Editor’s Note: To commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Strange Fire Conference, we are posting an article by John MacArthur which will appear in the next issue of the TMS Journal. For the purposes of this blog, the article is posted in three parts. Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2.
A Departure from the Inerrant Word
A final point to consider, specifically with reference to modern prophecy, is that by eliminating the simple biblical standard by which false prophets may be identified, modern charismatics have opened the door for chaos and doctrinal confusion in the church. Fake healings and false tongues are bad enough, but when someone claims to have private revelation from God, the sufficiency and singularity of Scripture is instantly clouded, and the authority of Scripture is undermined. It is a terribly dangerous breach of a fundamental principle of evangelical Protestant and biblical conviction.
The Bible is authoritative revelation. It sets forth truth in words and propositions. The authors of Scripture wrote down those words exactly as God ordained—“not . . . words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:13). That’s why a prophet was judged by the accuracy of what he said. If he said, “Thus said the Lord,” and the Lord didn’t really say that, he was to be stoned.
When someone claims to have received an “impression” from God—a non-verbal revelation—the door is opened wide for all kinds of confusion. Personal impressions are inherently enigmatic, vague, and frankly dubious. Non-verbal sensations cannot articulate truth. But charismatics are taught to accept their impressions and hope that somehow this legitimate revelation of God doesn’t get messed up when we try to verbalize it. Frequently, when they verbalize or act on what they believe God has told them, it is absurd—sometimes even reckless in the extreme. But a strong impression is never to be doubted on those grounds, they insist, because God moves in mysterious ways. That is why charismatics are so prone to embrace rather than question all kinds of strange and innately irrational phenomena like drunken behavior and uncontrollable laughter.
When you believe God is trying to communicate through some non-verbal, intellectually vacant means, all meaning inevitably gets lost in translation. This is not how God reveals truth. Seeking messages from God in one’s own feelings and imagination is a practice rooted in pagan superstition, and it wreaks havoc in the lives of anyone who thinks that impression in his mind or feeling in his gut is a message from God. Scripture says, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool” (Proverbs 28:26).
True believers in Jesus Christ must return to the basic truths of the sufficiency, authority, verbal inspiration, and inerrancy of God’s Word. Every word that proceeds from the mouth of God is true. That is the principle of biblical inerrancy. The charismatic notion of “fallible prophecy” directly undermines it. The more casual the church becomes in these categories, the more her people will falter, and the weaker her testimony will be. The evidence of this is already all too obvious across the entire evangelical movement.
The Shepherds’ Conference next March will be a major summit on the topic of inerrancy. Ten keynote speakers have been invited to address the issue. Our commitment to biblical inerrancy is the core principle that defines and delimits everything else we confess and teach at The Master’s Seminary. This is what we want to be known for. We affirm without reservation the authority, sufficiency, and reliability of Scripture, and we believe the Bible supersedes and stands in judgment over all other truth claims, all other worldviews, and all beliefs that are rooted only in general revelation or natural theology. For the honor of the Lord and the safety of His people we must hold settled, biblically sound views on these issues, and we must be able to proclaim the truth with clarity and genuine conviction. That means no matter how popular and widespread an erroneous doctrine may be, we nevertheless must point it out and offer biblical correction.
Listen to some of the pundits and trend-setters among the evangelical elite, and you might think the only options left for conservative evangelicals are to fall in line with the prevailing evangelical drift or else become a pariah because you represent a threat to peace and unity. Scripture points us in a totally different direction: “Be steadfast, immovable” (1 Corinthians 15:58)—“holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:9). “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). “Retain the standard of sound words [and] guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:13-14). “Preach the word . . . in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction”—even when people just want to have their ears tickled (2 Timothy 4:2-3). And “be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2 Peter 3:17-18).