A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference

After a few weeks off to refocus and redesign the site, I’ve decided to make a brief comeback before the relaunch to address some recent news concerning John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference.

I am Pentecostal through and through. I was dedicated at 17 days of age in a Pentecostal church. I spent the first eight years of my life in an Independent Pentecostal Holiness church and for the last 23 years I’ve called the Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.) organization my tribe.

I want to make it clear from the get-go, however, that the Kingdom of God knows no division. I will continue to worship with many blood-bought, born again Christ-followers regardless of their denomination, creed, or secondary teachings. 

That said, I must address some disheartening statements made these last few days by noted theologian, author, and minister John MacArthur.

MacArthur’s conference apparently was birthed out of his yet-to-be-released book Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship. 

It appears that the book has a lot to say about the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. If MacArthur’s opening statements at the conference are any indication, the book will accomplish much in an effort to slander many Christ-exalting men and women.

Part of MacArthur’s opening address reportedly included the following statement:

There are a half a billion of professed Charismatics. For some frame of reference, there are a billion Roman Catholics, and 14 million Mormons. So you see that this is a massive issue. And yet, nobody would fault pastors for confronting Mormonism for their false view of God, Christ, and Salvation. 

By many measures, John MacArthur should be considered a pioneer of faith in 21st Century America. Yet, someone as deeply rooted in the Word of God as MacArthur should understand that comparing Pentecostals to Mormons is, at best, laughable.

MacArthur must realize that neither of those enormous religions even gets the essentials right. There’s absolutely no comparison here.

MacArthur reportedly continued:

Am I discrediting everyone in the movement? No. I think there are people to desire to worship God in a true way. They’re caught up in this as well, though, because intention is not enough. But the movement itself offers nothing to enrich true worship. 

Surely, John MacArthur doesn’t view “true worship” as the act of gratitude that Pentecostals exuberantly portray in church every Sunday, right? 

True worship is less what we do on Sunday and more the reflection of the consecrated life we live before our maker throughout the week. True worship has little to do with the tongue-talking, exuberant style of praise you see in most Pentecostal churches.

The Apostle Paul–noted tongue-talker–wrote in Romans 12:1 that we should present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God which is our reasonable service or our spiritual worship. Any theologian worth his salt will tell you that means living as though we are dead to self and alive to Christ and His ways. That’s the essence of true worship–not our joyous style of praise.

If true worship is what we’re judging Pentecostals by, my home church alone sacrificially helps around 100 needy families every month with emergency food boxes and has served 250,000 hot meals since 1995 while averaging only 75-80 attendants on a weekly basis. Sounds to me like we know plenty about true worship.

One more MacArthur quote:

The charismatic movement continually dishonors God in its false forms of worship. It dishonors the Father and Son, but most specifically, the Holy Spirit. Many things are attributed to the Holy Spirit that actually dishonor him. In many places in the charismatic movement they are attributing to the Holy Spirit works that have actually been generated by Satan.

Matthew 12:25-26 NIV – "Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand?“

Jesus said that, by the way.

This is the easiest of MacArthur’s statements to refute. By far.

By MacArthur’s own admission, Pentecostalism is the fastest growing movement on the planet. People are coming to Christ in droves all across the world in Charismatic services. The unmistakable tug of the spirit is active in our services and sermons.

Why would Satan be so ignorant as to generate a movement that is leading literal millions of people to Christ?

Half-a-billion people worldwide consider themselves a part of this movement. That makes Pentecostalism one of the top Christ-essential protestant movements ever.

Yet, instead of applauding the efforts of countless men and women–pastors, teachers, and missionaries–for making such a vast difference for the Kingdom of God, John MacArthur has attacked us.

It is not my intention to attack or rebut cessationalists with this post. I refuse to debate cessationism vs. continualism in this space.

My contention here is John MacArthur’s reckless, arrogant, and irresponsible actions at this conference.

Strange Fire has become a three-day Pentecostalism bash-fest. I find that incredibly detrimental to the Kingdom of God.

I’ll be the first to admit, there is some "strange fire” out there. I’ve been witness to plenty of it during my 31 years. But using the fringe to color the full canvas makes a horribly disfigured painting.

I am thankful for many in mainstream protestantism that have stood with Pentecostals during these last few days. The unity you’ve portrayed in the face of unprovoked attack on an integral part of the body of Christ is encouraging.

I won’t hold out hope for an apology from John MacArthur. But in the interest of the Kingdom, I’m praying he does so.