Strange Fire Q&ADuring the Strange Fire conference, attendees submitted scores of questions for the panel Q&A sessions—many more than the speakers had time to address.
Below you’ll find answers to the questions not addressed by the speakers. You can also listen to or download the two Strange Fire question-and-answer sessions, as well as other conference content—free of charge:
Strange Fire Panel Question and Answer, Session 2
Strange Fire Conference Series
Questions Regarding Key Bible Passages
First Corinthians 13:8–12 seems to be difficult to interpret. I have read the defense of a few notable theologians who argue that the miraculous will continue until the consummation of the church with the return of Christ. How should we rightly handle this passage?
Although 1 Corinthians 13:8–12 has been the subject of much discussion and argument, most of the text is easily understood. Paul is not predicting the end of all things supernatural or miraculous but the end of the spiritual gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge. The part that has been debated most often is the meaning of the perfect and the time of its arrival.
Some have suggested the perfect is the completion of Scripture or the maturing of the church. Still others see it as the rapture of the church or the second coming of Christ at the end of the tribulation. However, Paul’s statement in verse 12 suggests he is referring to the beginning of the perfect, eternal state that begins at the end of the millennium. Believers’ knowledge will be made complete at the second coming of Christ and they will dwell with Him “face to face” at that time. The biblical case for the cessation of the miraculous and revelatory gifts in this age can be built from other texts, including 2 Corinthians 12:12, Ephesians 2:20, and Hebrews 2:3–4.
For an explanation of John MacArthur’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13:8–12, please refer to his commentary on 1 Corinthians (pp. 364–66), The MacArthur Bible Commentary (pp. 1597–98), and the notes on those verses in The MacArthur Study Bible for further explanation.
My question is about the "perfect" of 1 Corinthians 13. Historic Reformers considered it to be the completed canon of Scripture. Pentecostals say it refers to the return of Christ, which is why they say the sign gifts will continue until the return of Christ. Which group is correct? Are either of them right?
The session titled “A Case for Cessationism," taught by Tom Pennington on the second day of the Strange Fire conference, speaks to your question. Please refer to that sermon.
Can you provide biblical support for the position that the gift of tongues is no longer a viable spiritual gift today?
Please refer to John MacArthur’s careful exposition of 1 Corinthians 13:8–14:40 in the sermon series Speaking in Tongues. The first three messages from chapter 13, verses 8–13 will be particularly helpful regarding the cessation of the gift of tongues.
Here is a brief synopsis of what John teaches in that series. The gift of tongues was given by the Lord to serve purposes that were needed only temporarily. The gift was given in the earliest days of the church to authenticate the message and the messengers of the gospel before the New Testament was completed (cf. Hebrews 2:3–4). Scripture also teaches that the gift of tongues served as a sign of God's judgment upon Israel (see notes on 1 Corinthians 14:21 in The MacArthur Study Bible). When the reason for the gift went away, the Lord chose to no longer give that gift to the church.
John, please explain 1 Corinthians 14:2. After years of research on this subject I would say this passage is the sticking point for most Christians.
Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 14:2 can be misunderstood if it isn’t read in light of the main point in chapters 12 through 14. Phil Johnson just posted a blog article titled “Four Points About Tongues from 1 Corinthians 14.” Please read Phil’s article. It will clarify Paul’s meaning in that verse.
First Corinthians 14 seems to indicate there are tongues that need interpretation. But Acts 2:6 has an account of tongues that were understood without interpretation. What is the difference between these two? If 1 Corinthians 14 refers to a false gift of tongues, why is the need for interpretation mentioned?
On the day of Pentecost, foreigners could understand the apostles who spoke to them because the apostles were given the gift of tongues—that is, they were miraculously enabled to speak in the foreigners' native languages. A special gift of interpretation was not necessary since each listener was naturally able to understand what the apostles said. In the Corinthian church many were abusing the gift of tongues—they were speaking languages supernaturally in public but without someone who had the gift of interpretation. One of Paul’s main points in 1 Corinthians 14 is that such a selfish exercise of the gift is useless and confusing, and therefore sinful. At the same time, the lack of understanding among the hearers allowed some speakers to fake the gift of tongues by simply talking gibberish.
John MacArthur gives the following explanation in The MacArthur Study Bible note on 1 Corinthians 14:2–39: “Against the backdrop of carnality and counterfeit ecstatic speech learned from the experience of the pagans, Paul covers three basic issues with regard to speaking in languages by the gift of the Holy Spirit: 1) its position, inferior to prophecy (vv. 1–19); 2) its purpose, a sign to unbelievers not believers (vv. 20–25); and 3) its procedure, systematic, limited, and orderly (vv. 26–40).”
As you would expect, some of the Corinthians were using tongues in a genuine, godly way, but others were not. Thus, Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 14 gives correctives for both groups. Please explore our website for further biblical teaching on the gift of tongues. John MacArthur’s message titled “Speaking in Tongues” and his series The Truth About Tongues—especially Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4—will help you learn more on this subject.
Regarding the revelation we received in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1), Dr. Lawson said there is nothing left to be said. Could you please expand on this and comment on the revelation the authors of the New Testament received from the Holy Spirit and the necessity of writing the epistles?
Hebrews 1:1–2 looks at the big picture of God’s revelation throughout human history. Just as the Old Testament looked forward to the coming of Jesus Christ, the New Testament is the revelation of Him. This is what the author of Hebrews meant in the opening verses of that book. He was gathering up the new revelation that had been given through the apostles and their associates and referred to it as that which God “has spoken to us in His Son” (Hebrews 1:2).
In his commentary on Hebrews, John MacArthur writes this helpful explanation:
We must, of course, clearly understand that the Old Testament was not in any way erroneous. But there was in it a development, of spiritual light and of moral standards, until God’s truth was refined and finalized in the New Testament. The distinction is not in the validity of the revelation—its rightness or wrongness—but in the completeness of it and the time of it. Just as children are first taught letters, then words, and then sentences, so God gave His revelation. It began with the "picture book" of types and ceremonies and prophecies and progressed to final completion in Jesus Christ and His New Testament (p. 5).
The New Testament revelation given through the apostles was the fulfillment of the Lord Jesus’ promise to His disciples recorded in John 16:13–15: “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”
Thus, when Dr. Lawson commented that there is nothing left to be said, he referred to the fact that no further revelation will be added to the Bible (cf. Revelation 22:18–19). For further study on this point, please listen to John’s introduction to Hebrews and his two-part series from Revelation 22:13–21.
Dr. Sproul mentioned the four Pentecosts in his message. In three of the four accounts in Acts, the believers explicitly received the Spirit after professing faith in Christ. Is this merely descriptive or is it prescriptive? And how do we defend the idea that a believer receives the Holy Spirit upon confession of faith in Christ as Savior and Lord?
The book of Acts records events from the early days of the church when God was orchestrating a transition from the Old Testament period to the New Testament period. Many things did not change during that transition, but some important aspects of God’s working in the world and with His people did change. Scripture teaches the Spirit indwells the believer immediately upon conversion and places him into the Body of Christ (cf. Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 12:13). (For more study on this topic, see John MacArthur’s messages on “Spirit Baptism” and “The indispensable Ministry of the Holy Spirit.”)
However, during the early, transitional period of church history, the Holy Spirit began His indwelling ministry in certain believers sometime after their salvation. He did this for a specific and important reason. God wanted to demonstrate that both Jews and Gentiles were included in the church and would receive the indwelling of the Spirit; thus He saw fit to delay the indwelling of some believers and to give miraculous signs at a few key moments (see Acts 2, 8, 10, and 19). God did not intend this to be normative for the church. Rather, these instances served the important purpose of teaching believers during the transitional period about the inclusion of the Gentiles among the people of God.
In Psalm 51:11 David prays that God would not take “Your Holy Spirit from me.” First Samuel 16:14 says, “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul . . . .” Why would David ask God not to take the Holy Spirit from him? He was truly a born again man after God’s own heart. Why would he be so concerned about losing God’s Spirit? Also, please comment on Saul—whether he temporarily had and was led by the Spirit. I ask these questions in relation to New Testament Scriptures that teach true believers are sealed with the Holy Spirit and the Spirit bears witness with our spirit. Please expound, explain, and comment. Thank you.
In John 16:5–11 we see Jesus explaining to His fearful and confused disciples why it is better for Him to depart. The disciples saw the Lord’s departure as a tragedy, but actually it was to their advantage because it would usher in the beginning of a new ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Earlier, Jesus promised this new work of the Spirit, saying, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16–17).
The last phrase of verse 17 explains the key addition to the ministry of the Holy Spirit in believers’ lives. Before the inauguration of the church, the Holy Spirit would come upon certain individuals, such as prophets and national leaders, to empower them for the special tasks God gave them. But Jesus introduced the indwelling ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer. Every believer who is part of the church enjoys the permanent indwelling of the Holy Spirit (cf. Romans 8:9).
This explains what we read in Psalm 51:11. David’s cry to God not to remove His Spirit from him did not refer to a permanent indwelling of the Spirit but to the special filling of the Spirit God granted to enable him to serve effectively as Israel’s king. Saul had lost that privilege because of disobedience and David is praying the same thing doesn’t happen to him. David could not lose his salvation, of course, but he could have lost the filling of the Spirit.
In John 16:12–13 Jesus says He has more to say to the apostles but that they aren’t ready for it yet. He says when the Spirit of truth comes, He (the Spirit) will guide them into all the truth. The charismatics could say, “That shows we don’t have all the truth yet. So this leads us to believe the Spirit is still ‘guiding us to all the truth.’” Is there is evidence to believe: (a) this bestowing of truth was only for the apostles, and (b) this already happened or was fulfilled with the completion of the Bible?
In John 16:12 Jesus told His apostles about a future time of revelation when He would complete their knowledge about Himself. Jesus would reveal New Covenant truths to them through the ministry of the Holy Spirit whom He was about to send. He was referring to the supernatural revelation concerning Christ’s person and teaching they would receive through the gift of prophecy and the inspiration of the New Testament. That is obviously the primary meaning of our Lord in John 16:12–13.
There is, however, a secondary sense that we can understand from this promise. While it is not primarily what Jesus was speaking of in John 16, the Holy Spirit does also work in the hearts of God’s children by teaching and convicting them according to Scripture. John MacArthur writes, “The Lord’s promise that the Spirit will guide believers into all the truth has primary reference to the writers of the New Testament. But it also extends in a secondary sense to the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination (cf. 1 Cor. 2:10–16). He instructs and teaches believers from the inspired Scriptures, as John notes: ‘But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. . . . As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him.’ (1 John 2:20, 27)” (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John 12–21, p. 208). For further explanation, listen to John’s message titled “The Spirit of Truth.”
Paul told the Corinthian church, “There must be heresies among you so that those who are approved might be made manifest’ (1 Corinthians 11:19). Would you please comment on this verse in light of the charismatic movement? Does God allow these false movements, in part, so the distinction is made clear to His people? Thanks.
The Greek word translated as “heresies” in the King James Version is hairesis. While that word can refer to false teaching or heresy in certain contexts, Paul’s intended meaning when using the word in 1 Corinthians 11:19 is clearly the other possible meaning of “division, faction, separate group.” In this paragraph Paul is confronting the Corinthian believers’ selfishness and sectarianism (see vv. 18, 21–22, 33). The text of the New King James Version clarifies the meaning by updating the translation from “heresies” (KJV) to “factions” (NKJV). Paul says that when those inevitable divisions happen, they serve the good purpose of distinguishing between the sinful and the righteous people in the church.
Having said that, the situation Paul describes regarding disunity in the Corinthian church is similar to the result of the error being taught within the charismatic movement today. The doctrines they tolerate and often perpetuate distort, pervert, and contradict sound, biblical teaching. The truly saved who revere and carefully study God’s Word can see the difference between false charismatic teaching and sound theology. While we would never condone false doctrine and practices, we do rest in our confidence that God uses even the wickedness of man for His good purposes (cf. Genesis 50:20; Acts 2:23; Romans 8:28).
Which verses in the Bible indicate the gifts of the Spirit that Paul taught to the early church in 1 Corinthians 12, 13, and 14 are not to be used today? And why?
Many charismatics believe that if the Bible does not specifically command Christians to reject the validity of supposed miraculous sign gifts, it’s proof that Christians should continue seeking them. That view is unreasonable and simplistic because it ignores the historical context of the biblical writings.
Letters written to first-century Christians provide instructions and commands in the context of progressive revelation—the canon was not yet complete but was still being produced. Once the canon closed, Christians were to pay attention to the more sure written word, a complete canon, of which the former gifts of the apostolic age represented only a part.
The session titled “A Case for Cessationism” taught by Tom Pennington at the Strange Fire conference gives an excellent overview of the biblical teaching on the cessation of the sign gifts. Some of the texts which teach the miraculous gifts were meant to be temporary are 1 Corinthians 13:8–13, 2 Corinthians 12:12, Ephesians 2:20–21, and Hebrews 2:2–4. Please explore Grace to You’s website to hear careful expositions of these texts by John MacArthur.
If prophecy is only speaking the Word of God like the Old Testament prophecy and not fallible, man-based impressions, how can we explain 1 Corinthians 14:1–3?
Those verses were written during a time when the miraculous gifts were still given by God and were used in many churches. So naturally Paul encourages the proper, godly use of tongues and prophecy.
Some have argued that since Paul promotes the use of tongues and prophecy in 1 Corinthians 14:1, we must allow their use in churches today. But such an argument ignores the Bible’s teaching that both the need for and giving of those gifts passed away with the completion of Scripture and the passing away of the apostles.
Additionally, we must understand rightly what Paul meant when he commanded the believers to “earnestly desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” John MacArthur explains, “Desire for them [spiritual gifts], in this context, is in reference to their use collectively and faithfully in his service—not a personal yearning to have an admired gift that one did not possess. As a congregation, the Corinthians should be wanting the full expression of all the gifts to be exercised. ‘You’ is plural, emphasizing the corporate desire of the church” (The MacArthur Study Bible, note on 1 Corinthians 14:1).
Please read the blog article posted by Phil Johnson titled “Four Points About Tongues from 1 Corinthians 14.” In the article Phil explains the main purposes of Paul’s statements in chapter 14. First Corinthians 14:1–3 may be understood correctly in light of those main points.
Why are the teaching gifts and others in the list of gifts in effect today if the others ceased? Do we pick and choose?
As in all matters of life and doctrine, we must follow carefully the teaching of Scripture. We must be careful to interpret the text and to apply its direct teachings and its principles to every area of life. God has indicated clearly in His Word that some spiritual gifts were given for the duration of the church’s time on earth and some were intended for use only during the establishment of the church. We don’t have the authority to decide which gifts belong in those categories, nor do we desire to make that decision. Our only desire is to follow what God has revealed to us in Scripture.
The miraculous sign gifts accompanied the apostles and validated them as true spokesmen for Christ (2 Corinthians 12:12; Hebrews 2:3–4). The ministry of the apostles and New Testament prophets was to lay a doctrinal foundation for the church (Ephesians 2:20). They laid the foundation on which the evangelists, pastors, and teachers can build (Ephesians 4:11–13). Evangelists anchor new people into the foundation, and pastors and teachers strengthen and grow them from the foundation.
After the apostles died and the canon of Scripture was completed, the church has carried on through the equipping ministry of evangelists, pastors, and teachers. And now every Christian has the ability to discern truth from error by studying the written Word of God.
For a careful explanation of which gifts have ceased and how we know they were intended by God as temporary gifts, I refer you to Tom Pennington’s excellent teaching in “A Case for Cessationism.” Explore our sermon archive for more detailed exposition on the key passages related to the temporary spiritual gifts, such as 1 Corinthians 13:8–13, 2 Corinthians 12:12, Ephesians 2:20–21, and Hebrews 2:2–4.
What was the purpose of the Holy Spirit descending like a dove upon Jesus during His baptism in Matthew 3:13–17? Was it to empower Him?
When God spoke from heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to descend upon Jesus, it revealed the identity and authority of Jesus as the Messiah at the time of His baptism. God also sent the Spirit to empower Him in a special way for His earthly ministry. John MacArthur gives this explanation in his commentary on Matthew 3:16–17:
“Why did the Holy Spirit come upon Jesus? When He became a man, Jesus did not lose His divinity. He was still fully God in every way. In His deity He needed nothing. But in His humanity He was here being anointed for service and granted strength for ministry. The Spirit anointed Him for His kingly service, as Isaiah had predicted: ‘The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives, and freedom to prisoners’ (Isa. 61:1). Among other things, the Spirit of God came upon Jesus in His humanness in a special way (John 3:34) that empowered Him to cast out demons (Matt. 12:28). Like every human being, Jesus became tired and hungry and sleepy. His humanness needed strengthening, and that needed strength was given by the Holy Spirit (cf. Matt. 4:1; Luke 4:14).”
“Jesus’ anointing with the Holy Spirit was unique. It was given to empower Him in His humanness, but it was also given as a visible, confirming sign to John the Baptist and to everyone else watching. Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the great King whose coming the Lord had called John to announce and to prepare men for” (p. 80).
The Holy Spirit similarly (though not exactly) empowers believers for effective, powerful ministry. Jesus’ anointing was unique because of His special relationship with the Spirit by virtue of His deity and because of the degree of the anointing that Jesus experienced. Speaking about Jesus, John the Baptist gave the following explanation in John 3:34–35: “For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.”
In reference to John 16:7–11, why did Christ have to leave in order for the Helper/Spirit to come? And why could the Spirit not operate the same way as long as Christ was present? Contrast this with the way the Spirit operated throughout all of redemptive history, including in the Old Testament times.
Jesus’ ascension to heaven was an essential component of His earthly work and ministry. His victorious return to heaven completed and vindicated that work. John MacArthur explains this in his commentary, John 12–21, in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary series: “There are at least two reasons why the Holy Spirit did not come until after Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension. First, the Spirit’s ministry is to reveal the person and works of Christ. That was not fully possible until after Christ finished His work of redemption on the cross an ascended to His full glory in heaven. Second, the Father gave the Spirit to the church to vindicate His Son’s faithfulness in completing the work of salvation in His death and resurrection (cf. John 7:39; Gal. 3:14). In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter, after referring to the death and resurrection Christ (Acts 2:23–32), declared, ‘Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear’ (v. 33)” (p. 195).
While the Spirit always came upon God’s servants to strengthen and embolden them for spiritual service, the permanent indwelling of the Spirit with them was a new ministry added during the time of the church. This added dimension of the Spirit’s work was predicted perhaps most clearly by Jesus in John 14:16–17.
Please suggest some resources that provide an in-depth analysis of cessationism and its evidence in the Scripture?
Benjamin B. Warfield’s books titled The Holy Spirit and The Person and Work of the Holy Spirit will be helpful. You can also refer to Thomas Schreiner’s New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ.
Questions Regarding Miraculous Gifts and Experiences
Would you say a person who experiences speaking in tongues, healings, or prophecy is demon possessed, or is he greatly deceived, meaning what he thought was real didn’t actually happen but was only in his mind?
It is difficult to make such clear distinctions when it comes to charismatic behaviors and phenomena. Such experiences could be combinations of both deception and demonic influence. Other factors could also be involved. For example, former charismatics have testified that the tongues phenomena they practiced were learned behaviors—these people were taught by their leaders to speak in tongues. A person who regularly participates in a church where such behaviors are preached and encouraged will find it easy to allow the atmosphere to influence his thinking about what speaking in tongues is and if he really has that gift. In turn, that will influence his behavior.
In other cases, demonic activity could be involved in the supposed speaking in tongues. The unbiblical concept of speaking in tongues that is practiced by charismatics (i.e., the babbling of nonsensical sounds) is not limited to the Christian world but was part of many ancient cults and pagan religions. If those phenomena were displays of demonic possession, which seems likely because they were associated with false religion, it isn’t unreasonable that modern instances of false tongues are the result of demonic activity in branches of the charismatic movement in where the gospel is absent and heretical doctrines are taught.
Like the gift of tongues, prophecy is also falsely practiced in the majority of charismatic churches. An alleged prophet will supposedly receive a prophetic word or vision from God, but in reality he is simply making a prediction about a common life experience. Someone who believes he is a true prophet will then find a person whose life bears a resemblance to the supposed prophecy, and the “prophet” believes the prophecy came true. But is that “fulfillment” a result of God’s work or simply coincidence? Even those who believe the gift of prophecy continues today must admit that for every alleged prophecy that comes true, there are many that don’t. Even if biblical teaching about the temporary nature of miraculous gifts is ignored, occasional successes and coincidences are insufficient for validating prophecies and dreams.
Of those three gifts you mentioned—tongues, healing, and prophecy—only healing can have genuine evidence connected to it. Either a person is organically sick or he is not. While the gift of healing has ceased, God can still heal supernaturally. Most cessationists would affirm this as a miracle but not as the operation of a miraculous gift. The difference is that today there are no individual Christians with the gift of healing, like the apostles and their associates.
What is the purpose of the gift of tongues?
The gift of tongues was given as a sign to the unbelieving Jews that God was extending salvation to the Gentiles. Paul makes the purpose of tongues clear in 1 Corinthians 14:20–22, citing Isaiah 28:11–12. The context in Isaiah 28 shows that the prophet was pronouncing judgment upon disobedient Israel, telling them that one day God would use men of other tongues to proclaim God’s blessing of salvation upon all nations—and God’s cursing upon unbelieving Israel.
Should a distinction be made between miraculous or mysterious occurrences and charismatic theology?
Yes, a distinction can be made. People in the charismatic movement take positions not only on topics such as the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts, but on the character of God, the divine and human natures of Jesus, the sinfulness of mankind, the gospel of salvation, and others. Some charismatics hold entirely orthodox positions on those issues, but others can be very unorthodox.
You should also understand that the charismatic movement does not have a corner on the miraculous, mysterious, or spectacular. Simply believing in supernatural experiences will come does not mean they will. Let’s remember that God is the source of signs and wonders, and a person’s hope does not obligate God to grant them. God is clearly at work in the world today, but people in the charismatic movement do not have the ability or right to define how God does His work.
Phil Johnson spoke to this subject during the Strange Fire conference. Please listen to his session titled “Providence Is Remarkable.”
Why are charismatics so obsessed with the devil?
The preoccupation with demons and overemphasis on evil spiritual activity often seen in the charismatic movement comes partly from the mistaken belief that what we see in the gospels is normative for today, and partly from a misunderstanding of spirituality.
Jesus’ earthly ministry was an invasion of Satan’s domain (cf. John 16:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2). Jesus confronted demons and demonstrated His authority over them on a regular basis. This happened during a unique period and must not be seen as normative for the children of God today. Jesus had the authority to command demons and cast them out, and He delegated that authority to the apostles. But people today have neither the right nor the ability to do that (cf. Acts 19:11–16; Jude 8–13). Nowhere are we instructed to rebuke Satan and demons. Rather, we are called to resist Satan by living faithful, righteous lives and by teaching the truth of God’s Word (cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3–5; Ephesians 4:25–27; 6:11–17; James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8–9).
People can become preoccupied with the workings of evil in the spiritual realm because it is easier to think about the sin happening in the world instead of the sin in their own hearts. Many people followed Jesus because they wanted to see healings or to receive the benefits of His miracles, but they had no interest in repentance or self-denial (cf. John 6:26–65). Many people today respond to Jesus in the same way. They want the spirituality Jesus offers as long as it involves a good show, provides all their physical needs, and doesn’t confront their sin. But that is not the nature of true spirituality, and it certainly is not the spirituality Jesus offers those who believe in Him.
The modern church desperately needs to learn the truth about Satan, demons, and how the saints should respond to them; but that truth is found only in Scripture, not in experience and imagination. Please refer to the following resources from our website. John MacArthur preached a message titled “The Character of Satan” and wrote an article titled “Charismatics and the Sovereignty of Satan.” The study guide God, Satan, and Angels will also give biblical instruction on these topics.
Can a person be possessed by a demon? And can the demon be cast out by another person through the power of the Holy Spirit?
Yes, a person can be possessed by a demon. In Scripture we see people being tormented and controlled by demons, and Jesus recognized the reality of demonic activity (e.g. Matthew 8:28–32 and 12:22–29). Thus, we understand that demons are able to do the same today.
Many people also wonder whether Christians can be demon possessed. They can’t, because genuine, born-again Christians have the Holy Spirit residing in them. If the Holy Spirit is present, a demon cannot also dwell there (cf. Romans 8:9–11; 1 Corinthians 6:19). That truth, however, is contrary to the teaching of those in charismatic circles. Many charismatics believe Christians can be possessed by demons. But often what is erroneously identified as demon possession is simply personal sin. The remedy for that problem is not the exorcism of a demon but confession of and repentance from sin.
A child of God enjoys the indwelling Spirit, and his path of sanctification consists of putting off the sins of the old man and putting on the righteousness of the new man (Colossians 3:8–11). There is no demonic activity happening with him when he sins. Rather, it is the sin of the old man that he must master and put to death, as Colossians 3:5–7 and Romans 6:19–22 teach.
Second, are believers called to cast out demons from other people? The Bible never directs Christians to confront or cast out demons. Instead, we are taught that true spiritual warfare involves confronting false teachings and philosophies that Satan has developed to keep men from the truth. According to 2 Corinthians 10:3–6, Christians engage in spiritual warfare by bringing to light the truth of the gospel and the biblical worldview. Those truths fight against the philosophical fortresses that sinful men raise against the authority of God. Christians are instructed to renew their thinking against the world (Romans 8:5; Colossians 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:1-2), reckon themselves dead to sin against the flesh (Romans 6:6-7, 11, 13) and, resist against the devil (Ephesians 6:13-17; 1 Peter 5:8-9; James 4:7).
How did the gift of tongues function as an authentication of the early church?
The purpose of the gift of tongues was the same as the other sign gifts—to authenticate the church which had previously been a mystery (Ephesians 3:4–7). The church began on the day of Pentecost, and the gift of tongues—the supernatural ability to speak a foreign language without prior study—served as a sign to the nation of Israel that God was now extending His salvation beyond the borders of Israel to the entire Gentile world.
Once the sign gifts fulfilled that purpose, there was no longer a need to authenticate the church or its new revelation. Thus, the gift of tongues and the other miraculous gifts were no longer given to God’s people.
As a young man I was an usher in the wheelchair section in Los Angeles for the Kathryn Kuhlman services. Although I don’t remember any healings of a wheelchair-bound person, I did witness the healing of a blind man. I never really questioned that healing and others like it until the Strange Fire conference. Shouldn’t we believe God for this kind of healing?
It isn’t wrong to ask God for healing for yourself or someone else. While Scripture teaches that God no longer imparts the gift of healing to His children, that doesn’t mean He can’t or won’t heal. He can heal supernaturally or He may use other means to heal.
At the same time, we must understand that God may have a reason for choosing not to heal. We should not make the mistake of assuming that healing is always the best option for the person who is suffering with an illness or malady. For instance, if God chooses to use a person’s suffering to draw a sinner to salvation or to teach a Christian valuable spiritual lessons, should we insist on healing? Certainly God wants the best for His people, and He knows their greatest blessing will be experienced when they have an intimate relationship with Him. While Christians can experience that apart from illness, the crucible of suffering provides a wonderful opportunity for deepening that relationship.
The fact is, like Job, we can’t know everything about God’s plans and purposes for our lives, nor do we need to. Whether or not the Lord grants healing, we must learn the lesson Job learned. We must confess with Job, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” ‘Hear, now, and I will speak; I will ask You, and You instruct me.’ “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees You; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2–6).
If that is your attitude and you are submitted to the sovereignty of God, you can feel free to ask Him for whatever you want, including healing for you or others. And you will be able to trust and rejoice in Him regardless of His answer to your prayer.
Joni Eareckson Tada’s testimony from the conference is a clear and powerful example of that kind of godly response to physical suffering. I encourage you to listen to it.
How do we respond to reports that Muslims are having dreams and visions about Jesus which reveal Him as God’s Son and that they are coming to salvation because of these visions?
Many people are asking about the reports of Muslims who allegedly see visions or dreams of Jesus personally directing them to salvation. Those stories are often shared with emotion and excitement in both charismatic and noncharismatic circles. These reported experiences are frequently offered as evidence that God is actively working among Muslims in Islamic nations where Christianity is strongly opposed and Christian missionaries are in grave danger.
While we recognize God can communicate the gospel in any fashion He chooses, the New Testament consistently teaches the means of proclaiming the gospel is through human preaching. Consider the following well-known texts. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:21–24, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
Similarly, to the saints in Rome Paul writes, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things’” (Romans 10:14–15).
Finally, our Lord Jesus Himself clearly indicated the approved strategy for spreading the message of salvation just before He ascended to heaven after His resurrection: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19–20).
Therefore, God has ordained that the gospel message be proclaimed by human preachers who declare biblical and theological truth from Scripture. Those who hear the message choose either to reject it or to believe it by God’s grace. If Jesus actually were appearing to Muslims in dreams and visions, would not God be contradicting what He has clearly ordained in Scripture regarding the legitimate means of gospel proclamation in this age?
It is argued that Jesus must be granting these visions because Islam is violently opposed to Christianity and virtually no missionary efforts can happen in those Islamic countries. They suggest Jesus’ only alternative is to appear in dreams to individual Muslims who then seek salvation in Him. Is such a line of reasoning valid? If we trust that God is sovereign over all nations (cf. Acts 17:26) and is the author and finisher of salvation (cf. Hebrews 12:2), then is it reasonable to question whether He is able to accomplish His will in those Islamic nations? That line of reasoning suggests God’s power to save certain sinners is being curtailed by evil men and His chosen method of evangelism now needs to be adjusted because of the unforeseen problem of radical Islam. Clearly this is untrue. In fact, to entertain such ideas seriously dishonors God and ignores the straightforward teaching of Scripture.
Based on the consistent teaching of Scripture, we cannot accept the reports of these visions as legitimate. Certainly we want Muslims to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, and we rejoice in those who are born again. But based on the authority of Scripture, we must reject these unusual experiences as genuine works of God.
Pastor Dennis McBride has written two excellent articles on this subject. Please refer to them for further discussion of this issue. The articles are titled “An Evaluation of Muslim Dreams & Visions of Isa (Jesus),” Part 1 and Part 2.
Would you not agree that while there are abuses in the charismatic movement regarding miraculous healing, it is still possible that in countries where Jesus is still not known, healings are taking place (e.g., spontaneous healing in third world countries)?
Does Scripture give evidence that evangelistic methods need to change based on the cultural background of people or because they have a certain level of education? Does the relative depth of a person’s sin affect how the gospel should be preached? Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 9:19–23 that he would adapt himself to the culture of the people to whom he was preaching, but the message of the gospel and the methodology would never change (cf. 1 Corinthians 2:1–5).
Even though the United States and other Western countries have been significantly Christianized in recent history, there are still many parts where Jesus is not known. If God doesn’t use miraculous signs to draw the lost to salvation in our country, why would He do so in other countries?
Paul worked as a missionary throughout the Roman Empire where Jesus was not known. He rarely, if ever, performed miracles to convince people of the truth of the gospel. Paul’s evangelistic ministry to the Greeks in Acts 17 provides us a helpful model for evangelism. Paul preached to the highly superstitious people of Athens, and he never did any miracles or performed any signs for them. Instead, he presented God as the Creator, as the coming Judge of sinners, and Christ as the only hope of rescue from God’s wrath. If the gospel message is powerful enough apart from signs and wonders to bring spiritually dead, rebellious sinners to faith in Jesus Christ in Paul’s day, then it certainly still has the same power today.
We continue to hear reports about significant numbers of people being raised from the dead in Africa and India. What is your opinion on this and how would you suggest responding to these claims?
Certainly we believe God is able to raise people from the dead, but the claims that He is doing that today must be considered highly suspect. The fascination with supernatural phenomena is so widespread and there are so many who falsely claim miraculous power, we are wise to reject such claims unless they are objectively and clearly verified. It is very easy to claim a miracle has happened, but if it has, independent verification would be easy to find. But those who make these claims today are never able to provide such proof. When Jesus and the apostles did miracles of that sort, there were hundreds and sometimes thousands of witnesses, including both believers and unbelievers. If people were being raised from the dead in our day, we would expect the same kind of abundant verification.
I have heard some noncharismatic missionaries share their experiences of God performing miracles in the mission field—such as healing or casting out of demons—especially in third-world countries. How should I process this? Is it possible God might work differently in places where illiteracy and superstition abound?
Those missionaries could be telling you the truth—God might be healing and casting out demons. We don’t deny that God heals in response to the prayers of His children. However, our question to them should be, “How are people being healed and exorcised of demons?” If they speak of individuals with the gifts of healing and miracles, we must question those claims since Scripture teaches miraculous spiritual gifts are no longer given.
We must also consider the following questions, “Why would God do miracles in some places in the world and not others? Why would He need to do that? Is it because people in underdeveloped nations are more superstitious and uneducated?” Such thinking indicates a misunderstanding of the nature of man’s sin and God’s means of salvation and evidences an air of ethnic and cultural superiority. Moreover, the Apostle Paul ministered in highly superstitious cultures on his missionary journeys and rarely, if ever, performed miracles in order to verify his message. Pagan religion dominated life in the city of Corinth. But in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul appealed to the power of the gospel message as the means of bringing the sinners to salvation. He did not appeal to signs and wonders. The modern church would do well to follow his example.
Questions Regarding How to Respond to Charismatics and Their Teaching
Can you talk about the dangers of popular teachers who are not heretical but say that God talks to them? I am thinking specifically of Beth Moore. What are we to do with people who refuse to see the danger and insist such teachers are OK?
Believers must always listen carefully when any teacher or preacher speaks about the Bible and theology. They must share the nobility of the Berean saints whom Luke commended for double checking Paul’s teaching according to Scripture (cf. Acts 17:1–11). While Beth Moore teaches with accuracy on some points, she also holds positions and teaches doctrines that are both incorrect and dangerous.
Beth Moore promotes contemplative prayer, a mystical practice not found in Scripture which includes elements of eastern mysticism. She chooses not to draw firm doctrinal lines on her website while implying the Roman Catholic Church is a Christian denomination alongside the Methodist, Baptist, and other denominations. Beth also claims that she has received visions from God and sometimes receives revelation from Him in her heart. From these examples we must conclude that the lack of biblical and theological depth in Beth Moore’s teaching renders her a dubious and dangerous source of Bible teaching. You may read a critique of Beth Moore’s teaching here.
Someone I know says he hears God speaking to him in an audible voice. How do I lovingly address this issue?
You need to first explain to this person the biblical teaching about the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. The key passages would include Psalm 19:7–11, 2 Timothy 3:16–17, 2 Peter 1:16–21, and Jude 3. Point out from these texts that God consistently points people to His written Word as the source for knowledge of God, spiritual growth and blessing, and equipping for life and ministry.
Peter’s comments in 2 Peter 1 about the greater certainty and authority of God’s written revelation over supernatural experience is especially important. The idea that one is receiving direct revelation from God—even the hope that it could happen—holds a very powerful attraction. Many people are quick to believe such supernatural experiences can and do happen. The immense popularity of the modern charismatic movement is a testament to this. Sadly, they are being led astray by such delusions into serious error and increasing confusion. Please listen to Phil Johnson’s message on this subject.
It is that spiritual shipwreck Peter was trying to keep his readers from when he wrote 2 Peter 1:16–21. As you speak with your friend, ask the Lord to grant you the same heart of love and compassion that Peter had. Approach your conversations with him not as with an adversary but as with someone who needs to be warned because he is walking down a dangerous path. Show him the blessedness of Scripture and the joy of discovering its riches. And pray that God will open his eyes to the sufficiency of the Bible as you teach him.
I know God can and does heal people of physical illness, but if someone tells me his mom was healed by a person with the gift of healing, what should I say? He still believes the same gospel and goes to a Bible-teaching church, but much of his testimony is based on his mom’s healing. Was the healing a work of Satan or did God choose to heal her?
Based on the teaching of Scripture, you can be certain the person who supposedly healed that woman did not have the gift of healing. But whether she was truly healed of a physical ailment or whether the alleged healing was the working of God or a demonic power is uncertain. Without more information and verifiable evidence, we cannot affirm or deny that person’s claims.
Many people lack faith in God and Scripture, so they place their confidence in their experiences or those of others. The spiritual deficiency in a person’s life can only be corrected by the Holy Spirit’s work in his heart through Scripture. Ask God to grant this person greater faith and then offer to study Scripture with him. As he sees the power and sufficiency of God’s written revelation, his confidence in it will grow and his trust in experience will diminish.
I agree that the sign gifts have ceased. But how should I deal with charismatics when I encounter them? Do I treat their error as no big deal and ignore it or as a significant issues and address it with them as brothers in Christ? Should I see their supposed gifts as coming from another god and treat them as unbelievers in need of the gospel?
There is so much variation within the charismatic movement that we shouldn’t pick one set method of approaching them. Some charismatics are truly born again but many are not. Some hold largely to sound doctrine, but many hold to doctrines which are seriously flawed. So a one-size-fits-all method will likely be inappropriate most of the time.
Yes, there are many unbiblical and dangerous teachings in the charismatic movement, but our attitude toward charismatics and our conversations with them must be full of love, patience, and biblical truth. Emotional overreaction and biblically weak argumentation will only hinder our efforts to help them see the truth. On the other hand, calm but serious discussion of biblical teaching regarding the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts can bring them to an understanding of the truth.
Whether a person is born again or not, his need remains the same—he must learn the truth of God from Scripture. Paul’s advice about how to approach those who teach false doctrine gives us guidance: “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24–26).
It is a serious mistake to attribute the works of God to Satan, and the reverse is also true. When evaluating the abuses of the Holy Spirit seen in many charismatic circles, how do we answer the accusation that we are attributing the works of God to Satan?
Scripture is the final word on what is and isn’t a true work of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, both the charismatic and noncharismatic must go to the Word of God to learn what it teaches about the Spirit and how He works. Who is the Holy Spirit? What are His goals and ministries? What methods does He use to accomplish His work? What are the results of a true work of the Holy Spirit? Those questions can only be answered accurately from the pages of Scripture, not from human experience or desire. To bring biblical teaching to bear on the so-called manifestations of the Spirit in charismatic teaching and experience is of utmost importance when trying to help charismatics come to a more biblical way of thinking and ministering.
First John 4:1 gives the following command: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” The apostle then explains how to recognize the true work of the Holy Spirit. We must follow that instruction as we evaluate all spiritual and theological teaching, including charismatic doctrine and practices. Strange Fire evaluates the charismatic movement according to those guidelines. Also, John MacArthur’s message from the Strange Fire conference called “Testing the Spirits” examines 1 John 4:1—you’ll find it helpful.
What is the church doing to counter teachers such as Benny Hinn and Creflo Dollar, and what can I do to help?
Far too little has been done to expose the false doctrine so prevalent in the charismatic movement and to teach the truth about the Holy Spirit and His ministry. One of the main purposes of the Strange Fire conference and Strange Fire was to initiate a substantive discussion about these issues. The church as a whole, and believers individually, must zealously seek the truth about the gifts and work of the Spirit from Scripture.
Believers should actively and persistently speak about these things from God’s Word. This should be done with firmness, humility, and love. Be sure not to allow conversations on these topics to move away from the Bible. If discussions about charismatic issues focus on experiences, not much progress will be made. But if they constantly focus on the interpretation of God’s Word, by God’s grace progress will be made and people delivered from the seductive ideas of the charismatic movement.