PHIL: I notice you didn’t wear a tie. I know everyone’s thinking that so I thought I’d point it out.
JOHN: No, why are you all dressed up?
PHIL: My wife made me.
JOHN: You know, when it hits 107 I don’t wear a tie.
PHIL: That’s right.
JOHN: It’s a little more informal tonight, if that’s okay. But you look good.
PHIL: This is actually part 1 of what we hope will be a two-part conversation on the Charismatic Movement. Two weeks from now we’ll finish this.
JOHN: Yeah, I will be gone next Sunday to do a conference in Dallas for black African/American pastors on biblical exposition with Steve Lawson. And it’s a great opportunity. So next Sunday, in the morning, Jesse Johnson is coming back from Washington. He’ll preach in the morning and Phil Johnson at night. So it’s Johnson & Johnson. Wear a Band Aid just in honor.
PHIL: All right. Thanks for the plug. I wasn’t actually going to mention that cause I was afraid nobody would come back.
JOHN: No, they’ll come back.
PHIL: Anyway, this is part one of a two-part conversation and what I want to do in this hour is sort of lay the foundation for the discussion we want to have. One of the criticisms we always receive whenever we deal with the Charismatic Movement is, certain Charismatics will say, “Well you picked out the most bizarre, extreme, whacko Charismatics and you criticize them. But that doesn’t apply to us.” And it’s true that it’s pretty easy to look at that Movement and pick out extreme and whackos, you know.
But tonight what I’d like to do is just talk about the theological foundation for this whole discussion. What is the gist of Charismatic belief? If you could summarize it in the fewest possible words, what is it that Charismatics stand for?
JOHN: I think the underlying driving force in the Charismatic Movement is an intuitive view of truth. I think it’s how they approach truth, rather than approaching the Word of God as something outside of them, they approach the truth of God as something inside of them, something to be discovered on the inside by their own intuition, by their own spiritual experience, by their own spirituality, by their own insights so that they’re utterly unlikely to come up with a true interpretation of Scripture because they’re not looking at it objectively. They’re looking at it subjectively. And I think in the subjectivity of that Movement, they read into the Bible the things that appeal to them. It is not completely void of biblical affirmation, most of them would affirm one God and Jesus Christ, and the cross, and the resurrection and all that, but beyond those very basic things, and they get some of them wrong, for sure, beyond that their entire approach to Scripture comes from their own sense and their own feeling and their own subjectivity, which then leads you hopelessly into all kinds of error.
PHIL: It’s mysticism, if you want to put a label on it.
JOHN: Right, and that would be a classic label, mysticism which is…to define spiritual truth as something beyond the objective, something beyond that which is fixed and historical, puts it in the realm of mystical things.
PHIL: However, there are men who would identify themselves as Charismatics, who other than their view of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual gifts, other than that, they would be pretty much on the same page with us theologically.
JOHN: Yeah, you know, that’s not…that’s not sort of the historic Movement. You might have a different view say of the ministry of the Holy Spirit which you try to defend exegetically, you might have a different view of the baptizing of the Christ with the Holy Spirit. You might take a different view of that. There are people who would look at speaking in tongues and they would try to argue biblically for a prayer language, rather than a known language, a mystical sort of non-language prayer experience, so this is true. There are those people who just take a different view of doctrines that we embrace and they could view similar to the view that the Charismatics take without embracing the whole Movement.
PHIL: Yeah, and in fact the Charismatic elements of their doctrine are really a reach outside of their otherwise reformed and evangelical tradition.
JOHN: Yeah, and this…I mean, you and I have discussed this and we’ve read these people through the years, you keep asking yourself, “Why is it that you apply the appropriate hermeneutics, the appropriate principles of biblical interpretation to come to all the conclusions until you get to this realm of spirituality, spiritual life, the work of the Holy Spirit? And then you abandon the standard hermeneutics and you come up with something that is just not consistent with a true interpretation of Scripture, what is the need to do that?
I mean, I don’t know how to answer that question in every case. Sometimes I ask of certain people who come up with those conclusions, is his wife a Charismatic? Is that where this pressure is coming from? Are his parents Charismatics? Has he had some kind of high impact from somebody who is in that Movement that he loves and appreciates and wants to defer to? What is driving that because it seems inconsistent. It’s shifting the principles of interpretation seemingly arbitrarily.
PHIL: Now, if we had, let’s say, one of the best of the Charismatic minds here, sitting on the platform with us and I asked him that same question, I kind of suspect he would say the gist of Charismatic doctrine is a conviction that what the Holy Spirit was doing at the start of the church in the early chapters of Acts is and should be normative for the entire church age.
JOHN: Yeah, the thinking sort of theologically oriented person who would define himself as a Charismatic and you have to say though, Phil, anybody who is trying to defend his being a Charismatic biblically, I mean really trying to defend it biblically, has only embraced a very small part of that Movement and not the whole Movement.
JOHN: But those who want to hang on to a part of it and want to defend it would say, as you have pointed out, that the Holy Spirit today is doing the same thing that He was doing in the New Testament era, the era of the Apostles, the era of the book of Acts, that there’s no reason to assume that anything is different today.
PHIL: All right, let’s talk about that, that sort of…that presupposition, the idea that what we see in the early chapters of Acts ought to be normative today, what would your assessment of that be? Why would you say I don’t believe that?
JOHN: Well, I would back up, I would back up and say, “Do we then conclude that everything that Christ did when He was on earth He now is doing?” That’s what the Charismatics say and they continually quote Hebrews 13, “Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever,” which speaks of His nature and not His work. But they apply it to His work that whatever Jesus did then, although He’s not on earth, He’s doing now. So if He healed people then, He’s healing now. If He raised people from the dead then, He’s raising people from the dead now. All the miracles are based on the premise that Jesus is still doing through His human servants, or through faith, the same things He was doing then.
The answer to that, what you have to understand is, that God has always been God, but God has not always done miracles. Try to find a miracle in the Old Testament, you’ll read a long, long time before you find any miracle that isn’t a judgment that destroys people. There just are not a lot of miracles. There are not great ages of miracles, great consistent, comprehensive time periods of miracles. There’s a miracle here and there. Most of the miracles in the Old Testament are miraculous judgments of God. The most massive being the Flood in which He literally, supernaturally destroys the entire earth, the face of the earth and drowns every human being with the exception of eight.
So there has not been this constant continuity of massive miracles going on. At the time of Christ, there’s an explosion of miracles to validate the Messiah. And then Jesus delegates the ability to do those miracles to the Twelve Apostles, and to those who are associated with the Apostles, again to validate them as the preachers of the truth because the Bible’s not written yet. So how do you know when somebody is a true preacher of God’s Word and somebody is a charlatan? The answer is, the one who has supernatural power to heal people, raise the dead, cast out demons, do these kinds of miracles, gives evidence of divine power. That was the obvious response of Nicodemus when he met Jesus in John 3, he said, “Nobody can do what You do unless God be with him.” So he made the connection between the supernatural and the fact that here was one who spoke for God. And himself being a teacher, and yet not having eternal life and not knowing how to have it, he thought he had met someone who was a greater teacher than he was, because of the miracles that He did. So the Lord authenticates Himself as Messiah by miracles and passes on the power to do that to authenticate the preachers of His gospel, the Apostles.
But as the New Testament begins to take shape, and as the New Testament is written, and you see it even in the flow of the book of Acts, miracles begin to disappear. Early in the book of Acts, everybody getting I the shadow of an Apostle is being healed. Miracles are happening everywhere. As the book of Acts progresses through the early history and as the books of the New Testament are written, the Apostle Paul writes and says, “I left Trophimus sick in a certain place.” Or pray for this person because he’s ill. Or he says to Timothy, the final letters, “Take a little wine for your stomach’s sake.” Which seems an odd thing to say if you’re an Apostle and had the power to heal. So you begin to see as the book of Acts comes to its end and the epistles, you know, are being written through that period of time, that there’s a completely non-miraculous emphasis in every single epistle in the New Testament. Never does a writer of an epistle say, “You need to find an Apostle for a healing. You need to find an Apostle for a miracle. Whatever your troubles are, you need to ask God to send down manna from heaven, or to turn water into wine, or to take a small lunch and feed a multitude.” None of that appears in the epistles. The instruction in the epistles is instruction that assumes the absence of miracles. It assumes it. It’s just not in the language.
PHIL: Yet miracles are by definition extraordinary. I think it was B.B. Warfield that pointed out in the whole scope of Scripture, you have three periods where there were lots of miracles: Moses and Joshua, Elijah and Elisha, and Jesus and the Apostles.
JOHN: And Jesus and the Apostles, (together with Phil). Yeah, those are the three great periods. I did a section on that in the book Charismatic Chaos, which, by the way, as we speak is being translated in to Chinese, Charismatic Chaos, and Phil just took some of the material out of Strange Fire book and put it together for the new introduction to the Chinese version. And the reason you chose to do that is because the Charismatic Movement started by a guy named Charles Fox Parham who said there was this woman named Agnes Osmond who was given the gift of tongues and the ability to speak and write Chinese. That’s where it started. He was a crazy guy who was arrested for sodomy. He started the Charismatic Movement as we know it. And he started it with this ruse about this woman being able to speak Chinese and there’s even a photograph of her writings which he declared to be Chinese. And that photograph is going to go in the Chinese edition of the Charismatic Chaos so the Chinese can see how ridiculous the claim is.
PHIL: That’s a common problem, by the way, that miracles that are claimed by contemporary Charismatics are virtually all, I would say all but obviously I don’t know comprehensively, I’ve never seen one that’s verifiable.
JOHN: No, they don’t do miracles in hospitals, they do them in tents and they process people. And they do them in ways where no one would ever know, you don’t see a person without a leg get one. You don’t see a person without an arm, get an arm. You don’t see a person with no eyes, get eyes.
PHIL: Or someone, you know, born lame, able to walk.
JOHN: No, you don’t see…you don’t see someone with catastrophic, genetic defect in a wheelchair all of a sudden straighten up and get out of the wheelchair.
PHIL: Which is sort of brings us to one of the questions I want to ask you, what you’re describing is the difference between continuationism and cessationism. You and I are familiar with those terms, I use them a lot, but I find people are confused by it. Explain the difference between a continuationist and a cessationist.
JOHN: Well, a continuationist is somebody who believes everything continues. That what Jesus did, He’s still doing. What the Apostles did, they’re still doing. Which means, by that they mean revelation, they mean revelation. They talk about prophecy being from God. God’s still speaking through people, what is essentially the Word of God. They talk about tongues, speaking in foreign languages which we all know to be and every examination has proven to be non-language. And they talk about healing. Those are the things that the Lord is still doing.
What they’re saying when they’re continuationists is not…we all believe the Lord is still working, right? We all believe the Lord is still saving, as we heard Andrew say. We all believe the Holy Spirit’s still sanctifying. We believe that the Holy Spirit is still illuminating the Word, that God is still using the Holy Spirit to build the church, to honor Christ. We all believe in the redemptive work of God in the fullness of His work in justification, conversation, sanctification, bringing us to glory. All of that is going on.
The only question is whether or not all the miracles that were characteristic of the Lord and the Apostles are still going on.
PHIL: Specifically what Paul called apostolic signs, the signs of a true Apostle, 2 Corinthians 12:12.
JOHN: Right, and see that, 2 Corinthians 12:12 is critical because Paul says the signs of an Apostle WERE signs and wonders and miracles. Those were the signs of an Apostle which is so obvious that you have many people today who claim to be able to do those things, calling themselves Apostles. They take on that title as if it could legitimize their impotence somehow, and then they claim to do miracles which they never do.
PHIL: Which again brings us back to the distinction between….
JOHN: Let me say one more thing.
PHIL: All right.
JOHN: In the book Strange Fire I think a watershed chapter that has really confronted a subject that’s not been confronted this way ever, is the chapter on Apostles because if you can demonstrate that there are no Apostles, then consequently there are no signs of an Apostle. There are no gifts of an Apostle. So showing that there are no Apostles biblically is a very, very big issue. And when that book comes out, it will be out in October for the conference, if you want to pick a chapter to read, go to that chapter because if there are no Apostles, then those things associated with authenticating the Apostles aren’t going to happen. Why? Because now we have the Bible. So how do we test whether somebody is speaking the truth? Do we ask if they do miracles?
No, in fact here’s the strange thing, the people who claim to do miracles all have bad theology. Are we supposed to believe that God is authenticating deceivers? Are we supposed to believe that God the Holy Spirit has given miracle power to people who have bad theology, who misrepresent the Trinity, who misrepresent Christ, who misrepresent in many cases the gospel and get rich doing it? Are we supposed to believe that God is authenticating them?
You know, if God was giving miracle power to people, the people who have that miracle power would be the truest and purest and most faithful students of the Scripture, wouldn’t they? Because those are the ones God would authenticate. But you can name the list. Al Mohler has never claimed to do a miracle. R.C. Sproul has never claimed to do a miracle or receive a revelation from God. And yet we all know that these re the trustworthy teachers of the gospel.
PHIL: What you’re saying is, if you don’t believe there are Apostles today, on the same level as the Apostle Paul, then you are, in effect, a cessationist. You believe something that was happening in the Apostolic era has ceased.
JOHN: Right. The Apostles ceased and with the ceasing of the Apostles…look, there were only essentially, we could say there were Twelve Apostles, let’s take out Judas and put Mathias in, and that’s twelve. And then there’s Paul who was an Apostle late, thirteen Apostles, with a capital A who saw the resurrected Christ, were personally called by Christ, dispersed by Christ to preach His gospel, the first wave of gospel preachers who ceased with the Apostle Paul. There are no more Apostles. And I think the argument is when you read the chapter and you see how unique the Apostles were and when they passed away, what finality that was, that defines cessationism. When you cease to have Apostles, you cease to have the signs that were unique to the Apostles. So when someone says he’s a cessationist, and I would say that, and, of course, Phil would say that, I don’t mean the Holy Spirit ceased to work, Christ has ceased to work. I only mean that the things that attended the Apostles have ceased when the Apostles ceased.
PHIL: One of the arguments that I’ve made is that every Charismatic, except the really bizarre quirky ones, if you take the better Charismatics, the ones who theology is more on the sound end of the spectrum, they’re all cessationists as well because…in fact they would admit this. Wayne Grudem(?) says, “Contemporary prophecy, the prophecies we’re hearing today are fallible. Everybody would acknowledge that the tongues people speak today are not like the tongues at Pentecost, they’re not translatable languages. So clearly, something has changed and unless you want to deny that, you’ve embraced the kind of cessationism.
JOHN: Yeah, you just put your finger on what I think is the knockout punch in the final chapter of the book. The last chapter is an open letter to my continuation as friends. And my continuation as friends, they are my friends. They’re even friends theologically in many cases. And they want to be continuationists.
But in that chapter, and exactly what Phil said is the case. They believe in tongues that aren’t languages. Whereas clearly in the New Testament they were languages. They believe in miracles that aren’t necessarily like the miracles Jesus and the Apostles did, and they say that. They believe in revelation, divine revelation, but not infallible revelation.
So they have miracles that aren’t the same as the New Testament miracles. Tongues that aren’t the same as the New Testament tongues. Prophecies that aren’t the same as the New Testament prophecies. That’s not continuation. That’s cessation and inventing something else. So we need to come up with a new name for them.
You know, they are inventionists. I don’t know what. But that is not continuity. Once you say it’s not what that was, then you’re not really a continuationist. So I try to back them into a corner and make them admit that they’re not really continuationists, but rather they’re guilty of putting the stamp of divine approval and labeling the work of the Holy Spirit some things that have no biblical parallel, none.
PHIL: Now I’ve heard people say, “John MacArthur doesn’t believe in spiritual gifts at all.” That’s not true, is it?
JOHN: No, that’s not true.
PHIL: Talk about the spiritual gifts in the New Testament.
JOHN: You should listen to my tapes on that.
PHIL: I have listened to your tapes. I’m hoping you’ll say some of the same things you said on your tapes.
JOHN: Look, there are two kinds of gifts laid out in the New Testament, and, of course, they’re not necessarily divided in the New Testament because they were all in operation. For example, in 1 Corinthians 12, in Romans 12 you have a listing of the gifts, non-miraculous gifts.
PHIL: Yeah, all the ones in…
JOHN: All the ones in Romans are just non-miraculous gifts. Functions…
PHIL: To be clear, when we say non-miraculous, we don’t mean that these are natural abilities or whatever…they are
JOHN: No, we’re not talking about the ability to play the violin or being glib. We’re talking about a spiritual enablement that is by the Holy Spirit but not to do things that are supernatural, okay? But in 1 Corinthians 12, you do have gifts listed that are non-miraculous gift, alongside things like tongues, interpretation, and healing. And so, people say, “Well, how can you separate out some miraculous gifts from the non-miraculous gifts?” That’s easy to do because the miraculous ones were attached to again the Apostles and those who were associated with the Apostles in that era before the Scripture was given.
PHIL: You could actually make the argument though, if you look at that list in 1 Corinthians 12, that all of those involve the ability to work miracles. The only one that really doesn’t fit that clearly is faith. All the others are like healing, discerning of spirits, they involve some kind, you know, supernatural ability.
JOHN: Yeah, Romans 12 are gifts that you would still see functioning in the church today. First Corinthians 12 basically gifts that you don’t see functioning in the church, they were part of the apostolic era. Do I believe in spiritual gifts? Of course. “As each man has received his gift, so we are to minister that gift. First Peter 4 says we have speaking gifts and serving gifts. Those are the two categories of gifts, some of serving and some are speaking gifts. First Corinthians 12 says the Holy Spirit gives to every man severally as He wills,” which is to say it’s foolish to seek a gift because it’s a sovereign gift of the Holy Spirit to every believer.
The way I’ve always understood that is if you look at Romans and you look at Corinthians and you look at 1 Peter, you don’t get a hard and fast category of giftedness. Like here’s a gift, here’s a gift, here’s a gift and it’s kind of a cookie-cutter rubber duck thing where everybody who has that gift functions the same way. But you have categories of giftedness, broad, broad categories of giftedness. And they’re mingled in every individual. You’re like a spiritual snowflake. You know, your giftedness is like your fingerprint, it’s a combination of things that identifies you in an absolute, unique way. You have received, Peter says, the gift. You have a singular gift. It is the combination of categories of ministry in giftedness that the Spirit of God has blended together to place into you. And you can look at your own life—there used to be these tests that people would give, or you could, you know, take a test and go through a bunch of check lists and try to identify with some kind of precision your exact gift.
I think that’s foolish because it’s a blending together. It’s as unique as you are unique. And the Spirit of God has made you in to one of a kind person to minister in His church and if you don’t do your work, other…it may take multiple others to pick it up because of the uniqueness of what you do. So yes, I do believe in spiritual gifts, I feel that’s my life.
I remember my son Mark said to me one time, he said, “You know, Dad, when you’re ministering, you’re really special, but the rest of the time you’re not so special.” And he was trying to figure out what happens to me. Why am I boring most of the time and all of a sudden something dramatic happens. And I talked to him about the fact that there is an enablement that the Spirit of God has given to me when the Word of God is in my hand and my heart is prepared to minister to the church of Jesus Christ. And it’s a mingling of all kinds of things. It’s partly preaching, it’s partly teaching, it’s partly wisdom and knowledge. But if you got behind that, what do I delight in doing, one of the things that I love doing maybe more than anything else is giving. That’s part of the giftedness that the Spirit of God has given to me. That is part of the joy that I have in serving the Lord. And so that’s the blend of things. But there is nothing in me that is supernatural. There is nothing in me that somehow transcends my normal human abilities. So that is not to say I don’t have spiritual gifts, it is to say I don’t have Apostolic sign gifts…and neither do you. And if you did, you would exercise them the way the Apostles did and the miracles would be the same and the revelation would be authentic and inerrant.
PHIL: Why do you think the gift of tongues because the sort of focal point of the Charismatic Revival at the beginning of the twentieth century and still is the gift it seems to me that Charismatics tend to be obsessed with, you know? If you haven’t received the gift of tongues, then you haven’t really been filled with the Holy Spirit.
JOHN: Well I think that’s what…that’s what launched the Movement. I suppose if they had come up with something else, that maybe that would have been it. But I actually think that’s the easiest one to falsify in an ignorant environment. So when you’ve got Charles Fox Parham saying that Agnes Osmond stands up and is speaking in Chinese and nobody in the room knows Chinese, they’re all “Wow, look at this.” You know, we’re hearing Chinese, and there’s not a Chinese person in the building. Nobody knows that. It’s an easy thing to falsify because it’s nonsense.
It also is an easy thing to sort of double falsify with a false interpretation because nobody knows what the person is saying. It’s learned behavior. And if you listen to them, you know they’re saying what they’ve heard from somebody else and it has a kind of staccato and it kind of works together. As one guy that I heard many years ago said, “It’s as simple as saying Bat-da-hon-da, should have bought a Yamaha.” I mean, it’s a kind of…if you say that really fast, Bat-da-hon-da, should have bought a Yamaha, you know…wow, it’s very easy to falsify. You…you…you can’t falsify a miracle, you can’t falsify anything as easily as you can falsify that. And everybody can talk in gibberish. I think that’s what started the Movement and you do remember, Phil, that in the early years of that Movement, they attached the arrival of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer to that experience.
JOHN: So that became the foundational kind of identifying mark of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and once that got embedded in the Movement, it just stuck. And again, it’s easy to fabricate. People in crowds like this all stand up and speak that kind of gibberish and they get away with it because there’s no way to measure the reality of it.
PHIL: Although there would be…this goes back to my comment Charismatics not wanting their miracles…they’re not subject to verification. That gift of all gifts would be pretty easy if it were genuine to verify.
JOHN: Well that’s why they had to change the definition of it. They said at the beginning that it was Chinese and they were speaking languages. You remember what Charles Fox Parham did, he started sending people to the mission field and said they don’t need to learn language and they all arrived in the mission field and said, “We’re here and we can speak the language supernaturally.” And, of course, the whole thing collapsed in a massive embarrassing scam because they couldn’t.
PHIL: That’s a sad part of the story because some of those people who literally sold everything and went to the mission field really believe because Parham had told them, you know, you’re speaking Chinese. They believed they would be able to do that when they got to the field.
JOHN: And now we know that what they say is not any language at all and so now the shift has been made that this is not a language, this is a private prayer language. And they call it the tongues of angels, twisting the interpretation of 1 Corinthians 13, the tongues of angels. And then they come back and they’ve said this to me many times, “You’re blaspheming the Holy Spirit if you deny us this.”
I had a very interesting experience. I was…I was invited to speak at a huge event a few years back now, held by Charismatic men. They had a huge men’s movement, it was started by a guy named Demas Shecarion(?) you remember that name. Massive big men’s movement. And they asked me to come and speak and I was surprised, really surprised because I had written Charismatics, Charismatic Chaos, but somebody had told the leaders that I had gotten the baptism of the Holy Spirit. That I had spoken in tongues. Somebody told the leaders so they invited me to come thinking I was going to give my testimony. I didn’t know they thought that. I thought they wanted the right view of tongues. So I went and I…I…Jay Letty was with me at the time and I said, “I can’t believe they’re letting me do this.” The place packed, and they’re going to let me get up and tell the truth about tongues, I can’t believe they’re letting me do that. So I got up and I started into it. I opened the Word of God and I got about ten minutes into this thing and a guy grabbed me by the back of the coat and pulled me out of the podium and away from the microphone. And I said, “Well I really wasn’t through.” And he said, “Oh yes you are.” And that’s the only time I’ve literally been yanked out of a pulpit away from a microphone.
PHIL: It’s a shame they didn’t get a word of knowledge about your real position.
JOHN: Oh yeah, that is right. Well, and the sad part of it is I went to the moderator of the meeting afterwards and I said, “You know, I just want to ask you one question.” He got up and told everybody in the building to pray that I would receive the gift of tongues there on the spot. That the Spirit would overwhelm me with tongues. Of course it didn’t happen. But afterwards I said to this guy, I said, “Could I ask you just a simple question? What…this is the coordinator and director of the whole meeting, I said…what is your confidence that you’re going to be in heaven. Tell me. Why do you think you’re going to be in heaven?” He said, “Well, you know. You don’t know. There’s this long staircase and at the end there’s this guy at the door and you hope he lets you in.”
My heart was grieved and I explained to him the gospel. He was the head of the event. He had no clue what the gospel was. This is my fear for this movement, that there are just millions of people across the planet caught up in this who have no idea what the gospel is at all.
PHIL: In fact, one of the things I often hear from critics of your position, cause I was reviewing some of the negative reviews of Charismatic Chaos recently, that book came out twenty-two years ago, and one of the things that immediately was said was, “How can John MacArthur criticize this movement which has four hundred million followers worldwide?” Then just a couple of weeks ago we posted something on the Grace To You blog and Rodney Howard Brown who is a famous Charismatic whacko saw it…
JOHN: He’s famous for starting the laughing revival.
PHIL: Yes, he calls himself the Holy Ghost bartender because he specializes in getting people drunk on the Spirit supposedly. And he wrote a piece of his Facebook page criticizing you and one of the things he said was, “How can John MacArthur criticize this Movement that has eight hundred million followers worldwide.” So if those numbers are correct, and I don’t know where they come from, the Charismatic…the size of the Charismatic Movement has doubled in the twenty-two years since you wrote Charismatic Chaos. Talk about that. I mean, if what you’re saying is true, that is a cause for concern, not rejoicing.
JOHN: Well there’s no question in my mind that the Movement’s doubled in twenty years, there’s no question. People want a religious experience. This isn’t faith, this is doubt looking for proof. This is ignorance looking for some kind of subjective validation, some kind of feeling. It’s an easy sell cause you’re promising people miracles. So what are you doing? You’re…most of those eight hundred million, by the way, are in the Third World because they’re the most destitute and they’re the most desperate.
PHIL: In fact the way I describe it what John is, it’s not faith, it’s gullibility married to superstition in many cases.
JOHN: It is. Well it’s, you know, promise people health, promise people wealth, promise them a spiritual experience, promise them God, promise them the power of God, promise them heaven, promise them all these things and there’s a level of desperation that is going to cause people to run to that. There’s also the idea that this is a circus that they can be a part of. Life is simple. Life is humble. Life doesn’t have any supernatural character to it for the world. Life is a drudgery kind of experience for people, and this is a kind of experience that transcends everything. Most people conduct their lives in a sort of modest way and now they can act like fools publicly. I mean, all the wrong appeals are there. And so, you know, if they were selling personal, private, humble, brokenness and contemplation, they wouldn’t get a crowd…they wouldn’t. They’re selling the outrage of it all, the brashness of it all, the wildness of it all, the unfetteredness of it all, the letting go of everything kind of thing. And with all of the promises of things that can’t be delivered but the very things that people desperately want.
PHIL: One other point that needs to be made too is if it’s true that there’s anywhere near eight-hundred million Charismatics in the world, those very few relatively few handful of men who would be on the same page with us doctrinally are an infinitesimal minority. They are not the mainstream. They’re the fringe.
JOHN: Oh no. They’re the fringe and, you know, they accuse me of always talking about the fringe of the Movement. They’re the fringe of the Movement. They’re the little tiny fringe. When I talk about the aberrations and the bizarre behavior and the false teachers, you know what it is? It’s a religious Ponzi scheme, the guy at the top gets rich. That’s what it is. All the money goes to the top, all the money just goes to the top. I mean, these are schemers. They will send money to people from anonymous sources so that those people can give a testimony that they got money from an unexpected place so they can feed and fuel the fire to scam the rest of the people. It’s a Ponzi scheme. Some of the people get the money and that keeps the thing flying.
But…that has become the norm. That has become the norm. What you see on TV, we’ll talk about this next time, has become the norm. These guys are the fringe. And I would go one step beyond that, and I made a little video for our website on this, I know there are men who are pastoring Pentecostal Charismatic churches who love the Lord and who preach the gospel and want to honor the Lord and they’ve been raised in this and it’s what they know and it’s all they know and it’s the realm in which they live and move. And they would take our view of some of the aberrations and they would deny those things. And my word to them is, if you’re in that group then join me in discrediting the people that are dishonoring Christ and deceiving the world on this. You can’t say we’re not among them without standing up and condemning them. I mean, if that’s how you really feel, then you’ve got to take on that responsibility for the sake of the truth and the church and the Lord.
PHIL: Yeah, whatever positive fruit there is from the Pentecostal Movement, or the Charismatic, the conservative, you know, I would say branch. It’s not even big enough to twig of the Charismatic Movement, whatever positive fruit there is comes from their commitment to Scripture and they’re preaching the gospel…not the Charismatic gifts or whatever.
JOHN: Right. And look, there are people in that Movement who believe in Christ and are Christians and preach the gospel and people get saved by hearing the gospel. But that makes it all the more important that because they have the truth, they be accountable for all the truth. That, I think, is another minority, however. I think that’s another minority. I think the vast multiple millions of people caught up in that Movement are caught up in something that has really nothing to do with Christ and the gospel.
PHIL: Now you’ve become kind of a lone voice in this whole issue. You…I think your first series on the Charismatic Movement, as far as I can tell, was 1971. You preached on that issue in 1971 for the first time. Then you did an extended series in 1975 which became the basis for the book The Charismatics which was published, I think, in 1978 or there about. Then it was 1992 when Charismatic Chaos came out. So if you follow the trail of this, it’s like every five or at the very most ten years, you’ve dealt with this issue. But it’s been 22 years since Charismatic Chaos and in that time…
JOHN: I apologize.
PHIL: Well, in that time it’s almost become politically incorrect even to touch this issue. It’s…
JOHN: Well…and that’s a very important observation. Look, Benny Hinn was talking about me one night on TBN with Paul Crouch and he said, “If I had my way, I’d take out my Holy Ghost machine gun and blow his brains out.” Okay, that’s how they feel. I get that. I know that. I’ve been excoriated by many of them. That doesn’t have any effect on me other than to raise my concern for them and for the inroads they have. But they have been very, very effective in silencing the evangelical world. They’ve been very effective in doing that. And when we were having these discussions, you and I and Nathan talking about it’s time for this book, we did a little bit of research and I think we came up with the fact that in the last eight or ten years there’s been one small book written in evangelical press to address this Movement.
You see, the only way they ever could have gained what they gained was to silence those with sound theology. And how did they do that? How did they pull it off? Well they pulled it off by talking about Jesus and His death and resurrection and the cross enough and often enough to gain the ground they needed to be accepted as Christians. And then the message shifted to loving us, and let’s have love, and let’s have unity. And you can remember those years when it was all about unity, don’t be divisive, don’t be divisive. I can remember so many times being hammered by these people as being divisive. I was called a heresy hunter. I was shattering the body of Christ. I was breaking the unity of Christ. I was…I was doing everything I could to make sure Christ’s prayer in John 17, that they may be one, Father, was not getting answered. And this kind of divisiveness was destroying the body of Christ and it was ruining the testimony of the church. That was a relentless mantra coming from the leaders of the Charismatic Movement. And people just caved in to the pressure of tolerance. And the evangelical Movement caved in to that. And then eventually it became a non-issue. In fact, I hadn’t thought about it but it has been twenty-two years. This book…when this book comes out, this book is going to get a reaction in the Charismatic Movement among those leaders in the Movement who will have to face the book. But it may be an equally great shock to the evangelicals who may be outraged that I would have said the things that I am saying….
PHIL: Because they think we’ve sort of all declared a truce from this issue.
JOHN: Yeah…well yeah, you know, love trumps all. Truth isn’t the issue.
PHIL: In fact, people ask me all the time if your attitude has changed on the Charismatic issue. In my judgment, you’re saying the same thing now that you said back in 1971.
JOHN: No, my attitude has changed, it’s worse now than it was.
PHIL: Our attitude is worse, or the Movement is worse.
JOHN: No, my attitude is, I have more passion to try to deal with this Movement. You know, Phil, I live for the truth, it’s all about the truth. The truth is everything to me. The truth of the Word of God and all misrepresentations of the Bible, all aberrations, all lies, all deception, all false teaching, all false teachers grieve me and now that there are more of them and the lies are more successful, it escalates the grief. It is of profound concern to me. And yeah, you’re right, the evangelical world has basically laid down arms, you know, in the name of love…we’re not going to make an issue out of this, and so it’s a Trojan Horse. They got into the city and they got into the city and opened up the horse and the troops took over. And now you can’t…you essentially can’t bring it up.
For example, going back, Moody published the original Charismatic book, serialized that book in a magazine they had called “Moody Monthly,” and put the book on the cover and they literally serialized the book. The book was in the magazine month after month after month after month. And it wasn’t too many years until when I made a comment negatively on the Charismatic Movement on a radio program, Moody removed it from their radio network. That’s the same institute. Their theology didn’t change. Their entire perspective of tolerances in the evangelical community changed. I went from being front cover to being censored.
PHIL: Yeah, the whole evangelical culture has changed. When I was in Bible college, I had just a few books and I remember being,…I was very interested in the Charismatic Movement, because my best friend in junior high and high school, his father was a fairly well-known Assemblies of God, faith-healing evangelist. He would do crusades overseas and heal people of deafness and so on. In fact, he’s featured in Dick Mayhue’s book, The Healing Promise. Dick critiqued this man and yet he was one of the better Charismatics in the sense that I think his doctrine was generally sound, he understood and preached the gospel and all of that. But, then he came down with a case of fatal bone cancer and it was a drawn-out very painful death and his son, my best friend, abandoned the faith because he watched his father die this agonizing death and decided that his whole life had been a lie, including what he said about the gospel. And it was about the time my friend was abandoning the faith that I became a Christian. And I’m trying to balance my exposure to the Charismatic Movement, I grew up in Tulsa and so I read a lot on this subject. And I had on my bookshelf probably eight or ten volumes that had been published in a five-year span critiquing the Charismatic Movement. Since Charismatic Chaos in 1992, I can’t think of a major critique of the Charismatic Movement.
JOHN: There has not been.
PHIL: And yet, the phenomena coming out of that Movement almost starting in 1992, just became bizarre. That was the launching point of the Toronto blessing, and then the Pensacola Revival, and people getting their teeth filled with gold and all sorts of bizarre things that…
JOHN: Having their washing machines healed and stuff. You know, what’s so interesting is that the Chinese have picked up on Charismatic Chaos, that’s 1992 and they see that as current and relevant to the Movement today. And I said to you, “Why didn’t they get Strange Fire? They want Charismatic Chaos.” They see that book as addressing…nothing has changed. I was pointing out some bizarre things. There are things now that are even more bizarre.
You know, going back in my experience, when I was a young boy, my Dad was a preacher. There appeared on the scene in our little world in Hollywood where he pastored a guy named Marjo(?) Courtner(?). Marjo was a boy preacher who turned out to be a fraud. A movie was made about him, my Dad was actually in the movie because the news people came and interviewed him. My Dad said he’s a fraud, he’s a fake. It showed him sitting on a bed after one of his meetings, throwing money in the air. I mean, he was a total con man. And I saw that. I was familiar with A.A. Allen who was a slobbering drunk who had all these tent revivals everywhere. So I saw that because my Dad was an evangelist and a pastor, and I was exposed to that. You will remember, we had a meeting right up here in my office with the leading prophet,…
PHIL: Paul Cain(?)
JOHN: Paul Cain(?) the leading prophet. He actually had been an associate pastor over in London…
PHIL: Yeah, he was brought on staff, I don’t know whether…
JOHN: That’s Lloyd-Jones’ church after Lloyd-Jones was long gone. And he was deemed the prophet of all prophets, everyone looked to him as a prophet. He sat in the office with us and with Jack Deare(?) who was a professor at Dallas Seminary who had gotten in to the Vineyard, and Jack had brought him to prove to us…to introduce us to a legitimate prophet. And he was really bizarre and he was weird. And he was saying things that seemed incoherent. And he was acting like a drunk guy. And Jack explained to us that this is how he is when he’s in the Spirit. And it wasn’t long after that, that he was discovered and openly admitted years of homosexuality and alcoholism. He was nothing but a drunk. And all the prophets who looked to him as the supreme prophet couldn’t even tell that he was a fake. So what value does that kind of prophet have? The whole thing is just loaded with that kind of…
PHIL: And he was accepted and embraced by some of the best men in the Charismatic Movement.
JOHN: Well, he was even affirmed as a true prophet by John Piper.
PHIL: Yeah. Yeah, Piper and Grudem and Jack Deare.
JOHN: So this is why it’s so important to address this and, you know, we want to help you with this because we’ve got…I don’t know how many people, four thousand some people coming, we’re trying to hurry, get the gym done so we can put them there and put them in the chapel and put them here from all over the world. So this is your kind of mini-conference. But we don’t want just this to be an event that happens here. Nobody cares what happens on Roscoe Boulevard, but we want this to touch the world, and get carried back everywhere. And so the book is going to come out, but you will be the first to see and get an opportunity to have the book.
PHIL: Well, the Evangelical Movement is changing and embracing more and more of the Charismatic Movement. At the same time, evangelicalism is losing its historic evangelical distinctives. Do you think there’s a connection? Do you think there’s a cause and effect relationship?
JOHN: Oh, that’s a great question, Phil. There is a cause and effect I think. We gave up fighting the battles of doctrine under the onslaught of the Charismatic Movement. We lost the war there. That’s where evangelicalism should have taken its stand. It should have taken its stand against these bizarre unbiblical aberrations. We refuse to do that in the name of love. So love trumped everything, a pseudo love, a kind of undiscerning sentimentality. And anybody who takes issue with that is considered divisive. So the push for tolerance won the day, so watch carefully what happens. The evangelical church has become tolerant. Tolerant of what? You name it and I will tell you what the next one will be—homosexuality. We have been softened up. We have given up the fight. We have basically rolled over in the name of love and now I pick up an article and it says, and I’m sure Jerry Falwell would roll over in his grave, that a student at Liberty Seminary is an open homosexual, that there are gay groups on Christian college campuses, that the church needs to accept homosexuals and accept even homosexual marriage. This is going to come like a flood. It’s going to come in the culture, but we would expect that, wouldn’t we? What…people said to me, “What about the Supreme Court decision?” Well what you expect them to say? There is no standard of morality, what are they going to say? The Bible says it’s a sin. They’re not going to say that. That’s the state, that’s the secular world.
All they’re going to say in a democracy is, “Whatever the people want?” That’s even going to be gone very soon and the courts are going to decide everything that’s moral. The Congress can make laws and the President can make executive orders. But only courts rule in ethics and morality. And so all moral decision is going to fall to the courts. There won’t even be popular referendums anymore like Proposition 8 because one judge in Northern California throws it out. So why are people going to spend a fortune. By the way, Prop 8 was an effort of the Mormon church and they spent millions and millions of dollars to get the marriage act passed. One judge threw it out. In the future, judges will make moral decisions. And judges will be the appointees of the people in power. This is going down fast. How do I feel about that? I expect the world to act like the world. What I don’t expect is the church to act like the world. I don’t really care what the government does, that’s the world. And if it’s a democracy, then whatever the people want is what they’re going to do. And if it’s a monarchy, whatever the King wants is what they’re going to do. So…but that’s the world. Whatever they want to do, they will do.
What I’m concerned about is what the church does. What we do in the name of Jesus Christ. And when we so hurriedly abandon the biblical pattern and when a Christian institution with tens of thousands of students says we want to work with the students here who have gender identity issues. The church is caving in.
PHIL: You lead to one other question that I want to ask you next time when we talk about the whacko element and TBN and the heresies that have been spun off out of the Charismatic Movement, I’m going to ask you…do you think there’s anything inherent and what is it in Charismatic theology that sort of breaks down morality and sound theology, and all of that and what.
JOHN: You mean you have to wait to answer that question?
PHIL: Yeah…yeah…yeah. I’ll ask you in two weeks and I want you to
JOHN: Well the answer is yes.
PHIL: Yes, and you can explain what it is. Let me ask a different question though just to close, cause we’re running out of time.
JOHN: I’m going to be frustrated for two weeks.
PHIL: Well we’ll all come back to hear what you’re going to say. One more question that I think may take you a minute to answer, but…it’s that, you know, we all agree that the gospel is the central essential truth of Christianity movements like Together for the Gospel, the Gospel Coalition and all. I mean, we support basically their aim, but there is a concern, isn’t there, about how the gospel-centered emphasis has tended to further open the doors to Charismatic extremism because…and what we would want to clarify is when we say the gospel is the essential and other things are secondary, we’re not saying issues like this are not important at all, or that they shouldn’t be debated or discussed, right?
JOHN: Well let me say it this way. This is a divine issue. This is an issue of truth. Look, could we say well it’s wonderful that we all honor Jesus, but we don’t need to worry about honoring the Holy Spirit. Really! You can’t make that kind of distinction. And I think it is, this goes back to the question that I won’t answer fully, the Charismatic Movement has created a false paradigm for spirituality and a false paradigm for spirituality doesn’t restrain the flesh, so all hell breaks loose behind the scenes. That’s why all the scandals rage in that Movement.
PHIL: Yeah, it doesn’t always stay behind the scenes, does it?
JOHN: No it doesn’t, but it’s going on all the time because it’s a false paradigm. You aren’t spiritual because you jabber in non-language, that’s not how you conquer sin in your life. Many of them aren’t even saved, let alone Spirit controlled, Spirit filled, driven toward biblical obedience, being sanctified by seeing the glory of Christ. It’s a false paradigm like legalism can’t restrain the flesh, neither can that restrain the flesh. And so behind the façade of what you see is wretchedness and the same, you know, whited sepulcher full of dead men’s bones.
PHIL: Well we’ll leave it at that for this week and I’ll see you right up here two weeks from now.
JOHN: Okay. Thank you. (Applause)
PHIL: Let’s close as we always do in prayer.
Lord, we’re thankful for Your Word, for the clarity with which it speaks truth. We pray, Lord, that You would give us a conviction, a commitment to that truth that’s unshakeable by any feeling or our own imaginations or anything like that but anchor us through Your Word to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Lordship. We pray that You would use the truth of Scripture and that alone to conform us to the image of Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.