the midst of a crisis whether to “stand still and see the salvation of the Lord” or to “go forward in faith.” (Actually, it will tell you both, but you need to be able to hear God to know which one applies in your immediate situation.) It won’t tell you whether to move to Memphis or Mogadishu or to stay where you are. It may or may not come to you with words of comfort and encouragement that apply specifically to your situation right when you need them. Prophetic words that fit the description of 1 Corinthians 14:3 can do exactly that, or at least confirm the wisdom you’ve applied in discerning God’s voice.

The miraculous gifts aren’t needed anymore. Really? People don’t get sick and need healing anymore? People don’t need deliverance from things that hold them captive? People don’t need to hear God’s voice? They don’t need to connect with God through groans and utterances that are too deep for words?

Listen, the Bible—more specifically, the post-Pentecost apostolic writing of the New Testament—gives us all kinds of instructions. It tells us to love our enemies, be diligent, have patience, share with those in need, cultivate joy, and much, much more. It also tells us to “earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1). What right do any of us have to say all the others still apply but this one doesn’t? On what basis, without any follow-up command in scripture to negate it, can we arbitrarily declare this instruction “temporary” and ignore it? Why is any Christian okay with completely neglecting this verse?

Those who say the miraculous gifts aren’t needed anymore need to be reminded that we are instructed in scripture as a body of believers to pursue all the spiritual gifts. And that instruction is never revoked in the pages of scripture itself.

For me, the bottom line about the “Strange Fire” conference and similar cessationist arguments is this: Most people with this view are rightly “sola scriptura” kind of people. They insist that the Bible contains every major doctrine we need to know; and they insist on a pretty significant doctrine that many of the New Testament gifts are no longer in operation. Yet that doctrine is not found anywhere in scripture! Nowhere does the Bible say these things won’t apply any longer. (And no, a nuanced verb tense in one verse and a possible implication of another are not enough to claim a solid doctrinal statement. And they certainly don't trump a clear command.)

This is an enormous self-contradiction. You can’t say, “The Bible tells us everything we need to know; we need to know that some gifts are no longer operating; but it doesn’t tell us that.” If you’re really “sola scriptura,” accept what the Bible instructs about spiritual gifts. Don’t forbid any of them, even if many people abuse them. Pursue them. All of them. Because that’s what it clearly says to do.

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Steven Holloway 08.05.2019 09:42  
Yes No   Hope you get this message, Chris. I’m well into your One Year Walk With God devotional book. I’ve been spending quiet time with God daily for over 20 years and have gone through 20 devotional books. Yours is, without a doubt, the most insightful and beneficial quiet time resource I’ve come across. Your discussions of the Bible impacts me on a daily basis.
Steven Holloway
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Chris 08.05.2019 13:42  
Yes No   Thanks so much, Steven! I'm so glad you are finding the WWG devotional helpful. I appreciate your letting me know. Blessings to you.  
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Andrea Waitley 15.11.2013 13:03  
Yes No   Thank you for saying for me what was in my spirit, but just couldn't find the words!
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pat knight 15.11.2013 12:21  
Yes No   feree reee eee  
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Chris Jager 15.11.2013 04:53  
Yes No   If you think "Strange Fire" and MacArthur are bad, try listening to Chris Rosebrough at fightingforthef aith.com, on his "Pirate Christian Radio." But don't go there unless you really want to hear some sound, biblical exegesis--that is, a clear telling of what the Scripture text says, so as to communicate its teaching.  
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Chris Tiegreen 17.11.2013 09:23  
Yes No   I haven't listened to Rosebrough much, but he agrees that cessationism is an argument from history, not scripture. But it's one thing to say the gifts died out (I'd say diminished) in the 2nd century; quite another to say, "Therefore they are never coming back"—a huge leap of logic. If we're arguing from history, I can't discount the vast millions of authentic eyewitness testimonies (and my own experience) in favor of the relatively few (and non-specific) writings of the 2nd century.  
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Henry Hastings 14.11.2013 21:16  
Yes No   I once stood in the shoes of MacArthur and verbally railed against what I thought was "strange fire" offered up to God. As a DTS grad and a dispensational cessationist Bible church pastor in bondage to traditionalism, I was armed to the hilt- yet it was not enough as Chris has mentioned. God's love prevailed in the hearts of those in the hearts of Charismatics I railed against. The prophetic word put me back together again. I can attest that the gifts are all operational!  
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Bill Blane 14.11.2013 15:21  
Yes No   God is a Consuming Fire. As for the "strange Fire", I love your comments Chris. I love the Word of God and i love Jesus who is THE Very Word of GOd before it became The Words in the Scriptures, which i love. But, to your point about "earnestly desire the spiritual gifts", why is this now seen not as A Consuming Fire( God in us) but a 'strange fire'? I wonder if these same people got "burned" by touching that Fire and were confused or rejected in that moment? that is sad. Help us Jesus to pray.  
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Steven Lester 14.11.2013 13:05  
Yes No   Excellent post, Chris. Thank you for your boldness.  
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