Four years ago this week, John MacArthur and the other speakers at the Strange Fire conference delivered a comprehensive critique of the charismatic church, exposing the blasphemous abuses of the Holy Spirit and God’s Word that pervade the movement. The response to the conference was overwhelming, but many of those errors still dominate charismatic doctrine and practice. Our goal is to fan the flames of this important discussion by continuing to call for discernment and discipline in charismatic circles. –GTY Staff
Many of the common defenses of the continuation of the apostolic gifts are really just arguments from silence. “Show me the verse that says tongues ceased for the church.” “Show me where it says that God stopped speaking to His people audibly, or performing miraculous healings.”
However, some also argue for the continuation of the gifts from Scripture. In his book Charismatic Chaos, John MacArthur identifies a familiar verse many utilize in their attempts to keep the door open for signs and wonders today.
Many Charismatics use Hebrew 13:8 as a proof text for their teaching. It carries a thrilling promise known and memorized by many Christians: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.” Charles and Frances Hunter reason that “if [Jesus] baptized with the evidence of speaking in tongues yesterday, then surely He’s doing the same thing today and will continue doing it tomorrow.”  Charles and Frances Hunter, Why Should “I” Speak in Tongues? (Houston: Hunter Ministries, 1976), 13.
The Hunters are saying that what happened “yesterday,” during the earthly ministry of Jesus and in the apostolic age, is happening now. Revelation is happening now; tongues go on; healings continue; miracles still occur. The charismatic interpretation of Hebrews 13:8 is practically standard in all their writings. Many Pentecostal churches have the verse printed in large letters at the front of their auditoriums.  John MacArthur, Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 99.
Michael Brown makes a similar point in his book Authentic Fire. Responding to examples of the cessationist position that the sign gifts served a specific revelatory purpose and that they ceased with the completion of the New Testament canon, Brown claims,
The problem with these positions is that they fail to appreciate that who Jesus was remains who He is (Hebrews 13:8) and that most (or, without question, many) of His healings had no revelatory, “sign” nature attached to them by the Gospel writers.  Michael Brown, Authentic Fire (Lake Mary, FL: Excel Publishers, 2014), 182.
He goes on to argue for several motivations and reasons behind Christ’s miraculous work that could legitimize similar activity in the church today. But that argument plays fast and loose with Christ’s immutability, as John MacArthur explains:
The question is, does the Pentecostal and charismatic interpretation of Hebrews 13:8 stand up to inspection according to sound hermeneutical principles? The literal meaning of the verse is plain. Jesus Christ is unchanging—yesterday, today, and forever. If the charismatics are talking about Christ’s essence, then they are correct. In terms of historical manifestation, however, they need to think through their position.
Why should “yesterday” go only as far back as the earthly ministry of Jesus? What about Old Testament times? Jesus was not here in a human body, but He was here as the Angel of the Lord (see, for example, Genesis 16:1-13; Exodus 3:2-4; Judges 6:12, 14; 13:21-22; Zechariah 1:12-13; 3:1-2). What about before Old Testament times? Jesus was the Second Person of the Trinity in heaven (see Psalm 2:7; Hebrews 10:5). Jesus was not “the same” in form during all those periods. Nor were the same things happening. There is no indication of tongues during the earthly ministry of Jesus, or during the Old Testament times. Obviously tongues were not part of Jesus’ ministry in the “yesterday” before Acts 2.  Charismatic Chaos, 99-100.
The argument further collapses under the weight of what the apostle Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, pointing ahead to our future glorification.
And as far as “forever” is concerned, none of the gifts is forever. First Corinthians 13:8-10 clearly says that the gifts of prophecy, tongues, and knowledge will not endure forever. When tested by sound hermeneutical principles, the charismatic interpretation of Hebrews 13:8 does not stand up. Charismatics force into the verse a meaning that is not there in order to justify their contention that tongues, miracles, and healings are happening today just as they did in the first century.  Charismatic Chaos, 100.
That leaves us with one important question: What does Hebrews 13:8 mean? What is the Holy Spirit teaching us about the immutable nature of Christ?
Rather than assigning an arbitrary meaning to this one verse, we need to look at the context to understand what the writer of Hebrews intended to communicate.
Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teaching; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. (Hebrews 13:7-9)
Regarding those verses, John MacArthur writes,
I believe the primary appeal of this passage is for Jews who had heard and professed the gospel not to return to legalism. The New Covenant in Jesus Christ has standards, very high standards, but they do not involve ceremonies, rituals, holy days, and formalities. They are internal, not external.
Just as “those who led [us] who spoke the word of God,” and just as “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today,” so we should be in our doctrine and practices. We are not to be “carried away by varied and strange teachings.” One of Satan’s most subtle approaches to the Christian is to move him away from sound doctrine, to get him wrapped up in beliefs that are unfounded, uncertain, and changing. Bad doctrine results in bad living.  John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Hebrews (Chicago: Moody Press, 1983), 435.
In that sense, the writer of Hebrews echoes Paul’s warning to the Ephesian elders about the dangers of false teachers: “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29–30). He issued a similar warning at the end of his epistle to the Romans. “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Romans 16:17).
The worst false teachers are those who go under the guise of orthodoxy. An avowed liberal, cultist, or atheist is easily seen for what he is. Satan’s best workers are the deceptive ones, who know they will get a better hearing from God’s people if their heresy is coated with biblical ideas. “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13–14). Satan’s primary target is the church. He does not need to pervert the world, because it is already perverted, already in his camp. This is why the New Testament is so filled with warnings for Christians to beware of false teaching. Satan does wish to destroy the power of the truth in the church.  The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Hebrews, 436.
Put simply, Hebrews 13:7-9 is a warning to the early church—and to believers throughout church history—to hold fast to the gospel of Christ and not succumb to the allure of Satan’s deceptive lies. In that sense, perhaps Hebrews 13:8 does pertain to the charismatic movement after all.
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