Archive for the ‘Fred Anson’ Category

A Biblical Response to Mormon Communion With the Dead Teachings

Moroni Temple Shadow Red and Grainy

“Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and let the dead bury their own dead.'”
(Matthew 8:22, NKJV)

by Fred W. Anson
It often comes as a shock to many transitioning Ex-Mormons that contact and communication with the dead is prohibited in the strongest terms in the Bible. Please consider the following:

There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord, and because of these abominations the Lord your God drives them out from before you.
(Deuteronomy 18:9-12, NKJV)

And lest the connection to Mormonism be missed, on April 6, 1853, at the ceremony for laying the Northeast Corner Stone of the Salt Lake City Temple, Mormon Apostle Parley Pratt bragged that Mormonism was ahead of the spiritist curve when,

A quarter of a century since, an obscure boy and his few associates, in the western wilds of New York, commenced to hold converse with the dead.” He further stated that, “The Lord has ordained that all the most holy things pertaining to the salvation of the dead, and all the most holy conversations and correspondence with God, angels, and spirits, shall be had only in the sanctuary of His holy Temple on the earth, when prepared for that purpose by His Saints; and shall be received and administered by those who are ordained and sealed unto this power, to hold the keys of the sacred oracles of God.” Thus temple endowed Latter-day Saints, “By one holding the keys of the oracles of God, [act] as a medium through which the living can hear from the dead.
(Parley Pratt, “Spiritual Communication”, Journal of Discourses, 2:43-46; bolding added for emphasis)

The Impassable Chasms
Yet in the gospel of Luke Jesus tells the following story which states explicitly that there are impassable chasms that separate the living from the dead and those in heaven from those in hell:

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

Lazaraus and the Rich Man EDITED

“Lazarus and the Rich Man” (unknown artist)

Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’
(Luke 16:19-31, NKJV)

Again, please notice these words, “there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.” So the Bible explicitly states that there’s a gulf that the living can’t cross to get to the dead, or those in hell can’t pass to get to those in heaven (and vice versa). That pretty much precludes any notions of the dead being guardian angels for the living or the dead being able to communicate with the living in Mormon Temples or anywhere else doesn’t it?

Angels and Humans Are Different Species and Beings
And as the Compelling Truth website explains, human beings and angels are not the same species:

Angels are created beings. They are an entirely separate type of creature from humans. People do not become angels after death, and angels do not become human. They are as different from us as we are from the animals. Angels are intelligent beings (Matthew 8:29; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Peter 1:12), they are emotional beings (Luke 2:13; James 2:19; Revelation 12:17), and each has an individual personality and will (Luke 8:28-31; 2 Timothy 2:26; Jude 6). Angels are spirit beings (Hebrews 1:14) and do not have physical bodies.
(“What are angels according to the Bible?”, Compelling Truth website)

Further, as Mormon Researcher, Bill McKeever explains, the Bible does not teach that humans can become angels:

While the belief in angels is not unique to the Christian faith, Mormonism drastically differs from orthodox doctrine by espousing the concept that humans have the capability to end up as angels. Certainly Mormonism cannot be credited with originating this erroneous concept. This “human to angel” idea has long been a part of the folklore of many countries. Upon the loss of a loved one, how many children have been comforted by well-meaning people who have said this particular loved one “is an angel now”?
…the concept of men and women turning into angels has no biblical support. To begin with, the Bible declares that angels are a distinct creation of God; in other words, an angel was created as such, and is not a being that has undergone some sort of spiritual development or physical evolution. Psalm 148:2,5 clearly demonstrates that angels were created as angels when it says, “Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts…Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created.”

In his epistle to the church at Colosse, the Apostle Paul expounds the fact that it was through Christ that all things were created by Him and for Him (2:15). These include what Paul refers to as ‘principalities.’ W.E. Vine notes that the word translated principality in the KJV ‘is used of supramundane beings who exercise rule, called principalities.’ He states that this word can denote holy angels or evil angels. (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, 1966, pg. 213). As with many other doctrines unique to Mormonism, there is no biblical justification for the claim that angels were once humans.
(Bill McKeever, “Angels and Humans”, Mormonism Research Ministry website)

So If I’m Not Contacting the Dead What Are They?
The name for what Mormonism teaches is “Necromancy”. As the GotQuestions website explains:

Necromancy is defined as the conjuring of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events. In the Bible, necromancy is also called ‘divination,’ ‘sorcery’ and ‘spiritism’ and is forbidden many times in Scripture (Leviticus 19:26; Deuteronomy 18:10; Galatians 5:19-20; Acts 19:19) as an abomination to God. It is something that the Lord speaks very strongly against and is to be avoided as much as any evil. The reason for this is twofold.

First, necromancy is going to involve demons and opens the one who practices it to demonic attack. Satan and his demons seek to destroy us, not to impart to us truth or wisdom. We are told that our “enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Second, necromancy does not rely on the Lord for information, the Lord who promises to freely give wisdom to all who ask for it (James 1:5). This is especially telling because the Lord always wants to lead us to truth and life, but demons always want to lead us to lies and serious damage.

The idea that dead people’s spirits can be contacted for information is false. Those who attempt such contact inevitably contact demonic spirits, not the spirits of dead loved ones. Those who die go immediately to heaven or hell—heaven if they believed in Jesus as Savior, and hell if they did not. There is no contact between the dead and the living. Therefore, seeking the dead is unnecessary and very dangerous.”
(“Necromancy”, GotQuestions? Website)

Still Stinging From the Shock?
Many transitioning Ex-Mormons feel stung, shocked, even angry when they learn what the Bible really says about contact and communication with the dead. This shock is, no doubt, due to the casual acceptance – even encouragement – of such contact and communication in Mormon culture that contrasts so markedly with the Bible’s sound condemnation and loud, repeated warnings against these practices. For example, consider what sixth President of the LdS Church, Joseph F. Smith, taught:

“We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission. The dead are not perfect without us, neither are we without them [see D&C 128:18]. We have a mission to perform for and in their behalf; we have a certain work to do in order to liberate those who, because of their ignorance and the unfavorable circumstances in which they were placed while here, are unprepared for eternal life; we have to open the door for them, by performing ordinances which they cannot perform for themselves, and which are essential to their release from the ‘prison-house,’ to come forth and live according to God in the spirit, and be judged according to men in the flesh [see D&C 138.-33-34].”
(“Teachings of the Presidents of the Church, Joseph F. Smith; Chapter 46: Redeeming Our Dead through Temple Service”, p.410; Official LdS Church manual)

And as the Life After website notes:

The prevalence of necromancy in Mormonism is quite astonishing and can be seen in everything Mormons do. From Joseph Smith and the average Mormon talking to dead people to the Mormon temple endowment ceremonies; there’s always something you can spend countless hours researching.

Moreover, leaders of the Church never miss a chance reminding adults and grooming the young that dead ancestors are waiting for Mormons to redeem them. To make matters even worse they’re also told they can’t be saved without performing works for deceased ancestors.”
(“Necromancy and Mormonism”, Life After website)

And Mormon Researcher, Sharon Lindbloom notes this casual acceptance of and positive indoctrination toward Necromancy starts at a very young age in Mormon Culture:

People who have died are very important to members of the Mormon Church. The dead are a very important aspect of the Mormon gospel. Because the dead are such an integral part of Mormonism, it makes sense that Mormon children would be taught about the Church’s doctrine of baptism for the dead.

In a Mormon Church manual produced for teaching children ages 8 through 11 (“Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History”; Lesson 34: Joseph Smith Teaches about Baptism for the Dead”, pp.193-197)

"Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff" by Ken Corbett

“Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff” by Ken Corbett

The lesson teaches children both the historical background on the development of Mormonism’s baptism for the dead as well as the scriptures that Mormons understand to be support for the doctrine. As part of the lesson, the manual offers a few “enrichment activities” designed to enhance the children’s grasp of the importance of baptizing the dead. Two of the offered enrichment activities focus on telling the children what most of us would call ‘ghost stories.1

Mormons are inspired by these stories. Unlike Christianity, which recognizes a biblical prohibition against contact with the dead (e.g., Deuteronomy 18:9-14), Mormonism embraces it. Joseph Heinerman, whose book is quoted (above) in the Primary 5 manual, states,

‘These temple manifestations signify God’s distinct approval of the temple labors performed by His people here upon the earth. Hopefully, these inspiring stories will edify the readers as they have me and motivate them to perform temple work more diligently on behalf of both the living and the dead.’ (Temple Manifestations, Preface)

God says communication with the dead is a sin, yet Mormonism teaches little children to welcome necromantic contact, be inspired by it, and interpret it as God’s direction and/or approval of proxy ordinance work for the dead. Does anyone else find this troubling?
(Sharon Lindbloom, “Mormonism and Visitations from the Dead”; Mormon Coffee website)

Grieve With Those Who Grieve – But Be Wise!
Finally, and given all this, I would encourage the reader always be patient and sympathetic to people who grieve. Often people who are grieving will have dreams, maybe even some emotionally driven experiences, that are just normal psychological processing that’s rooted in the physiology of the brain. This is normal human biology and psychology, nothing more.

For example, a friend’s mother claimed to have had a posthumous visitation by a cat she loved, and then a vivid, reassuring dream about her mother while she was still grieving their demise. She interpreted these incidents as being miraculous or supernatural in nature. But were they? What does the Bible say?
Speaking personally, each time after I lost a parent I dreamed about them repeatedly when I was early into the grieving process and still working through my loss. Sometimes they would talk to me and comfort me in those dreams. Other times I felt like I could feel them watching over me with love during times of stress and sadness. This wasn’t demonic activity, this was just my mind and emotions coming to grips with a major, emotional jolt and sudden life change. I know this now but in the overheated emotion of the moment, it was easy to think otherwise.

So one shouldn’t jump at the notion of demons when they have or hear of these experiences. Whether it’s a demon is neither here nor there – that’s not why the experience has such meaning and pull for the person who’s had it. The reason the experiences seem so striking is due to their grief and pain. What in normal circumstances would be dismissed due to stress or fatigue in a state of intense emotional pain can easily be interpreted as something it’s not. And that’s why we have to work through without swinging the pendulum too far to either the “God told me” or “I’m being harassed by demons” extreme during those seasons. The important thing is to resist being fooled by these psychologically induced experiences. They are bittersweet and fleeting.

FURTHER STUDY
This article was just a short primer on this subject. The Life After website has compiled a series of articles that covers this subject in depth. It is highly recommended for those who would like to learn more about this important subject. Click here for the portal page for these articles.

mormon3

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
The LdS Church got in trouble with the worldwide Jewish community for vicariously proxy baptizing victims of the holocaust .

NOTES:
1 Ms. Lindbloom’s article continues at this point as follows:

The first [ghost story] is about two friends, Brigitte and Carla.

Brigitte and Carla met in the third grade in Europe. Carla had just been baptized and wanted everyone to know she was a member of the “only true church.” Some of Carla’s classmates made fun of her for saying this, but Brigitte became her friend.

Brigitte’s family was active in their own church, but they were respectful of other religions. Brigitte even went to Church activities with Carla a few times. Brigitte and Carla remained friends all through their school years. Then, at seventeen years of age, Brigitte died.

Two months later Carla awoke in the night to see Brigitte standing at the foot of her bed. She did not speak, and Carla wondered why she had appeared to her. The following year Brigitte visited Carla again, and she came a third time the next year.

Carla later moved to the United States and was married in the Salt Lake Temple. After Carla had been through the temple, Brigitte appeared to her more often. Then, a week before Carla and her husband were planning to go to the temple again, Brigitte appeared to Carla three nights in a row.

On the third night Carla woke her husband and told him about Brigitte’s visits. They both felt Brigitte had been taught the gospel plan in the spirit world and had accepted it. Now she wanted to be baptized. Carla and her husband prayed and asked the Lord how to obtain the necessary records. They were inspired to contact a researcher and were able to get Brigitte’s death certificate. Carla was now able to send in Brigitte’s name to the temple so her temple work, including baptism, could be done.

A few weeks later Carla again awoke to see Brigitte. This time Brigitte was dressed in a white gown and was standing in a place that looked like a baptismal room. The next morning Carla received a letter from the temple telling her that the baptism for Brigitte had been done. (See Carla Sansom, “From Beyond the Veil,” Ensign, Feb. 1978, pp. 49–50.)

The second enrichment story for the children is about the experience of a temple recorder in the Manti Temple:

Brother J. Hatten Carpenter, who served as a recorder in the Manti Temple, told of a patriarch who was watching baptisms for the dead being performed in the temple one day.

The patriarch saw “the spirits of those for whom they were officiating in the font by proxy. There the spirits stood awaiting their turn, and, as the Recorder called out the name of a person to be baptized for, the patriarch noticed a pleasant smile come over the face of the spirit whose name had been called, and he would leave the group of fellow spirits and pass over to the side of the Recorder. There he would watch his own baptism performed by proxy, and then with a joyful countenance would pass away [to] make room for the next favored personage who was to enjoy the same privilege.”

As time went on, the patriarch noticed that some of the spirits looked very sad. He realized that the people in the temple were finished with baptisms for the day. The unhappy spirits were those whose baptisms would not be performed that day.

“‘I often think of this event,’ says Brother Carpenter, ‘for I so often sit at the font, and call off the names for the ordinances to be performed which means so much to the dead’” (quoted in Joseph Heinerman, Temple Manifestations [Manti, Utah: Mountain Valley Publishers, 1974], pp. 101–2; see also The Utah Genealogical and Historical Magazine 11 [July 1920]: 119).”
(“Primary 5: Doctrine and Covenants and Church History”; Lesson 34: Joseph Smith Teaches about Baptism for the Dead”, pp.193-197; official LdS Church manual)

"Transfiguration" by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, 1824

“Transfiguration” by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov, 1824

APPENDIX: What About Elijah and Mose on the Mount of Transfiguration and Samuel Appearing to King Saul and the Witch of Endor?
A common objection to the the impassable chasm Christ spoke of in Luke and the idea that the dead can’t visit us in this world goes something like this:

“Well, what about dead Elijah and Moses appearing to living Jesus, Peter, James and John? And what about dead Samuel appearing to living Saul at the house of the Witch of Endor?”

This is an excellent question! Let’s consider it shall we? First, let’s consider the Mount of Transfiguration passage:

The Mount of Transfiguration
Here’s the passage in question from the Gospel of Luke:

“Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening. And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him. Then it happened, as they were parting from Him, that Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were fearful as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son. Hear Him!” When the voice had ceased, Jesus was found alone. But they kept quiet, and told no one in those days any of the things they had seen.”
(Luke 9:28-36, NKJV)

Of course, the emphasis in this passage is on Moses (representing the Old Testament Law) and Elijah (representing the Old Testament Prophets) endorsing and encouraging Christ’s earthly ministry not the how’s and why’s of how they came to be there. The text just gives us a lot of information on the latter, however, there are several possible explanations that we consider here.

First Possibility: God Made An Exception
The first possible explanation I would offer is, to my way of thinking, the easiest. It’s God’s chasm, if He wants to send or carry dead folks across it He can. However, this would be the rare exception, not the rule. This is hinted at in the Luke 16:19-31 passage which we covered at the beginning of this article: Notice that nowhere in the text does it state that God can’t make an exception, it just says that He didn’t.

However, it seems clear from that same text that, generally speaking, this would not only be exceptional but pointless. Further, in the case of Moses and Elijah appearing to Christ there was a very specific purpose for their appearance which is explained when the narrative says:

“And behold, two men talked with Him, who were Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
(Luke 9:30-31, NKJV)

Second Possibility: They Appeared In A Spiritual Vision
Ex-Mormon Christian Facebook group member Annette Welburn offered this explanation for this possibility which we liked so much that we offer it here with only light editing so it fits the format here:

Yes, they saw Elijah and Moses, but I would suggest that Moses and Elijah’s appearance was not in spirit form in the sense that many people today think people can become guardian angels when they die. We never have any occurrences in scripture of earthly people conversing spiritually – i.e. praying to, or hearing from or getting guidance or protection from dead friends or relatives. However, that said, please correct me please if I’ve missed something. I guess in my mind the transfiguration was a unique, one time event in scripture. Jesus was there, and God was revealing to a few of his disciples that this was indeed His son. I see the whole point of that being summed up with what God said:

“And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!’ And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.”
(Luke 9:35-36, ESV)

The transfiguration is definitely a spiritual earthly experience, but it is vastly unique in that it was to demonstrate God’s power. Of course God can do anything. Even natural laws He created he is not bound by. I wouldn’t even go as far as to say there is a definite natural law that God never sends people back to earth, but I would suggest that it is just not how he does it. And in the case of the transfiguration, it was not at all normal. I think the important distinction is that God does not allow dead humans to lead or watch over in a protective sense those still living on earth. Here are verses to that effect:

“For his spirit goes out and he returns to his earth and in that day all his thoughts are destroyed.”
(Psalm 146:4, Aramaic Bible in Plain English)

“For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun.”
(Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, NIV)

“As a cloud fades away and vanishes, so the one who goes down to Sheol will never rise again. He will never return to his house; his hometown will no longer remember him.”
(Job 7:9-10, HCSB)

And direct textual support for Annette’s suggestion that Moses and Elijah appeared spiritually (or in vision) rather than physically can be supported by the phrase, “Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory.”

"The Transfiguration" by 1480 (oil on panel) by Bellini, Giovanni (c.1430-1516); 115x154 cm; Museo e Gallerie Nazionali di Capodimonte, Naples, Italy; Italian, out of copyright

“The Transfiguration” by Bellini, Giovanni (oil on panel, 1480)

Third Possibility: Neither Moses Or Elijah Are Dead
While this last possibility is highly, highly speculative (and from an odd “outside of the box” source to boot) it’s still intriguing enough to be offered for consideration:

To make sense of this, we must first understand two important principles. The first is that, while the general resurrection of God’s people will happen at the end of time, there have been individual resurrections recorded in the Bible. Christ’s resurrection, for instance, was not part of the general one. Neither were those of the saints who came forth from the grave after Christ’s resurrection (see Matthew 27:52, 53). The prophets Elijah and Elisha both performed resurrections during their ministries (see 1 Kings 17:17–22 and 2 Kings 4:32–35). Individual resurrections throughout history do not invalidate the general resurrection when Christ returns.

The second principle to understand is that some people have left the earth without dying, and therefore are not in need of a resurrection.

Moses and Elijah each fit one of these two categories.

The story recorded in 2 Kings 2 tells us unmistakably that Elijah was taken to heaven without first dying. Verse 11, specifically, says he was caught in a heavenly whirlwind and taken to heaven in sight of Elisha, his successor. Appearing with Christ at the transfiguration would not have posed a problem for Elijah; he had already spent much time with Jesus in heaven before His human birth in Bethlehem.

Moses, on the other hand, died in the wilderness before the Israelite people entered into the Promised Land. The story of his death, as recorded in Deuteronomy 34:5, 6, reveals something extraordinary. The Bible says that God Himself buried Moses, and that none of the Israelites were ever aware of his gravesite. This is the first biblical hint that something special awaited Moses after death.

The New Testament, however, gives us more information. In Jude 9, we’re told that the archangel Michael contended with Satan over the body of Moses. In other words, Satan claimed Moses as his own, worthy of death just like everyone else. Michael, however, thought differently. As the archangel, He has the power to resurrect God’s people. (See 1 Thessalonians 4:16; the voice of the archangel raises the dead in Christ at Christ’s return.) Moses was not meant to stay dead. Indeed, he was resurrected from the dead and has been living in heaven since that time. Truly, he has already experienced life after death.

Therefore, the presence of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration does not answer the question “What is death?” because neither one was dead! Elijah never tasted death at all, and Moses was given a new life at his resurrection, just like Christ’s people will receive at His return.

While the transfiguration doesn’t directly give us information on the state of the dead, it retains theological significance nonetheless. When Peter recounted his experience in 2 Peter 1:16–18, he writes that he witnessed Christ’s coming at that time. In other words, he understood the experience to represent the return of Jesus Christ. Moses and Elijah represent the two classes of God’s people who will be present at that miraculous event: Moses represents the “dead in Christ” who rise to new life, and Elijah represents “those who are alive and remain” who will be translated to heaven and eternal life without ever experiencing death in the first place (1 Thessalonians 4:16). Understanding that the transfiguration is a representation of the second coming of Christ also helps us understand Christ’s promise that “some standing here … shall not taste death till they see the kingdom of God,” spoken a few days before the transfiguration (Luke 9:27).
(“If the Dead Don’t Go Immediately to Heavn How Did Moses and Elijah Appear at the Transfiguration”, Truth about Death, Seventh-day Adventist website)

"The Spirit of Samuel Appearing to Saul" by William Blake, 1783 Pen and watercolor

“The Spirit of Samuel Appearing to Saul” by William Blake, 1783

Samuel Appearing To Saul And The Witch of Endor
The final biblical incident to consider in regarding to biblical instances of the dead appearing to the living is the story of the dead prophet Samuel appearing to Kind Saul and the Witch of Endor. This incident can be found in 1 Samuel 28:3-25 (NKJV):

Now Samuel had died, and all Israel had lamented for him and buried him in Ramah, in his own city. And Saul had put the mediums and the spiritists out of the land.

Then the Philistines gathered together, and came and encamped at Shunem. So Saul gathered all Israel together, and they encamped at Gilboa. When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets.

Then Saul said to his servants, “Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.”

And his servants said to him, “In fact, there is a woman who is a medium at En Dor.”

So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went, and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, “Please conduct a séance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you.”

Then the woman said to him, “Look, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the spiritists from the land. Why then do you lay a snare for my life, to cause me to die?”

And Saul swore to her by the Lord, saying, “As the Lord lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing.”

Then the woman said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?”

And he said, “Bring up Samuel for me.”

When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, “Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!”

And the king said to her, “Do not be afraid. What did you see?”

And the woman said to Saul, “I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth.”

So he said to her, “What is his form?”

And she said, “An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle.” And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down.

Now Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?”

And Saul answered, “I am deeply distressed; for the Philistines make war against me, and God has departed from me and does not answer me anymore, neither by prophets nor by dreams. Therefore I have called you, that you may reveal to me what I should do.”

Then Samuel said: “So why do you ask me, seeing the Lord has departed from you and has become your enemy? And the Lord has done for Himself as He spoke by me. For the Lord has torn the kingdom out of your hand and given it to your neighbor, David. Because you did not obey the voice of the Lord nor execute His fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore the Lord has done this thing to you this day. Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with you into the hand of the Philistines. And tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The Lord will also deliver the army of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.”

Immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, and was dreadfully afraid because of the words of Samuel. And there was no strength in him, for he had eaten no food all day or all night.

And the woman came to Saul and saw that he was severely troubled, and said to him, “Look, your maidservant has obeyed your voice, and I have put my life in my hands and heeded the words which you spoke to me. Now therefore, please, heed also the voice of your maidservant, and let me set a piece of bread before you; and eat, that you may have strength when you go on your way.”

But he refused and said, “I will not eat.”

So his servants, together with the woman, urged him; and he heeded their voice. Then he arose from the ground and sat on the bed. Now the woman had a fatted calf in the house, and she hastened to kill it. And she took flour and kneaded it, and baked unleavened bread from it. So she brought it before Saul and his servants, and they ate. Then they rose and went away that night.

The Possibilities
Clearly, in this case, the third option (he wasn’t dead) won’t work since the Bible is clear that Samuel was dead and buried. And while it is possible that God allowed an exception here and let Samuel cross the chasm, the circumstances surrounding the event would seem to discount this option since God would be endorsing a practice that He calls an abomination elsewhere in the Bible. For that matter, that would preclude the second possibility that Samuel appeared as a spiritual vision sent from God.

In the end, there’s really only one possibility left: The “Samuel” that appeared to King Saul was a demon mimicking the appear of Samuel and appearing specifically to deceive Saul. Support for this can be found in the familiarity that the Witch of Endor has with this “Samuel”. In fact, this event follows the typical template for seances and other forms of necromancy doesn’t it? This lends further support for the idea that what the Witch of Endor conjured up was a deceiving spirit manifesting itself physically.

So when considered in that light, this story mirrors and echoes many of the Mormon communion with the dead stories that one hears in Mormon cultures doesn’t it? In the end, the biblical story of Samuel appearing to King Saul and the Witch of Endor is a cautionary tale to us. If you read on, things didn’t end well for King Saul, this incident most certainly didn’t result in a happy ending. In fact, most stories of necromancy don’t.

Bible teacher Don Basham once called involvement in occult practices like necromancy, “The most dangerous game.” And when it comes to necromancy, in the words of the movie War Games, “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.”

From the movie WarGames (1983)

From the movie WarGames (1983)

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A caution to transitioning Ex-Mormon Christians

freedom-resistance_00418234_EDITED

It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost His crucifixion.”
— C. S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”

by Fred W. Anson
In 1980 ordained Lutheran minister, Robert N. Hullinger, published an award winning analysis of Joseph Smith. He approached Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon skeptically, but the same time, as he explained in this thought-provoking re-evaluation of early Mormonism, “I prefer to put the best construction on Joseph Smith and let his expressed motives speak for themselves, then draw conclusions from the evidence. This approach may not always rule out a negative opinion of Joseph Smith, but it allows for a more charitable estimate of his intentions.”1 His conclusion?

In defense of God, Joseph Smith assailed the natural revelation of deism and the static revelation of traditional Christianity. To enable revealed religion to overcome natural religion, however, he supported the deistic attack upon the view that the present Bible is God’s complete and errorless revelation to mankind. Destruction of the traditional view left him free to preserve special revelation by his own means.2

And one need go no further than Joseph Smith himself for validation of this:

Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine
(Joseph Smith, “History of the Church”, 5:340)

It was this spirit of rebellion against established orthodoxy that appealed to early Mormons and drew in new members. To the early Mormons this was glorious, heady stuff – a conquering, up-heaving rebellion usurping the world as early Mormon leader W.W. Phelps noted at the time:

Mormonism is the wonder of this world, and the great leveling machine of creeds, constitutions, kingdoms, countries, divisions, notions, notorieties and novelties; and praise it, talk about it, lie about it, exalt it, degrade it, blow at it, sneer at it, fear it, love it, hate it, persecute it, or laugh at it, still it is Mormonism, true as heaven, powerful as Jesus, eternal as element, going on conquering and to conquer.
(W.W. Phelps, “Times and Seasons”, 5:758)

Thus Hullinger explains and summarizes this seismic shift thusly:

Fifteen hundred years of church history had encrusted revelation with the weight of tradition and institutional inertia. In spite of Protestant efforts to let God speak through the Bible, some perceived him as more remote than ever. Deism rejected special revelation but accepted a remote god who could communicate through nature. Orthodoxy reacted by developing its science of textual criticism and relying on its doctrine of biblical inspiration to assure contact with God. Catholicism guaranteed the institution as the assurance. Pietism looked within the human heart.

Joseph Smith sided with Pietism in favoring his own inner assurance. But after he won the changes and freedom he wanted, Smith set in motion the very forces he once had decried in the churches of his day. The principle of personal revelation led to power struggles within the infant latter-day church until Smith received revelations allowing only him to get instruction, teaching, or revelation for the church (D&C 28:11; 43:3-6) He taught that no one could receive revelation for someone of higher authority. Secure within the church, Smith was able to lead as Prophet, Seer, and Revelator.3

And thus this strange mix of the oil of personal revelation intermingled with the water of heavy handed authoritarianism continues today in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On one hand, members are told – no encouraged – to seek out personal revelation in private but on the other hand will be disciplined if that personal revelation publicly conflicts with the current official, correlated Mormon doctrine that’s been approved by Mormon leaders. The net result is a kind of quiet rebellion in which you may have an entire Mormon Chapel of members who privately believe entirely different things but publicly profess whatever they must to remain a member in good standing. LDS Thesis #23 articulates this strange, paradoxical brew like this:

Mormon Atheism is Not an OxymoronLDS Thesis #23: It [the LdS Church] allows members to privately believe whatever they want – even if it’s atheistic or contradicts LDS orthodoxy – as long as they publicly “toe the party line” and continue to contribute their time and money to the LDS Church.

In fact, this particular thesis was written by a former member of the LDS Church who was called to teach the Elders Quorum in his ward even though the Bishop knew that he was an atheist. He was bright, articulate, personable, tithing, active, a successfully former Gospel Doctrine teacher, and was toeing the party line in public, so as far as this Bishop was concerned all was well. Since then we have heard of several other such situations in a variety of callings in the LdS Church. As strange as it seems, a membership heavily peppered with atheists doesn’t seem to be a problem for many Mormon Leaders.

Thus, it’s clear that orthopraxy (the practice of one’s faith) is far more important in Mormonism than orthodoxy (adherence to an established set of beliefs). In other words, Mormons will tolerate wrong belief as long the errant believer is doing all the right stuff. It sounds something like this, “I mean the dude may be an atheist but, hey, isn’t he a great Elders Quorum teacher – I always get so much out of his lessons!”

Stated plainly, Mormonism has no theological boundaries.

So why is this a problem for Ex-Mormons transitioning out of the LdS Church and into mainstream Christianity? Simple: Because they’re not aware of this dynamic they often view attempts to conform their beliefs to established Christian orthodoxy as “legalism” or “oppression”. As soon as they bump into the wall of Christian orthodoxy their “inner Joseph Smith” manifests itself.

Consider, for example, the issue of the doctrine of the Trinity. Many Ex-Mormons simply don’t understand why mainstream Christians make such a fuss about it. I mean, after all, people in Mormonism had all kinds of screwy ideas about the Mormon Godhead and how the members of the Godhead related to each other. However, as long as at the end of the day, as long as those screwy ideas were capped with, “but they’re united in purpose”, the public line was toed and all was good. But these nick picky mainstream Christians get “bent” if you don’t get the classic formula of, “God is one eternal Being, consisting of three co-eternal persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit,” exactly right. They’ll even correct you if you get “person” and “being” flipped around! And if you say something like, “God reveals Himself as the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit: One God” they go bonkers on you, call it heresy, and accuse you of modalism. And if after having it explained you say that you still reject the doctrine of the Trinity, they’ll question if you’re even a Christian all all! What’s up with that?4

The answer is that mainstream Christianity has boundaries. Those boundaries are set and established by the Bible and were forged, formed, refined,  and perfected through the intense fire of Christian Church history.5 As I stated in another piece for Ex-Mormons:

As the Apostle Peter said, “… no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20 KJV) and as a Christian you are joining a community of Spirit filled saints that for over 2,000 years has read, loved, struggled with, and sought God over the correct interpretation of His written revelation of Himself to man… we’re all fallen sinners prone to error and the great “cloud of witnesses” (the one that Hebrews 12:1 describes) can be of great value and benefit in guiding us in sound Biblical interpretation if we’ll listen to them through their creeds, sermons, writings, and lives. In fact even their flaws, foibles, follies, and mistakes can be instructive! No, Church History isn’t the Bible but it’s important. After all, as Elizabeth Browning said well: “Always learn from experience – preferably someone else’s”6

Thus, for the biblical Christian, being knit into that great “cloud of witnesses” is critical. Yes, I appreciate the fact that one tends to be “gun shy” after coming out a Mind Control Cult.  And yes, I realize that it takes time to heal and start trusting again after being burned by said cult – after all, I came out of one myself. However, the fact remains that the Bible is clear that all Christians need to be a part of and accountable to the visible, living Church:

“…submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
(Ephesians 5:21 NLT)

“…encourage one another and build one another up…”
(1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV)

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
(Acts 2:42 ESV)

“For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints…”
(1 Corinthians 14:33 ESV)

"It's just me, Jesus, and my Bible."

“It’s just me, Jesus, and my Bible.”

So it’s one thing to temporarily isolate, heal and learn to trust again, but quite another to make this a permanent position. Unfortunately, the latter is where where Ex-Mormon tend to stay, ultimately becoming “Just me and Jesus” Lone Ranger Christians.7

The irony here is how Mormonism, while outwardly appearing to be a system of oppressive conformity, actually fosters internal Lone Rangers and rogues within its ranks. This is done via the “magic” of Mormon passive aggressivity.  As Latter-day Saint and Professor of Organizational Behavior, Michael J. Stevens  explains in his watershed article on the subject:

A passive-aggressive person will generally deploy such behavioral tactics as: keeping one’s distance and remaining silent or aloof; hiding one’s true thoughts, feelings, or emotions; suppressing, setting aside, or ignoring issues that otherwise should be addressed; postponing or ignoring decisions; resisting change and otherwise championing the status quo; citing rules, policies, procedures, or higher authority as both a defensive and offensive tactic; and providing little meaningful or worthwhile feedback.8

Stevens goes on to explain:

If we consider modern LDS culture to be an anthropologically “tight” culture (that is, one in which there are many strong norms proscribing behavior and conduct, along with a low tolerance for deviance from those norms), then it’s easy to see how norms favoring conflict avoidance are combined with very strong social pressures against the expression of contrary opinions, views, or preferences. To state such differences openly means that one should anticipate the strong sanctions and social ostracism that will inevitably follow. The message of an obedience and submission culture is clear: No Devil’s Advocates allowed! Quit asking questions and challenging things—just nod your head and say “yes.”9

So here’s the strange irony: A key survival skill among Mormons is the ability to appear to be in compliance and conformity to established norms while simultaneously being in rebellion. So what happens when the Mormon exits this sick, dysfunctional system? Answer: They just bring those hard won, hard learned, survival skills with them.  That is, they either continue the behavior in their new church or, because there no consequences for doing otherwise in this new culture, become overtly aggressive and unteachable. Neither is extreme is healthy or productive – and both are ultimately destructive.10

So that’s the problem, what’s the solution? Answer: Healthy boundaries. As Christian Psychologists Townsend and Cloud explain:

Boundaries define us. They define what is me and what is not me. A boundary shows me where I end and someone else begins, leading me to a sense of ownership. Knowing what I am to own and take responsibility for gives me freedom. If I know where my yard begins and ends, I am free to do with it what I like. Taking responsibility for my life opens up many different options. However, if I do not “own” my life, my choices and options become very limited.11

On a personal level, boundaries determine where you end and others begin. In a group, or sociological, context they determine where the group begins and ends. So, for example, one can’t reject the doctrine of the Trinity and still claim to be a Christian. That’s because the doctrine creates a safe, well defined area between pagan polytheism (such as Mormon tritheism), and heresy (such as modalism). The doctrine creates a healthy boundary that determines who’s in the group and who’s out.

In a similar vein, boundaries allows us to be in a group without being run over by it:

Boundaries help us to distinguish our property so that we can take care of it. They help us to “guard our heart with all diligence.” We need to keep things that will nurture us inside our fences and keep things that will harm us outside. In short, boundaries help us keep the good in and the bad out. They guard our treasures (Matt. 7: 6) so that people will not steal them. They keep the pearls inside, and the pigs outside.12

The Lone Ranger Christian credo.

The Lone Ranger Christian credo.

Boundaries enable us to remain humble and teachable because they give us the self confidence and internal assurance that we can listen and learn knowing that in the end we will only let what we want inside our fence. And because in the end we alone are the gatekeeper, there’s no point in engaging in rude, childish rebellion. That’s because if someone tries to control us we can end the control by simply shutting the gate. Thus we can be in a group without being dominated by it. If the group becomes too much of a problem, the solution is easy: Just walk away.

The key word here is balance. Health requires quiet, steady moderation  rather than bombastic, erratic skewing from extreme to extreme. So if you find yourself always on the outline looking in then you know that you’ve gone overboard with the “walking away” thing. If, on the other hand, you find yourself angry, frustrated, and unable to find your own voice then you probably haven’t walked away enough. And finally, it should be noted that healthy boundaries mean that we don’t tell others what they’re going to do (that’s control), it means that we tell others what we’re going to.

Bringing it back around, it was selfish, arrogant, irrational, and unbiblical of Joseph Smith to think that he could just discard 1,900-plus years of Christian orthodoxy and reinvent Christianity on his own from scratch wasn’t it? So how is it any different for an Ex-Mormon who does the same thing today? Respecting Christianity’s boundaries isn’t legalism or being oppressed by over bearing, controlling, and legalistic religionists, it’s just good old fashioned common sense. More than that, it’s biblical isn’t it?

Consider for a moment what would have happened if Joseph Smith had heeded this advice and would have had a humble, teachable spirit guarding by healthy boundaries – instead of having to be the lead rebel in rogue’s gallery of religious rebels? I suspect that he would have had the “knots” in his bad theology worked out over time, he would have found his place in a good 19th Century church, and would have lived a long, healthy, and happy life. Instead he left us with the aftermath of a religious rebellion that has destroyed countless families and lives.

1 Samuel 15:23 (NKJV) says that, “rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.” In the end that’s really what we’re talking about here isn’t it? The spirit of Mormonism is the spirit of rebellion. And Mormon style rebellion has consequences.

My dear transitioning Mormon friend, after watching Lone Ranger Ex-Mormon after Lone Ranger Ex-Mormon “crash, boom, bang” due to theological rebellion, I don’t recommend it.

This is not the solution.

No matter how tempting, this ISN’T the solution.

NOTES
1 Robert N. Hullinger, “Mormon Answer to Skepticism: Why Joseph Smith Wrote the Book of Mormon”, Clayton Publishing House, 1980, p.ix

2 Ibid, p. 150

3 Ibid, p.172

4 My intention here isn’t to start a debate or dogmatize the doctrine of the Trinity, merely to use to it as an example of a legitimate Christian theological boundary. If the reader is interested in a good resource that explains the doctrine of the Trinity from the Bible I recommend Rob Bowman’s excellent web series, “The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity: An Outline Study”.

5 In my opinion, one of the best things that every Ex-Mormon can do is learn Christian Church History. Not only does this help expose and purge the propaganda style revisionist history that Mormons are taught in the LdS Church, it helps the transitioning Mormon understand how and why these theological boundaries exist at all. A good resource here is Dr. Bruce L. Shelley’s classic work, “Church History in Plain Language”.

6 Fred W. Anson, “Dear Michelle”, Beggar’s Bread website

7 This may not be easy but it is worth it! A big help in easing the transition here is to realize that the churches and denominations in mainstream Christianity are as culturally distinct as Mormon culture is. A useful model to use when transitioning is that of an immigrant living their native country and transitioning into a new culture. You will experience culture shock when you visit non-Mormon churches, be prepared for it. That said, there are some things you can do to lessen the impact. Here’s the advice that I gave in the aforementioned “Dear Michelle” article:

“I would recommend that you try to find a church that’s in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. I make this recommendation because the Mormon Chapel liturgy was “borrowed” from the 19th Century Methodist church. Specifically, that means finding and attending a Methodist, Nazarene, Wesleyan, or Holiness church. And I would recommend that you stick with the “Traditional” (rather than the “Contemporary”) service as it’s closest to the 19th Century style liturgy that you’re familiar with in the Mormon Church.

Again, the most important thing with any church that you attend is that they love, respect, teach, and obey the Bible. Never the less, all too often transitioning Mormons are off-put by modern expressions of worship that are too far afield from the traditional Latter-day Saint Chapel service. If you want to try or move on to a different, more contemporary type of corporate worship later it’s up to you but I would recommend that you stick with the traditional “Methodist style” until you find your “sea legs” in modern mainstream Christianity.”

8 Michael J. Stevens, “Passive-aggression among the Latter-day Saints”, Sunstone magazine, April 2013

9 Ibid

10 Please note that with the advent of Postmodernism one will find the same problem of theological rebellion in the mainstream Christian Church as well. As Theologian, Matt Slick as rightly observed:

…postmodernism is relativism. Postmodernism is a reaction against the logical truth structures of modern thought that gave us absolute propositions about nature, time, space, mathematics, knowability, repeatability of experimentation, predictability, etc. As modernism developed the sciences, technology, and medicine, it has helped to produce a comfortable and predictable society–wherein people tend to become complacent, comfortable, and predictable. But there are always people who ask questions rather than blindly follow the status quo. They look for different ways of expression, different interpretations of truth, teach the idea that truth is not necessarily absolute and that reality can be reinterpreted. It is within the postmodern context that the Emerging Churches are seeking to work.

It is a difficult venture to try to reach the hearts and minds of those who are less open to absolutes than previous generations. So, instead of absolute truth propositions, Emerging Churches tend to focus on relationships, expressiveness, and new ways of trying to reach God. Is it good? Yes and no. It is good only so far as it is consistent with Scripture. It is bad whenever it deviates from it.
(Matt Slick, “The Emerging Church and postmodernism”; CARM website)

The key difference here is the reality of boundary maintenance that biblical absolutes and 2,000-plus years of doctrinal refinement provide. Further, theological rebellion typically isn’t enculturated into the membership, reinforced by leaders, and at the root of the entire theological system as it is in Mormonism. Stated plainly, if you take away theological rebellion then Mormonism is no longer Mormonism. Add theological rebellion to mainstream Christianity and it is no longer Christian.

However, there are still glaring exceptions – especially in the case of theological liberal churches and denominations. In those cases you will notice that many Biblical Christians are just as quick to denounce these theologically rebellious churches and denominations as they are errant individuals. There’s no double standard here, the rules apply equally to Mormon, Ex-Mormon and Christian alike.

11 Henry Cloud and John Townsend, “Boundaries: When To Say Yes, How to Say No”, p.29

12 Ibid, p.31

boundaries

THIS is the solution.

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Authentic_Fire_Book_png_grandeReviewed by Fred W. Anson

Title: Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire
Author: Michael L. Brown
Publisher: Creation House
Genre: Non-fiction, Religion
Year Published: 2015
Length: 426 pages
Binding: eBook
ISBN10: 1629984558
ISBN13: 978-1629984551
Price: $9.99 (Digital), $19.99 (Print) 

Unfortunately, there’s no way to review this book or discuss the book that it’s in response to (“Strange Fire” by John MacArthur) without talking about personalities. That said, while I am a Charismatic, Michael Brown is far more Pentecostal than I will ever be – or want to be. And while I’m Reformed, John MacArthur is far more Calvinistic than I will ever be – or want to be. After reading this book and considering the output from the Strange Fire camp (including the book of that title) I find myself somewhere between the two men.

Let’s start with this book. While I concur with most of what Michael Brown and his appendix authors present in this book – particularly their superb exegesis of scripture – I was troubled by the recurrence of that oldest of Pentecostal fallacies: An over-reliance on anecdotal evidence. This is particularly troubling to me since, as a Mormon Studies Scholar, I’m all too familiar with cults and other unorthodox groups citing anecdotes and experiences as though they’re conclusive, objective, empirical evidence. Folks, they’re not, they’re just not. While to some this may seem a niggling gnat straining point, it’s not since Charismatics are often (and not without reason) accused of elevating experience above biblical authority. This the very thesis that forms the core of MacArthur’s book and the one which he gleefully hammered away at for 352 pages, through an entire conference, and now continues through countless tweets and articles.

For example, I was troubled by Brown’s frequent reference to being slain in the Spirit (or “falling under the power of God” as he more often referred to it in the book) as if it were a “biblical given” based on his experiences and stories.  The fact is that it appears exactly nowhere in the Bible (that is unless you eisegete it into the text). This is a glaring hole in this book. By relying on anecdotes, in my opinion, Brown and some of his co-contributors have left themselves open and exposed for even more criticism from the Strange Fire camp.

That said, I thought that they did an excellent job of exposing the glaring hole in MacArthur’s book in particular and his stance in general:  His failure to exegete from the entirety of scripture and tendency to exegete only from select texts. For example, nowhere in his book does he address 1 Corinthians 14 where the public use of the “sign gifts” (to use a cessationist term that never appears in the Bible) of congregational prophetic utterances and tongues is not only commended, encouraged, and endorsed but given a practical framework in which they are to work in the local church.

Another example is his failure to address the last words in the Bible on the practice of charismata which are: “Therefore, my brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak in tongues.” (1 Corinthians 14:39, NASB) Respectfully, Mr. MacArthur, if you truly respect the authority of scripture and the authority of the foundational teachings of the Apostles of the Lamb then you can neither ignore this Biblical mandate or criticize others when they respect and obey it.

So clearly there’s bias on both sides – to the surprise, I’m sure, of no one. So the question is, who makes the most compelling case? In my opinion, it’s Michael Brown and his appendix authors. They present a compelling and cogent case that’s truly “sola scriptura” rather than “sola scriptura AND”.  The “AND” in this case are renowned historical figures of the Protestant Reformation in general and John Calvin in particular (for example, consider “Calvin’s Critique of Charismatic Calvinists” by Steve Lawson from the Strange Fire conference for a glaring example of this).

Yes, I’m Reformed but I refuse to put a pinch of incense on the altar of John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, or anyone else in addition to declaring Jesus Lord and the scripture His gave us the absolute, final authority for this mortal passage. Michael Brown and the appendix authors very rightly call the Strange Fire camp to task for this.


Above: In contrast to Michael Brown’s calm, reasoned, and thoughtful response to Strange Fire, Pentecostal preacher Perry Stone demonstrates how NOT to respond. 

Last but not least, I’m not as nice as Michael Brown (after all I am one of those cranky, scholarly, truth-oriented, confessing, and Bible thumping, Reformed folks). So I’m just going to say it: John MacArthur can be a real bully. I say this while at the same time happily acknowledging all the wonderful benefit that I’ve derived from listening to more than my fair share of his excellent books and sermons over the years. I honor his gifting as a Bible teacher, expositor, and theologian. However, I’m not blind, nor am I deaf and it’s hard to miss the harsh, ungracious, even mean-spirited jabs that I have heard him take at those he differs with over the years – and that includes cessationists, continuationists, and even other Reformed theologians. It seems that you risk a declaration of war if you dare disagree with Mr. MacArthur. Pentecostals and Charismatics may be his favorite target but they’re far from his only target.

Further, after the harsh and uncharitable hatchet job that he did on John Wimber and the Vineyard Movement in 1993 (full disclosure, I and many other Charismatics were critical of the excesses in the Vineyard at the time as well) in “Charismatic Chaos” as well as the seemingly endless stream of exaggerated, unkind, unmerciful, and ungracious articles and sermons he has preached against Pentecostalism over the years neither his book or his conference came as any surprise – it was just par for the course only with a new club.

Particularly troubling was his comment in “Strange Fire Panel Question and Answer, Session 1” that, “I believe that we are not dividing the body of Christ in this conference.  We are trying to identify the body of Christ and show that these people aren’t part of it“. With that statement (which garnered applause from the audience) Mr. MacArthur has just thrown a half a billion Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians under the bus as not belonging to the body of Christ.

This isn’t theory or hyperbole, the fruit of the “license to kill” and relentless unkind, vitriol that he has  on Pentecostals and Charismatics can readily be seen in the mean spirited memes and posts that fill the Reformed groups on social media. Clearly John MacArthur and the Strange Fire camp has unleashed something is hard to describe as “Christian”. This is unfortunately and, frankly, I would expect more of someone of Mr. MacArthur’s maturity, stature, and position within the body of Christ. However, given the prejudiced model of bigoted bullying that MacArthur has modeled in Strange Fire and his two prior works on the Charismatic Movement (1978’s “The Charismatics” and 1993’s “Charismatic Chaos”) it’s no wonder less mature Christians feel the freedom to do the same.

But with that said is this response to all this bludgeoning perfect? No. However, given the ungracious, unkind, and unfair nature of the Strange Fire onslaught it needed to be written and, as other reviewers have noted, it does a fine job of addressing, as one pastor put it so well, “the strange theology of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire”. But more than that it stands up to a bully – and that’s never a bad thing.

A few final thoughts:

First, please read John MacArthur’s book and consider the Strange Fire conference addresses (which can easily be found on the internet). Please don’t take my, Michael Brown, or anyone else’s word for what they’ve said and the way they’ve said it. Frankly, I think that it speaks for itself. Suffice to say, in my opinion, the strong criticism that these materials have received from both the cessationist and continuationist camps is well deserved! MacArthur has since tried to reposition it all as “the start of a conversation”, however, the tone, content, and rhetorical style is clearly something else.

Second, some of the best material in this book (Authentic Fire) is in the appendices. Don’t skip them. In fact, I recommend that you first read through them starting with, “Why NT Prophecy Does NOT Result in ‘Scripture-quality’ Revelatory Words (A Response to the Most Frequently Cited Cessationist Argument against the Contemporary Validity of Spiritual Gifts)” by Sam Storms. This is Appendix B. Frankly, I wasn’t too impressed with Craig S. Keener’s Appendix A (“The Ongoing Evidence of Miracles, with Thoughts on African Charismatic Christianity”) due to its over-reliance on anecdotal evidence. In fact, in my opinion, you could just skip it without missing too much. However, I should probably add that Keener’s review of Strange Fire (which be read by clicking here) is superb and brings much to the conversation – it more than compensates for any deficiency in his contribution to Authentic Fire.

Third, The Pneuma Review published a superb panel discussion of Charismatic leaders and thinkers back in October 2013 in the fall out of the Strange Fire Conference (circa October 16-18, 2013) as web portal page. Everyone from Tim Challies to Adrian Warnock is present. There are hours of reading and it’s well worth your time. Click here.

Finally, in addition to this book I highly recommend that the reader works through Don Horban’s superb teaching series, “The Strange Theology of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire” which can be found by clicking here. Pastor Horban addresses many issues and points that were missed in this book. It is an excellent supplement to the Authentic Fire book and a masterful response to the Strange Fire camp.

(versions of this review have also been previously published on Goodreads and Amazon)

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TheCharismaticsFrontCover_EDITEDReviewed by Fred W. Anson

Title: The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective
Author: John F. MacArthur, Jr.
Publisher: Zondervan
Genre: Nonfiction, Religion
Year Published: 1978
Length: 224 pages
Binding: Hardcover, Paperback
ISBN10: 0310284902
ISBN13: 978-0310284901
Price: $12.99 (Hardcover),  $9.95 (Trade Paperback)

While it may be hard to believe now, this nearly forty-year-old book was the first crack in the dike for the flood that was to follow 14-years later in “Charismatic Chaos” (308 pages, circa 1992), and then the tsunami that hit 21-years later in  “Strange Fire” (352 pages, circa 2013). Never the less, the only things that have really changed in the ensuing years and various editions (of essentially the same book) are: a) the people and movements that Mr. MacArthur snipes at; b) the increasingly shrill tone that came with each new offering, and; c) the length and breadth of the polemic – it keeps getting longer and wider. Given all that, a better title for this book would have been, “The Charismatics: A Polemic Perspective”. In fact, Timothy George (the dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University) could have been talking about this book when he wrote:

Within the worldwide charismatic movement, there are no doubt instances of weird, inappropriate, and outrageous phenomena, perhaps including some of the things MacArthur saw on TBN [the Trinity Broadcasting Network]. Many Pentecostal leaders themselves acknowledge as much. But to discredit the entire charismatic movement as demon-inspired because of the frenzied excess into which some of its members have fallen is both myopic and irresponsible. It would be like condemning the entire Catholic Church because some of its priests are proven pedophiles, or like smearing all Baptist Christians because of the antics of the Westboro Baptist Church.

When told that his all-charismatics-are-outside-the-pale approach was damaging the Body of Christ because he was attacking his brothers and sisters in the Lord, MacArthur responded that he “wished he could affirm that.” This is a new version of extra ecclesiam nulla salus—except that the ecclesia here is not the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church but rather an exclusively non-charismatic one.
(Timothy George, “Strange Friendly Fire”, First Things, November 4, 2013)

I’ve been Charismatic since 1976 so this book brings back memories good and bad. What’s addressed here is as much a part of my personal history as they are threads in the tapestry of Christian church history as a whole. However, like MacArthur, I was more an observer than a direct participant. The reason for that is simple: The movements, places, and personalities that MacArthur criticizes (often rightly) in this work were all considered on the lunatic fringe back in the day. We moderate, theologically conservative, Charismatics avoided the likes of Oral Roberts, Kathryn Kuhlman, and the first generation TBN crowd then just as surely as we avoid Benny Hinn, Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar and new generation TBN crowd today.

Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda (CA) in the late 1970's. This congregation later left Calvary Chapel and became the first Vineyard Church.

Calvary Chapel Yorba Linda (California) in the late 1970’s. This congregation later left Calvary Chapel and became the first Vineyard Church.

I would echo the words of Joseph Mattera (Presiding Bishop of Christ Covenant Coalition and Overseeing Bishop of Resurrection Church in New York) when he said, “As a believer with a Pentecostal experience since 1978 I have seen many genuine moves of God as well as many counterfeit works of the flesh. Unfortunately, many believers lack the discernment to tell the difference between what is of God and what originates with man.” (Joseph Mattera, “Ten Marks of Charismaniacs”, Spirit Life Magazine, September 26, 2013)

So, given that, why is it that John MacArthur presents these errant, fanatical “out there” Charismaniacs as the norm in this book while simultaneously misrepresenting or outright ignoring the theologically sound and conservative Charismatics that comprised the core of the movement at that time? For example, after giving some examples of Charismatic excesses (a lady who claimed that God “healed” her flat tire and a woman who claimed that she had taught her dog to praise the Lord in an unknown bark) MacArthur makes this claim:

Granted, both of these examples are bizarre. Perhaps it unfair to characterize the Charismatic movement with illustrations like these. I wish that were true. I wish these two examples are rare, but they are not. And the reason they are not is that in the Charismatic ranks no experience has to stand the test of Scripture. The Charismatics, by the nature of their theological persuasion, have no way to judge or stop bizarre testimonies of experience because the experience validates itself. Instead of checking someone’s experience against the Bible for validity, the Charismatic tries to get the Bible to fit the experience, or, failing that, he just ignores the Bible.
(John F. MacArthur, Jr., “The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective”, pp.58-59, italics retained from original)

Indeed, Mr. MacArthur, it is unfair. This is nothing like the kind of normative Charismatic behavior and theology that the aforementioned Joseph Mattera articulates so well in his article:

Isaiah 8:20 says if we speak not according to the scripture then we have no light. Second Timothy 3:16 teaches that all scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, correction and for training in righteousness. The scriptures are our rule for life and the highest standard for judging truth…

The more sure word of prophecy comes from the inspired writings of the canonical books of both the Old and New Testaments, which should be our guiding light for life (2 Peter 1:19-21) and by which all prophetic utterances should be judged. If the prophetic word or supernatural vision doesn’t go against the scriptures, then we still need to pray and get a witness from the Lord in our spirit as well as get counsel from mature leaders as to whether this specific prophetic word or vision is really specific guidance from Him.
(Op cit, Joseph Mattera, “Ten Marks of Charismaniacs”)

A period photograph of Melodyland Christian Center, Anaheim, CA. The inset is of Pastor Ralph Wilkerson. This church was ground zero for much of the good and bad of this period of the Charismatic Movement.

A period photograph of Melodyland Christian Center, Anaheim, CA. The inset is of Pastor Ralph Wilkerson. This church was ground zero for much of the good and the bad that went on in the Charismatic Movement during this period.

But if that misleading misrepresentation isn’t enough, later in the book MacArthur presents the following as something that Charismatics would object to rather than affirm:

“From the time of the apostles until the present, the true church has believed the Bible is complete. God has given His revelation is finished. What He gave is complete, efficient, sufficient, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative.”
(Op cit, MacArthur, “The Charismatics”, p.25)

He then proceeds to construct this straw man argument:

“Although Charismatics will deny that they are trying to add to Scripture, their views on prophetic utterance, gifts of prophecy, and revelation really do just that. As they add – however unwittingly – to God’s final revelation, they undermine the uniqueness and authority of the Bible. New revelation, dreams, and visions come to be binding on the believer’s conscience as the Book of Romans or the Gospel of John.” 
(Ibid)

Well, Mr. MacArthur, I’m sure that I’m not the first to say, “That is utter nonsense!” and I’m sure that I won’t be the last. This is a complete caricature of how I and most Charismatics that I know treat prophecy, dreams, and visions. Rather, Mr. MacArthur, it’s quite simple: If any new revelation, dream, or vision contradicts the Bible it is promptly and completely thrown out as illegitimate. Period. Always has been, always will be.

Equally upsetting is how Mr. MacArthur incorrectly and flippantly dismisses the normative Charismatic stance in this area as if it’s irrelevant:

“Some Charismatics would say that people misunderstand what they mean by prophetic utterance and new revelation. No effort is made to change Scripture or even equal it. What is happening is the ‘clarifying of Scripture’ as it is applied or directed to a contemporary setting, such as the prophecy of Agabus in Acts 11:28.”
(Ibid)

Yes, Mr. MacArthur, exactly! We are indeed just doing what Agabus was doing in Acts 11:28 (NKJV) …

“Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.”

… and then again in Acts 21:10-11 (NKJV):

“as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. When he had come to us, he took Paul’s belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, /Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'”

Faith healer Oral Roberts and Elvis Presley circa 1974. You can't get more "70's" than this!

Faith healer Oral Roberts and Elvis Presley circa 1974. You can’t get more “70’s” than this folks!

Why is this a problem? Do you believe the Bible is authoritative or don’t you sir? If so, then why do you disobey the apostolic injunction that clearly states: Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, NKJV) Was Luke errant in recording Agabus’ words and behavior as a model for New Testament ecclesiology? Was Paul negligent in not reproving Luke and Agabus for their folly? And was Paul a fool for admonishing the Thessalonians to continue in the error of Agabus?

And so it goes in this book. Straw man after straw man. Logical fallacy after logical fallacy. Misrepresentation after misrepresentation. Exaggeration, misstatement, imbalance, data mined propaganda, confirmation bias driven presuppositionalism, and bigoted, prejudiced condescension from a mind so closed that no logic, reason, or appeal can possibly touch it.1 Page after page MacArthur acts with all the grace, equity, and gentleness of a schoolyard bully. Just consider this “gem” from the chapter on authority:

“Today, with their emphasis on experience, many in the Charismatic movement are perilously close to a type of neo-Baalism! 

It is not too hard to see that experience can be a dangerous weapon in the hands of Satan. Satan delights in getting Christians to emphasize experience and to de-emphasize God’s Word.” 
(Ibid, p. 68)

So there you have it: Charismatics are the new, apostate idol worshipers drawing God’s people from true and pure worship and into syncretistic paganism. And compared to some of the other claims that MacArthur makes in this book, that’s actually tame. Elsewhere we’re told that Charismatics might be demon possessed (see pp.175-179) and their miracles actually the work of Satan masquerading as acts of God (see pp.114-117). Given all that, perhaps Michael Brown’s observation regarding the fruit of MacArthur’s last Anti-Charismatic polemic tome (Strange Fire, 2013) is just as true as his first (The Charismatics, 1978):

John MacArthur circa late 1970's/Early 1980's.

John MacArthur (late 1970’s/early 1980’s)

“The problem I have is that, at least in my admittedly limited observation, some members or follow[er]s of the MacArthur circle suffer from Richard Dawkins syndrome. Dawkins has such contempt for Christianity that he can’t bring himself to take Christianity seriously even for the sake of argument.

And some members/followers of the MacArthur circle reflect the same mindset. They exhibit such unbridled contempt for charismatic theology that they can’t take it seriously even for the sake of argument. They demand evidence, yet they don’t make a good faith effort to be informed. So the objection is circular, given their studied ignorance.

There’s a word for that: prejudice.”
(Michael L. Brown, “Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire”, p.8; Charisma House. Kindle Edition)

Friends, this isn’t how one talks or reasons with someone that one hopes to lovingly correct. Vineyard Pastor Rich Nathan summed John MacArthur’s Anti-Charismatic behavior well when he said:

“Ultimately it is MacArthur’s rancorous, bombastic style that undermines his objectivity and any value this book may have had as a necessary corrective to excesses or errors in the charismatic, Pentecostal and Third Wave movements. Rabid anti-charismatics will love this book. It provides wonderful sermon illustrations for the already convinced. For those not so zealously anti-charismatic, this book serves only as a painful reminder of the lovelessness that characterizes too much of contemporary Christianity.”
(Rich Nathan, “Vineyard Position Paper #5: A Response to ‘Charismatic Chaos'”, April 1993, p.27)

Stated plainly, given his polemic extremes does Mr. MacArthur really expect anyone not already in his camp to listen to him? Theologian C. Michael Patton (a cessationist and President of Reclaiming the Mind Ministries) spoke for many of us when on the advent of the 2013 Strange Fire Conference he suggested that MacArthur’s never-ending stream of polemic rhetoric may be causing him to lose his voice as a Christian leader:

It is irresponsible to criticize the easy targets within a movement. We call this a “straw man” argument. It is when you choose the worst representative you can and argue against him. Of course, with charismatics in popular culture, the easy targets are the “crazies” who get all the air time. Why do they get the air time? Well, it is entertaining for many to watch. And the sensationalism that can come from these abuses is also easy for the non-charismatic to look at and discredit. But think of all the movements which are part of the Christian fold today that could be picked apart because of some abuses and excesses within. The first two that come to mind would be Calvinism and Pretribulationalism. Certainly conferences could be done about both, characterizing each by the worst-of. But how responsible and godly is that? Yes, you may make a qualification at the beginning and the end saying, “Look, I realize that not all Calvinists are arrogant SOBs, but the movement is dangerous. It is filled with monsters who believe God hates unbelievers.” Or, concerning Pretribulationalism, “I know that not all Pretribulationalists are date setters, but the theology is dangerous and produces an unbiblical mentality. It is filled with date-setting and causes people to be unconcerned with this present world.” Of course, these criticisms can be true, but they are not the necessary outcome of their beliefs and, more importantly, they don’t deal honestly with the arguments…

Because of all this, John MacArthur is losing his voice, and I don’t want him to. His reputation dismantles his platform to speak at just about any conference. He has worked himself into a corner where every time he writes a book or opens his mouth, many of us say, “Oh no!” before anything else. His radio program is called “Grace to You” and we are often left thinking “grace to who?”

John MacArthur says the charismatic movement “blasphemes the Holy Spirit” and “attributes to the Holy Spirit even the work of Satan.” Maybe he should think about who is actually attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. I am not a charismatic, but such a statement really scares me. And because of this it would seem (even though the [Strange Fire] conference is sold out) that John MacArthur may be losing his voice.”
(C. Michael Patton, “Why John MacArthur May Be Losing His Voice”, ReclaimingTheMind.org website, October 15, 2013) 

I think that Mr. Patton is right – and it breaks my heart. I love John MacArthur’s body of work. Some of the greatest sermons and best Bible exposition I’ve ever heard have come from his pulpit. And even though I disagree with him in part, I absolutely adore my MacArthur Study Bible for the deep insight and into the biblical text that it contains – it is my “go to” commentary. John MacArthur is not only not my enemy but I consider him a valued ally in preaching the gospel, proclaiming truth, and bringing glory to God alone.

Yet here we are 39-years and two more books later and Mr. MacArthur’s loveless Anti-Charismatic blindness has gotten worse, not better. So despite my respect and admiration for Mr. MacArthur, I suspect, based on the tone of the three highly polemic works that I have read alone, that he couldn’t bring himself to say anything good about me – or think that I have anything of value to add to any conversation –  simply because I’m a Charismatic. While he isn’t my enemy I suspect that in his mind I am his. Folks, that’s just sad, isn’t it?

And the fact remains that this subject seems to be an obsession for Mr. MacArthur. So in another decade or so we can fully expect to see another work from him on the Charismatic movement. I will be praying that between now and then things will change for him (not unlike the Grinch growing a heart) and his stance will at least soften to at least a point of respectful tolerance. Yes, it will take a miracle but we serve a great God – and one who still speaks moves and performs miracles today.

The Melodyland Christian Center (Anaheim, CA) Marque from the late 1970's.

The Melodyland Christian Center (Anaheim, CA) Marque from the late 1970’s.

NOTES
1 Lest the reader think my rhetoric too harsh here please consider this:

First, here’s how John MacArthur cites Charismatic Theologian Gordon Fee in “Charismatic Chaos” the Anti-Charismatic work that followed the one being reviewed here:

“Gordon Fee, a writer who himself is a Charismatic, commented in the hermeneutical difficulties posed by the way Charismatics typically render the book of Acts:

If the primitive church is normative, which expression of it is normative? Jerusalem? Antioch? Philippi? Corinth? That is why do not all the churches sell their possessions and have all things in common. Or further, is it at all legitimate to take any descriptive statements as normative? If so, how does one distinguish those which are from those which are not? For example, must we follow the pattern of Acts 1:26 and select leaders by lot? Just exactly what role does historical precedent play in Christian doctrine or in the understanding of Christian experience?’

But the book Acts was never intended to be a primary basis church doctrine to the church. It records only the earliest days of the church age and shows the church in tradition from the Old Covenant into the New. The apostolic healings and miracles and signs and wonders evident in Acts were not common, even in those days. They were exceptional events, each with a specific purpose, always associated with the ministry of the apostles and their frequency can be seen decreasing dramatically even from the beginning of the book of Acts to the end.”
(John MacArthur, “Charismatic Chaos”, p.208, bolding added on the Gordon Fee cited text)

But here’s what Mr. Fee actually said in it’s full context:

“In defense of Pentecostals, it should be observed that although they have tended to arrive at the biblical norm by way of experience, they are not alone in establishing norms on the basis of historical precedent rather than on the explicit teaching of Scripture. The practice of infant baptism and the theology of its necessity are based first of all on the exegesis of some historical passages in Acts and one in 1 Corinthians (7: 14); they are made normative on the basis of the historical precedent. (Roman Catholic theologians would prefer the word “tradition.”) The Baptists’ insistence on baptism by immersion is based on no clear statement of Scripture, but rather on the exegesis of certain passages (including word study: “to baptize” = “to immerse”) and historical precedent. The partaking of the Lord’s Supper every Sunday is required by some Christians on the basis of historical precedent (Acts 20: 7). Likewise, on the basis of Acts 2: 44– 45 some groups in the Jesus-movement required the selling of possessions and having all things in common. Even such fringe groups as the snake-handlers argue for their distinctive practices partly on the basis of historical precedent (Acts 28: 3– 6).

The hermeneutical problem, therefore, is not unique to Pentecostals. It has to do with the interpretation and appropriation of the historical sections of Scripture. The problem may be posed in several ways. How is the book of Acts the word of God? That is, does it have a word which not only describes the primitive church but speaks as a norm to the church at all times? If there is such a word, how does one discover it, or set up principles in order to hear it? If the primitive church is normative, which expression of it is normative? Jerusalem? Antioch? Philippi? Corinth? That is, why do not all the churches sell their possessions and have all things in common? Or further, is it at all legitimate to take descriptive statements as normative? If so, how does one distinguish those which are from those which are not? For example, must we follow the pattern of Acts 1: 26 and select leaders by lot? Just exactly what role does historical precedent play in Christian doctrine or in the understanding of Christian experience?”
(Gordon D. Fee, “Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics”, (pp.87-88). Baker Publishing Group, bolding added on selection cited by John MacArthur)

Did you notice how Mr. MacArthur has taken a passage that explicitly indicts both cessationists and continuationists for hermenuetics that are ultimately rooted and grounded in experience first bias and data mines it? Specifically he cites only the content that suit his agenda in an out of context manner so that it appears to be an indictment of Charismatics alone when that’s simply not the case.

Second, I would refer the reader to the appendix of my review of “Building Bridges Between Spirit-filled Christians and Latter-day Saints (Mormons)” by Rob and Kathy Datsko in which MacArthur also engages in similar data mining and text twisting tactics in an attempt to build a case that there’s a movement of mainstream Charismatic Christians seeking ecumenical unity with tongues speaking Mormons. As I concluded there, directly addressing Mr. MacArthur:

…you knew that these authors were Mormon converts when you dishonestly tried to pass them off as Charismatic Christians didn’t you? So, in a similar manner Mr. MacArthur, no matter how many times you attempt to count the Datskos as Charismatic Christians, zero plus zero still equals zero. Finally, as Kathy Datsko stated plainly in her February 2013 comment, and as I have repeatedly observed myself, Latter-day Saints have absolutely no interest in Pentecostalism and stay as far away from it as possible – they treat it like kryptonite. So in the end Mr. MacArthur your evidence that mainstream Charismatics Christians are seeking closer ecumenical ties with Charismatic Mormons isn’t just exaggerated, it’s non-existent.
(Fred W. Anson, “Book Review: “Building Bridges Between Spirit-filled Christians and Latter-day Saints (Mormons)” by Rob and Kathy Datsko”)

Sadly, it’s quite apparent in his Anti-Charismatic work John MacArthur isn’t really interested in truth, balance, or justice. As one reviewer of MacArthur’s third Anti-Charismatic book, “Strange Fire” noted, “Make no mistake about it, MacArthur is not out to bring correction to a sector of Christianity with which he disagrees; his goal is to destroy a movement he considers false, heretical and dangerous.” (Eddie L. Hyatt, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, Reviewed by Eddie L. Hyatt”, The Pneuma Review website, October 23, 2013)

And apparently, if that means using unethical tactics like data mined propaganda generation, then so be it.

Catacomb painting of Pentecost.

Catacomb painting of Pentecost.

BACK TO TOP

Authorship page from an 1849 European edition of the Book of Mormon

Authorship page from an 1849 European edition of the Book of Mormon

by Bob Betts and Fred Anson
As theologian R.C. Sproul points out, the issue of hell is a critically important, albeit disturbing, one:

No matter how we analyze the concept of hell it often sounds to us as a place of cruel and unusual punishment. If, however, we can take any comfort in the concept of hell, we can take it in the full assurance that there will be no cruelty there. It is impossible for God to be cruel. Cruelty involves inflicting a punishment that is more severe or harsh than the crime. Cruelty in this sense is unjust. God is incapable of inflicting an unjust punishment. The Judge of all the earth will surely do what is right. No innocent person will ever suffer at His hand.
(R.C. Sproul, “What Is Hell?”)

But still, what could possibly be more unsettling than the eternality of hell? As Dr. Sproul goes on to explain:

Perhaps the most frightening aspect of hell is its eternality. People can endure the greatest agony if they know it will ultimately stop. In hell there is no such hope. The Bible clearly teaches that the punishment is eternal. The same word is used for both eternal life and eternal death. Punishment implies pain. Mere annihilation, which some have lobbied for, involves no pain. Jonathan Edwards, in preaching on Revelation 6:15-16 said, “Wicked men will hereafter earnestly wish to be turned to nothing and forever cease to be that they may escape the wrath of God.”

Hell, then, is an eternity before the righteous, ever-burning wrath of God, a suffering torment from which there is no escape and no relief. Understanding this is crucial to our drive to appreciate the work of Christ and to preach His gospel.
(Ibid)

"Spooky Mormon Hell Dream" from "The Book of Mormon The Musical"

“Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” from “The Book of Mormon The Musical”

Given this it should probably come as no surprise that many attempt to lessen the disquieting effect of biblical truth. For example, the Mormon religion today claims that hell is not eternal for the vast majority of people. Consider, for example, consider how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints describes hell:

Latter-day revelations speak of hell in at least two ways. First, it is another name for spirit prison, a temporary place in the postmortal world for those who died without a knowledge of the truth or those who were disobedient in mortality. Second, it is the permanent location of Satan and his followers and the sons of perdition, who are not redeemed by the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
(“Hell”, Gospel Topics article, Official LdS Church website)

And as influential Mormon Apostle Bruce R. McConkie explained in his classic work, “Mormon Doctrine”:

Hell will have an end… After their resurrection, the great majority of those who have suffered in hell will pass into the telestial kingdom; the balance, cursed as sons of perdition, will be consigned to partake of endless wo with the devil and his angels. Speaking of the telestial kingdom the Lord says: “These are they who are thrust down to hell. These are they who shall not be redeemed from the devil until the last resurrection, until the Lord, even Christ the Lamb, shall have finished his work. These are they who are cast down to hell and suffer the wrath of Almighty God, until the fulness of times.” (D. & C. 76:84-85, 106.) As to the sons of perdition, the revelation says that after their resurrection “they shall return again to their own place” (D. & C. 88:32, 102), that is, they shall go back to dwell in the lake of fire with Perdition and his other sons. Thus those in hell “are the rest of the dead; and they live not again until the thousand years are ended, neither again, until the end of the earth.” (D. & C. 88:101.)

Thus, for those who are heirs of some salvation, which includes all except the sons of perdition (D.&C. 73:44), hell has an end…
(Bruce R. McConkie, “Mormon Doctrine” (Second Edition, 1966), pp.249-251) 

The Book of Mormon and the Eternality of Hell
However, the following Book of Mormon passages speak of the eternality of hell for not only the most wicked but for anyone and everyone who either rejects the gospel of Jesus Christ during their mortal life – who or fails to live up to it’s demands.

An 1830 first edition Book of Mormon open to 1 Nephi

An 1830 first edition Book of Mormon open to 1 Nephi

1 Nephi 14:3
And that great pit, which hath been digged for them by that great and abominable church, which was founded by the devil and his children, that he might lead away the souls of men down to hell — yea, that great pit which hath been digged for the destruction of men shall be filled by those who digged it, unto their utter destruction, saith the Lamb of God; not the destruction of the soul, save it be the casting of it into that hell which hath no end.

1 Nephi 15:29,35
And I said unto them that it was a representation of that awful hell, which the angel said unto me was prepared for the wicked…

And there is a place prepared, yea, even that awful hell of which I have spoken, and the devil is the preparator of it; wherefore the final state of the souls of men is to dwell in the kingdom of God, or to be cast out because of that justice of which I have spoken.

2 Nephi 2:29
And not choose eternal death, according to the will of the flesh and the evil which is therein, which giveth the spirit of the devil power to captivate, to bring you down to hell, that he may reign over you in his own kingdom.

2 Nephi 9:12,19
And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel…

O the greatness of the mercy of our God, the Holy One of Israel! For he delivereth his saints from that awful monster the devil, and death, and hell, and that lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.

2 Nephi 28:19-23
For the kingdom of the devil must shake, and they which belong to it must needs be stirred up unto repentance, or the devil will grasp them with his everlasting chains, and they be stirred up to anger, and perish;

For behold, at that day shall he rage in the hearts of the children of men, and stir them up to anger against that which is good.

And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is well — and thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell.

And behold, others he [the devil] flattereth away, and telleth them there is no hell; and he saith unto them: I am no devil, for there is none — and thus he whispereth in their ears, until he grasps them with his awful chains, from whence there is no deliverance.

Yea, they are grasped with death, and hell; and death, and hell, and the devil, and all that have been seized therewith must stand before the throne of God, and be judged according to their works, from whence they must go into the place prepared for them, even a lake of fire and brimstone, which is endless torment.

Jacob 7:18
And he spake plainly unto them, that he had been deceived by the power of the devil. And he spake of hell, and of eternity, and of eternal punishment.

A first edition 1830 Book of Mormon open to the Book of Alma

A first edition 1830 Book of Mormon open to the Book of Alma

Alma 5:6-10
And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, you that belong to this church, have you sufficiently retained in remembrance the captivity of your fathers? Yea, and have you sufficiently retained in remembrance his mercy and long-suffering towards them? And moreover, have ye sufficiently retained in remembrance that he has delivered their souls from hell?

Behold, he changed their hearts; yea, he awakened them out of a deep sleep, and they awoke unto God. Behold, they were in the midst of darkness; nevertheless, their souls were illuminated by the light of the everlasting word; yea, they were encircled about by the bands of death, and the chains of hell, and an everlasting destruction did await them.

And now I ask of you, my brethren, were they destroyed? Behold, I say unto you, Nay, they were not.

And again I ask, were the bands of death broken, and the chains of hell which encircled them about, were they loosed? I say unto you, Yea, they were loosed, and their souls did expand, and they did sing redeeming love. And I say unto you that they are saved.

And now I ask of you on what conditions are they saved? Yea, what grounds had they to hope for salvation? What is the cause of their being loosed from the bands of death, yea, and also the chains of hell?

Helaman 6:28
And also it is that same being who put it into the hearts of the people to build a tower sufficiently high that they might get to heaven. And it was that same being who led on the people who came from that tower into this land; who spread the works of darkness and abominations over all the face of the land, until he dragged the people down to an entire destruction, and to an everlasting hell.

Moroni 8:13
Wherefore, if little children could not be saved without baptism, these must have gone to an endless hell.

Supporting Book of Mormon Texts
And while the following verses do not speak of the actual eternality of hell, they lend additional proof that “hell” should be a taught Mormon doctrine, since, the alleged prophet “Mormon”, formed a book that speaks so extensively about the subject. This is not an exhaustive list.

19th Century Anti-Mormons had their own ideas about where hell was and who resided there.

19th Century Anti-Mormons had their own ideas about where hell was and who resided there.

2 Nephi 1:15
But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.

2 Nephi 24:15
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

2 Nephi 26:10
And when these things have passed away a speedy destruction cometh unto my people; for, notwithstanding the pains of my soul, I have seen it; wherefore, I know that it shall come to pass; and they sell themselves for naught; for, for the reward of their pride and their foolishness they shall reap destruction; for because they yield unto the devil and choose works of darkness rather than light, therefore they must go down to hell.

2 Nephi 28:15
O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!

2 Nephi 33:6
I glory in plainness; I glory in truth; I glory in my Jesus, for he hath redeemed my soul from hell.

Jacob 3:11
O my brethren, hearken unto my words; arouse the faculties of your souls; shake yourselves that ye may awake from the slumber of death; and loose yourselves from the pains of hell that ye may not become angels to the devil, to be cast into that lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death.

Alma 13:30
And may the Lord grant unto you repentance, that ye may not bring down his wrath upon you, that ye may not be bound down by the chains of hell, that ye may not suffer the second death.

Alma 14:6
And it came to pass that Zeezrom was astonished at the words which had been spoken; and he also knew concerning the blindness of the minds, which he had caused among the people by his lying words; and his soul began to be harrowed up under a consciousness of his own guilt; yea, he began to be encircled about by the pains of hell.

Alma 26:13-14
Behold, how many thousands of our brethren has he loosed from the pains of hell; and they are brought to sing redeeming love, and this because of the power of his word which is in us, therefore have we not great reason to rejoice?

Yea, we have reason to praise him forever, for he is the Most High God, and has loosed our brethren from the chains of hell.

3 Nephi 12:22,30
But I say unto you, that whosoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of his judgment. And whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council; and whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your across, than that ye should be cast into hell.

One can only wonder why the book that Joseph Smith claimed contains “the fullness of the gospel” contradicts the other standard works and what Mormons are taught today.

Bob Betts

Bob Betts

About The Authors
Robert “Bob” Betts received Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, in 1970, at the age of 18. After one year of Bible college (’72-’73), Bob was forced to discontinue that education due to a severe bout with valley fever. By 1974, the fever had dissipated, and in 1975, Bob met and married his wife, Patricia (Patty), and started a family. Bob and Patty have been married for 40 years as of 2015, with three children and seven grandchildren.

In the mid ‘90s, God developed within Bob, an interest in the study of the religion of Mormonism. The interest became a passion, and a compassion for the Mormon people. In 2,000, Bob went into full time ministry to Mormons, and to any people directly affected by Mormonism’s outreach (families, friends, Christians, non-Christians, ex-Mormons, inactive Mormons, etc.). He oversaw a website “discussion board,” debating and challenging (and being challenged by) devout Mormons for over 10 years, and thousands of hours, seeing the fruit of salvation in a few, for which he readily gives God all the glory.

After 12 years, Bob left that ministry, but continues on social media to reach out to Mormons and ex-Mormons with the hope and truth of pure, biblical Christianity, honing the gift that God gave him to reasonably and logically dismantle the impossible gospel and theology of Mormonism.

Fred W. Anson is a Mormon Studies Scholar and the publisher of Beggar’s Bread. 

"Christ’s Descent into Hell" Unknown Artist in the style of Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, ca. 1550–60) click to zoon

“Christ’s Descent into Hell” Unknown Artist in the style of Hieronymus Bosch (Netherlandish, ca. 1550–60) click to zoon

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Strange Fire Front CoverReviewed by Fred W. Anson

Title: Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship
Author: John F. MacArthur
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Non-fiction, Religion
Year Published: 2013
Length: 352 pages
Binding: Digital, Hardcover, Paperback, Audiobook
ISBN10: 1400205174
ISBN13: 978-1400205172
Price: $10.99 (Digital), $22.99 (Hardcover),  $6.99 (Paperback), $9.99 (Audiobook)

My pastor could have been speaking of John MacArthur when he said to me, “Your message is usually substantive and true but the way that you deliver it often leaves the other person so in reaction to the messenger that they can’t receive the message.” Yes, friends, I empathize with John MacArthur since I’m on of that those annoying “truth first, grace and mercy second, and let the pieces fall where they will third” guys too. And try as I may to not react to the messenger rather than the message in this review I will warn you in advance that I may not succeed.

The More Things Change . . . 
Anti-Charismatic books are nothing new to John MacArthur. In 1978 he published “The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective” In 1992 it was “Charismatic Chaos” and in 2013, his latest offering, “Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship”. So three titles and thirty five years later and what has changed? Obviously, not a lot since the twenty one old words of Vineyard Pastor, Rich Nathan are just as applicable to “Strange Fire” as they were of “Charismatic Chaos”:

“Ultimately it is MacArthur’s rancorous, bombastic style that undermines his objectivity and any value this book may have had as a necessary corrective to excesses or errors in the charismatic, Pentecostal and Third Wave movements. Rabid anti-charismatics will love this book. It provides wonderful sermon illustrations for the already convinced. For those not so zealously anti-charismatic, this book serves only as a painful reminder of the lovelessness that characterizes too much of contemporary Christianity.”
(Rich Nathan, “Vineyard Position Paper #5: A Response to ‘Charismatic Chaos'”, April 1993, p.27)

And this is a pity because MacArthur has always done a very good job of indentifying and condemning the excesses in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. In “Charismatic Chaos” it was the immature abuses of “out there” Vineyard churches (like the bizarre Holy Laughter of the Toronto Airport Vineyard and the insanity of the Kansas City Prophets), the zaniness of The Trinity Broadcasting Network, and the charlatanism of Benny Hinn – who has very appropriately returned as the favored punching bag and dart board target of Strange Fire. To all this, like so many other, mainstream, theologically cautious and conversative Charismatics, I can only stand, applaud, and yell, “Bravo!” These are things that we are in complete agreement with Mr. MacArthur on. In fact, these are things that we ourselves have publicly and repeatedly condemned and denounced ourselves. Bravo Mr. MacArthur, bravo!

John MacArthur

John MacArthur

Broad Brush Polemics
However, MacArthur isn’t content with reprimanding just a few bad apples. It quickly becomes apparent that in his mind, if you’re a Charismatic, you’re a bad apple – period. Consider these excerpts:

“The Charismatic Movement began barely a hundred years ago, and its influence on evangelicalism can hardly be overstated. From its inception by Charles Fox Parham to its most ubiquitous modern representative in Benny Hinn, the entire movement is nothing more than a sham religion run by counterfeit ministers. True biblical interpretation, sound doctrine, and historical theology owes nothing to the movement— unless an influx of error and falsehood could be considered a contribution. Like any effective false system, charismatic theology incorporates enough of the truth to gain credibility. But in mixing the truth with deadly deceptions, it has concocted a cocktail of corruption and doctrinal poison— a lethal fabrication— with hearts and souls at stake.”
(John F. MacArthur, “Strange Fire”, p. 113)

“the gospel that is driving these surging numbers is not the true gospel, and the spirit behind them is not the Holy Spirit. What we are seeing is in reality the explosive growth of a false church, as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity. The Charismatic Movement was a farce and a scam from the outset; it has not changed into something good.”
(Ibid, p.xix)

As one commenter on The Pneuma Review website said well of such over the top polemics:

“There are excesses in the charismatic group that need to be addressed, but Strange Fire is devoid of any hint on J[ohn] M[cArthur]’s part to meet with these whom he feels are in error to try to make sure he understands them. In taking this to the extreme that he has, he has become an example of the extreme he is trying to point out in others.”
(Rick Collins, Aug 24, 2014 8:27pm comment, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener”)

And again, Rich Nathan’s description of “Charismatic Chaos” yesterday is just as true of “Strange Fire” today:

“MacArthur doesn’t rebuke charismatics as a person would rebuke a member of one’s own family. The book reads like hostile fire shot by an outsider. The tone, as will be seen by the numerous pejorative adjectives that MacArthur uses to describe charismatics, is anything but familial or irenic. It is one thing to have your child spanked by your spouse. It is quite another thing to have your child spanked by a stranger. Charismatics understandably react to being spanked by someone who intentionally positions himself as a stranger and not as a “dear friend, fellow worker… and [brother]” (Philem. 1:1).”
(Op Cit, Rich Nathan, p.3)

Folks, I could stop right there and you would have an apt brief review of Strange Fire. Unfortunately, when the specifics are considered Strange Fire gets even worse.

Double Standards
Adding insult to injury is MacArthur’s use of Double Standards. He spends an entire chapter pounding away at the scandals in the continuationist camp while utterly ignoring his own shattered cessationist glass house. As Time Magazine observed:

“Anthea Butler, a professor of religion at the University of Rochester in New York believes Pentecostals are no more trouble-prone than other Protestants. “The same sort of thing is happening to Baptists and Presbyterians,” she says. “Except for one big thing. They are not media figures.”
(David Van Biema, “Are Mega-Preachers Scandal-Prone?”, Time magazine, Friday, Sept. 28, 2007)

One need go no further than the dedication page of MacArthur’s first Anti-Charismatic book (“The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective”, circa 1978) to see MacArthur’s blind hypocrisy. It reads as follows:

“To Dave Hocking,
A true and beloved friend
with whom I share a common love
for the Word of Christ
and the purity of His church.”

Yet just fourteen year later, and just 6 months after MacArthur’s second Anti-Charismatic book (“Charismatic Chaos”, circa April 1992), fellow hard cessationist and Anti-Charismatic David (aka “Dave”) Hocking was involved in a scandal that involved not one, but two high profile Southern California churches:

“In Oct 1992, the elders of Calvary Church [Santa Ana, California] caught David Hocking in a major scandal involving marital infidelity. The elders of the church told Hocking that he would no longer be the Senior Pastor of Calvary Church and would have to undergo a three-year restoration process.

Refusing to accept the restoration plan of the elders at Calvary Church, Hocking’s long-time buddy Chuck Smith [the founding Pastor of Calvary Chapel and the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, California at the time] took him in. Reportedly, Smith said that this great man of God should not be wasted, and took in David Hocking as a Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa staff member. Hocking was excommunicated by Calvary Church of Santa Ana after he refused to submit to the elders of the church in their restoration process…

This was a major point of contention between Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa and other local churches in the community (particularly CCSA [Calvary Church Santa Ana]). This caused a major scandal here in Southern California where the results are still being felt.”
(“The Calvary Church of Santa Ana/David Hocking Incident”, Calvary Chapel Wiki website)  

And this is just the tip of the cessationist iceberg of scandals. We could also talk about Southern Baptist Charles Stanley’s divorce, R.C. Sproul, Jr.’s  (whose father R.C. Sproul, Sr. spoke at the Strange Fire Conference) “Ashley Madison indiscretion”, or the scandals of Baptists, Kent Hovind, Lonnie Latham, Coy Privette, or Joe Barron (see “List Of Christian Evangelist Scandals” for details).

Further, and speaking as someone in the same Reformed camp that MacArthur is in (yes, I’m one of those dreaded “Charismatic Calvinists” that Steve Lawson woodshedded at the Strange Fire conference) it pains me to admit that Frank Viola was largely correct when he observed:

“Using MacArthur’s logic and approach, one could easily write a book about the toxicity of the Reformed movement by painting all Reformed Christians as elitist, sectarian, divisive, arrogant, exclusive, and in love with “doctrine” more than with Christ.

And just as MacArthur holds up Benny Hinn, Todd Bentley, Pat Robertson, et al. to characterize the charismatic world, one can hold up R.J. Rushdoony, Herman Dooyeweerd, R.T. Kendall, or Patrick Edouard, et al. to characterize Reformed Christians. Or Peter Ruckman and Jack Hyles, et al. to characterize Fundamentalist Baptists. Or William R. Crews and L.R. Shelton Jr., et. al. to represent Reformed Baptists.

My point is that charismatic, Reformed, and Baptist people would strongly object to the idea that any of these gentleman could accurately represent their respective tribes as each of them have strong critics within their own movements. Even so, the game of burning down straw man city with a torch is nothing new.”
(Frank Viola, “Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire” p.9; also cited in Michael L. Brown, “Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire”, p.157)

But probably no one summed it up better than Rich Nathan when he said:

“Immorality is, tragically, a phenomenon that seems to know no denominational boundaries. Indeed, several very prominent dispensational and fundamentalist leaders have had to step down from radio ministries, para-church leadership, and pastorates because of sexual immorality. One might more realistically point to the sex-drenched culture of the modern western world, the cult of sexual self expression, and the absence of the practice of spiritual disciplines as more likely explanations for the fall of charismatic pastors than their experience of speaking in tongues.”
(Op Cit, Rich Nathan, p.8)

Treating the Extreme as the Norm
This treating extremes as the norm is the biggest problem with MacArthur’s approach to Pentecostalism in general and his Anti-Charismatic books in particular. Consider this example from Strange Fire:

“More moderate charismatics like to portray the prosperity preachers, faith healers, and televangelists as safely isolated on the extreme edge of the charismatic camp. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Thanks to the global reach and incessant proselytizing of religious television and charismatic mass media, the extreme has now become mainstream. For most of the watching world, flamboyant false teachers— with heresies as ridiculous as their hairdos— constitute the public face of Christianity. And they propagate their lies in the Holy Spirit’s name.”
(Op Cit, John F. MacArthur, “Strange Fire”, p. 13)

Again, writing of “Charismatic Chaos” Rich Nathan’s response is just as applicable:

“MacArthur rarely acknowledges a mainstream view within the charismatic or Pentecostal movements that’s balanced, Biblical, and mature. MacArthur, moreover, rarely admits that the Pentecostal/charismatic movement – now over 400 million strong – has borne tremendous fruit for the kingdom of God. He simply does not permit himself to acknowledge positive contributions by this enormous and varied movement.”
(Op Cit, Rich Nathan, p.2)

And as this review is being written, Pentecostals and Charismatics not only number over 500 million adherents but represent the fastest growing segment of the modern Christian Church. All this while mainline denominations are shrinking and cessationist numbers are flattening. No numbers and don’t equal veracity but, if nothing else, it bespeaks an ability to meet needs and bear fruit – something that John MacArthur sees as a net negative due to his antipathy toward continuationism in all forms. Such prejudice driven hard hardheartedness and blindness is heartbreaking.

Exaggeration, Data Manipulation, and Guilt by Association Fallacies
Equally concerning is how MacArthur repeatedly engages in gross exaggeration and “Guilty by Association” fallacies. Please consider this example:

“[Joel] Osteen’s muddled comment about Latter-day Saints introduces an interesting point of discussion— especially since the founders of Mormonism claimed to experience the same supernatural phenomena that Pentecostals and charismatics experience today. At the dedication of the Kirtland Temple in 1836, Joseph Smith reported various types of charismatic phenomena— including tongues, prophecy, and miraculous visions. Other eyewitness accounts of that same event made similar claims: “There were great manifestations of power, such as speaking in tongues, seeing visions, administration of angels”; and, “There the Spirit of the Lord, as on the day of Pentecost, was profusely poured out. Hundreds of Elders spoke in tongues.” More than half a century before Charles Parham and the Pentecostals spoke in tongues, the Latter-day Saints reported similar outbursts, leading some historians to trace the roots of Pentecostalism back through Mormonism.”
(Op Cit, John F. MacArthur,”Strange Fire”, pp.51-52)

Well the “some historians” referenced in the footnote for that last sentence is exactly one historian, and one historical work (Hard Cessationist, Thomas R. Edgar’s Anti-Pentecostal treatise, “Satisfied by the Promise of the Spirit”, p.218 and p.108)

Further, speaking as a Mormon Studies Scholar, the fact is that the early Mormons were merely one of many tongues speaking groups in the Second Great Awakening. Joseph Smith and the earliest Mormons didn’t speak in tongues at all until Brigham Young and his tongues speaking brothers arrived on the scene along with their tongues speaking friend Heber C. Kimball. And, for the record, Young and his brothers were Restorationist Pentecostals (specifically tongues speaking Primitive Methodists in most cases) before joining the Mormon Church – so the phenomenon didn’t, I repeat, did not originate in Mormonism.

Rather, it’s generally conceded that the fountainhead for all this 19th Century, Second Great Awakening tongues speaking was the 1801 Cane Ridge Revival. So for a historian to claim that the roots of modern Pentecostalism can be traced back to early Mormonism isn’t just ludicrous, it’s hack scholarship.

But wait, MacArthur isn’t done yet, there’s more:

“Even today, similarities between the two groups have led some to seek for greater unity. In their book Building Bridges Between Spirit-Filled Christians and Latter-Day Saints, authors Rob and Kathy Datsko assert, “Although there is an incredible language and culture barrier between LDS [Latter-day Saints] and SFC [Spirit-filled Christians], often these two groups believe many of the same basic doctrines.” Though Pentecostalism has traditionally rejected the Latter-day Saints, comments like those made by Joel Osteen suggest that a new wave of ecumenical inclusivism may be on the horizon. It is hardly coincidental that Fuller Theological Seminary, the birthplace of the Third Wave Movement, is currently leading the campaign for greater unity between Mormons and evangelical Christians.”
(Op Cit, John F. MacArthur,”Strange Fire”, pp.51-52)

Regarding this passage, as I pointed out in my review of Rob and Kathy Datsko’s book, “Building Bridges Between Spirit-Filled Christians and Latter-Day Saints” MacArthur’s argument is based on data manipulation, flawed evidence, and good old fashioned exaggeration. Please consider the following questions I posed to Mr. MacArthur in this regard:

1) Why are the Datskos implicitly presented as Charismatic Christians in your (circa 2013) book when, in fact, they have been Mormons since 2003?
Folks as soon as these folks converted to Mormonism, they were no longer Charismatic Christians, they were Latter-day Saints who were following another Jesus and preaching another gospel.

2) Where are the rest of the Charismatic Christians that you declare, are seeking greater unity with Mormons?
Friends I’m a Mormon Studies scholar and I will tell you plainly: Any that have tried this (such as Lynn Ridenhour, Paul Richardson, and Cal Fullerton) are now considered, marginalized, lunatic fringe, Charismaniacs by mainstream Charismatics. They have no significant power or influence among us.

3) Why do you single out Charismatics when, in fact, it’s cessationists who are taken a far greater, more active role in seeking greater unity with Mormons?
I’ll name names: Craig Blomberg (Denver Theological Seminary), Christopher Hall (Episcopalian theologian), Gerald R. McDermott (Beeson Divinity School), and James E. Bradley (Fuller Theological Seminary). Oh, and let me add newcomer, Baptist Author and Educator, Roger E. Olson, to the list.

4) Where are all these Charismatic Latter-day Saints that you refer to on p.73 of Strange Fire?
That’s where you claim, “Today there are even charismatic Mormons. Regardless of what else they teach, if they have had that experience, they are in.” Footnote 53 for the passage on p.73 takes us to this: “See, for example, “Hi. I’m Kathy, I’m a born again, Spirit-filled, Charismatic Mormon” at Mormon.org, accessed March 2013” (p.290) and one clicks on the link that’s provided in the footnote and it takes us to (wait for it, wait for it, wait for it) Kathy Datsko’s Mormon testimony! Folks, no many how many times you count her Kathy Datsko is one, and only one, Charismatic Latter-day Saint. Add in her husband Rob and you now have not one but two Charismatic Mormons.

This is far from a trend or even a pattern people! In fact, other than these two I know of no other Charismatic Latter-day Saints. That’s because Latter-day Saints have absolutely no interest in Pentecostalism and stay as far away from it as possible – they treat it like kryptonite. So in the end Mr. MacArthur’s evidence that there’s a major trend involving mainstream Charismatics Christians are seeking closer ecumenical ties with Charismatic Mormons isn’t just exaggerated, it’s non-existent.

Confirmation Bias Driven Evidence Presentation
As continuationist Bible scholar Craig S. Keener notes:

“MacArthur’s selective approach to history is meant to substantiate his approach. Yet his appendix on church history, if intended to be representative, cherry-picks only statements that agree with him. Yes, cessationists existed; but not all orthodox believers have been cessationists. Irenaeus, Origen and Tertullian all claimed eyewitness accounts of healings and exorcisms. Historian Ramsay MacMullen shows that these sorts of experiences constituted the leading cause of Christian conversion in the third and fourth centuries.

MacArthur cites Augustine as an advocate of cessationism (252-53) without noting that he later changed his mind and reported numerous miracles, including raisings from the dead and some healings that he personally witnessed. John Wesley valued weighing prophecy rather than rejecting it, reports healings, and offers his own firsthand report of what he believed to be a raising from the dead. Late nineteenth-century evangelical leaders such as Baptist A. J. Gordon (for whom Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary is named) and A. B. Simpson, founder of Christian and Missionary Alliance, were continuationists and recounted healing reports.”
(Craig S. Keener, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener”, The Pneuma Review website)

And it’s not in the book but in the follow up video on to the book and conference that Mr. MacArthur did at The Master’s Seminary entitled, “What has happened after the ‘Strange Fire’ Conference” (it can be seen on YouTube) John MacArthur said of Chuck Smith and the Calvary Chapel movement that in 1967 “a bunch of Jesus freak people.. go to Calvary Chapel…and for the first time…that I know of in history, the church lets the very defined subculture dictate what it will be,” citing “the hippie culture, communal living…kids coming out of drugs and free sex, and all that” as displacing “all the normal and formal things,” and typifying the charismatic church, with the movement becoming Calvary Chapel. (video transcription from Wikipedia)

Well, I’ve got to tell you, I was at Calvary Chapel in the 1970’s during the height of Jesus Movement and what Mr. MacArthur has just said is nonsense! Chuck Smith’s friend and colleague Jacob Prasch has called it “false witness” and I agree with him. Folks, it simply isn’t true. Anyone who thinks that staid, culturally and theologically conservative Pastor Chuck wasn’t fully in control of things and wasn’t keeping a leash on the insanity that we hippies brought in tow with us simply wasn’t there! Case in point: Chuck Fromm (the founder of Maranatha! Music and Chuck Smith’s son in law) once told me that Pastor Chuck didn’t like the rock music that was on the label and was always trying to convince him to shut that side of the ministry down and focus on just worship music – which Fromm eventually did.

While we all loved and respected Pastor Chuck, we still thought that he was a bit of an establishment square, a stick in the mud, and even an encumbrance to all our “grooviness” at times. To suggest that we children were leading a strong willed, in command, personality, father figure, and leader like Pastor Chuck is just laughable! And if there’s any doubt on any of this please see watch the “Pastors Perspective 4/3/2014” video on the K-Wave Radio YouTube Channel and you can hear it straight from Brian Brodersen, Don Stewart, Steve Mays, and Ray Bentley who were there at a much higher level than I ever was.

Conclusion and Other Perspectives
Since the Strange Fire conference and publication of the book John MacArthur has stated that they were supposed to be “the catalyst for conversation” (see “John MacArthur on Making an Informed Response to Strange Fire” on YouTube). Well if that’s the case, given the harsh, polemic, condemning tone then this “conversation” started with all the charm and grace of an alley mugging by a bully.

Equally amusing is how in the aforementioned, “What has happened after the ‘Strange Fire’ Conference” video Mr. MacArthur complains about the ad-hominems leveled at him in the reviews on Amazon. This coming from a man who spends, pages, chapters, and even the greater part of a book engaging in personal attacks, character assassination, and some of the most derogatory and insulting slurs against fellow Christians imaginable. Mr. MacArthur that thing sticking out of your eye is what’s called a “beam”.

That said, I have one last piece of advice to my Charismatic friends: Read the Strange Fire book. Yes, read the book. I think it speaks for itself. Please don’t take my word for it, read the book and see for yourself if all the criticism that this book has garnered from myself and others is justified or not.

Finally, probably no one summed up the mindset, spirit, and content of “Strange Fire” better than the late, great, first editor of Christianity Today, Carl F.H. Henry who said in 1957:

“The real bankruptcy of fundamentalism has resulted not so much from a reactionary spirit – lamentable as this was – as from a harsh temperament, a spirit of lovelessness and strife contributed by much of its leadership in the recent past. One of the ironies of contemporary church history is that the more fundamentalists stress separation from apostasy as a theme in their churches, the more a spirit of lovelessness seems to prevail.

The theological conflict with liberalism deteriorated into an attack upon organizations and personalities. This condemnation, in turn, grew to include conservative churchmen and churches not ready to align with separatist movements. It widens still further, to abusive evangelicals unhappy with the spirit of independency in such groups as the American Council of Churches and the International Council of Christian Churches. Then came internal debate and division among separatist fundamentalism within the American Council. More recently, the evangelistic ministry of Billy Graham and [the] efforts of other evangelical leaders, whose disapproval of liberalism and advocacy of conservative Christianity are beyond dispute, have become the target of bitter volubility.

This character of fundamentalism as a temperament and not primarily fundamentalism as a theology, has brought the movement into contemporary discredit… Historically, fundamentalism was a theological position; only gradually did the movement come to signify a mood and disposition as well. In its early [years] leadership reflected ballast, and less of bombast and battle… If modernism stands discredited as a perversion of the scriptural theology, certainly fundamentalism in this contemporary expression stands discredited as a perversion of the Biblical spirit.”
(Carl F.H. Henry, Editor of “Christianity Today” magazine in 1957)

Appendix: Other Voices
Here are some other quotes on and about John MacArthur and Strange Fire that I thought the reader might find interesting:

“Within the worldwide charismatic movement, there are no doubt instances of weird, inappropriate, and outrageous phenomena, perhaps including some of the things MacArthur saw on TBN. Many Pentecostal leaders themselves acknowledge as much. But to discredit the entire charismatic movement as demon-inspired because of the frenzied excess into which some of its members have fallen is both myopic and irresponsible. It would be like condemning the entire Catholic Church because some of its priests are proven pedophiles, or like smearing all Baptist Christians because of the antics of the Westboro Baptist Church.

When told that his all-charismatics-are-outside-the-pale approach was damaging the Body of Christ because he was attacking his brothers and sisters in the Lord, MacArthur responded that he “wished he could affirm that.” This is a new version of extra ecclesiam nulla salus—except that the ecclesia here is not the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church but rather an exclusively non-charismatic one.”
(Timothy George, “Strange Friendly Fire”, First Things, November 4, 2013)

“The problem I have is that, at least in my admittedly limited observation, some members or follow[er]s of the MacArthur circle suffer from Richard Dawkins syndrome. Dawkins has such contempt for Christianity that he can’t bring himself to take Christianity seriously even for the sake of argument.

And some members/followers of the MacArthur circle reflect the same mindset. They exhibit such unbridled contempt for charismatic theology that they can’t take it seriously even for the sake of argument. They demand evidence, yet they don’t make a good faith effort to be informed. So the objection is circular, given their studied ignorance.

There’s a word for that: prejudice.”
(Michael L. Brown, “Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire”, p.8; Charisma House. Kindle Edition)

‘On each point, it is surely misguided to single out charismatics, says [Pastor John] Piper. “Charismatic doctrinal abuses, emotional abuses, discernment abuses, financial abuses, all have their mirror image in non-charismatic churches.” Of charismatics and non-charismatics alike, “we all stand under the word of God and we all need repentance.”

But those charismatic abuses remain. So how are these excesses best policed? How are Christians today protected from the abuses of the charismatic church? Is it through attack-centered books and conferences?

“I don’t go on a warpath against charismatics. I go on a crusade to spread truth. I am spreading gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated, Calvinistic truth everywhere, and I am going to push it into the face of every charismatic I can find, because what I believe, if they embrace the biblical system of doctrine that is really there, it will bring all of their experiences into the right orbit around the sun of this truth.”’
(John Piper, “Piper Addresses Strange Fire and Charismatic Chaos”, Desiring God website)

“In his “Strange Fire” conference (that starts today), book (upcoming), and ensuing promotions, John MacArthur has, I believe, acted very irresponsibly and is doing incredible damage to the body of Christ.

It is no secret that John MacArthur pushes the polemic line and causes many of us to be uncomfortable. This is just who he is and I don’t really expect him to change. But this conference is an excessively eristic and unnecessarily divisive crusade against charismatics. And, to be frank, it is even over the top for him…

Because of all this, John MacArthur is losing his voice, and I don’t want him to. His reputation dismantles his platform to speak at just about any conference. He has worked himself into a corner where every time he writes a book or opens his mouth, many of us say, “Oh no!” before anything else. His radio program is called “Grace to You” and we are often left thinking “grace to who?”

John MacArthur says the charismatic movement “blasphemes the Holy Spirit” and “attributes to the Holy Spirit even the work of Satan.” Maybe he should think about who is actually attributing the work of the Spirit to Satan. I am not a charismatic, but such a statement really scares me. And because of this it would seem (even though the conference is sold out) that John MacArthur may be losing his voice.”
(C. Michael Patton, “Why John MacArthur May Be Losing His Voice”, Reclaiming the Mind website, October 15, 2013)

“I’m not just talking from the sidelines as a bystander but as someone who has had a lot of experience and education in both [the Charismatic and Reformed] traditions and still embraces a respect for each while feeling free to critique both.

As I watched the video [of John MacArthur’s opening address at the “Strange Fire Conference”] I felt a growing anger as well as a disgust for what MacArthur was saying and how he was saying it. His speech is as lofty as his demeanor. His criticism of charismatics is as old as the charismatic movement itself. So it’s nothing new. It is a familiar flame. What I found dismaying is his complete dismissal of the movement and all its adherents in a single one hour dignified gesture. With one speech he purged the rolls of salvation of over 500 million believers.

Basically his argument is that charismatics dishonor God. Since they are therefore not in Christ, their theology is demonic. So since they are serving Satan and promoting him, there is a hotter hell reserved for them. He claims that the charismatic movement has done nothing to advance sound doctrine or biblical theology but in fact has caused more damage than anything else ever has because it has only delivered confusion, distortion and error to the church. He questions the church: You have always defended God. You have always defended Jesus Christ. Why do you not defend the Holy Spirit? Instead, the church opens the gates to the charismatics and they have taken over the city of God and set up an idol in its center. He doesn’t understand why God doesn’t just strike all these people down. He sadly supposes his ways aren’t our ways…

I’m not just angry. I’m not just disappointed. I’m sad. After watching MacArthur I was tempted to throw in the towel. Even though many people would distance themselves from MacArthur and his position on charismatics, it’s still a sign that the church and its leaders may use anything at their disposal to elevate themselves above their brothers and sisters, even if it means separating themselves from them forever.

I thought we were better than this.”
(David Hayward, “John MacArthur Sends 500,000,000 Charismatics to Hell”; nakedpastor website, October 18, 2013

“MacArthur’s latest book does not represent an honest search for truth. It is obvious that his mind was already made up when he began his research for Strange Fire, and he found what he was looking for. He presents a circular argument, beginning with a faulty premise and proceeding with selective anecdotal evidence that determines the outcome. He begins with a commitment to cessationism, the belief that the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit were withdrawn from the church after the death of the twelve apostles and the completion of the writings of the New Testament. Since that is the case for him, that means modern expressions of Spiritual gifts must be false. He then utilizes the selective anecdotal evidence to buttress his presupposition, which leads him back to his starting point of cessation.

It seems that MacArthur wants to believe the worst about the movement of which he writes. At times I felt he was embellishing the bad to make it even worse. For example, Oral Roberts was not a Christian brother with whom he had profound differences but a heretic who did much damage to the body of Christ, “the first of the fraudulent healers to capture TV, paving the way for the parade of spiritual swindlers who have come after him” (p.155). Make no mistake about it, MacArthur is not out to bring correction to a sector of Christianity with which he disagrees; his goal is to destroy a movement he considers false, heretical and dangerous.”
(Eddie L. Hyatt, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, Reviewed by Eddie L. Hyatt”, The Pneuma Review website, October 23, 2013)

And while Pastor Jack Hayford didn’t call out John MacArthur (who by the way he’s close personal friends with) directly, for anyone who’s read the Strange Fire book or watched the conference videos there’s no mistaking what prompted the following response:

“It is essential to note: as with any sector of the church, at times ungodly and wholly unworthy leaders rise and gain a following. From local pastorates to notable media ministries one can find shameful violations of the Word and personalities lauded as ‘anointed’ who ignore biblical standards regarding morality, financial accountability, and biblical integrity. Pop culture themes that compromise the whole truth of God’s Word on subjects that lead to human, financial, lifestyle, and attitudinal shoddiness are often paraded in the name of ‘charismatic.’ This is a tragic miscarriage of a biblically rooted word (charismata) and shameless rejection of the charismatic lifestyle modeled by the apostles’ own first-century ministry—one lived without compromise of truth, character, behavior, or morality, and devoid of any self-serving ways.

May it be known and affirmed here: such biblically inconsistent leaders, be they men or women, who violate God’s Word—and any who follow them—are not and should not (no matter what ‘signs following’ are claimed) be seen or understood to be a valid definition of what charismatic or Pentecostal life or leadership is about.

It is grieving to all who seek to live and walk in humility and holiness as members of the Spirit-filled community of believers, when there is evidence of a leader’s doctrinal, ecclesiastical, moral, or financial compromise, and yet nothing of confrontation, discipline, or disapproval appear to be administered. However, truth is that this is not at all the case among the vast majority of those within the Pentecostal or charismatic community. For the most part, existing denominations and structured nondenominational networks do administer correction and discipline, as well as directing recovery and restoration programs where repentance is shown by the errant or fallen.

The most flagrant cases of violation and neglect of discipline occur in the glaring instances where independent, self-directed, self-ruled, and self-governed leaders move. The absence of structures requiring accountability to fellow leaders, or the ‘cronyism’ of some who unite, but do so forming small circles of equally errant ministers who ‘measure themselves by themselves’ (2 Cor. 10:12) and smugly exercise a self-affirming tolerance and grace that refuses the legalism of critics; these are of the nature of those the Epistle of Jude identifies as ‘dreamers’ who ‘defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries,’ and as having ‘gone in the way of Cain, run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah . . . for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever’ (Jude 4-13, NKJV).

Further, it is an egregious exercise in unkindness when categorical charges or institutional ‘blackballing tactics’ are leveled against charismatics as though all are given to indifference concerning Bible interpretation or moral recklessness. Even those differing theologically know full well that such broad brush treatment is a violation of facts—that the few characterize neither the values nor lifestyle of the many, i.e., charismatics who love, honor, and live for Christ, the Lord of us all—charismatic or otherwise. May God extinguish the foul incense from the ‘strange fire’ offered by voices among leaders at either group’s altars, and may His ‘holy fire’ baptize us all with a fresh baptism of His unifying love, whatever our doctrinal differences.”
(Jack Hayford’s foreword for R.T. Kendall, “Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives”, Kindle Locations 3477-3504)

Recommended Reading
The following books have been written in response to “Strange Fire”. They offer a fuller, richer perspective on the book and address in greater detail MacArthur’s errors – up to and including his confirmation bias driven hard cessationist exegesis of scripture.

“Authentic Fire: A Response to John MacArthur’s Strange Fire” by Michael L. Brown
This book directly addresses the issues raised by the Strange Fire book, conference, and camp in a calm, even toned, and scholarly manner. (note: I have also reviewed this book)

“Holy Fire: A Balanced, Biblical Look at the Holy Spirit’s Work in Our Lives” by R.T. Kendall
A thoughtful scriptural exegetical response to MacArthur’s hard cessationist arguments from a theologian in the Reformed tradition who is Charismatic.

“The Essential Guide to the Power of the Holy Spirit: God’s Miraculous Gifts at Work Today” by Randy Clark
A combination defense of continuationism and practical, scriptural guidelines which, if followed, would eliminate would eliminate many of the abuses and excesses that MacArthur correctly criticizes in Strange Fire.

Christian Historian William De Arteaga’s short analysis of how John MacArthur abuses and misrepresents Church History in “Strange Fire” is very informative and enlightening.

William De Arteaga, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire as Parody of Jonathan Edwards’ Theology”, The Pneuma Review website, November 8, 2013

And, finally, while I would like to believe that my review is pretty good, I’m not sure that these reviews of John MacArthur’s last two Anti-Charismatic books can be topped. I’ve cited from some of them above but I encourage a full read in order to fully appreciate them for yourself: 

Craig S. Keener, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Craig S. Keener”, The Pneuma Review website, November 15, 2013

Monte Lee Rice, “John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Monte Lee Rice”, The Pneuma Review website, December 26, 2013

Rich Nathan, “Vineyard Position Paper #5: A Response to ‘Charismatic Chaos'”, April 1993

(this review was previously published on Goodreads and Amazon)

BACK TO TOP

ministry_logo-01_EDITED_REDby Fred W. Anson and Jackie Davidson
She was a really nice lady and a wonderful friend. But she wouldn’t stop talking about her “ministry”. He was a really great guy, warm, friendly, outgoing and really, genuinely cared about people. But he couldn’t stop talking about his “ministry”. I could stop right now and you could give us names, places, and “ministries” couldn’t you? That’s right even if we’ve never met, even if we live in different states, go to different churches and are theologically at odds we could both tell each other stories about Christians we’ve known that fit the scenario that I’ve just described. Isn’t that interesting?

Or how about this one?

She had a dramatic, born again experience. Her life was dramatically changed and she became a different person it seemed, almost instantly. There was no doubt that God had intervened like a bolt of lightning and performed a miracle. That was a month or two ago and now she was telling me, “I’ve just got to find my ministry!”

Sound familiar?
Maybe it was you.
Maybe it’s you right now.

Modern American Christians (we can’t speak for other cultures, we don’t know them well enough) are obsessed with finding, having, and growing their “ministry”. The lady that we described in our opening couldn’t tell you if the Book of Hebrews was in the Old or New Testament, couldn’t tell you why the doctrine of the Trinity was important, and thought that Joel Osteen was a wonderful man of God and gifted Bible teacher – and for the record, he’s a heretic. Another lady that we knew was bouncing from one seminary to another trying to get her credential so she could have a public “ministry” and start preaching at churches. All this while divorced and the single mother of two kids who, we suspect, were feeling the neglect that comes from being sacrificed for “ministry”.

Fred Anson was one of those kids. His father was in many ways a wonderful man but everything and everyone got sacrificed for his “ministry”. As his mother used to say, “Why is he down at the church building repairing a pipe when our pipes are leaking here at home? Why is he over at the house of the co-worker doing a remodel so he can witness to him when our house is falling apart?” And Fred would add, “Why was he always off doing volunteer work for children’s charities rather than explaining to his own kids how to survive in this broken and fallen world?” Oh yes, friends, we know all too well what happens when “ministry” becomes the ultimate thing in a Christian’s life. As well known Presbyterian Pastor Timothy Keller notes:

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give. . . .

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.

A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.1

"Counterfeit Gods" by Timothy Keller

“Counterfeit Gods” by Timothy Keller

Isn’t this really what’s so often happening with “ministry” these days in modern American Christian culture? We’ve turned a good thing into an ultimate thing – and by doing so have turned it into an idol. Thankfully Keller also gives the solution to the problem:

Idols cannot simply be removed. They must be replaced. If you only try to uproot them, they grow back; but they can be supplanted. By what? By God himself, of course. But by God we do not mean a general belief in his existence. Most people have that, yet their souls are riddled with idols. What we need is a living encounter with God.2

OK, the concept is good but how can we make this real? What worked for us was thinking through this whole “ministry” thing and coming to realize that the the word “ministry” simply means “to function in the office of a servant”. So if we’re “ministering” I’m really doing nothing more than serving – which is biblical, just as Bob Deffinbaugh explains:

The predominant word for ministry in the New Testament is diakoneo (the noun form of which is diakonia). From this root, the term, deacon, (in Greek, diakonos) is derived. One of many possible expressions, it most accurately conveys the New Testament function of ministry. Our Lord and the apostles employed diakoneo to invest ministry with a meaning to both the Jews, and the Greeks.

To the Greeks, there was no dignity in service. In the words of the Greek sophist:

“How can a man be happy when he has to serve someone?”

The only service deemed to be of high value was that rendered in behalf of the state.

How different was our Lord’s concept of the ministry:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served (passive form of diakoneo) but to serve (active form of diakoneo), and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Jesus taught His followers that serving was a vital part of discipleship:

“If anyone wants to serve (diakoneo) me, he must follow me, and where I am, my servant (diakonos) will be too. If anyone serves (diakoneo) me, the Father will honor him” (John 12:26).

In the teaching of Jesus, greatness was to be measured in terms of service:

“Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in high positions use their authority over them. But it is not this way among you. Instead whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant (diakonos), and whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of all” (Mark 10:42-44).

All of this invested New Testament ministry with a dignity unimagined by the Greeks of that day.3

So if one wants a “ministry” for any other reason other than out of an attitude of service something isn’t right. Further, the question is this, “service to who?” Trust us, we speak from hard experience when we say that it’s entirely possible to think that you’re serving others when you’re really just serving yourself. And we will state plainly that the praise and gratitude of those people that you help can be intoxicating! It can be easy to serve to get the high that comes from it. And yes, the recognition that one can get from “ministry” have you breathing rarefied air if you’re not careful – you might even start believing that you actually deserve the praise that you’re getting.

So tell me friend, who’s getting the glory there?

And here’s a question: Who gave you the talents that you’re now sharing with others? Remember this?

For the kingdom of heaven is like a man traveling to a far country, who called his own servants and delivered his goods to them. And to one he gave five talents, to another two, and to another one, to each according to his own ability; and immediately he went on a journey.
(Matthew 25:14-15 NKJV)

We are, of course, only speaking to ourselves since we know no one else has ever forgotten or taken for granted the fact that without the Master we would be nothing and have nothing. He owes us nothing, and we owe Him everything. So it’s only logical that when in service our attitude must always be, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30 NKJV) Friend, without Jesus we are nothing!

In the end the real question is this: Why do you need a “ministry” if you have a Master?

Dirck van Baburen, "Christ Washing the Apostles Feet" (c.1616)

Dirck van Baburen, “Christ Washing the Apostles Feet” (c.1616) Here Christian, is the Master’s ministry model.

The Way of The Master
Now here’s the thing about having a Master: He gets to tell you what to do when to do it, and how to do it. And, here’s the part that modern Christians don’t seem to like much, He can tell you when to stop or not do it all. Example, let’s consider the Apostle Paul.

While the exact chronology and dating of the events in the Apostle Paul’s life are still a topic of dispute among biblical scholars,4 the fact remains that there was a significant gap between when Paul became a Christian and when he became a missionary. Remember the Book of Acts covers events that occurred between around 30-62AD.5 That puts Paul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-9) around 33AD and his first call to missions (Acts 13:2-3) at about 47AD. Folks that’s a 14-year gap!

Think about that! Here is a guy who was schooled by one of the most famous and respected Jewish Rabbis not just of his time but of all time, Gamaliel (see Acts 22:3). A man to whom Jesus Christ personally appeared to in a vision and whose life Christ completely overturned and transformed. This is a guy that today would be on the Christian talk show, church, and book circuits within a year or two of his conversion. Yet what was the Master’s bidding during that 14-year period? What “ministry” did he have? Apparently, it was the “ministry” of being trained, equipped, and prepared for what was to come because once the Master said, “Go!” he went – and he performed masterfully when he did.

Still not convinced? Then let’s talk about this guy called Moses who spent 40-years exiled in the wilderness until God called him to his “ministry”.6 Or how about Abraham who had to wait for 19-years from the promise of Isaac until his birth?7 Or, last but not least, how about Christ – God incarnate – who had to wait for 30-years for His “ministry” only to have it last 3-years? The way of the Master is not our way my friend – it’s far better!

Yes, it’s tempting for a new Christian to want to go into some sort of ministry. Baby Christians are on fire for the Lord. They want to spread their new found joy to everyone. And this is especially true for former Mormons or those who come from other works-based religions. Ex-Mormons are used to having their Bishop tell them what to do – and remember in Mormonism if you say no to a calling there will be hell to pay down the road. So when Ex-Mormons become Christian, if they’re asked they just say yes to everything. Their pastor loves it! However, a year later they end up with too many ministries, an overloaded plate, and none of it being done well. Plus they are not doctrinally trained enough to actually minister to others.

And we could talk about all those “zombie” Facebook groups that were started and then abandoned because someone who just had to have a “ministry” created the group on a whim. Then they discovered the hard way that they weren’t equipped to lead or sustain such an endeavor either practically or theologically. So there the group sits, doing nothing, going nowhere, benefiting no one, crickets chirping, existing but not alive. If there were dust, rust, and wood-rot in cyberspace it would be covered with it.8

Finally, since it’s so common, we want to warn our transitioning Mormon friends about well-meaning Christians who will try to turn them into weapons against Mormonism immediately after they leave the LdS Church. This isn’t idle speculation – expect it, it will happen. Simply put, don’t listen to them.

Consider this: Could Christ have had a better weapon than Paul against the apostate Judaism of his day? Or a better weapon than Moses, a former Prince, against pagan Egypt for that matter? Yet the Master waited until they were properly equipped and trained before He missioned them – think about that my friend. We know that it is so, so, so easy to pick up the sword against the LdS Church after you exit and even easier to swing it, but here’s a word of advice learned from hard experience: Don’t.9

"Moses Flees" (unknown artist)

“Moses Flees” (unknown artist) Can anyone else relate to what Moses must have been feeling here?

Equipping the Saints (and Other Stuff That Everyone Seems to Want to Ignore)
We have seen a lot of harm come from Baby Christians (and sorry Ex-Mormon but after you exit you are a baby Christian no matter how long you were in the LdS Church and what your callings were) who have no firm theological foundation, don’t know their Bible, have no knowledge of proper hermeneutics, Christian Church history, historic Christian orthodoxy, modern Christian culture, or even proper Christian terminology, create a “ministry” for themselves. We have seen them destroy their own faith while they’re destroying the faith of others – usually taking themselves and their parishioners and into the morass of atheism. We have seen them alienate themselves from the community of saints due to their unteachable attitudes and recalcitrant behavior. We have even seen them end their own marriages because they were so driven to have a “ministry” that they ran over their spouse. We have seen them do exactly as Jesus said they would:

“They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”
(Matthew 15:14 NKJV)

Ironically, even the infidels know better than to act with such folly! One of Fred’s mentors – an apostate, cultural Jew – once challenged him with this, “How do you know what to do about what’s going on until you know what’s going on?” And in a similar vein, a secular, materialist, agnostic mentor, counseled him to, “Do nothing for the first 90-days except watch, listen, and learn. That way you’ll know exactly what to do on day 91.” This, of course, is nothing more than an echo of the biblical wisdom which says:

“Fools think their own way is right,
but the wise listen to others.”
(Proverbs 12:15 NLT)

“A wise man doesn’t display his knowledge,
but a fool displays his foolishness.”
(Proverbs 12:23 TLB)

“Sensible people always think before they act,
but stupid people advertise their ignorance.”
(Proverbs 13:16 GNT)

“Become wise by walking with the wise;
hang out with fools and watch your life fall to pieces.”
(Proverbs 13:20 The Message)

“Fools have no interest in understanding;
they only want to air their own opinions.”
(Proverbs 18:2 NLT)

So you want a ministry? Here’s a tip, change the 90-days to 9-years from Fred’s secular mentor’s advice and wait patiently on the Lord while you’re doing it. And if you have any questions while you’re waiting just open up your Bible and start reading. But trust us, friend, while you’re waiting you will still have plenty to do – life happens!

"Christ Washing The Feet of His Disciples" (unknown artist) Mosiac, Basilica di San Marco, Venice

“Christ Washing The Feet of His Disciples” (unknown artist) Mosiac, Basilica di San Marco, Venice

Equipped But Not Called
It’s also common for mature Christians to try to make those that they haven’t really been called to, a target for “ministry”. They do so by not spending the time required to learn the worldview and theology of the people that they’re approaching. Instead, they just go out and act as if these people are clones of them self. As Nancy Pearcey observes:

What would you think of a missionary in a Muslim country who refused to learn about Muslim culture? He would not be very effective in communicating a biblical message. Cultivating a missional mind-set means being willing to learn both the language and the thought patterns of our mission field.

When Paul said, “I have become all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22), he did not mean dressing like the locals. Nor was he embracing cultural relativism. Instead he was taking the assumptions of his audience into consideration in his language and approach. He tried to see the world through their eyes so he could communicate more persuasively.10

The harm that this presumption causes is unbelievable. We have seen one transitioning Mormon after another driven into atheism due to well meaning but ignorant and culturally insensitive Christians disrespecting and offending them in this manner. They figure that if Christians can’t be bothered to learn about them then obviously Christianity doesn’t have anything to say to them. And frankly, we don’t blame them having once been on the receiving end of this closed-minded, myopic, and often bigoted, behavior ourselves. If you have any doubts about this just go up on just about any Mormon/Evangelical internet discussion board and you’ll see it. If that doesn’t do it then go on YouTube and watch the “Street Screechers” driving Mormons away from God and deeper into Mormonism on Temple Square.

Simply put dear mature Christian brother or sister, taking it upon yourself to go into “ministry” without the proper equipping, training, and divine calling is not only poor stewardship of your talents, it can actually harm the very people that you think you’re helping. Whether it’s people in Africa, the homeless, or well to do Ex-Mormons, they are precious souls to be loved and cared for. It is extremely important that the person who is shepherding these people be prepared to shepherd them in accordance with the Golden Rule. And if all this has made you realize that you need more time to prepare yourself for the mission field then just sit back and rest in the arms of the Lord while He prepares you like He did Paul.

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!
(Psalm 27:14 NKJV) 

Have you not known?
Have you not heard?
The everlasting God, the Lord,
The Creator of the ends of the earth,
Neither faints nor is weary.
His understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the weak,
And to those who have no might He increases strength.
Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
(Isaiah 40:28-31 NKJV)

Further, the Bible tells us both plainly and repeatedly that we are to be under pastoral oversight not just in our ministry but in general.11 Be accountable, be teachable, be shepherded yourself. Never stop researching and pray for God’s guidance constantly. If and when the Master says “Go!” then go. If and when the Master says, “Stop” then stop. If He says, “Speak” then speak. And if He says, “Be quiet” then stop speaking and remain silent. After all, friend this really isn’t your “ministry” at all is it? It’s His, always has been, always will be. So say it with me, dear Christian:

“I have no ministry, I have the Master. And that’s enough.”

servant

NOTES
1 Timothy Keller, “Counterfeit Gods”, pp.xvii-xviii
2 Ibid, Chapter 7
3 Bob Deffinbaugh, “The Meaning of New Testament Ministry”
4 Timeline of the Apostle Paul
5 Chronology of Acts and the Epistles
6 Exodus Bible Timeline
7 Complete Bible Timeline
8 And by the way, before you start one yourself, speaking as people who have been administrating multiple Facebook groups over a number of years (and have the scars to prove it) please know there’s a reason why they call Internet administration, “feeding the beast” when it comes to providing content and “taming the beast” when it comes to monitoring and administrating it. It’s not for the fainthearted or ill-equipped!
9 Please see Fred W. Anson’s article, “On Taking Up The Sword” for a fuller explanation and caution on this. Want to guarantee that you will remain a Baby Christian forever our newly exited Ex-Mormon friend? No problem, just pick up that sword and start swinging it!
10 Nancy Pearcey, “Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes”, p.250, Kindle Edition. In specific regard to Mormonism, the reader may also be interested in Fred Anson’s article, ‘Weak Arguments #9: “I don’t need to understand Mormon culture or learn how to speak like a Mormon…”’
11 Please consider the following:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
(Hebrews 13:17-21 ESV) 

“Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.”
(Proverbs 27:17 ESV)

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
(Galatians 6:1-2 ESV)

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
(Matthew 18:15-17 ESV)

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
(James 5:16 ESV)

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
(Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV)

“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
(James 5:19-20 ESV)

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
(Ephesians 4:25 ESV)

“For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.”
(Romans 12:3-8 NKJV)

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