Archive for the ‘Confirmation Bias’ Category

451118Reviewed by Rich Nathan

Title: Charismatic Chaos
Author: John F. MacArthur, Jr.
Publisher: Zondervan
Genre: Non-fiction, Religion
Year Published: 1992
Length: 308 pages
Binding: Hardcover, Paperback, Sermon Audio Series
ISBN10: 0310575702
ISBN13: 978-0310575702
Price: $15.99 (Hardcover),  $9.99 (Trade Paperback), $1.99 (Pocket Paperback)

Editor’s Introduction: Why is Beggar’s Bread is republishing a book review that’s now close to a quarter of a century old and that discusses personalities, issues, that are now either dead or passe’?  Well as George Orwell said so profoundly, “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” (“1984”, Kindle location 492). And if John MacArthur’s use of revisionist polemic history in his latest Anti-Charismatic book “Strange Fire” is any indication (see “Selective use of history” Craig S. Keener’s review for specifics), this is a concept that he understands very well. Further, “Strange Fire” (352 pages, circa 2013) was essentially just an expanded and updated version of “Charismatic Chaos” (308 pages, circa 1992), just it was essentially just an expanded and updated version of his very first Anti-Charismatic book, “The Charismatics: A Doctrinal Perspective” (224 pages, circa 1978). And as is so often the case, history has a way of unraveling mystery. In this case the mystery of John MacArthur’s Anti-Charismatic obsession is no exception when fully considered in its full historical context. — Fred W. Anson

There is a woman in our church who was diagnosed as having heart problems about five years ago. Her doctor prescribed heart medication for her condition. Unfortunately, the woman got sicker and sicker. She began to retain water, her skin began to crack, she was frequently depressed, and there were days when she could not get out of bed. Her physician tried a variety of medications, but the woman grew steadily worse.

After four years of being treated for a heart problem, the woman went to another physician who flatly stated that she had no heart problem at all. In fact, the woman was a diabetic and needed insulin for her diabetes. After a very short time of taking insulin, the woman felt remarkably better. She was no longer depressed, she did not retain water, her skin cleared up, and she had a normal energy level again.

This story, though true, serves as a parable for John MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1992). MacArthur is like the first physician as he examines the charismatic movement. It’s clear to him that something is wrong with the charismatic movement. He sees some of the symptoms of illness, but he completely misdiagnoses the reasons for the illness. And his prescription is, frankly, designed to kill the patient.

I personally agree with a number of points in MacArthur’s book. Like many Christians, I too have grave problems with the prosperity message and the positive confession movement. Suffering, as much as faith, is an integral part of the Christian life (Phil. 1:29). I also share the general disgust that most Christians have for those television evangelists who are simply money-grubbers. Like my colleagues in the Vineyard, I oppose a view of spirituality that eliminates the maturing effect of traditional means of sanctification, such as Bible study, prayer and fellowship. And I hate the hyped testimonies of alleged “healings” that evaporate upon honest investigation.

This book, however, is particularly difficult to read for a number of reasons. MacArthur has the unfortunate weakness of exaggerating his opponents’ faults. Not only is the bizarre and the quirky repeatedly emphasized, but 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.

John MacArthur circa 1992.

John MacArthur circa 1992.

Excessive dogmatism is another fault of MacArthur’s book. He lumps heresies, such as the view that human beings can share the deity of Christ, together with questions that should be open for discussion, such as “does the gift of tongues exist today?” Since MacArthur is dogmatic about virtually everything he says (something is either “Biblical” or “patently unbiblical” in MacArthur’s book), he leaves absolutely no room for the reader to disagree and yet still be viewed as orthodox.

Indeed, in MacArthur’s world, there does not seem to be any legitimate debate about almost any theological issue within Christian orthodoxy. This leads to the troubling conclusion that either MacArthur is unaware of most of the church’s history and the legitimacy of differing Biblical viewpoints other than one’s own, or he believes that he has received some special revelation regarding what is the truth about all matters. In either case, who can fault the reader for being turned off by MacArthur’s excessive dogmatism?

There’s another problem of lumping heresies together with matters that should be regarded as debatable by orthodox Christians: by shooting at every rabbit, MacArthur fails to ever bag the really big game. The big game involves the packaging of Christianity to suit the taste and appetites of the American consumer or the necessities of the television medium. A person in Missouri who believes a chicken was raised from the dead is hardly a national religious phenomenon. Consumer centered “Christianity” is, however, a major problem for the church in the 90s (II Tim. 4:3).

Finally, by way of introduction, 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. 1:2).

I. Arguing Against Straw Men
Throughout this entire book, MacArthur has chosen to exaggerate the weaknesses of the charismatic viewpoint by selecting examples of the worst or the weakest of charismatic proponents rather than the best. Examples of this technique, fighting against the weakest of his opponents, are too numerous to exhaustively catalogue (since this flaw repeatedly runs through the entirety of Charismatic Chaos). However, I will, for the sake of fairness, mention just five examples to prove my point.

A. Do Kindergarten Sunday School materials fairly represent the charismatic movement?
In his chapter titled, “Is the Gift of Tongues for Today,” MacArthur begins with a quote from charismatic Sunday school literature designed to teach kindergarten children to speak in tongues. He writes,

‘[This literature designed for kindergarten children] is titled “I’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit!!!” and is an eight page coloring book. One page has a caricature of a smiling weight-lifter with a T-shirt that says, “Spirit Man.” Under him is printed “1 Corinthians 14:4 – He that speaks in an unknown tongue builds himself up.”

Another page features a boy that looks like Howdy Doody with his hands lifted up. A dotted outline pictures where his lungs would be. (This evidently represents his spirit.) Inside the lung-shaped diagram is printed, “Bah-le odma ta lah-se ta no-mo.”‘

After describing this kindergarten book for children, MacArthur summarizes his view of the matter saying, “That expresses the typical charismatic perspective” (emphasis added).

It hardly needs stating that a comic book designed for children in kindergarten is not the best or most sophisticated theological thinking on a subject. Obviously, a thorough study of Sunday school literature for kindergartners in noncharismatic churches might similarly find unsophisticated explanations of a whole range of doctrines dear to most Christians. The only conceivable reason for using this kind of example is to portray charismatics as moronic. Why did he not, rather, tackle more scholarly expositions of the phenomenon of tongues by such people as Russell Spittler, Gordon Fee, Killian McDonnell, or Kevin Ranaghan? It certainly is not to MacArthur’s credit to argue against Sunday school material rather than serious scholarly work.

B. Are charismatics anti-medicine?
In his chapter on healing titled “Does God Still Heal?” MacArthur opens with the tragedy of Hobart Freeman’s “Glory Barn.” He describes Freeman’s extreme belief that submitting to a doctor’s remedy was to expose oneself to demonic influence. He then mentions that over the years, “at least ninety church members died as a result of ailments that would have been easily treatable” (p. 194). His use of Freeman as an opening example seems to imply that Freeman is somehow representative of mainstream charismatic or Pentecostal teaching about healing. MacArthur ought to know that this is absolutely untrue. Instead of beginning his chapter with Hobart Freeman, (giving the impression that this is mainstream thinking in the charismatic movement) why not, rather, open with the more thoughtful proponents of divine healing such as John Wimber, Francis MacNutt, or even 19th century proponents of divine healing such as A.J. Gordon, Andrew Murray, or A.B. Simpson? No mainstream charismatic or Pentecostal proponent of healing subscribes to the antimedicine views popularized by Hobart Freeman. Indeed, Freeman’s severest critics have come from within the charismatic camp!

NOTE: This shrine is now closed.

The Tortilla Shrine that John MacArthur makes such a fuss about. (click for details). By the way, Maria Rubio of Lake Arthur, New Mexico is a non-Charismatic Catholic.

C. Do charismatics build shrines to tortillas?
In his chapter titled “Does God Do Miracles Today”, MacArthur begins with the bizarre story of Maria Rubio of Lake Arthur, New Mexico, who was frying tortillas in her kitchen when she noticed that one of them seemed to have the likeness of a face etched in burn marks. She concluded that it was Jesus and even built a crude shrine for the tortilla. Thousands of people visited the “Shrine of the Jesus of the Holy Tortilla” and concluded that it was, indeed, a modern day miracle. “I do not know why this happened to me,” Mrs. Rubio said, “but God has come into my life through this tortilla” (p. 107). MacArthur goes on to record another bizarre story of a man who discovered an image of Jesus on the side of a pizzeria in Deptforth Township, New Jersey. In considering whether God performs miracles after the apostolic era closed, why not, rather, interact with a long line of defenders of miracles in the church’s history going back to Justin Martyr, The Shepherd of Hermas, Irenaeus, or even St. Augustine in his “Retractions?” The reader searches in vain for any meaningful interaction in this book with the best proponents of post-apostolic miracles.

D. Do charismatics deny the authority of Scripture?
In his chapter titled, “Prophets, Fanatics, or Heretics?” MacArthur goes beyond portraying charismatics as fools to lumping them together with cult leaders such as Sun Myung Moon, Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, Edgar Cayce, and L. Ron Hubbard. MacArthur, again, never lets the mainstream of the Pentecostal or charismatic movement speak for itself, preferring, rather, to pretend that high views of Scripture’s authority are non-existent in the movement. He even asserts that “charismatic celebrities barely even give lip service to Biblical authority” (p. 17). Perhaps celebrities (I don’t know to whom he is referring) have not given lip service. The mainstream certainly has spoken volumes.

The mainstream is well represented by the Assemblies of God statement on Scripture that reads: “The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible authoritative rule of faith and conduct (2 Tim. 3:15-17; 1 Thess. 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21).” Noteworthy is the conservative belief in Scripture’s “verbal inspiration.” Indeed, the Assemblies of God church became the largest member church of the National Association of Evangelicals shortly after the NAE’s founding in 1942. An Assemblies pastor was chosen president of the NAE in 1960. Its conservative evangelical pedigree should thus be assured to all but the most suspicious critics.

To preserve conformity with this Statement of Faith and historic orthodoxy, the Assemblies of God set up a Commission on Doctrinal Purity to review possibly deviant teachings of individual ministries. In examining the movement as a whole, Russell Spittler, a New Testament professor at Fuller Theological Seminary and a recognized scholar regarding Pentecostal spirituality, calls belief in the Bible’s ultimate authority one of the most significant traits of Pentecostal and charismatic spirituality.

J. Rodman Williams in the introduction of volume one of his Renewal Theology affirms the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the objective rule of Christian truth. As a professor of theology at Regent University (a charismatic institution) Dr. Williams is a credible voice for the charismatic point of view regarding the authority of the Scripture. He writes,

“To be sure, the Holy Spirit guides into all truth, and the Christian community profoundly knows the things of God through the indwelling Spirit; however, there is the continuing need for the authority of Holy Scripture. Without such, because of human fallibility, truth soon becomes compounded with error. “What does the Scripture say?” is the critical question that must undergird all theological work.

It should be immediately added that there can be no basic difference between the truth the Christian community knows through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and what is set forth in Scripture. Since all Scripture is “God-breathed” (which means “God Spirited”) or Spirit given, it is the same Holy Spirit at work in both Scripture and community. However, in terms of that which is authorative and therefore normative, what is written in Scripture always has the primacy. It tests and judges every affirmation of faith and doctrine.”

In the book titled, Pentecostal Preaching, by R.H. Hughes, Hughes sets forth several of the basics of Pentecostal preaching. Hughes’ first major point is that true Pentecostal preaching centers on the Word of God. He states:

“Pentecostals have been so identified by an emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit that some observers overlook the fact that a cardinal principle of Pentecostalism has always been strict adherence, first and foremost, to the Bible. For one properly to understand the role of Pentecostal preaching, this basic first principle – the centrality of the Word of God – will have to be kept in mind… For Pentecostals today the Word is central in all life practices as well as to all doctrine. It is both the manual by which to operate and the standard by which to judge. To think otherwise, or to try to understand Pentecostalism from any other perspective, is erroneous.”

Hughes goes on to state that Pentecostal preaching must always exalt Jesus Christ. He states that preaching that extols anything “other than the grace manifested in the person and work of Jesus Christ is not Pentecostal preaching no matter how it is labeled.”

E. Do charismatics believe “zapping” results in instant sanctification?
In his chapter “What is True Spirituality?” MacArthur states:

“For the typical charismatic, the gateway to spirituality is through an experience, usually speaking in tongues. The term actually used by some charismatics is “zapped.” It accurately describes the way most charismatics view sanctification. People in my congregation tell me when they have talked with charismatics about spirituality and have admitted that they have never had an ecstatic experience, the charismatic person would say, “Well, may Jesus zap you!”‘

I have been around thousands of charismatics and Pentecostals in my life and I have never met anyone who has ever said, “May Jesus zap you!” Why did MacArthur choose to use such ludicrous language in arguing against a subsequent experience of the Holy Spirit? Why not, rather, deal with the best proponents of post-salvation experiences of the Holy Spirit such as Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones, D.L. Moody, John Wesley, or R.A. Torrey? Indeed, one can search long and hard in MacArthur’s book and never discover that many (presumably non-tongue speakers) have believed in subsequent experiences of the Holy Spirit that they labeled the “Baptism with the Holy Spirit.” And sadly, this demonstrates MacArthur’s repeated tendency to deal with the weakest rather than the strongest of his opponents and their arguments.

MacArthur further shows a profound ignorance of charismatic and Pentecostal doctrine when he suggests that “the charismatic movement has flourished primarily because it promises a shortcut to spiritual maturity…. Is there really a shortcut to sanctification?…. Many charismatics insist that once you get the baptism of the Spirit, spirituality is yours.” MacArthur clearly does not understand what the vast majority of charismatics and Pentecostals teach regarding the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. While the holiness variety of Pentecostalism does teach a second definite work – a post-conversion cleansing experience that enhances personal holiness – these holiness churches do not call that the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit.” Even among Pentecostal holiness churches, the Baptism in the Holy Spirit is provided not for personal holiness, but for empowerment for Christian service – such as for missionary evangelism or pastoral leadership. But apart from the holiness churches, the main body of charismatics and Pentecostals view sanctification along Reformed lines, progressing from conversion to death via traditional means of sanctification such as prayer, Bible study, fellowship, and service.

If MacArthur studied the matter, he could read numerous documents suggesting a Reformed viewpoint regarding sanctification from the International Church of the Four Square Gospel, The Assemblies of God churches, and The Open Bible Standard churches. This Reformed emphasis is also found in Vineyard churches.

In sum, MacArthur is really fighting a paper tiger when he suggests that Pentecostals or charismatics believe the “Baptism in the Spirit” or speaking in tongues provides instant spirituality. Mainstream Pentecostals and charismatics teach no such thing. Even in popular books of Pentecostal teaching, there is a clearly noted distinction between spiritual gifts and spiritual fruit. Yet MacArthur is content to leave a false and misleading impression among those not familiar with Pentecostal and charismatic teaching.

F. Why should MacArthur stop fighting straw men?
Because Charismatic Chaos is so severely marred by the technique of arguing against straw men, perhaps it would be helpful to suggest three reasons why MacArthur ought to abandon this argumentative style (which unfortunately characterizes nearly all his writings).

1. The same technique can be applied to modern fundamentalism of which MacArthur is a representative and to Christianity in general.
One would not have to search too hard to find fundamentalists who believe in an especially inspired King James Version, a dictation theory of inspiration, or who have written fantastic books of prophetic schemes regarding the Middle East, which have proven to be absolutely false. Likewise, false and foolish statements from sincere nonfundamentalist Christians abound. Yet, it would be totally unfair to charge the best proponents of fundamentalism or Christianity with holding the views of their less sophisticated or educated brethren.

2. By arguing with the weakest of your opponents, one proves absolutely nothing.
One may appear to win, but the victory is false and hollow. The already convinced will applaud MacArthur and thank him for his thoughtful analysis (p. 13), but more objective observers watching the battle can rightly conclude that MacArthur either did not understand his opponents’ better arguments or did not have the ammunition to defeat them.

3. Perhaps most serious of all, arguing against straw men is unbefitting of a mature Christian.
Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Pinning a position to a Christian brother that he does not hold just to make him look foolish (or to win a cheap victory) is not just, merciful, nor does it display humility before God. After reading MacArthur’s book it could be asked: What price such a Pyrrhic victory?

II. The Tendency To Use Negative Labels
Perhaps the worst flaw in MacArthur’s argumentative style is his tendency to label his opponents with excessively negative and pejorative adjectives. MacArthur wonders in his introduction why he has received such strident opposition to his books from charismatics. He suggests, “The Biblical challenge is not to avoid truth that is controversial, but to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). I have endeavored to do that.” Is this, indeed, true? Has MacArthur endeavored, throughout his book, to “speak the truth in love?” He goes on to say that “most charismatics fall back on the all too easy defense that virtually every critique of their movement is unfair and unkind. Non-charismatics, intimidated by that accusation, are effectively silenced.” Perhaps MacArthur would understand why charismatics find it difficult to receive his message if he would go through his book, page by page, and simply note the disparaging labels he used and the accusations he made of his opponents’ motivations, intelligence, and orthodoxy.

John MacArthur in a 1992 video.

John MacArthur in a 1992 video. (click to see excerpts – which occur later in the presentation)

In his chapter on the Third Wave, MacArthur accuses the Third Wave of “rolling like a destructive tsunami, leaving chaos and confusion in its wake” (p.131); toning down his [Wimber’s] claims because he was being observed by objective observers (p. 133); badly corrupting the message of the gospel (p. 136); pragmatism (p. 141); being un-Biblical (p. 142); not believing in the deity of Christ (p. 143); being syncretistic (p. 148); and, engaged in a carefully crafted image that is the result of a skillful marketing campaign, attempting to sell the movement to noncharismatic evangelicals (p. 148).

In other places in Charismatic Chaos, he accuses charismatics and Pentecostals of being immoral (p. 21); “keen but clueless” (p. 40); anti-intellectual (p. 40); not far removed from existentialism, humanism, paganism (p.41); and, being “perilously close to neo-baalism” (p.43). It is difficult to dialogue with somebody who is as abusive and caustic as MacArthur is in his attacks on charismatics. He expresses surprise that charismatics become defensive when he simply “speaks the truth in love” to them. Perhaps if MacArthur stopped labeling and vilifying charismatics, they might find it easier to listen to him. (Later on I will devote an entire section to MacArthur’s charges against John Wimber).

Moreover, MacArthur uses terms such as “neo-orthodox” and “Roman Catholic” in describing some of the tendencies of the charismatic movement. Unfortunately, MacArthur displays no real appreciation of just what neo-orthodoxy or Roman Catholicism is about. His understanding of neo-orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism is superficial and entirely negative. While he may have read a book by Karl Barth or Emil Brunner, no one would believe that after reading his remarks on neo-orthodoxy. Likewise, he displays no current understanding of Roman Catholicism as treated by men like Hans Kung. For MacArthur, neo- orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are simply negative labels to be pinned to the chests of charismatics.

III. Fallacies Of Causation
It is commonplace in philosophy to distinguish between causation and correlation. Because A and B happen near each other, does not mean that A caused B. Thus if the stock market goes up the same day the Yankees win, it does not mean the Yankees’ victory caused the stock market rise.

A. Does charismatic belief cause immoral behavior?
Throughout MacArthur’s book, he regularly charges charismatics and Pentecostals with every type of sin imaginable. Thus, in MacArthur’s first chapter, he mentions the appalling sex scandals that have occurred among ostensibly Spirit-filled charismatic leaders. In an especially hysterical paragraph, MacArthur states:

“…such scandals are the legacy of a movement that touts spectacular signs and wonders as the only irrefutable verification of true spirituality. To authenticate their claims, some charismatic leaders resort to fraudulent or simulated ‘miracles.’ Spirituality is viewed as an external issue; godly character is nonessential to those who believe supernatural phenomena validate their claims to speak for God. Such a system breeds duplicity, trickery, charlatanism, and fraud..”

While MacArthur goes on to say he is not attempting to charge all charismatics with the broad brush of immorality or charlatanism, clearly he believes there is a causal connection between charismatic beliefs and sexual immorality, and fraud.

Unfortunately, MacArthur never demonstrates biblically how belief in tongues or the “Baptism in the Holy Spirit,” makes one more susceptible to immorality or chicanery. No empirical evidence is cited that charismatic and Pentecostal pastors or leaders are more susceptible to immorality than noncharismatic leaders and pastors. Televangelists’ well-publicized sins do not necessarily translate down to the man or woman in the pews or the shepherd caring for those men and women. In fact, sexual immorality is among the most abhorrent sins in the culturally conservative Pentecostal movement.

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.

B. Does belief in all the Biblical gifts of the Spirit cause sloppy exegesis?
MacArthur devotes the better part of a chapter to describing exegetical weaknesses in charismatic literature, and suggests that there is a causal connection between belief in charismatic experiences and sloppy exegesis. Yet, in his chapter, he never tells us why someone who believes in the present day existence of all the gifts of the Spirit, including tongues, would be any more likely to exegete his or her Bible more sloppily than someone who doesn’t believe in the present existence of these gifts. Indeed, Gordon Fee, the well-known Pentecostal Bible scholar, wrote (with Douglas Stuart) one of the best popular books on Bible interpretation, How to Read the Bible For All Its Worth. Again, there is no empirical evidence cited for more sloppiness in exegesis among charismatics than among noncharismatics. A casual survey of Christian bookstores would yield shelves of books produced by noncharismatics on topics like eschatology, counseling, and men’s and women’s roles based on extremely questionable exegetical methods. D.A. Carson, a noncharismatic, wrote an entire book titled Exegetical Fallacies (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984), in which he cites example after example of fallacious arguments made in popular Christian books. Most of the examples that Carson cites are from noncharismatic sources.

MacArthur himself falls prey to many of the errors that he claims are the special purview of charismatics. While MacArthur yielded to the temptation to tar the charismatic movement with poor interpretive methods, sloppy exegesis – like sexual immorality – knows no denominational bounds. It cannot be laid at the feet of any period in church history (it is found in all periods), nor can it be laid at the feet of any particular denomination (all the denominations fall short of perfectly interpreting the scriptures).

C. Do charismatic churches produce spiritual casualties?
MacArthur states:

“Charismatic chaos is usually not physically fatal, but the movement is littered with spiritual casualties. I received a letter from a Christian man whose wife became entangled with a fanatic charismatic assembly. He wrote me for counsel, brokenhearted, “She got involved with a group of charismatic women and they convinced her I was not saved since I didn’t speak in tongues, etc. as they taught her to do… finally, she left and filed for divorce two months ago. It will soon be final.”‘

Again, no empirical evidence is cited to show either that people who are charismatics are more likely (than non-charismatics) to divorce. Nor is there any evidence that the charismatic movement is “more littered with spiritual casualties” than non-charismatics. Indeed, if the findings of books such as Toxic Faith Understanding and Overcoming Religious Addiction (Nashville: Oliver-Nelson, 1991) are taken as accurate, fundamentalist churches often produce at least as many spiritual casualties as charismatic churches. Sadly, there are dozens of Fundamentalist Anonymous groups nationwide and the Christian Research Institute has received many reports of “casualties” from non-charismatic churches. In any case, there does not appear to be any causal connection between mainstream charismatic beliefs and becoming a spiritual casualty.

IV. False Models and False Questions
In chapter 9, titled “Does God Still Heal?” MacArthur lays out a six-pronged test, supposedly derived from the Bible to evaluate whether someone possesses a true gift of healing. The model includes the following:

1. Jesus (and the Apostles) healed with a word or a touch.
2. Jesus (and the Apostles) healed instantly.
3. Jesus (and the Apostles) healed totally.
4. Jesus (and the Apostles) healed everyone.
5. Jesus (and the Apostles) healed organic diseases.
6. Jesus (and the Apostles) raised the dead.

To this list, MacArthur added a seventh point: Jesus (and the Apostles) could use their miraculous gifts at will.

As MacArthur applies his supposedly biblically derived model he finds (not surprisingly) that modern healers do not meet the Biblical tests as outlined above. Many modern healings are delayed or are partial. Beyond that, no one heals everyone and there are few verified reports of raisings from the dead. Therefore, MacArthur concludes, whatever the source of the so-called modern gift of healing, it cannot be of God. MacArthur’s use of a self-constructed model to prove his case may indicate the contrived nature of this form of argumentation. Beyond this, model construction is a game that anyone can play. There is no necessary (or Biblical) requirement to use the criteria for healing that MacArthur supposedly distilled from the scriptures. Indeed, one could quite reasonably construct a “Biblical” model that would embrace, or would validate the current claim of healing gifts. For example, the criteria for evaluating a healing gift might be:

1. Jesus (and the Apostles) gave glory to God whenever a person was healed.
2. Jesus (and the Apostles) general healed people not to prove anything about themselves but from a motive of compassion.
3. In every healing faith is required either in the person being healed or in the person praying for the healing or a third party (e.g., the paralytic’s friends; Jairus’s daughter).
4. Jesus (and the Apostles) were selective in their choice of whom to heal.

Each of my criteria can easily be derived from scripture.

A decade has passed since the silliness of model making was pressed home to me while carrying on a discussion with a Muslim. A Muslim, whom I was attempting to evangelize, tried to prove to me that Mohammed, and not Jesus, was the Prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy 18. In Deuteronomy 18, verse 15, Moses said, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.” The Muslim man said, “Mohammed is like Moses and is, therefore, the Prophet. But Jesus is not like Moses.” I asked, “On what basis do you make this assertion?” He answered, “Well, first, Moses was a political leader and Mohammed was a political leader. But Jesus was not a political leader. Secondly, Moses fought military campaigns, Mohammed fought military campaigns, but Jesus did not fight military campaigns. Third, Moses was a shepherd. Mohammed was a shepherd, but Jesus was not a shepherd. Fourth, Moses spent many years in the desert. Mohammed spent many years in the desert, but Jesus spent almost no time in the desert.” To this list, he added several other criteria that he felt proved his case almost completed.

My response to his self-constructed model was to point out that his criteria were not necessarily the only criteria to evaluate “the Prophet’s” likeness to Moses. I gave him my own “off-the-cuff” criteria. First, Moses was a Jew. Jesus was a Jew, but Mohammed was not a Jew. Second, Moses had a beard. Jesus had a beard, but Mohammed did not have a beard. Third, Moses was nearly killed at birth by an evil king. Jesus was nearly killed at birth by an evil king, but Mohammed was not threatened at birth by an evil king. I could go on, but I think the point of the foolishness of these kinds of arguments is made!

More importantly, MacArthur fails to see that the Biblical evidence doesn’t even fit his own self-constructed model. For example, under criterion number 4, MacArthur states that the Apostles were able to heal anyone. Yet, Paul, who had a Biblical gift of healing, states in 2 Timothy 4:20, “…I left Trophimus sick in Miletus.” Why didn’t Paul heal Trophimus rather than leave him, presumably to recuperate, if, as MacArthur states, the Apostles were able to heal anyone? Paul himself claims that the reason he ended up in Galatia was because of a personal illness (that he apparently he could not heal himself). In Galatians 4:13-14, Paul writes, “As you know, it was because of an illness that I first preached the gospel to you. Even though my illness was a trial to you, you did not treat me with contempt or scorn.”

Finally, MacArthur seems to poke fun at John Wimber for claiming to have the gift of healing while having to acknowledge his own personal heart condition. The same embarrassment can apparently be laid at the feet of Paul.

V. Do Charismatic Media Personalities Fairly Represent the Mainstream Movement?
A person does not have to read MacArthur’s book too long before coming to the conclusion that MacArthur’s understanding of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements is an outsider’s viewpoint that has been chiefly informed by over- exposure to charismatic media. In short, MacArthur displays the characteristics of a man who understands American culture only through the lens of Hollywood media. Just as Hollywood is not representative of America, charismatic media stars, The Trinity Broadcasting Network, and Charisma magazine do not represent the 400 million Pentecostals and charismatic Christian believers worldwide.

Reading MacArthur’s examples of charismatic foolishness (taken chiefly from television and magazine sources) reminds me of a conversation I had with a high school student in England in 1986. The high school student remarked to me, “You Americans are so cool. You get to race around in sports cars and the women in America are gorgeous. I want to go to America when I get out of high school!” I asked him why he thought that all Americans raced around in sports cars and that all American women were gorgeous. He said he watched “Miami Vice” on television all the time! As a result of watching “Miami Vice”, this high school student thought he understood America!

Rather than watch so many charismatic celebrities on television, MacArthur might have put his time to better use reading Russell Spittler’s helpful history of the Pentecostal movement [entitled “The Church”]. Spittler writes: “When the total figures are combined for classical Pentecostals along with charismatics from Anglican, Orthodox, Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant sectors, the sum exceeds the size of [noncharismatic] Protestantism as a whole.” If for no other reason than statistical dominance, MacArthur ought to have more carefully analyzed the movement as a whole. Again, Spittler writes:

“If some varieties of Christians are geographically uniform and predictable, Pentecostals are neither. Certain features nearly always occur, yet the variety is astonishing. Who are the Pentecostals, the charismatics? How do the two differ? Some distinctions are in order. Pentecostals and charismatics of every variety are distinguished by their emphasis on the Holy Spirit and their beliefs in the contemporary relevance of the gifts of the Spirit. As a whole, they all reflect a conservative Christian orthodoxy. They value personal religious renewal. They value a restorationist impulse, a bent to an often idealized “church of the New Testament.” But there the similarities end. For example, while Pentecostals generally insist on speaking in tongues as “the initial physical evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit”, not all Pentecostals around the world do, nor in their origins did teach, that speaking in tongues is the necessary physical evidence of the baptism. In fact, the vast majority of contemporary charismatics do not affirm the necessity of tongues; indeed, that is an incidence among charismatics as one of the principle features that distinguishes them from Pentecostals.”

MacArthur seems to be totally unaware of the difference between Pentecostals and charismatics and lumps the two together as a monolithic whole. Spittler summarizes the distinctions between the Pentecostal and charismatic movement this way:

“Pentecostalism arose in the first half of this century, charismatics in the second half. Pentecostals formed the classical Pentecostal denomination; charismatics remained in their own churches, the mainstream ones. Most (though not all) Pentecostals insist on tongues as initial evidence; charismatics generally speak in tongues, but do not make it a matter of necessity. Pentecostals teach a strict subsequence of vital Christian experience; two, in the case of baptistic Pentecostals; and, three, in Wesleyan Pentecostalism. Charismatics, on the other hand, find ways to fit charismatic experience and renewal into their existing ecclesiastical and theological traditions.”

MacArthur also does not take account of cultural differences in the charismatic movement. For example, over 50 million charismatics and Pentecostals live in Africa. Over 60 million live in East Asia. There are approximately 80 million in Latin America and only 80 million in North America. The charismatic and Pentecostal movements are not North American media phenomena, although one would have the impression by reading MacArthur’s book that they are a narrow, exclusively white, North American phenomena.

Contrary to MacArthur’s assertion about rampant sexual immorality, Pentecostals, at least the North American varieties, are likely to reflect the strict mores rising from their holiness and fundamentalist origins. In short, MacArthur’s entire book is devoid of even the more general distinctions that any knowledgeable observer of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements would know as a matter of course. Indeed, Pentecostal or charismatic insiders will not be able to recognize themselves in MacArthur’s media-based view of the movement.

VI. Is There Any Fruit From the Charismatic Movement?
Implicit in MacArthur’s wholesale attack on the charismatic movement is that it is not derived from the Holy Spirit and therefore, has borne only bad fruit. He suggests that the fruit of the charismatic movement is entirely negative and, among other things, has “created divisions” (p. 293), “encourages mysticism” (p. 292), “denigrates reason” (p. 292), “leads to spiritual casualties” etc. Is there any fruit in the charismatic movement? “Surely, if the movement is of God,” MacArthur asks, “we ought to find abundant fruit.” Yet, MacArthur looks about him and sees no fruit at all. Perhaps the lens that he looks at the charismatics through is less than clear. A Christian approaching the charismatic movement without a clouded lens, might see the following.

A. The Fruit of Remarkable Growth Worldwide.
According to David Barrett Pentecostals numbered approximately 1.2 million in the year 1900. By 1990, that number had grown to over 400 million. As a percentage of worldwide Christianity, the Pentecostal and charismatic movements represented something less than .5% in 1900. That number has grown to almost 25% in 1990. The number of Pentecostal churches has grown from 15,000 in 1900 to 1.5 million in 1990. Giving among charismatics and Pentecostals to Christian causes has grown from 3-million dollars in 1900 to 37 billion dollars in 1990. Charismatic church organizations have grown from 120 in 1900 to 13,800 in 1990. The majority of the fifty or so mega-churches the world’s largest single congregations, each with over 50,000 members – are Pentecostal/charismatic.

Particularly impressive is the church growth rate among Third World believers. The growth of Christianity in China, particularly since 1976, has been a phenomenon unmatched in Christian history. When Western missionaries were driven out of China in 1949-1950, they left about one million Protestant believers. Since the Communist takeover in 1949, Christians multiplied. By the mid-1980s, the number was conservatively estimated at over 50 million, with some suggesting twice that number. Two expert China-watchers suggest that 85% of Chinese believers would be “phenomenological Pentecostal- charismatics.” Such amazing growth can be observed in much of the rest of the Third World. As Patrick Johnstone put it:

“The harvest of people into the Kingdom of God in recent years has been unprecedented. Never in history has such a high percentage of the world’s population been exposed to the Gospel, nor the increase of evangelical Christians been so encouraging. Although there are many factors that have combined to produce this growth, among the most significant according to most observers has been the explosive increase of Pentecostal and charismatic movements.”

B. The Fruit of Evangelism.
Evangelism has been a priority among Pentecostals throughout their history. The historical self-image of the major Pentecostal church bodies is that they were raised up to be an instrument of evangelism in the world. Traditionally, therefore, it has been felt that to be a Pentecostal is to be an evangelistic witness. Pentecostals see aggressive evangelism in the pages of the New Testament and due to their high regard for their Bible and their literal interpretation of Scripture, they interpret the Pentecostal experience as a mandate for evangelism in its various forms and methods.

Pentecostals believe that redemption is the central purpose of God in Scripture and evangelism as the comprehensive method for fulfilling that purpose. Pentecostals’ Biblical literalism has caused them to be aggressively obedient to the Great Commission passages in the gospel. Pentecostal understanding of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit connects it with the evangelistic task and suggests that evangelism is the primary result of the Holy Spirit’s baptism (Acts 1:8). Contrary to MacArthur’s contention that tongues is central to the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, evangelism occupies the central place in thinking among Pentecostals regarding the Spirit’s baptism. In his classic book Concerning Spiritual Gifts, first published in 1949, Donald Gee contends that evangelism was a natural expression of the spiritual gifts of 1 Corinthians 12.

The evangelism of Pentecostals centers on the gospel or Good News. Pentecostals believe that evangelism is the act of proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ in the power and anointing of the Holy Spirit with the intention that men and women will come to put their trust in Christ for salvation and serve him in the fellowship of his church. Pentecostals suggest that the telling in Pentecostal evangelism can involve more than verbal proclamation but is never a substitute for verbal proclamation. Pentecostals and charismatics understand that divine healing can be an evangelistic door opener, but is in no way a substitute for the gospel message of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I am unaware of any responsible Pentecostals who suggest that the Good News is replaced by, or made subservient to, supernatural signs and wonders. Rather, supernatural signs and wonders are claimed only to open the door for or accompany the gospel message. The Pentecostal and charismatic movement has borne the fruit of evangelism.

C. The Fruit of World Missions.
Pentecostals from the beginning have been known as “doers.” Pentecostal mission theology has tended to be a theology on the move. Eschatological urgency is at the heart of understanding the missionary fervor of Pentecostalism. “Eschatology,” says Danboriena, “belongs to the essence of Pentecostalism.” Pentecostals from the outset have been involved in a variety of strategies that have contributed to the astonishing world mission growth.

These strategies include:

1. Indigenous churches. Pentecostal missions have sought from their inception to develop indigenous churches. Indeed, Pentecostal missionary Melvin Hodges’ book, The Indigenous Church (Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1953), has become a standard on the subject in evangelical circles. His numerous other books have further earned him respect in missiological circles.

2. Church planting. Pentecostals stress the importance of planting responsible reproducing congregations as the abiding fruit of world evangelization and generally measure their progress by the number of new congregations put in order.

3. Urban strategy. Pentecostal growth and urbanization have developed side by side.

4. Literature distribution. John Thomas Nichol in his book, Pentecostalism (Plainfield, J.J.: Logos International, 1971), lists among some fifteen causes for the initial success of Pentecostalism the strong emphasis given to tabloid size newspapers and other early publications. Publishing ministries are a high priority in all major Pentecostal groups.

5. Mission stewardship. Pentecostals have given generously to the cause of world missions since the early days of the movement. In the pioneering years, whole families sold their possessions and started for the field or supported others who went. In the classic Pentecostal denominations, mission budgets continue to receive the largest share of donations. Mission stewardship has received number one priority from the outset.

D. The Practice of the Priesthood of Every Believer.
While the priesthood of every believer was doctrinally recovered during the Reformation, Pentecostalism especially put the believer’s priesthood into practice in the modern world. Sociological and historical studies have reflected on the humble social origin of the Pentecostals and the development of preachers from the common people of the poorer classes. Since they have not had a long history of formal theological training for professional clergy, the Pentecostals have emphasized that all in the body of Christ are ministers and everyone is a preacher. C. Peter Wagner’s study of Latin American Pentecostalism found aggressive lay ministry as a key factor in Pentecostal growth. Further, a large part of the dynamic world wide growth of the Pentecostal movement has been due to the higher percentage of women ministers and missionaries in Pentecostal groups per capita than in their evangelical counterparts. While maintaining a conservative view of male leadership, Paul Yonggi Cho has espoused the leadership and involvement of women as a key ingredient in the successful growth of the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea.

In John Wimber’s teaching on spiritual gifts, in general, and healing in particular, equipping all the saints for the work of ministry is the predominant theme. Indeed, the magazine of John Wimber’s vineyard ministry is titled Equipping the Saints. (Ephesians 4:11-13 is one of the most frequently commented upon verses in popular charismatic and Pentecostal books.) No movement in Christianity today, affirms the role and ministry of the individual non-clergy as does the charismatic movement.

E. The Role of Women.
Women have had extremely important leadership roles in the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, as has happened in most awakenings and spiritually vital movements throughout Christian history. Many Pentecostal pioneers were women including Florence L. Crawford, founder of the Apostolic Faith movement in the Pacific Northwest; Marie Burges Brown, who founded Glad Tidings Tabernacle in New York City, and Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of the International Church of the Four Square Gospel.

Other major figures in the Pentecostal movement in North America include the following: Carrie Judd Montgomery, a woman who was miraculously healed in 1879. She became a healing evangelist of considerable promise and her book, The Prayer of Faith, 1880, gained widespread circulation. Carrie Judd Montgomery became a founding member of A.B. Simpson’s Christian and Missionary Alliance Church. Maria Woodworth-Etter was a woman involved in the holiness movement before she rose to prominence as an early Pentecostal leader. In 1885 she began to receive widespread attention for her teaching ministry and began preaching about divine healing. In the next four years, she was “responsible for starting about a dozen churches, adding a thousand members, erecting six churches, and starting several Sunday schools. In addition, twelve preachers were licensed as a result of her ministry.” Woodworth- Etter was a regular speaker in the early Pentecostal movements and reportedly saw many converts during her evangelistic revival meetings.

Many women who were pioneers of the Pentecostal movement served as itinerant evangelists and missionaries. Others worked as speakers, authors, and evangelists, including Rita Bennett, Ann Gimenez, and Corrie ten Boom. As in other periods of revival, women have historically enjoyed greater freedom in Pentecostal circles, as opposed to non-charismatic circles. A revival atmosphere usually includes an emphasis on evangelism, missions and a sense of the urgency of the times. Because the times are urgent, all available personnel are mobilized whether men or women, laity or clergy, within biblically appropriate role designations (see e.g., 1 Cor. 11:2-16).

John Wimber 1992 EDITED

Vineyard founder and leader John Wimber (1934–1997)

VII. John Wimber
MacArthur directs some of his most derisory and virulent attacks against John Wimber whom he arbitrarily lumps into the Third Wave. Not only is MacArthur’s tone unquestionably pejorative and unloving, but his chapter on the Third Wave is filled with factual and Biblical errors.

David Barrett the preeminent demographer of worldwide Christianity, used this definition of “thirdwaver” for his statistical analysis:

“These are Evangelicals and other Christians who, unrelated to Pentecostalism or the charismatic Movement, have recently become filled with the Spirit, or empowered or energized by the Spirit and experiencing the Spirit’s supernatural and miraculous ministry (though usually without recognizing a baptism in the Spirit separate from conversion), who exercise gifts of the Spirit (with much less emphasis on tongues, as optional or even absent or unnecessary), and emphasize signs and wonders supernatural miracles and power encounters, but who remain within their mainline nonpentecostal denominations and who do not identify themselves as either Pentecostals or charismatics.”

It is the fastest growing sector of what Barrett terms “the 20th century Pentecostal/charismatic renewal in the Holy Spirit.” Barrett estimated Third Wave Christians as amounting to 33 million in the year 1990.

A. Does the Vineyard have a Statement of Faith?
On page 147 MacArthur writes,

“Listening to the claims of Third Wave leaders, one might conclude their movement is essentially composed of conservative evangelicals who remain strongly committed to traditional Biblical theology. The facts do not bear this out. Much of the Third Wave is difficult to classify doctrinally. Statements of Faiths and Creeds simply are not an earmark of the Third Wave. Wimber’s Vineyard is typical. Another disturbing aspect of the Vineyard ministry is their lack of any written Statement of Faith. Because Vineyard members come from a variety of denominational backgrounds, the leadership has avoided setting strong doctrinal standards. This deemphasis of doctrine is also consistent with the leadership of John Wimber and Bob Fulton, (pastor of the Vineyard in Yorba Linda, California) whose backgrounds theologically include associations with Quakers, who typically express the inner experience of God and minimize the need for doctrinal expressions of one’s understanding of God.”

MacArthur is correct in the first sentence. The Third Wave movement is essentially composed of conservative evangelicals who remain strongly committed to traditional Biblical theology. The only accurate statement in the rest of the quote is that John Wimber had twenty years ago pastored a large conservative evangelical Quaker church. Had MacArthur simply called the Association of Vineyard Churches and asked for the Association’s doctrinal statement, or spoken to John Wimber personally, he would have been given this statement, (adopted in 1986 and currently under revision) that reads in part:

"Pentecost" (Unknown Artist)

“Pentecost” (Unknown Artist)

I. Our Convictions
1. WE BELIEVE that there is ONE LIVING AND TRUE GOD, eternally existing in three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, equal in power and glory that this triune God created all, upholds all, and governs all. (Matt. 28:19, Isa. 40:12-26, Isa. 46:8-11)

2. WE BELIEVE that the SCRIPTURES of the Old and New Testaments are the Word of God, fully inspired, and the infallible rule of faith and practice; and that they are to be interpreted according to their context and purpose and in reverent obedience to the Lord who speaks through them in living power. (2 Tim. 3:14-17, Rom. 15:4, James 1:22)

3. WE BELIEVE in GOD THE FATHER, an infinite, personal Spirit, perfect in holiness, wisdom, power, and love; that He concerns Himself merciful in the affairs of men; that He hears and answers prayer, and that He saves from sin and death and all who come to Him through Jesus Christ. (Matt. 6:9, Isa. 6:3, Rom. 11:33-39, Psalms 138:5-6, Matt. 7:11, Isa. 55:6-7)

4. WE BELIEVE in JESUS CHRIST, God’s only begotten Son, conceived by the Holy Spirit. We believe in His virgin birth, sinless life, miracles and teachings, His substitutionary atoning death, bodily resurrection, ascension into heaven, perpetual intercession for His people and personal, visible return to earth. We believe that in His first coming Jesus inaugurated the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. (John 1:14-18, Luke 1:18-20, Heb. 4:15, Rom. 5:8, 1 Cor. 15:1-8, Eph. 1:20, 1 Thess. 4:16, Mark 1:14-15)

5. WE BELIEVE in the HOLY SPIRIT, who came forth from the Father and Son to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and to regenerate, sanctify and empower for ministry all who believe in Christ; we believe the Holy spirit indwells every believer in Jesus Christ and that He is an abiding helper, Teacher, and Guide. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit and in the exercise of all the biblical gifts of the Spirit. (John 15:26, 16:8, Titus 3:5, Acts 1:8, Rom. 8:9, Eph. 1:13, John 14:16, 1 Cor. 12:4-11)

6. WE BELIEVE that all MEN are sinners by nature and choice and are therefore under condemnation, that God regenerates and baptizes by the Holy Spirit those who repent of their sins and confess Jesus Christ as Lord. (Eph. 2:1-10, Acts 2:38, Ezek. 36:26, John 1:12-13, John 20:9)

7. WE BELIEVE in the universal CHURCH, the living spiritual body, of which Christ is the Head and all regenerated persons are members. (1 Cor. 12:12-13, Eph 2:19-22, 1 Peter 2:4-5)

8. WE BELIEVE that the Lord Jesus Christ committed two ORDINANCES to the church: baptism; and the Lord’s Supper. We believe in water baptism and communion open to all believers. (Acts 2:38, 1 Cor. 11:23-30, Luke 3:3)

9. WE BELIEVE also in the LAYING ON OF HANDS for empowering of the Holy Spirit, for receiving of gifts of the Spirit, for healing, and for recognition and empowering of those whom God has ordained to lead and serve the church. (Acts 13:3, Mark 6:5, 1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6)

10. WE BELIEVE in the personal, visible APPEARING OF CHRIST to earth and the consummation of His Kingdom; in the resurrection of the body, the final judgment and eternal blessing of the righteous and the eternal punishment of the wicked. (Acts 1:11, Matt. 25:31, 1 Cor. 15:20-24, Rev. 20:11, 21:8)

11. WE BELIEVE in what is termed “THE APOSTLES’ CREED” as embodying fundamental facts of Christian faith, and endorse the historic orthodox creeds of the church.

This Statement of Faith is the standard to which church plants and adoptions into the Vineyard movement must subscribe. Every Vineyard pastor subscribes to the Association’s Statement of Faith. John Wimber’s Power Points: Seven Steps to Christian Growth (San Francisco: Harper, l991), also lays out his doctrinal convictions in a more extended way. No one but the most suspicious critic of Vineyard, who reads Vineyard’s Statement of Faith or John Wimber’s book, would conclude that Vineyard is a movement without a set of doctrinal formulations.

B. Does the Third Wave underemphasize traditional means of spiritual growth?
On page 130 MacArthur writes,

“Like Pentecostals and charismatics, common Third Wave adherents aggressively pursue ecstatic experiences, mystical phenomena, miraculous powers, and supernatural wonders – while tending to under-emphasize the traditional means of spiritual growth: prayer, Bible study, the teaching of the Word, persevering in obedience and fellowship of other believers (emphasis added).”

Again, had MacArthur taken time to examine the Association Vineyard Churches Statement of Priorities or had he spoken to John Wimber personally, he would have discovered that fundamental Vineyard priorities include:

1. Worship
2. The teaching of the Bible
3. Prayer
4. Fellowship
5. Ministry
6. Training
7. Evangelism and World Missions

Our first leadership requirement is “a sincere love and pursuit of Jesus Christ demonstrated in regular personal worship, meditation on God’s Word, and prayer.” Even a casual visit to a Vineyard church will disclose a significant emphasis on fellowship as demonstrated by the numerous small groups in the church, an emphasis on intercessory prayer, an emphasis on the teaching of the Bible, and an emphasis on obedience to God’s word.

As a Vineyard pastor whose church numbers approximated 1200 on Sunday mornings, our Vineyard church has about 65 small groups that are designed specifically for fellowship, prayer, worship, and Bible study. (John Wimber’s Anaheim Vineyard has over 100 small groups designed for similar purposes.) On Sunday morning at our church we take about 40 minutes for Biblical exposition. Our Tuesday evening Training Center for adults in the Vineyard regularly has several classes on basic Christian doctrine, Old and New Testaments surveys, and various books of the Bible. Our particular church also has numerous intercessory prayer meetings. My experience of the Vineyard movement as a whole indicates that prayer and fellowship are certainly strongly emphasized.

C. What is Power Evangelism?
John MacArthur claims: “The underlying assumption that drives the whole Third Wave movement is wrong. Miracles, signs and wonders are impotent to produce either faith or genuine revival.” To justify this, MacArthur claims that nowhere in the book of Acts do we see power evangelism practiced. And, he claims that Jesus, himself, did not practice “power evangelism.”

What is “power evangelism?” Let’s be clear about what John Wimber means (and explicitly wrote) about his coined expression “power evangelism.” In his book titled, Power Evangelism, Wimber writes:

“By power evangelism I mean a presentation of the gospel that is rational, but that also transcends the rational (though it is in no way ‘irrational’ or anti-rational). The explanation of the gospel – the clear proclamation of the finished work of Christ on the cross – comes with a demonstration of God’s power through signs and wonders. Power evangelism is a spontaneous, Spirit-inspired, empowered presentation of the gospel. Power evangelism is preceded and undergirded by demonstrations of God’s presence, and frequently results in groups of people being saved. Signs and wonders do not save; only Jesus and substitutionary work on the cross saves. Through these supernatural encounters people experience the presence and power of God. Usually this takes the norm of words of knowledge…healing, prophecy, and deliverance from evil spirits.”

Nowhere does this definition diminish the gospel message of the good news of Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection preached with the intention that men and women will come to put their trust in Christ for salvation and serve Him in the fellowship of His church. John Wimber believes that the gospel message presented without signs and wonders can save:

“Before exploring power evangelism further, however, a healthy word of clarification and caution is needed. The Bible does not teach that evangelism apart from signs and wonders is invalid, or that the addition of signs and wonders somehow changes the gospel message. The heart and soul of evangelism is proclamation of the gospel.”

Healings and “words of knowledge” are simply a “door opener” for the preached message. Wimber’s entire purpose in presenting “power evangelism” is to suggest to modern conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, such as John MacArthur, that eliminating signs and wonders as a “door opener” is “patently unbiblical” (to use MacArthur’s phrase in Charismatic Chaos).

MacArthur claims that biblically “miracles do not produce a real faith in an unbelieving heart, “Miracles, signs and wonders are impotent to produce either faith or genuine revival.” To bolster this claim MacArthur cites the story of the healing of the lame man in Acts 4. He says the Jewish religious leaders did not deny that a miracle occurred (Acts 4:16). But the response was far from saving faith.

There is truth in the assertion that miracles do not “produce” saving faith. But nowhere does John Wimber assert that they do. Indeed only the Holy Spirit can “produce” saving faith, that comes as a gift. Rather, signs and wonders accredit the message and messenger of salvation. They provoke the unbeliever to consider the truth claims presented by the messenger. Put another way, they help to open the door and remove roadblocks to faith and so function as an apologetic for the message. Signs, wonders, miracles, and spiritual gifts illustrate the reality of the presence and power of God to save.

It is unnecessarily narrow to restrict the mode of the gospel presentation to just preaching. God speaks through books, magazines, film, and miracles.

Why did MacArthur stop with Acts 4? Reading ahead five chapters to Acts 9, we find an undeniable connection between the demonstration of powerful signs and wonders and the rapid expansion of the church. For example, in Acts 9:32-35, Luke writes:

“As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the saints in Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. ‘Aeneas,’ Peter said to him, ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and take care of your mat.’ Immediately Aeneas got up. All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.”

What is it that provoked the response of faith and the turning to the Lord by the residents of Lydda and Sharon? MacArthur asserts that miracles cannot biblically produce faith in observers nor by implication can they serve as a “door opener” to the gospel. The residents of Lydda and Sharon who are now “at home with the Lord” would likely be puzzled by MacArthur’s anti- supernatural assertions.

The next incident recorded in Acts 9 further demonstrates power evangelism at work. Luke goes on to write about a woman named Dorcas who had died. Luke writes: Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called the believers and the widows and presented her to them alive. This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:40-43). Again, what was it that removed barriers to belief in the Lord other than the raising of Tabitha from the dead? This is power evangelism in its most explicit form.

The Apostle Paul also practiced power evangelism. In Acts 13 Paul met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, whom the scripture recorded:

“…was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, ‘You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.’ Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord (Acts 13:7-12).”

"Pentecost" by Jean II Restout (26 March 1692 – 1 January 1768)

“Pentecost” by Jean II Restout (1692–1768)

What is it that opened the proconsul’s heart to trusting in the saving message of the gospel? The scripture is quite explicit. He saw the miracle wrought by the hands of the Apostle Paul, and was amazed at the authority of the teaching. Again, MacArthur selectively ignored this clear teaching of power evangelism in the book of Acts. Paul’s methodology of evangelism generally included a coupling of the gospel message with “a demonstration of the Spirit’s power” (1 Cor. 2:4). It would have been a surprise to people in the early church to uncouple signs and wonders from preaching for they generally prayed like Peter “‘Now Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your Word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant, Jesus. ‘After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the Word of God boldly” (Acts 4:29-31). Why did Peter pray for signs and wonders if, as MacArthur asserts, “they are impotent to produce faith or genuine revival?”

Do miracles produce faith? No. God does. But in the case of the citizens of Joppa, Sharon, and Lydda, miracles clearly provoke unbelievers by removing barriers to faith and illustrating the truth and power of the message. In the case of the Pharisees, it is recorded “even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him” (John 12:37). The difference obviously depends on the responsiveness of the human heart, not any deficiency in miracles to provoke faith. MacArthur may wish to reread Old Testament passages such as Exodus 4:1-6 regarding the ability God to work through miracles to produce faith. That text reads:

“Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you?” Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the Lord said to him, Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. “This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has appeared to you.”‘

"Pentecost 4" William Grosvenor Congdon (1912 - 1998)

“Pentecost 4” William Grosvenor Congdon (1912-1998)

Pharaoh refused to believe, not because the miracles could not lead to faith – they could – but because his heart was hard. In contrast when Aaron performed signs before the people, “they believed” (Exod. 4:31).

Indeed, Jesus invited his disciples to believe based on his miracles. In John 14:11, Jesus said, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” He condemned the Pharisees because they did not believe that he and the Father were one, based on his miracles. (John 10:38) Far from emphasizing the ineffectiveness of miracles to provoke belief, (as MacArthur asserts), Jesus’ point in John 10:38 is that some Jews willfully disbelieved even when faced with the overwhelming evidence of miracles. As Jesus said later in John 15, “If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their law ‘They hated me without reason.'”

MacArthur is wrong! The Pharisees were condemned because they had reason to believe Jesus and rejected the obvious evidence staring them in the face: the miraculous power of the Son of God! When the messengers of John the Baptist asked Jesus if he was the one to come, (i.e., the Messiah) or should they expect someone else, Luke records Jesus’ answer as, “go back and report back to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.” (Luke 7:18-23) Jesus does not simply point to the preaching of the Word of God as the reason to believe. He points, chiefly, to his miracles.

MacArthur is so strident in his opposition to the miraculous element in Jesus’ ministry that he goes so far as to say, “For Jesus, preaching the Word was more important than performing signs and wonders. The emphasis of Jesus’ ministry was not miracles, but preaching. He often preached without doing signs and wonders.” To bolster his claim, MacArthur refers to Mark 1:38, “Let us go somewhere else, to the nearby villages, so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” However, he fails to add the next verse, which reads, “So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons” (Mark 1:39, emphasis added). Why does MacArthur kick so hard against the goads? No responsible interpreter of scripture can fail to note the general coupling of the proclamation of the gospel with the demonstration of signs and wonders. Matthew 4:23-24 is one of many summary statements of Jesus’ ministry in the gospel of Matthew. Matthew records:

“Jesus went through Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them.”

A similar summary statement of Jesus’ ministry is found in Matthew 9:35 which reads, “Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.”

In the first post-Pentecost sermon, Peter addresses the crowd who have witnessed the receipt of the Holy Spirit saying, “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him” (Acts 2:22). In a later sermon, again at a pivotal moment in the expansion of the gospel, Peter speaks to the gentile household of Cornelius saying, “You know what has happened throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached – how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:37,38).

Furthermore, the writer of Hebrews explicitly states that the salvation message announced by the Lord was first announced by the Lord, “was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders, and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (Heb. 2:3b-4). Clearly God confirmed the life and message of Jesus through miracles.

There is no opposition in the gospels or the book of Acts between the demonstration of power through healings and the proclamation of the evangel. Nor does the Bible support MacArthur’s diminution of signs and wonders as an evangelistic “door opener.” Proclamation and demonstration were the normal way that the gospel proceeded in Jesus’ ministry and in the ministry of the New Testament church as recorded in the book of Acts. That is John Wimber’s simple, but profound, point in his book Power Evangelism.

Catacomb painting of Pentecost.

Catacomb painting of Pentecost.

D. Does John Wimber believe in the deity of Jesus Christ?
MacArthur writes on page 143,

“Wimber’s teaching regarding the person of Jesus Christ is careless at best, blasphemous at worst, but in any case, clearly contradictory to scripture. In his taped healing seminar, Wimber says ‘Haven’t you been taught that Jesus knows all things? There are many times in the gospel where Jesus doesn’t know and he has to ask questions.’ (MacArthur concludes): That statement denies the omniscience of Christ.”

Several points can be raised regarding MacArthur’s use of the unpublished tape as evidence of John Wimber’s disbelief in the deity of Christ. A minor, but troubling, point is why MacArthur would use a tape of some oral remarks made by Wimber during a conference, rather than his more substantial written statements in books such as Power Points? It is hardly lame reasoning to suggest that many oral statements, particularly those made during preaching, or in fielding a question, may not be as well stated or articulate as one would make in written communication. Beyond the obvious point that one may say things orally that do not represent a full or complete disclosure of all of a person’s thoughts on a matter, there seems to be a vindictive motive in MacArthur’s publishing of old oral material. Why did he not quote Wimber’s well stated and orthodox view of the deity of Christ from Wimber’s own Power Points?

One reason MacArthur may have neglected a lengthy quotation from Power Points, is to leave readers (who would be unacquainted with Wimber’s writings) with the absolutely misleading impression that Wimber doesn’t believe in the deity of Christ. Again, MacArthur unjustly and unlovingly pins a position to an opponent, that his opponent does not believe. Quoting this oral material, without at least mentioning Wimber’s written statements, is an obvious attempt to portray Wimber as a heretic.

E. What does John Wimber believe about the deity of Christ?
Since MacArthur chose not to quote Wimber’s own written statements on the matter, we will, for the sake of simple fairness and justice, redress this omission. In Power Points, Wimber devotes an entire chapter to the deity of Jesus Christ. Chapter 17 of Power Points is titled, “Fully God.” It begins this way:

“What does God’s Word say about who Jesus is? First and foremost it says that Jesus is fully God. This is clearly stated in many passages. John says, “in the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1) – later, in verse 14, John identifies the “Word” as Jesus “and the Word was God, and the Word was God.” Paul says Christ, “is God overall” (Rom. 9:5) and tells us to look forward to the “glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13). He says that in Christ, “all the fullness of the deity lives in bodily form” (Col. 2:9).”

Wimber goes on to write: “Jesus not only claimed to be God, he acted like God….When he received Thomas’ worship, he implicitly claimed deity.”

Indeed, Wimber is careful to explicitly deny the kenosis theory of the person of Christ when he writes:

“‘…[the phrase in Philippians 2:7] made himself nothing’ can also be translated ’emptied himself.’ The Greek word from which ’emptied’ is translated is kenosis. Its precise meaning is unclear. Some theologians interpret kenosis as meaning Christ completely emptied himself of deity while on earth, so he was limited to the knowledge and abilities of an ordinary man. This interpretation comes dangerously close to denying Christ’s deity. Others interpret kenosis as meaning Jesus retained his divine nature but emptied himself of his divine prerogatives – the high position and glory of his deity. This interpretation is probably closer to the truth. Jesus did not give up his deity, but he did lay aside his glory (John 17:5) and submit to the humiliation of becoming a man (2 Corinthians 8:9). The idea behind kenosis is not that Jesus took on humanity and took off deity as though they were coats that could be changed; it is that he took on humanity while remaining fully God.”

"Pentecost 2" William Grosvenor Congdon (1912 - 1998)

“Pentecost 2” William Grosvenor Congdon (1912-1998)

What we read here is nothing that is outside of a fully orthodox view of the person and deity of Christ. Later, Wimber explicitly affirms his own personal faith in the Chalcedonian definition (which he actually quotes) and states Jesus was “at once complete in God-hood and complete in manhood, truly God and truly man…coming together to form one person in subsistence, not as parted or separated into two persons, but one and the same Son and Only-begotten God, the Word, Lord Jesus Christ.” What is it that MacArthur detects in Wimber’s explicit statements that lead him to believe that Wimber is anything other than an orthodox Christian? Indeed, Wimber’s oral statement regarding the omniscience of Christ can easily be read as touching on Jesus’ human nature. The Bible itself says in Mark 13:32: “But of that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Similarly, Luke 2:52 tells us that “Jesus increased in wisdom.”

Reading Wimber’s oral statements without a heresy-hunting perspective might lead to the conclusion that Wimber was simply referring to Jesus’ human nature without denying the omniscience that he possessed in his divine nature. In any case, Wimber does not hold the heretical view that MacArthur is so desperately attempting to pin on him with a brief oral statement from a 1981 tape.

F. How shall we assess John Wimber’s ecumenism?
As has been historically common among fundamentalists, MacArthur views an ecumenical spirit in an almost entirely negative fashion. He uses a Wimber quote about the Pope as an example of Wimber’s dangerous drift away from Biblical orthodox. The quote that MacArthur used (again, from an unpublished tape) is as follows:

“The Pope…by the way is very responsive to the charismatic movement and is, himself a born-again evangelical. If you have read any of his text concerning salvation, you’d know he was preaching the gospel as clear as anybody is preaching it in the world today.”

Whether Wimber would reassert this off-hand oral statement twelve years later is impossible to say. But, a more positive reading of the statement would suggest that Wimber was personally glad that the Pope was making a call to all Roman Catholics to personally assert their faith in Christ. Indeed, the Pope has on numerous occasions called for a personal choice of faith in Christ. The Pope has also called for a massive evangelistic campaign beginning with the Roman Catholic Church in the decade of the nineties. Celebrating the Pope’s statements hardly makes Wimber guilty of heresy.

The broader question, however, concerns MacArthur’s uniformly negative views of ecumenism. He sums up his entire book by suggesting that “charismatic ecumenism is steadily eroding any claim the charismatic movement ever had to Biblical orthodoxy.” In sounding the alarm against ecumenism, MacArthur is echoing a theme that has characterized fundamentalism in this country for the past seventy-five years.

Billy Graham’s ministry, likewise, has repeatedly been assailed from the fundamentalist right. As early as 1957 the publication, “The Sword of the Lord,” contained numerous articles detailing Graham’s supposed misguided inclusion of liberals in his meetings. Fundamentalist rage increased during Graham’s New York crusade. One critic charged that of the 140 people on the general crusade committee at least 120 were “reputed to be modernists, liberals, infidels, or something other than fundamental.” John R. Rice intoned that “Dr. Graham is one of the spokesman, and perhaps, the principle sparkplug of a great drift away from strict Bible fundamentalism and strict defense of the faith.”

In a later section, I will more pointedly draw a connection between MacArthur’s writings and the fundamentalist fighting spirit that so thoroughly characterizes Charismatic Chaos. For now, I will simply make a few comments about ecumenism.

"Icon-Pentecost" by Phiddipus

“Icon-Pentecost” by Phiddipus

G. Ecumenical cooperation and John Wimber’s perspectives regarding cooperation.
John Wimber has never accepted an invitation in which he was required to water down his conservative evangelical beliefs. Nor has he ever toned down his ministry to accommodate himself to a church organization that invited him to minister. Much like Billy Graham, Wimber has been willing to speak and minister in a variety of church settings including the Roman Catholic church, the Anglican church, the Lutheran church, etc., that Wimber may personally differ with on a variety of doctrinal points. Wimber doesn’t accept invitations to speak and minister in such places because he agrees on all points with Roman Catholic, or Anglican, or Lutheran doctrine. Nor is it because he thinks that differences are irrelevant. Nor is it because he is an utter pragmatist, as MacArthur asserts, and cares nothing for truth. It is, rather, because Wimber sees a huge need for the message and ministry that God has given him and is willing to declare that message wherever and whenever God gives him an opportunity so long as he can o so without conditions or compromise.

MacArthur would do well to read Robert Ferm’s book called Cooperative Evangelism (Zondervan, 1958) in which Ferm defended Billy Graham’s ministry from precisely the same attack that MacArthur levels against Wimber. In a fascinating summary of ecumenical cooperation in history, Ferm cites the examples of Wesley, Whitefield, Finney, Moody, and Billy Sunday. Regarding Jonathan Edwards, Ferm quotes from Jonathan Edwards’s well-known Thoughts on Revival:

“‘Spiritual pride disposes people to affect separation, to stand at a distance from others, as better than they, and loves the show and appearance of distinction…but on the contrary, every humble Christian…delights in the appearance of union with his fellow creatures, and will maintain it as much as he possibly can, without giving open countenance to iniquity, or wounding his own soul, and herein he follows the example of his meek and blessed redeemer, who did not keep such separation and distance as the Pharisees, but freely ate with publicans and sinners that he might win them.’ Indeed, Edwards insisted that his decision to work with those of differing opinions was deliberate and considered. He made it a point never to judge the spirituality or even the total orthodoxy of another minister. At one other time he wrote: ‘I am glad that God has not committed such a difficult affair to me; I can joyfully leave it wholly in his hands who is definitely fit for it without meddling at all with it myself. I know f no necessity we are under to determine whether it be possible for those who are guilty of it (heresy and opposition) to be in a state of grace or not.'”

Likewise, Whitefield was criticized because of his non-separation for associating with certain groups, considered in his day to be unorthodox. His response was simple and to the point: he said he rejects the views of those who consider that there are “no others among the Lord’s people but themselves. [If they are right] and if others are the devil’s people, then [these others] have more need to be preached to. For me, all places are alike.”

Moody’s view of Roman Catholics is interesting to note. After reporting on Moody’s crusade in Dublin, Ireland, an editorial read: “There is not an evening that Roman Catholics, as well as Protestants, have not found their way to the inquiry room. Probably one reason is that there is no denunciation of Roman Catholicism. Men are not addressed by their particular church but as sinners. Roman Catholics are not mentioned by name at the evangelistic service, and feeling no hurt, and not having opposition forced upon them, those who go once are pretty sure to return.”

El Greco, "The Pentecost"

“The Pentecost” by El Greco (1541–1614)

Ferm writes that Moody had a great affection for Roman Catholics even though he did not agree with the official teachings of their church. Certainly the same could be said about Wimber. Indeed, Moody went beyond John Wimber by contributing money to the Roman Catholic church in an incident reported by Heng Drummond:

“With everything in his special career, in his habitual environment, and in the traditions of his special work, to make him intolerant, Mr. Moody’s sympathies have only broadened with time. Some years ago the Roman Catholics of Northfield determined to build a church. They went around the township collecting subscriptions, and by-and-by approached Moody’s door. How did he receive them? The narrower evangelical would have shut the door in their faces, or opened it only to give them a lecture on the blasphemies of the Pope, or the iniquities of the Scarlet Woman. Mr. Moody gave them one of the handsomest subscriptions on their list. Not content with that, when their little chapel was finished, he presented them with an organ. ‘Why,’ he exclaimed, ‘if they are Roman Catholics, it is better that they should be good Roman Catholics than bad. It is surely better to have a Catholic church than none; and as for the organ, if they are to have music in their church, it is better to have good music.’ ‘Besides,’ he added, ‘these are my own townspeople.'”

Example after example of warm-hearted tolerance and love of others with whom orthodox Christians may differ can be piled on from Ferm’s book. The point is that evangelical luminaries from the past, display none of the bitter, invective, separatist, fighting spirit that MacArthur believes stamps someone as “biblical.” Wimber is closer to the irenic spirit of Moody, Edwards, and Whitefeld and indeed, to Jesus, himself, than are his fundamentalist critics. If seen in the above light Wimber likely takes it as more of a compliment than a criticism to be tarred with the label “ecumenist.” And he is not alone. Chuck Colson, a conservative Southern Baptist seems to have irenic attitudes to the whole Body of Christ in all its expressions.

H. Are John Wimber’s healings unverifiable?
In MacArthur’s chapter on the Third Wave, MacArthur states that “all those [medical healings] are utterly preposterous. It is difficult to resist the conclusion that they are either utter fabrications or yarns that have grown with the telling. In each case, the people to whom the miracles have supposedly occurred remained anonymous. In the two cases reported by Wimber, he maintains that medical doctors witnessed the events. Yet he offers no documentation.” MacArthur goes on to suggest that the only “so called” miracles that ever occur in the signs and wonders movement are psychosomatic and involve hard to prove cases involving “back pain, inner healings, migraine relief, emotional deliverance, ringing in the ears, and so on. The only detailed anecdotes involving known people actually describe the occasions when the healing doesn’t come.”

Interestingly MacArthur never mentioned the book-length academic investigation of 1,890 people who attended one of Wimber’s conference in Harrogate, England in 1986. The book is titled Healing: Fiction, Fantasy or Fact? (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1989), by David C. Lewis. The author is a social anthropologist with degrees from Cambridge and Manchester. Dr. Lewis prepared a detailed questionnaire that people filled out during the conference, and then followed-up with some randomly selected cases several months later. Of 862 cases of prayer for physical healing, 32% (279) reported a great deal of healing or total healing. Another 26% (222) reported a fair amount of healing. All the physical problems prayed for are listed in a detailed appendix. The physical problems are distinguished from prayer for spiritual problems such as emotional healing and deliverance that are separately tabulated by Dr. Lewis. Many case studies were reported in detail, and several incidents with medical reports are quoted at length. MacArthur suggests that no medical verification is ever given. Why not respond to Lewis’s book rather than resort to ad hominem attack?

On a personal level, I would invite MacArthur to examine a case in our own church involving a young man who had epilepsy from the time he was five years old. For over twenty years, this young man suffered grand mal seizures. Before he received prayer from John Wimber, he experienced at least three grand mal seizures a week. We attended a conference where John Wimber was present and John agreed to pray for this man. In describing the experience of prayer, the man reported the feeling of a wind rushing through his body. While he was prayed for almost an hour, he said he was entirely unconscious of time passing, but felt surges of power through his body. Whatever his subjective claims, one startling objective fact remains. After being prayed for by John Wimber, he has had no grand mal seizures in the past three years.

Now MacArthur may attempt to explain away this story (I don’t know what motive he would have for doing so). The fact is, that there is one man who can now work, who can live a functional life, who may, very shortly, obtain a driver’s license and who has been spared a radical brain operation simply because he was physically and verifiably healed through the prayers of John Wimber. I would be happy to speak with John MacArthur about this case personally and other physical healings that I have had the pleasure of both observing and participating in.

"Pentecost" Stained Glass Window

“Pentecost” Stained Glass Window

I. Is the Third Wave simply a slick marketing technique?
John Wimber has never labeled himself as a leader of the Third Wave. Dr. Peter Wagner coined the phrase and Dr. David Barrett has used it to describe conservative evangelicals who hold both a Reformed evangelical view of the baptism of the Holy Spirit and believe the full range of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and miracles are available today. MacArthur forces Wimber to defend a label that he himself is uncomfortable with and only gingerly holds himself. Wimber has remarked in public that “I am a conservative evangelical who speaks in tongues.” He does not see himself as leading a new splinter group within evangelicalism. However, the Third Wave is a descriptive label.

MacArthur repeatedly asserts that the Third Wave is nothing other than a marketing technique. For example, MacArthur states: “The effort to market the Third Wave as noncharismatic fits as a pattern of shrewd promotion and semantic smoke screens that permeate Third Wave teaching.” Later in the chapter, MacArthur states: “The truth is the evangelical veneer of the Third Wave is a carefully crafted image, another crucial element of the skillful marketing campaign that is attempting to sell the movement to non-charismatic evangelicals.” To say this, MacArthur, by definition, is departing from confronting objective observations regarding the Third Wave and is involved in judging the heart motivations of John Wimber and other Third Wave leaders. There is no way for MacArthur to know whether something is sincerely believed or is, instead, “a skillful marketing campaign.”

While he may legitimately object to what the Third Wave teaches, it is wholly inappropriate for MacArthur to suggest that Wimber is “slick,” or “shrewd,” or involved in a “marketing campaign designed to mislead.” Again, these kinds of charges fan into the same unfortunate pattern that characterizes Charismatic Chaos as a whole. But, once a charge has been made and is read by thousands of Christian friends, it demands to be answered. No, Vineyard’s views are not designed as a marketing campaign! One of the observations that have been repeatedly made about John Wimber by friends and foes alike, is his unfailing willingness to confess mistakes, to display weakness, to admit to failures, and to be, in general, ruthlessly honest, especially about himself.

While he is known as advocating a healing ministry for the church today, John Wimber has repeatedly emphasized his own failures in healing. This is not, as MacArthur takes it, clear evidence that a healing ministry is an impossibility in the twentieth century. Rather, it fits squarely within Wimber’s kingdom theology of the “already and the not yet” of the present age. Wimber never promises healings (or any other blessing). Anyone who has listened to him for more than five minutes will see a major difference between his teachings and beliefs and the beliefs of the positive confession movement. Wimber emphasizes suffering as a major means of spiritual growth in the Christian life. He is not shy about talking about his own suffering and the suffering of close friends. Nor is he bashful about his promotion of Biblical preaching, sound exegesis, and the need for pure doctrine in the movement that he leads. Finally, Wimber promotes ecumenical cooperation, not out of pragmatism, but as a matter of Biblical conviction regarding the spiritual unity of all true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ.

"Pentecost" by Wiggin

“Pentecost” by Mark Wiggin

On a more personal note, I have spoken with and heard John Wimber teach on more than one hundred occasions now. His public image is no different from the private person that I have come to know and respect. He firmly holds to conservative evangelical beliefs regarding the trinity, the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, Christ’s physical resurrection, the inerrancy of the scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, and the personal, visible return of our Lord Jesus Christ. His theology has been heavily influenced by the conservative evangelical theologian, George Eldon Ladd. He is unabashed in his indebtedness to Ladd. Anyone who reads any of John’s conference notes, listens to him speak, or reads any of his books will see John’s debt to George Ladd.

Wimber is not a man who is shy or secretive about his own views or his own theology. He went so far as to write an article in Charisma magazine, declaring that he personally rejects the view that healing is “in the atonement.” His article was a dear line of demarcation, distinguishing his understanding from traditional Pentecostal teaching regarding healing. John has also, both privately and publicly, affirmed his own belief that the so- called “Baptism in the Holy Spirit” is not a post-conversion experience, but occurs as part of the initial conversion experience. John has also denied the Doctrine of subsequent evidence” taught by some Pentecostals.

To sum up, MacArthur’s charge of marketing deception, and intentional semantic diversion, especially when applied to Wimber, is quite unfair and inappropriate. It is a personal attack. It is an attack on Wimber’s motivations and personal integrity. John MacArthur, frankly, owes John Wimber a personal and public apology regarding these statements.

Shakespeare, in Othello, describes the wrongfulness of injuring another’s reputation, when he says,

“Good name in man and woman…is the immediate [most valuable] jewel of their souls. Who steals my purse steals trash – ’tis something, nothing, ’twas mine, ’tis his, and has been the slave to thousands – But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed.”

Conclusion
In 1957 Carl Henry, the Editor of Christianity Today magazine wrote a critique of fundamentalism that accurately summarizes my own critique of the central problem with John MacArthur’s Charismatic Chaos. Henry wrote:

“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.”

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.

On a personal note, I have enjoyed John MacArthur’s radio ministry on the occasions that I have been able to listen to it. Charismatic Chaos, I am afraid, is unworthy of the teaching gift that God has given to John MacArthur and to the grace that has been so richly displayed in his church’s life.

Carl F.H. Henry

Carl F.H. Henry (1913-2003)

About the Author
Richard Nathan is senior pastor of Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Columbus, Ohio. After being converted in 1974 at age 18, Rich joined InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He became the chapter president and later served as the InterVarsity faculty advisor for five years at Ohio State University. Rich graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Case Western Reserve University with a BA in Religion and History in 1977. He holds a Juris Doctorate with honors from the Ohio State University School of Law. After teaching at Ohio State University for five years, Rich began pastoring at the Columbus Vineyard.

Originally published as, “Vineyard Position Paper #5, April 1993: A RESPONSE TO CHARISMATIC CHAOS, The Book Written By John F. MacArthur, Jr”. The usage rights for that publication are as follows: “Permission is hereby granted to anyone who wishes to reproduce this booklet in any form. ©April 1993 By The Association Of Vineyard Churches”. This edition has been very lightly edited to correct grammatical and spelling errors found in the original article. 

NOTE: Click on book graphic in the upper top right of this article to download the audiobook sermon series from John MacArthur’s website. Or play the embedded videos in the above article – they contain the same content.

BACK TO TOP

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)

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The Difference a Vowel Makes
"Communion of Saints" (stained glass window)

“Communion of Saints” (stained glass window)

by Keith A. Mathison

The twentieth century could, with some accuracy, be called a century of theological anarchy. Liberals and sectarians have long rejected outright many of the fundamental tenets of Christian orthodoxy. But more recently professing evangelical scholars have advocated revisionary versions of numerous doctrines. A revisionary doctrine of God has been advocated by proponents of “openness theology.” A revisionary doctrine of eschatology has been advocated by proponents of full-preterism. Revisionary doctrines of justification sola fide have been advocated by proponents of various “new perspectives” on Paul. Often the revisionists will claim to be restating a more classical view. Critics, however, have usually been quick to point out that the revisions are actually distortions.

Ironically, a similarly revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura has arisen within Protestantism, but unlike the revisionist doctrine of sola fide, the revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura has caused very little controversy among the heirs of the Reformation. One of the reasons there has been much less controversy over the revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura is that this doctrine has been gradually supplanting the Reformation doctrine for centuries. In fact, in many segments of the evangelical world, the revisionist doctrine is by far the predominant view now. Many claim that this revisionist doctrine is the Reformation doctrine. However, like the revisionist doctrines of sola fide, the revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura is actually a distortion of the Reformation doctrine.

The adoption of the revisionist doctrine of sola Scriptura has resulted in numerous biblical, theological, and practical problems within Protestant churches. These problems have become the center of attention in recent years as numerous Protestants have converted to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy claiming that their conversion was due in large part to their determination that the doctrine of sola Scriptura was indefensible. Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologists have been quick to take advantage of the situation, publishing numerous books and articles devoted to critiquing the doctrine of sola Scriptura. One issue, however, that neither the converts nor the apologists seem to understand is that the doctrine they are critiquing and rejecting is the revisionist doctrine ofsola Scriptura, not the classical Reformation doctrine. In order to understand the difference, some historical context is necessary.

Unknown Artist, "The Great Cloud of Witnesses" (20th Century)

Unknown Artist, “The Great Cloud of Witnesses” (20th Century)

Historical Observations
Part of the difficulty in understanding the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura is due to the fact that the historical debate is often framed simplistically in terms of “Scripture versus tradition.” Protestants are said to teach “Scripture alone,” while Roman Catholics are said to teach “Scripture plus tradition.” This, however, is not an accurate picture of the historical reality. The debate should actually be understood in terms of competing concepts of the relationship between Scripture and tradition, and there are more than two such concepts in the history of the church. In order to understand the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura we must understand the historical context more accurately.

The Reformation debate over sola Scriptura did not occur in a vacuum. It was the continuation of a long-standing medieval debate over the relationship between Scripture and tradition and over the meaning of “tradition” itself. In the first three to four centuries of the church, the church fathers had taught a fairly consistent view of authority. The sole source of divine revelation and the authoritative doctrinal norm was understood to be the Old Testament together with the Apostolic doctrine, which itself had been put into writing in the New Testament. The Scripture was to be interpreted in and by the church within the context of the regula fidei (“rule of faith”), yet neither the church nor the regula fidei were considered second supplementary sources of revelation. The church was the interpreter of the divine revelation in Scripture, and the regula fidei was the hermeneutical context, but only Scripture was the Word of God. Heiko Oberman (1930-2001) has termed this one-source concept of revelation “Tradition 1.”1

The first hints of a two-source concept of tradition, a concept in which tradition is understood to be a second source of revelation that supplements biblical revelation, appeared in the fourth century in the writings of Basil and Augustine. Oberman terms this two-source concept of tradition “Tradition 2” (Professor Oberman had many gifts. The ability to coin catchy labels was apparently not one of them). It is not absolutely certain that either Basil or Augustine actually taught the two-source view, but the fact that it is hinted at in their writings ensured that it would eventually find a foothold in the Middle Ages. This would take time, however, for throughout most of the Middle Ages, the dominant view was Tradition 1, the position of the early church. The beginnings of a strong movement toward Tradition 2 did not begin in earnest until the twelfth century. A turning point was reached in the fourteenth century in the writings of William of Ockham. He was one of the first, if not the first, medieval theologian to embrace explicitly the two-source view of revelation. From the fourteenth century onward, then, we witness the parallel development of two opposing views: Tradition 1 and Tradition 2. It is within the context of this ongoing medieval debate that the Reformation occurred.

When the medieval context is kept in view, the Reformation debate over sola Scriptura becomes much clearer. The reformers did not invent a new doctrine out of whole cloth. They were continuing a debate that had been going on for centuries. They were reasserting Tradition 1 within their particular historical context to combat the results of Tradition 2 within the Roman Catholic Church. The magisterial reformers argued that Scripture was the sole source of revelation, that it is to be interpreted in and by the church, and that it is to be interpreted within the context of the regula fidei. They insisted on returning to the ancient doctrine, and as Tradition 1 became more and more identified with their Protestant cause, Rome reacted by moving toward Tradition 2 and eventually adopting it officially at the Council of Trent. (Rome has since developed a view that Oberman has termed “Tradition 3,” in which the “Magisterium of the moment” is understood to be the one true source of revelation, but that issue is beyond the scope of this brief essay).

At the same time the magisterial reformers were advocating a return to Tradition 1 (sola Scriptura), several radical reformers were calling for the rejection of both Tradition 1 and Tradition 2 and the adoption of a completely new understanding of Scripture and tradition. They argued that Scripture was not merely the only infallible authority but that it was the only authority altogether. The true but subordinate authority of the church and the regula fidei were rejected altogether. According to this view (Tradition 0), there is no real sense in which tradition has any authority. Instead, the individual believer requires nothing more than the Holy Spirit and the Bible.

In America during the eighteenth century, this individualistic view of the radical Reformation was combined with the rationalism of the Enlightenment and the populism of the new democracy to create a radical version of Tradition 0 that has all but supplanted the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura (Tradition 1). This new doctrine, which may be termed “solo” Scriptura instead of sola Scriptura, attacks the rightful subordinate authority of the church and of the ecumenical creeds of the church. Unfortunately, many of its adherents mistakenly believe and teach others that it is the doctrine of Luther and Calvin.

"The true rule is this: God's Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so." (Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles II, p.15)

“The true rule is this: God’s Word shall establish articles of faith, and no one else, not even an angel can do so.”
(Martin Luther, Smalcald Articles II, p.15)

The Reformation Doctrine of Sola Scriptura
To summarize the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura, or the Reformation doctrine of the relation between Scripture and tradition, we may say that Scripture is to be understood as the sole source of divine revelation; it is the only inspired, infallible, final, and authoritative norm of faith and practice. It is to be interpreted in and by the church; and it is to be interpreted within the hermeneutical context of the rule of faith. As Richard Muller observes, the Reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura did not ever mean, “all of theology ought to be constructed anew, without reference to the church’s tradition of interpretation, by the lonely exegete confronting the naked text.” That this is the Reformation doctrine of Scripture, tradition, and authority may be demonstrated by an examination of the reformers’ writings, only a sampling of which may be mentioned here.

Martin Luther is well known for his declaration at the Diet of Worms: “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God.” Many point to this statement as evidence that Luther rejected Tradition 1, the teaching of the early church, but other factors must be considered before coming to such a conclusion, namely, the historical context of this statement and the fact that Luther said and wrote much more on the subject. As simply one example, in a 1532 letter to Duke Albert of Prussia about the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, Luther wrote the following:

This article moreover, has been clearly believed and held from the beginning of the Christian Church to this hour – a testimony of the entire holy Christian Church, which, if we had nothing besides, should be sufficient for us. For it is dangerous and terrible to hear or believe anything against the united testimony, faith and doctrine, of the entire holy Christian Church, as this hath been held now 1,500 years, from the beginning, unanimously in all the world. Whoso now doubted thereon, it is even the same as though he believed in no Christian Church, and he condemneth thus not only the entire holy Christian Church as a damnable heresy, but also Christ himself and all the apostles and prophets.

The second-generation Lutheran scholar Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), writes along similar lines in his Examination of the Council of Trent:

This is also certain, that no one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of the Scripture, not even in the clear passages…. We also gratefully and reverently use the labors of the fathers who by their commentaries have profitably clarified many passages of the Scripture. And we confess that we are greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient church in the true and sound understanding of the Scripture. Nor do we approve of it if someone invents for himself a meaning which conflicts with all antiquity, and for which there are clearly no testimonies of the church.

Another of the magisterial reformers who addressed this issue was John Calvin. In the 1559 edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, for example, he writes:

In this way, we willingly embrace and reverence as holy the early councils, such as those of Nicaea, Constantinople, Ephesus I, Chalcedon, and the like, which were concerned with refuting errors-in so far as they relate to the teachings of faith. For they contain nothing but the pure and genuine exposition of Scripture, which the holy fathers applied with spiritual prudence to crush the enemies of religion who had then arisen.

And further:

We indeed willingly concede, if any discussion arises over doctrine, that the best and surest remedy is for a synod of true bishops to be convened, where the doctrine at issue may be examined.

To sum up the traditional Protestant view, the words of the nineteenth-century Reformed theologian Charles Hodge (1797-1878) are appropriate:

Again, Protestants admit that as there has been an uninterrupted tradition of truth from the protevangelium to the close of the Apocalypse, so there has been a stream of traditionary teaching flowing through the Christian Church from the day of Pentecost to the present time. This tradition is so far a rule of faith that nothing contrary to it can be true. Christians do not stand isolated, each holding his own creed. They constitute one body, having one common creed. Rejecting that creed, or any of its parts, is the rejection of the fellowship of Christians, incompatible with the communion of saints, or membership in the body of Christ. In other words, Protestants admit that there is a common faith of the Church, which no man is at liberty to reject, and which no man can reject and be a Christian.

hipster

“The reformers’ appeal to ‘Scripture alone,’… was never intended to mean ‘me alone.'”
— Keith A. Mathison

The Revisionist Doctrine of “solo” Scriptura
In contrast with the Reformation doctrine of sola Scriptura, the revisionist doctrine of “solo” Scriptura is marked by radical individualism and a rejection of the authority of the church and the ecumenical creeds. If we compare the statements made by advocates of “solo” Scriptura with the statements of Reformational Christians above, the difference is immediately evident. It is also important to observe the source of this doctrine in early America. As Nathan O. Hatch notes, the first Americans to push the right of private judgment over against the church and the creeds were unorthodox ministers.

The liberal minister Simeon Howard (1733-1804), for example, advised pastors to “lay aside all attachment to human systems, all partiality to names, councils and churches, and honestly inquire, ‘what saith the Scriptures?'” In his own effort to overturn orthodox Christianity, Charles Beecher (1815-1900) denounced “creed power” and argued for “the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible.” The universalist minister A. B. Grosh (d. 1884) declared in a similar way, “In religious faith we have but one Father and one Master, and the Bible, the Bible, is our only acknowledged creed book.”

The radical American version of “solo” Scriptura reached its fullest expression in the writings of the Restorationists as they applied the principles of Democratic populism to Enlightenment Christianity. In 1809, the Restorationist Elias Smith (1769-1846) proclaimed, “Venture to be as independent in things of religion, as those which respect the government in which you live.” Barton Stone (1772-1844) declared that the past should be “consigned to the rubbish heap upon which Christ was crucified.” Alexander Campbell (1788-1866) made his individualistic view of Scripture very clear, declaring, “I have endeavored to read the Scriptures as though no one had read them before me, and I am as much on my guard against reading them to-day, through the medium of my own views yesterday, or a week ago, as I am against being influenced by any foreign name, authority, or system whatever.” As the Reformed Princeton theologian Samuel Miller (1769-1850) rightly observed, “the most zealous opposers [of creeds] have generally been latitudinarians and heretics.”

Why “Solo” Scriptura Must Be Rejected
The revisionist doctrine of “solo” Scriptura has become so entrenched in the modern church that many Protestant Christians today will sympathize more with the sentiments of the liberal and sectarian clergymen quoted above than they will with the teaching of the reformers. The doctrine of “solo” Scriptura, however, is as problematic and dangerous today as it was in previous centuries. It remains unbiblical, illogical, and unworkable. Here I will address some of the more obvious problems.

The fundamental problem with “solo” Scriptura is that it results in autonomy. It results in final authority being placed somewhere other than the Word of God. It shares this problem with the Roman Catholic doctrine. The only difference is that the Roman Catholic doctrine places final authority in the church while “solo” Scriptura places final authority in each individual believer. Every doctrine and practice is measured against a final standard, and that final standard is the individual’s personal judgment of what is and is not biblical. The result is subjectivism and relativism. The reformers’ appeal to “Scripture alone,” however, was never intended to mean “me alone.”

The Bible itself simply does not teach “solo” Scriptura Christ established his church with a structure of authority and gives to his church those who are specially appointed to the ministry of the word (Acts 6:2-4). When disputes arose, the apostles did not instruct each individual believer to go home and decide by himself and for himself who was right. They met in a council (Acts 15:6-29). Even the well-known example of the Bereans does not support “solo” Scriptura (cf. Acts 17:10-11; cf. vv. 1-9). Paul did not instruct each individual Berean to go home and decide by himself and for himself whether what he was teaching was true. Instead, the Bereans read and studied the Scriptures of the Old Testament day by day with Paul present in order to see whether his teaching about the Messiah was true.

In terms of hermeneutics, the doctrine of “solo” Scriptura is hopeless. With “solo” Scriptura, the interpretation of Scripture becomes subjective and relative, and there is no possibility for the resolution of differences. It is a matter of fact that there are numerous different interpretations of various parts of Scripture. Adherents of “solo” Scriptura are told that these different interpretations can be resolved simply by an appeal to Scripture. But how is the problem of differing interpretations to be resolved by an appeal to another interpretation? All appeals to Scripture are appeals to interpretations of Scripture. The only real question is: whose interpretation? People with differing interpretations of Scripture cannot set a Bible on a table and ask it to resolve their differences. In order for the Scripture to function as an authority, it must be read and interpreted by someone. According to “solo” Scriptura, that someone is each individual, so ultimately, there are as many final authorities as there are human interpreters. This is subjectivism and relativism run amuck. The proponents of “solo” Scriptura rightly condemn the hermeneutical tyranny of Rome, but the solution to hermeneutical tyranny is not hermeneutical anarchy.

The doctrine of “solo” Scriptura also faces historical problems due to the fact that it cannot be reconciled with the reality that existed in the first decades and centuries of the church. If “solo” Scriptura were true, much of the church had no standard of truth for many years. In the first century, one could not walk down to his local Christian bookstore and buy a copy of the Bible. Manuscripts had to be hand-copied and were not found in every believer’s home. The first books of the New Testament did not even begin to be written until at least ten years after the death of Christ, and some were not written until several decades after Christ. Gradually some churches obtained copies of some books, while other churches had copies of others. It took many years before the New Testament as we know it was gathered and available as a whole. Even then, it too was hand-copied, so it was not available in the home of every individual Christian. If the lone individual is to judge and evaluate everything by himself and for himself by measuring it against Scripture, as proponents of “solo” Scriptura would have it, how would this have possibly worked in the first decades of the church before the New Testament was completed?

"Christians do not stand isolated, each holding his own creed." Charles Hodge

“Christians do not stand isolated, each holding his own creed.”
— Charles Hodge (1797-1878)

One of the most self-evident problems related to the doctrine of “solo” Scriptura is the question of the canon. If one is going to claim that Scripture is the only authority whatsoever, it is legitimate to ask how we then define what is and is not “Scripture.” Proponents of“solo” Scriptura claim that Scripture is authoritative but cannot say with any authority what Scripture is. The table of contents in the front of the Bible is not itself an inspired text written by a prophet or an apostle. It is, in a very real sense, a creed of the church declaring what the church believes to be the content of Scripture. One way to illustrate the problem “solo” Scriptura faces in connection with the canon is simply to ask the following: How would “solo” Scriptura deal with a modern day Marcion? How, for example, would a proponent of “solo” Scriptura argue with a person who claimed that the real New Testament includes only the books of Luke, Acts, Romans, and Revelation? He can’t appeal to the church, to history, or to tradition. A self-consistent adherent of “solo Scriptura” would have no way to respond to such a view because, as one such consistent adherent informed me in personal correspondence, it is the right and duty of each individual Christian to determine the canonicity of each biblical book by and for himself. This is the only consistent position for a proponent of “solo” Scriptura to take, but it is self-defeating because it destroys any objective notion of Scripture. One cannot appeal to the biblical authority of Romans, for example, if each believer determines for himself whether Romans is in fact to be considered a canonical and authoritative biblical book.

The question of the canon is not the only theological problem caused by “solo” Scriptura. Another serious problem is the fact that the adoption of “solo” Scriptura destroys the possibility of having any objective definition of what Christianity is and is not. “solo” Scriptura destroys the very concepts of orthodoxy and heresy. If the authority of the ecumenical creeds is rejected, and if each individual believer is to determine all questions of doctrine by and for himself, then the definitions of orthodoxy and heresy are completely relative and subjective. One man judges the doctrine of the Trinity to be biblical. Another deems it unbiblical. One judges open theism biblical. Another deems it unbiblical. The same is true with respect to every other doctrine. Each man defines Christianity as it seems right in his own eyes.

Finally, it must be realized that “solo” Scriptura ignores reality. The Bible simply did not drop out of the sky into our laps. We would not even be able to read a Bible for ourselves were it not for the labors of many others including archaeologists, linguists, scribes, textual critics, historians, translators, and more. If “solo” Scriptura were true, it should be possible to give untranslated ancient Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of biblical, apocryphal, and pseudepigraphal texts to some isolated tribe member somewhere on earth, and with no one’s assistance, that individual should be able to learn the Hebrew and Greek languages, read the various manuscripts, determine which of them are canonical, and then come to an orthodox understanding of the Christian faith. The reason this is not possible, however, is because “solo” Scriptura is not true. It is an unbiblical distortion of the truth.

The revisionist doctrine of “solo” Scriptura has been a source of great damage to the cause of Christ. The magisterial reformers were right to reject the early versions of it that appeared in the teaching of some radicals. Contemporary heirs of the reformers must follow the magisterial reformers here. The fight must be fought on two fronts. We are not only to reject the Roman Catholic doctrine (whether the two-source doctrine of Tradition 2 or the sola ecclesia doctrine of Tradition 3), which places final autonomous authority in the church. We must also reject the revisionist doctrine of “solo” Scriptura, which places final autonomous authority in the hands of each and every individual.

“Communion of Saints” by Elise Ritter (October 2010)

“Communion of Saints” by Elise Ritter (October 2010)


1 For more information on Heiko Oberman’s concept of Tradition 1, see his work The Dawn of the Reformation (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1986), p. 280. For background information on Tradition 0, see Alister McGrath’s Reformation Thought, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Blackwell), p. 144. For other background information on “solo” Scriptura see Nathan O. Hatch, “Sola Scriptura and Novus Ordo Seclorum,” in The Bible in America, ed. N. Hatch and M. Noll, pp. 59-78. The quotation from Richard Muller is taken from his Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), p. 51. Luther’s letter to Duke Albert of Prussia is cited in Philip Schaff’s The Principle of Protestantism (Philadelphia: United Church Press, 1964 [1845]), pp. 116-117, note). Chemnitz’s quote can be found in Examination of the Council of Trent, tr. Fred Kramer, Vol. 1, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971), pp. 208-209. The quotations from Calvin are taken from his Institutes, 4.9.8 and 4.9.13. Mr. Mathison has taken his quotation of Charles Hodge from Hodge’s Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, pp. 113-114. Comments from Nathan Hatch on the revisionist doctrine of “solo” Scriptura are taken from “Sola Scriptura and Novus Ordo Seclorum,” in The Bible in America, ed. N. Hatch and M. Noll, p. 62. The quotation from Samuel Miller is found in The Utility and Importance of Creeds and Confessions (Greenville, SC: A Press, 1991 [1839]), p. 15. For a fuller discussion on this topic, Mr. Mathison refers readers to his book The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Canon Press, 2001).

Keith Mathison

Keith Mathison

About the Author
Keith Mathison is associate editor of Tabletalk and author of The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Canon Press, 2001).

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2007 edition of Modern Reformation and is reprinted with permission. For more information about Modern Reformation, visit www.modernreformation.org or call (800) 890-7556 FREE. All rights reserved.

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by Fred W. Anson
Even though I haven’t seen or heard hide nor hair of it for a while now, at one point Floyd Weston’s “17 Points of the True Church” was once all the rage among Mormons. They would proudly present it as demonstrable proof of an obvious miracle that validated and confirmed the veracity of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For the benefit of those who are unfamiliar with this story you can hear it directly from Mr. Weston in the video link that I’ve provided above. Or, for those who prefer the short version, here’s the synopsis from a Mormon friendly source:

The “17 points of the true church” is a story often heard in sacrament meeting talks. The story goes like this: Five friends attending college hear Albert Einstein speak. Einstein gives his belief in God. The five friends return to their dorm and begin to map out what the “true” church of God would have to include. Eventually the friends come up with 17 points of the true church. They all separate. World War II happens. Years later they all meet up (one had died in the war). The four had gone off to find the “true” church based on their research. All four had joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.1

However, the body of evidence suggests that it never happened at all.

Einstein at Cal Tech.

Einstein at Cal Tech.

Hearing Albert Einstein Speak at Cal Tech
It is a fact that Albert Einstein was at Cal Tech in the 1930’s. As the school’s website explains:

Einstein was a visiting professor at Caltech for three winter terms only—1931, 1932, and 1933. When Einstein decided to settle in the United States permanently, he accepted an appointment at Princeton University.2

However, according to his obituary, Floyd Elmer Weston was born May 21, 1921 which means that he would have been between 10-12 years old when he was a student there. Further, there’s also no record of Einstein speaking at Cal Tech after leaving the school for his commission at Princeton. Further, since Einstein’s health was failing after the war, a cross country trip from Princeton to Cal Tech (which most likely would have been via train) in the post war 1940’s to mid 1950’s (he died in 1955) for an undocumented speaking engagement is highly improbable.3

Further, there’s this email from 1998:

A convert in our ward fifteen or twenty years ago, Dick Lockett, read Weston’s story of the 17 Points and recognized that Weston claimed to have been a student at Cal Tech at the same time he was there. But several small points didn’t match his own recollection of a few events Weston mentioned. Key among them was Weston’s recounting of Einstein’s visit to Cal Tech. Einstein did come to Cal Tech but several years before Weston and he were students there. Dick began to probe the story further. He found that Weston was indeed a student at Cal Tech during the years he attended and thus could not have heard Einstein speak.4

No Collaborating Witnesses
Another problem with Weston’s story is the lack of collaborating witnesses. Continuing from the same source:

…in his story Weston only identified one of the people in the “study group” with first and last names. The rest are only identified by first names. Dick found the one identifiable member of the study group in the alumni records and made contact. They guy [had] never heard of Weston, was not LDS, and certainly was not part of any study group.5

And Holy Fetch notes:

Here is what we know to be true about this story. It was first told by Floyd Weston. He claims that he was one of the four college students. He attended Cal Tech and Albert Einstein did speak there (although some claim that Weston was a student several years after the Einstein visit). Floyd Weston never denied the story and died still claiming the story to be true. The life event was even mentioned in his obituary.

Floyd Weston’s account of the story is the only historical proof we have of this story. None of the other three people involved in the story have ever come forward to back up the story.6

Floyd Weston (1921-2005)

Floyd Weston (1921-2005)

Did Weston Recant?
However, it’s possible that Holy Fetch is incorrect in its assertion that, “Floyd Weston never denied the story and died still claiming the story to be true.” as the aforementioned email notes:

Shortly after this, Weston was invited to speak at a fireside in our stake. When Dick heard this, he told the stake president what he had found. When Weston arrived, he was asked to meet with the SP who confronted him with Dick’s findings. Weston confessed that he had made up the story and was sent packing. This happened in San Jose South stake.

While I have some sympathies about how difficult it must be to untangle a web of deception (I’m sure he still gets phone calls begging him to come and tell the story one more time), I think it is irresponsible to deliver this talk as he did to a recent group of new mission presidents, at church firesides, and to continue to sell his tape.7

The Internal Confirmation Bias Speaks for Itself
But the most compelling argument against Weston’s “17 Points” is that it’s clearly a case of confirmation bias. Wikipedia defines confirmation bias as follows:

Confirmation bias… is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities… People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.8

A simpler, more vernacular way to define it is, “You only count the hits and ignore the misses for your predetermined, favored position.” Got it? So, once again for those who missed those 17-points here they are again:

  1. Christ organized the Church (Eph 4:11-14)
  2. The true church must bear the name of Jesus Christ (Eph 5:23)
  3. The true church must have a foundation of Apostles and Prophets (Eph 2:19-20)
  4. The true church must have the same organization as Christ’s Church (Eph 4:11-14)
  5. The true church must claim divine authority (Heb 5:4-10)
  6. The true church must have no paid ministry (1 Cor 9:16-18; Acts 20:33-34; John 10:11-13)
  7. The true church must baptize by immersion (Matt 3:13-16)
  8. The true church must bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands (Acts 8:14-17)
  9. The true church must practice divine healing (Mark 3:14-15)
  10. The true church must teach that God and Jesus are separate and distinct individuals (John 17:11; 20:17)
  11. The true church must teach that God and Jesus have bodies of flesh and bone (Luke 23:36-39; Acts 1:9-11; Heb 1:1-3)
  12. The officers must be called by God (Heb 4:4; Ex 28:1; 40:13-16)
  13. The true church must claim revelation from God (Amos 3:7)
  14. The true church must be a missionary church (Matt 28:19-20)
  15. The true church must be a restored church (Acts 3:19-20)
  16. The true church must practice baptism for the dead (1Cor 15:16&29)
  17. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt 7:20)
035af376-31c8-50be-97d9-f10bd8a94785.image

The solar-powered, eco-friendly LdS Church meeting house in Farmington, Utah.

Now without going any further, doesn’t that list look like a Mormon just took the distinctives and dogmas of the Mormon Church and then generated a list based on them? For example, do you know of any church other than the LdS Church that practices baptism for the dead? Or that claims to have no paid ministry? Or that teaches God the Father has a body of flesh and bones? These are clear and unique Mormon distinctives. In addition, Floyd Weston blatantly misrepresents other churches, their doctrines, their culture and their theology in his address. In fact, his depiction of those churches is more reflective of the type of ignorance driven caricatures, prejudice, and bigotry that non-Mormons still hear from Mormons rather than what one actually finds in those churches. One could easily conclude that he never visited those churches at all.

Further, if you’ve look at the proof texts that Weston provides for each of these points, in many cases, the point is only supported by the biblical text if one engages in Mormon-style eisegesis – that is, inserting words and meanings into the text that the author never intended based on preconceptions. Stated plainly, I question the idea that a non-Mormon approaching the text cold would be inclined to come to the corresponding conclusion that’s found in that particular point. LdS Church indoctrination is clearly at play here.

For example, he cites (Heb 5:4-10) in support of “The true church must claim divine authority” which is the classic text that Mormons eisegete into the text to support their dogma of the restoration of Priesthood Authority. Ditto for point 16 (“The true church must practice baptism for the dead.”) which ignores the fact the language of 1 Cor 15:29 which refers to “they” (third person) rather than “we” (second person), or “I” (first person) – a clear indication that neither Paul or the Corinthian Christians were engaging in the practice. Further, in the full context of the chapter, it’s clear that “they” refers to those who deny the resurrection not those who don’t.

Suffice to say, the “fingerprints” of confirmation bias are all over Weston’s points. In fact, all a knowledgeable person need do is listen to his address to hear it first hand. Mr. Weston’s overtly biased presentation is both self-incriminating and self-discrediting. This fact wasn’t lost on former Mormon Richard Packham who, using the Weston template, developed his own “20 Points of the True Church”:

THE TWENTY POINTS OF THE TRUE CHURCH

Teachings of the True Church:
1. There will be no physical, visible coming of the Kingdom of God (John 18:36, Luke 17:21).
2. The celebration of the Lord’s supper includes bread, wine (Matt 26:26-29) and the washing of each other’s feet (John 13:4-15).
3. Marriage and divorce are frowned upon (1 Cor 7, Matt 19:9, Mark 10:2-12).
4. The Jewish Temple ritual will be observed (Acts 2:46).
5. The Church takes priority over family (Luke 14:26, 12:51-53, Matt 10:21).
6. Women must cover the head while praying (1 Cor 11:5-10).
7. Eunuchs will have special respect in the Church (Matt 19:12).
8. Only two commandments: Love God and love thy neighbor (Matt 22:36-40).

Members of the True Church can be recognized by the following:
9. They hold all things in common ownership (Acts 2:44-45).
10. They do not sin (1 John 3:6-9).
11. They can drink poison without harm (Mark 16:18).
12. They do not strike back if you strike them (Matt 5:39).
13. If you ask to borrow anything from them, you do not have to return it (Luke 6:30).
14. They never have to hire movers or earthmoving equipment, or use UPS; they can literally move anything by the power of God (Matt 17:20, 21:21, Mark 11:23).
15. They have no retirement plans, savings account, or food supplies stored away (Matt 6:25-34). And no possessions (Matt 19:16-21, Mark 16:21, Luke 18:22).
16. They never pray in public (Matt 6:5-8).
17. They are like sheep or children (Matt 19:14, 18:3-4, Mark 10:15, John 10:2-27, Heb 13:20).
18. They do not go to a doctor when ill, but heal each other with prayer (James 5:13-15, Mark 16:18).
19. Their children are not rebellious; they kill them if they are (Matt 15:3-9).
20. They do not die (John 8:51, 11:25-26).9

So who’s to say that Packham’s list is any less valid than Weston’s? After all, they both claim to have biblical support for their claims, right? And since Packham is an atheist he doesn’t have a denominational or sectarian axe to grind or agenda to push. So who wins?

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Further, Mormon researcher Bill McKeever has deconstructed and analyzed Weston’s 17-Points in detail. In doing so he has done a superb job of exposing not only the aforementioned confirmation bias but logical fallacy, after logical fallacy as well:

1. Christ Organized the Church.
This argument is purely subjective as most organizations claiming to be Christian feel Christ organized their church. This would include the Watchtower Society (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and others that deny sound biblical doctrine. People make the Church. Because Christ’s Church is made up of many individuals who have trusted in Christ totally for their salvation, it would be erroneous to view any particular building, organization, or denomination as the “true church.”

2. The true church must bear the name of Christ.
If Mormons wish to use this argument, they must answer as to why their own church was called merely “The Church of the Latter-day Saints” from 1834-1838. By their reasoning their own church must have been in apostasy for at least four years. Those who belonged to the early Christian church were known more by their geographic location rather than an “organizational” name. In I Thessalonians 1:1 Paul addresses “The church of the Thessalonians.” Are we to assume that Paul was addressing a false church?

3. The true church must have a foundation of Apostles and Prophets.
The true church has as its foundation Jesus Christ. He is the Chief cornerstone and/or foundation. I Corinthians 3:11 reads, “For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Deuteronomy 18:15 makes it clear that Jesus Christ Himself is “the Prophet” who guides His Church today. (See also John 5:46; 6:14; 7:40; Acts 3:22-23.)

4. The true church must have the same organization as Christ’s church.
If the LDS Church follows Eph 4:11-14, why is the order of authority reversed? Paul says first in line come the apostles, next the prophets. Mormonism reverses this order. If Mormonism emulates the structure of the early church, where in the Bible is there any mention of multiple high priests, Relief Society presidents, Second Quorum of the Seventies, stake presidencies, ward bishoprics, etc.? Where are the Mormon’s pastors, and evangelists?

5. The true church must claim divine authority.
Again, this is purely subjective. Any organization can claim to be authoritative. Bible-believing Christians claim the authority of God’s Word, the Bible, not the words of mere men who contradict it.

6. The true church must have no paid ministry.
Mormons who believe their leaders are not paid are very misinformed. All the General Authorities in Salt Lake City receive remuneration for their services to the church and from the church. If they don’t believe it, they should call the LDS Church headquarters and ask. A paid ministry is not unbiblical. The entire Old Testament speaks of a paid ministry as well as I Corinthians chapter 9.

7. The true church must baptize by immersion.
If baptism (a work) was necessary in order for a person to be saved, this could be a debatable subject. However, Ephesians 2:8,9 clearly states that we are saved by grace through faith, not works such as baptism. Baptism is merely an outside sign of an inner work of the Holy Spirit in an individual’s life. Believers should be baptized as a testimony of their faith in Christ; however, baptism does not save.

8. The true church must bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands.
Many Christian churches do practice this. The Bible shows, however, that at times the Holy Ghost (Spirit) was received of men without mention of hands being laid on them. (See Acts 4:31; 10:44; 11:15.)

9. The true church must practice divine healing.
Again, many Christian churches do practice this and do get results.

10. The true church must teach that God and Jesus Christ are separate and distinct individuals.
The Christian church holds that Jesus Christ and God the Father are separate personages. Joseph Smith strayed from the truth when he said they were separate Gods. This conflicts with many passages such as Deut. 6:4 and Isaiah 43:10, just to name a few.

11. The true church must teach that God and Jesus Christ have bodies of flesh and bone.
Mormons believe this only to substantiate Joseph Smith’s so-called first vision. John 4:24 claims God is a spirit (lit. God is Spirit). Even Smith at one time taught God the Father was a personage of spirit (See Lectures on Faith, Lecture Fifth). He changed his mind later on.

12. The officers must be called of God.
Another subjective point. All cultists believe they are called of God.

13. The true church must claim revelation from God.
Again, a subjective point. All cultists claim revelation from God.

14. The true church must be a missionary church.
Any Christian church that wants to see souls saved is a missionary church whether that mission field is across the ocean or across the back fence. The Mormon church holds no exclusive rights to missionary activity.

15. The true church must be a restored church.
You can’t restore something that wasn’t lost. Jesus Himself said the gates of hell would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18). History proves this.

16. The true church must practice baptism for the dead.
The Christian church never condoned baptism for the dead. Paul excludes himself from such a practice when he uses a third person pronoun rather than first person (“Why do they baptize for the dead …”) (See Hebrews 9:27 and Alma 34:34,35 for that matter.)

17. By their fruits ye shall know them.
This expression is taken from Matthew 7:20, which ironically deals with judging false prophets, not churches. In examining the fruits of Joseph Smith, we find that he indeed was a false prophet. He introduced a foreign view of God, a false plan of salvation, and inaccurate predictions about future events. If we must use this verse to examine the fruits of Mormonism, we must have an answer as to why the Mormon Church must constantly reverse its position on matters that should never change (Alma 41:8). Why do their leaders contradict past leaders? Why did they change the Book of Mormon so many times when it was supposedly translated “by the gift and power of God the first time”? Why did they change their temple ceremony in 1990 when Smith claimed it came by direct revelation? And doesn’t it seem suspicious that many of the changes in the ceremony were things Christians (and Mormons) had been criticizing for years? Did God mess up or did Joseph Smith (or was it their current leaders)?10

And to further expand on Mr. McKeever’s critique of Point Six, LdS scripture actually demands a paid clergy in not one but two different places:

And the elders or high priests who are appointed to assist the bishop as counselors in all things, are to have their families supported out of the property which is consecrated to the bishop, for the good of the poor, and for other purposes, as before mentioned;

Or they are to receive a just remuneration for all their services, either a stewardship or otherwise, as may be thought best or decided by the counselors and bishop.

And the bishop, also, shall receive his support, or a just remuneration for all his services in the church.
(Doctrine & Covenants 42:71-73)

Behold, I say unto you, that it is the duty of the church to assist in supporting the families of those, and also to support the families of those who are called and must needs be sent unto the world to proclaim the gospel unto the world.
(Doctrine & Covenants 75:24)

So the modern Mormon Church’s assertion that a paid clergy is a sign of an apostate and/or untrue church blatantly contradicts what it also claims is part of God’s revealed commandments to His only true, living, and restored church. I believe the word for this is “hypocrisy.”

One can only wonder why Floyd Weston conveniently ignored these rather glaring incongruities in his analysis. The only logical explanation that is that he was not only just counting the “hits” but ignoring the “misses.” So in the end, its clear that Floyd Weston’s “17 Points of the True Church” appears to be nothing more than the type of confirmation bias driven, thought stopping, information and emotional controlling circular logic that Mormon culture produces in spades – and what’s remarkable about any of that?11

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A Comparable Evangelical Case Study
Further, when a public figure is caught fabricating inspiring falsehoods people tend to hold them accountable for it after they’re exposed. For example, let’s consider the case of Evangelical comedian Mike Warnke who got caught in a web of lies back in the 1990’s:

In 1991, Cornerstone magazine launched an investigation into Warnke’s life and testimony. The previous year, Cornerstone had debunked Lauren Stratford‘s story that had been recounted in Satan’s Underground. Stratford claimed her deep involvement in Satanism led her to partake in a ritual in which her own child was sacrificed. After the exposé showed Stratford’s alleged child had never existed, Cornerstone journalists Mike Hertenstein and Jon Trott investigated Warnke and his life.

The Cornerstone investigation spanned from interviews with over 100 of Warnke’s personal friends and acquaintances to his ministry’s tax receipts. The investigation revealed a number of inaccuracies and evidence of fraud and deceit in Warnke’s accounts. During the course of Cornerstone’s investigation, pictures of Warnke taken during the time he was alleged to be a Satanist priest were discovered. Rather than showing an emaciated drug-addict sporting long fingernails and waist-length hair, the pictures showed Warnke as a typical ‘square’ of the mid-1960s. The investigation also revealed Warnke’s claims that he and Charles Manson had attended a Satanic ritual to be false; Manson was in federal prison at the time, having no known ties to Satanic churches.

The investigation further uncovered that before joining the Navy, Warnke had been involved with the college Christian ministry Campus Crusade for Christ. The investigation also revealed the unflattering circumstances surrounding Warnke’s multiple marriages, affairs, and divorces. Most critically, however, the investigation showed how Warnke could not have done the many things he claimed to have taken part in throughout the nine months he claimed to be a Satanist – including his claims to be a drug-addicted dealer or a Satanic high priest.

Warnke sent a response to Cornerstone, published in July, insisting he told the truth, stating:

‘I stand by my testimony of being delivered and set free by the power of Jesus Christ after being a Satanic high priest exactly as published in my book, The Satan Seller…. some information was purposefully changed to protect the privacy of certain individuals and to prevent readers from using the book as a guide for occultism and Satanic purposes. But, as we stated in the front of the book, ‘The events are absolutely as described.”’

Despite these assertions, Warnke did not provide the name of a single Satanist but used invectives against ex-wife Carolyn. In the ensuing months, Warnke conceded parts of the allegations, telling Christianity Today that there had been only 13 members of his coven, not 1,500 as originally claimed, and that of those 13, the whereabouts of five were unknown to him, while the other eight had since died.12

The reaction from the Evangelical community to this deceit and attempt at manipulative damage control was quick and impacting:

Public response was varied but was nevertheless overwhelmingly against Warnke. Initially, Word Records stated that they would stand by their artist. However, further investigations by local Kentucky reporters at the Lexington Herald-Leader revealed that Warnke’s ministry had engaged in financial misdeeds and that “Mike, his ex-wife Rose, and her brother Neale [Hall] received a total of $809,680 in salary at a time when the ministry newsletter claimed donations were down and more funds were needed.” One week later, Word Records dropped Warnke from its label. Finally, on September 30, 1992, fewer than 100 days after the investigation was made public, Warnke Ministries closed its doors.13

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This historic Moab LdS Church was constructed of adobe in 1884. It was built nine years after the establishment of Moab in 1880. Angus Stocks supervised the laying of the foundation and adobes. Within a few years of original construction an addition was made to the rear of the building. The church was used by the Moab Ward until 1925, when a new church was built and this church deeded to the Grand County School District.

The Mormon Response
Yet remarkably, despite all the evidence discrediting Weston’s 17-Points, the reaction been in Mormon Culture has been quite different to what we saw from Evangelicals in response to Warnke’s faith promoting yarn spinning and denials. Here’s a sampling of Mormon responses:

“I sat in a meeting where Brother Weston himself told that story. I have no reason to question Brother Weston’s veracity.”14

“Floyd Weston told me himself in 1983 that it really happend,[sic] five friends studied four joined (one died). Now about the 17 points that’s just interpretation of those scriptures. I once saw a 42 point one that was more detailed. But according to brother Weston and I have no reason to doubt him. Its true. According to Brother Weston’s son he never denied it to his family either. Please stop trying to make Brother Weston out to be a Paul H Dunn.”15

“I wanted to let you know that I just talked to one of Brother Weston’s relatives. He said that whether these claims are true or false… this 17 points of the true church has been effective & instrumental in helping people join the church and that Satan will do anything to diffuse that.

I highly recommend that you redirect this discussion before it causes Satan to have more power & influence on Jesus Christ’s people.”16

One will, of course, notice that no verifiable evidence is presented to support these claims of Weston’s vindication – once again it’s all “just take my word for it” and “I know a guy who knows a guy” second and third hand feel good hearsay.

Even the Mormon Apologists at FAIRMormon seem to be unable or unwilling to openly acknowledge Weston’s deceit and denounce the 17-Points as a contrived, faith promoting lie. Yet at the same time time they still seem to be posturing for a rapid retreat and slowly backing away from it:

It makes little difference for the Church if Weston made up his story, since the truth or falsity of Weston’s personal history has no bearing whatsoever on the truth of the restored gospel. Additionally, the “17 Points” may be used by certain individual members of the Church, but they have not been used in any official Church publications or adopted by the Church in any other way. The claims of the restored gospel stand independent of Weston’s list.17

Even more amusingly FAIRMormon attempts to woodshed critics of The 17-Points by incorrectly asserting that articles like this are some kind of indirect attack on the Mormon Church via ad-hominem attacks on Floyd Weston:

What this has to do with the validity of Weston’s “17 Points” is not entirely clear, but it seems that the critic is attempting to discredit Weston’s list (and, by implication, the Church) by discrediting Weston himself. This would be a form of the ad hominem fallacy… This confirms the perspective that the hostile reports targeted against Weston suffer from significant bias.18

Oh irony here! Critics are accused by FAIRMormon of engaging in argument “to the man” (the English translation of ad-hominem from the Latin) rather than “to the man’s evidence, arguments, logic, and reason” when those critics are doing nothing more than challenging Weston’s evidence, arguments, logic, and reason. Even more remarkably these charges come right on the tail of FAIRMormon acknowledging that Weston’s 17-Points are indeed rooted and grounded in confirmation bias:

The assumptions underlying the “17 points” are highly dependent upon a worldview widely assumed by Utah Mormons, but which rarely reflects the situation of those who are not members of the LDS Church: the idea that there is “one true church” and that people will accept the LDS faith once they are logically convinced that it “matches” the New Testament Church in salient ways. In reality, these concepts are totally foreign to the worldview of most non-Mormons and depend a great deal on the assumptions which one brings to such an analysis.

“17 Points” is thus a resource that may be interesting to Latter-day Saints in examining the scriptural basis for certain features of the modern Church, but it is one that has relatively little value or relevance to the missionary effort unless the non-member already shares many aspects of the LDS world-view.19

With “logic” and “consistency” like this who needs enemies – FAIRMormon seems to be doing just fine shooting itself in the foot, that is after that foot has been inserted into its mouth first. Say what you will about Evangelical Christianity but you won’t find its apologists defending a member of its tribe who’s been caught in a faith promoting lie. If you doubt me, just read the Warnke case above again and consider that at no time did you have Evangelicals claim that Mike Warnke was being “ad-hominemed” by critics in an agenda driven attempt to indirectly discredit Evangelicalism. In fact, Warnke’s harshest critics, not to mention the folks who exposed his deceit to begin with, were fellow Evangelicals.

Conclusion
At the end of it all, the body of evidence points to fact that the story of Floyd Weston’s “17-Points of the True Church” is a complete fabrication. So the fact that Mormons continue to defend it and use it as evidence in their discussions with outsiders raises some serious questions about the value of truth and integrity in Mormon Culture. As Richard Packham said well in response to one Mormon’s argument that, “whether these claims are true or false… this 17 points of the true church has been effective & instrumental in helping people join the church and that Satan will do anything to diffuse that”: 20

“Does this mean, then, that, according to this Mormon, the truth is a tool of Satan?”

Kinda makes you wonder folks don’t it? Kinda makes you wonder…

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A former LdS Church building, now privately owned. Peter Jensen was the first branch president in Ovid, Utah in 1873. He later became the first Bishop of this church.

NOTES
1 “Is the “17 Points of the True Church” a true story”, Holy Fetch website.
2 “Fast Facts About Cal Tech History”, Cal Tech website.
3 See “Chronology of Einstein’s life”, Albert Einstein in the World Wide Web website. Also see Princeton University’s article on Einstein here.
4 Anonymous archived email, Wed, 28 Oct 1998 23:46:03 Pacific Time, Richard Packham website.
5 Ibid.
6 Op Cit, Holy Fetch. Underlining added for emphasis.
7 Op Cit, Anonymous email. By the way, one can still buy an audio copy of Weston’s 17-Point at Deseret Book. Or if you prefer the printed tact version, ditto.
8 Wikipedia article on Confirmation Bias.
9 Richard Packham, “The 17 Points of the True Church”.
10 Bill McKeever, ‘Examining the “17 Points of the True Church”‘
11 Also see Fred Anson, “A Short Course In Confirmation Bias” for another infamous example of this.
12 Wikipedia article on Mike Warnke, “Investigation and debunking“.
13 Ibid, “Aftermath”.
14 Mormon Discussion and Dialogue Board, post by ERayR, 4 Mar 2009.
15 Mormon Discussion and Dialogue Board, post by Anijen, 3 Mar 2009.
16 Fri, 30 Oct 1998 09:35:44 Pacific Time, Richard Packham website.
17 “Criticism of Mormonism/Criticism of “17 Points of the True Church”‘, FAIRMormon website.
18 Ibid.
19 Ibid.
20 Op Cit, Packham, “The 17 Points of the True Church”.

Church-at-Sunrise

Also Recommended: 
In November 2011 Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson discussed, deconstructed, and evaluated The 17-Points of the True Church on their Viewpoint on Mormonism podcast. You can listen to these podcasts via the following links: Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 

BACK TO TOP

church_sign-wideby Fred W. Anson
Since I’m known in most circles for my strong Reformed theological stance, a lot of people are surprised to discover that I’m also full blown, tongues speaking non-cessationist Charismatic.

There’s a reason for that: I’m embarrassed. Yes folks, I’m embarrassed by so much of the insanity that goes on among my Charismatic/Pentecostal Brethren these days that I find myself wanting to distance myself from a movement that I once was proudly part of. If anyone has any doubts about why, just pick the latest copy of Charisma Magazine skip the editorial content (which is generally written by sane, reasonable people), and read the ads (which in many cases seem to written by people who are neither).1 If that doesn’t convince you, just flip to the Trinity Broadcasting Network (aka “TBN”) on your television and try to last for more than about 15-minutes – them folks is all nuts from what I can tell!

Yes, the lack of biblical theological, sound doctrine, discernment, and good old common sense that some of today’s Pentecostals and Charismatics engage in is embarrassing folks, truly embarrassing – and I’m saying this as someone who’s part of the tribe! The term that we thinking Charismatics use for these lunatic fringe nutballs is “Charismaniacs” – and trust me, they have legitimately earned the title! In fact, a few have even go so far off the rails that they openly embrace – and even promote – Mormon error. Let’s look at a couple of these.

Paul Richardson and Lynn Ridenhour

Advertisement for a joint Paul Richardson, Lynn Ridenhour seminar. (click to zoom)

The Errors of Paul Richardson
In previous articles2 Beggar’s Bread readers were introduced to Dr. Lynn Ridenhour, an allegedly ordained Baptist Minister who has a testimony of Joseph Smith as prophet due to being introduced to the Book of Mormon by one of his Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS)/Community of Christ neighbors in Missouri. Dr. Ridenhour merited his own article because he’s the most notorious personality in this regard. In fact, it was through Lynn Ridenhour’s Facebook page that I discovered Dr. Paul Richardson, of whom he wrote:

MEET A DEAR FRIEND. Meet Dr. Paul Richardson, Pentecostal minister who loves and preaches out of the Book of Mormon. A few years back we hosted a Book of Mormon seminar in Independence. Two protestant preachers—a Baptist and a Pentecostal—preaching out of the Book of Mormon. I remember the night. The place was packed! We had an LDS Bishop there, missionaries were there. RLDS brothers and sisters were there. A Catholic priest came.

I consider Dr. Paul and his lovely wife, Faye, the dearest of friends. What a John the Baptist they are! Forerunners ahead of their time—spreading the good news of the restoration gospel and the message of the precious Book of Mormon throughout the southern states of this nation. Dr. Richardson publishes his monthly newspaper and mails it out to Pentecostals, mostly pastors all over southern United States. He also gives away free “Record of the Nephites,” as he calls the Book of Mormon.

Dr. Richardson is the chancellor of Spirit of Truth Institute, a Bible School. His school has ordained over 430 Pentecostal ministers. What a friend!3

Now it should probably be noted here that Dr. Ridenour actually transitioned from being a cessationist Baptist to continuationist Pentecostal during the Charismatic Renewal of the 1970’s. So if you attended that seminar what you really got, despite Lynn Ridenhour’s spin doctored rhetoric, was not one, but two Pentecostals who have fallen into Mormon error. And Dr. Ridenhour isn’t joking about any of the stuff he said about Paul Richardson, let’s consider some “gems” from his website:

El Greco, "The Pentecost"

“The Pentecost” by El Greco

OUR DISTINCTIVE STAND
We accept the Book of Mormon, which we also refer to as “The Record of the Nephites” or “The Nephite Record.” Why? Because …

  • It is a companion to and comparable to the traditional 66 books of our Holy Bible, as Sacred Writ
  • It is obviously inspired of God and from heaven.
  • It is in harmony with our Holy Bible, confirms and supports fundamental Christian teachings and is another powerful witness unto our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • It is a fascinating true account of ancient Israelites who migrated by ship to America about 600 B.C.
  • This authentic account was dug up, supernaturally translated by the power of the Holy Ghost, and first printed in 1830. Sadly, the Utah “Mormons” have made many little alterations in their version of it, but we still have copies that conform to the original manuscript.
  • It authoritatively corrects a number of old false teachings that have plagued the Church for generations.
  • It is theologically sound, full of spiritual light, and very edifying to the soul.
  • It is the first installment of much more extra-Biblical Revelation prophesied to come forth in this end time.4

And how does Paul Richardson support his claims that the Book of Mormon is an “authentic account”, “obviously inspired of God and from heaven”, and a “true account”? Archaeology? Science perhaps? Cross referencing the historic records? Evaluating the linguistics of the Book of Mormon relative to Native American linguistics maybe? Theological consensus perhaps?

Of course not! Rather, given the fact that it’s been soundly discredited archaeologically, scientifically, historically, linguistically, theologically, and just about every other way, he just does it the same way that all true believing Mormons do: He elevates his feelings and experience above all else. He simply ignores the fact that not only isn’t there a scrap of evidence to validate the Book of Mormon, there’s a mountain of evidence that discredits it. Here’s an example of the type of feellings driven, Mormon style, mental gymnastics that he engages in:

SOMEONE HAD TO WRITE THE BOOK OF MORMON
—It did not just drop down out of Heaven. There are only three possible origins: 1. God, 2. Man, or 3. the devil.

Joseph Smith, Jr. did not write the Book of Mormon. He only translated it. Then soon afterward his life became such a lie that the Book he translated was stigmatized causing the Christian church to rejected [sic] it.

What does the Book of Mormon do for me?
• Well, it inspires me to pray and to be loving and kind.
• It convicts me of any selfishness, fleshly disposition or worldly attitudes.
• It builds up my faith and gives me courage to trust the Lord.
• It puts me in a Heavenly frame of mind and kindles a strong desire in me to walk with God and to live holy for Him.

Each time you lay the Book of Mormon down and walk away, it feels just like you had a real good church service. Reading the Book of Mormon does all the same things for me as reading the Holy Bible does.5

But the fact of the matter is that objective evidence simply can’t be ignored. And if that evidence contradicts your emotional decision it still has to be dealt with somehow. Given that, consider how arbitrary and inconsistent he is in accepting the divine calling of Joseph Smith as inspired translator of the Book of Mormon while simultaneously throwing him under the bus as a fallen prophet:

Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God and a great Seer.

His gift was utterly supernatural!

He had an amazing gift from God to translate the ancient Nephite Record. His great contribution was incomparable, for which we are very grateful.

But not long after he translated the Book of Mormon, he clearly became deceived and misguided and no one should follow either his personal example or his false teachings, which clashed with both the Holy Bible and the Book of Mormon.

I prefer to follow the pure Word of God!6

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“Pentecost” by Mark Wiggin

This is pretzel logic at it’s finest! This is like saying that Mohammed was a divinely inspired moralist when he received the Koran but lost the anointing when he started slaughtering infidels. Or that L. Ron Hubbard was an expert in human psychology when he wrote Dianetics but suddenly became a manipulative hack after it fell off the bestseller list. Neither narrative is true: The moral character of neither man changed before or after the these works were published, they remained the same. Likewise, the historical record demonstrates that Joseph Smith was a con-man and a shyster before, during, and after the creation of the Book of Mormon. In all cases, the only thing that really changed was the amount of power and influence that these men were able to consolidate to themselves as a result of the publication of their defining work. And once they had that power consolidation protecting them, their true nature manifested itself.

So apparently in Richardson’s mind the rationale goes something like this: “So what if Joseph Smith didn’t live a life that produced good fruit (per Matt 7:15-20)? So what if the rotten fruit he produced has resulted in a plethora of abusive Mind Control Cults that have followed him in engaging in the practice of polygamy? So what if he taught that the God of the Bible is just an exalted man who is just one of an infinite number of such gods throughout the cosmos (in violation of Deut 13:1-11)? So what if Joseph Smith destroyed fortunes and families through failed prophecies (in violation of Deut 18:18-22)? Brother, his book sure makes me feel like I’m in a really good church meeting when I read it, so it must be of God, right?”

Clearly Dr. Paul Richardson is failing to plumb line any of his beliefs against the absolute and objective standard of the Bible. I can say this emphatically because while the Book of Mormon is an interesting example of 19th Century American Protestant Restorationism, it simply isn’t fully “in harmony with our Holy Bible”. As Donna Morley noted in her analysis of similar claims by Lynn Ridenhour:

Here’s what Alma 13:13 actually says:

“And now, my brethren, I would that ye should humble yourselves before God, and bring forth fruit meet for repentance, that ye may also enter into that rest.”
(Alma 13:13, RLDS, bolding added)

Further, here’s something else Alma says in chapter 13:

“Now, as I said concerning the holy order, or this high priesthood, there were many who were ordained and became high priests of God; and it was on account of their exceeding faith and repentance, and their righteousness before God, they choosing to repent and work righteousness rather than to perish.”
(Alma 13:10, RLDS, bolding added)

In the above, Alma stated that the high priests escaped damnation only by working righteousness. The righteousness is credited as “their righteousness.” This isn’t the unconditional grace that’s taught in the Bible this is conditional grace where one must perform good works in order to merit grace rather than it being a unilateral gift of unmerited favor and mercy from God Himself!

True Christianity isn’t based upon our righteousness. The prophet Isaiah says that our righteousness is as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6, NASB). Because we don’t have righteousness of our own, true followers of Christ are given His righteousness:

“But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe.”
(Romans 3:22, NASB)

“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
(2 Corinthians 5:21, NASB)7

pentecost 2

“Pentecost 2” by William Grosvenor Congdon (1912-1998)

The Book of Mormon also contradicts with biblical theology on other key points as well. For example, it’s view of the Godhead is modalistic8 and it rejects salvation by grace alone through faith alone (that is unconditional grace) for Roman Catholic style conditional grace ( that is, salvation by grace plus works):

“For we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.
(2 Nephi 25:23 LDS bolding added for emphasis)

This is in direct contradiction with the Bible:

“For it is by faith you are saved through faith, not that of yourselves it is the gift of God”
(Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB bolding added for emphasis)

“But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace.”
(Romans 11:6, NASB)

So it’s clear that Dr. Paul Richardson is in very grave error. He isn’t following the “pure Word of God” at all. I would respectfully suggest that he reconsider his feelings regarding the Book of Mormon in light of what the pure Word of God actually says regarding using feelings as the ultimate means of discerning truth:

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
(Jeremiah 17:9, KJV)

“He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered.”
(Proverbs 28:26, KJV)

Dr. Paul Richardson pitches the “Record of the Nephites” without explicitly stating that it’s the Book of Mormon.

The Errors of Cal Fullerton
While he’s not well known, probably the most interesting of the Charismatics who have been snared by the spirit of Mormonism is Cal Fullerton. Unlike Lynn Ridenhour and Paul Richardson, his justification for his stance isn’t quite as eye rollingly, face palmingly, ham fistedly inane, absurdist, and irrational. Rather, like non-Charismatic LdS Church advocates Richard J. Mouw and Roger E. Olson, he has been seduced into an odd form of theological liberalism and eyes wide shut ecumenicalism that’s rooted in feelings and experiences trumping both biblical orthodoxy and reality. One need go no further than the home page of his website to see this:

“Is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) Christian?” This question and others about Christianity in the Mormon Church are reverberating worldwide.

The answers given are usually polarizing. Those who say no are primarily evangelical Christians. Those who say yes are primarily Mormons . . . but not all of them.

Respected evangelical leaders such as Joel Osteen have said yes.

The president of Fuller Theological Seminary, Dr. Richard Mouw, who has been recognized as an important voice among reform-oriented evangelicals, confessed that evangelicals have spread lies about LDS beliefs…

In order to do this completely and most effectively, there must be unity among us. Jesus prayed, “I have given them [my disciples] the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. . . . May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me” (John 17:22-23 NIV).9

"Icon-Pentecost" by Phiddipus

“Icon-Pentecost” by Phiddipus

So there you have it, an Evangelical Scholar whose work in Mormon Studies has been discredited and denounced by recognized and respected Evangelical Mormon Studies Scholars (Richard J. Mouw)10 and an ear tickling heretic (Joel Osteen)!11 I mean if these guys say it’s true, then it must be – right? I mean, with “evangelical leaders” like this who needs wolves, we have them right in the flock!

But, wait it gets, even better: Though it’s rarely mentioned in public, Cal Fullerton also bases his stance regarding the LdS Church on a prophecy from an errant Charismatic prophetess. Here’s how he relayed this incident on a Mormon/Evangelical discussion board:

I heard the prophecy (not a dream or vision) by the prophetess long after the Word of God—printed & living—revealed to me God’s perspective on the LDS.

Incidentally, the prophetess fell short of saying the LDS is Christian and should be accepted into the Christian fold. Rather, she rebuked the church of Christ for pointing fingers at Mormons. At one point she yelled, “THROW DOWN YOUR STONES!” I liked it so much that I asked permission to use her prophecy in something I was writing. She denied permission, which is why, for the sake of integrity, I’m not mentioning her name now. (She is well known and highly respected among charismatics.)12

And there you have it – classic Charismaniac error. When push comes to shove, Biblical absolutes get shoved to the side and are subordinated to feelings and experiences. This theme can be found again, again, and again on Mr. Fullerton’s website. Again one need go no further than his home page:

Helen [Cal Fullerton’s wife] and I are not taking this stand because we have another opinion– opinions are already too easy to find–it’s because the Spirit of the living God has revealed it to us. Have you ever noticed that virtually all non-Mormons who say the Mormon Church isn’t Christian, don’t say that God told them so? The reason is He didn’t!13

So it came as no surprise to me when Mr. Fullerton offered the same, “Pray about it my friend” defense of the Mormon Church in the aforementioned online discussion that one would expect from a Mormon. Here was my response:

[Your challenge that I pray about the Mormon Church] deserves special, detailed attention. With this statement you have demonstrated WHY some Charismatics/Pentecostals and nearly all Latter-day Saints fall into error.

Cal, I don’t HAVE to pray about whether Mormonism is Christian anymore than I have to pray about whether I should lie, cheat, steal, or commit adultery. Nowhere in the Bible are we told to told to pray about Biblical absolutes.

Rather, for a true Christian the Bible is his/her absolute authority – not feelings, not experiences, not relationships, and not . . . whatever. And in this case Joseph Smith failed to pass every Biblical test for a true prophet and he passed every test for a false one:

1) Deceiving God’s covenant people into following another God. (Deu 13:1-11)
2) Giving future predictions that failed to come to pass. (Deu 18:18-22)
3) A life that produces bad fruit. (Mat 7:15-20)
4) Denying that Jesus Christ was God eternal incarnated in human flesh. (1 John 4:1-3)

In addition we can add:
5) Use of Occult practices like scrying and Shamanism.
6) Incorporating Freemasonry into the LDS Temple ceremonies.
(Freemasonry is rooted in Kabbalah which is occultic)

As I’m sure you know occult practices are soundly condemned throughout both the Old and New Testament so I won’t bore you and the other readers with a list of proof texts on this. In regard to Joseph Smith’s involvement with these practices here’s a good write up by former Mormon, Janis Hutchinson that ends with this closing statement: “No individual, knowing the truth about the Mormon Church’s occult background, could possibly follow Joseph Smith as a prophet or embrace his teachings.”
http://www.janishutchinson.com/joeoccult.html

So no Cal, there’s no need to pray about whether Mormonism is Christian anymore than I need to pray to determine if Branch Davidianism, Christian Spiritualism, Freemasonry, or Scientology are. Sure there are good, moral, admirable people in each of these religions but that doesn’t make them Christian any more than it makes their founders true prophets of the God of the Bible.

And, I must say it, suggesting that I – or any other Christian for that matter – disregard Biblical absolutes and pray about whether the false religion started and based on the teachings of the false prophet Joseph Smith simply demonstrates how flawed, errant, and unbiblical your theology has become.14

At this point, I’m not quite sure what to add in regard in regard the Errors of Cal Fullerton. One need only parse through his website to see error, after error, after error.

"Pentecost" (Unknown Artist)

“Pentecost” (Unknown Artist)

Good Theology? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Good Theology!
Lynn Ridenhour, Paul Richards, and Cal Fullerton represent the Charismaniac extremism that John MacArthur and his supporters pointed to with glee in their “Strange Fire” book and conferences in indicting Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement as a fountainhead of error. They’re easy targets since, unlike many Charismatics, they seem to lack any real theological depth. For example, consider this “gem” from Cal Fullerton:

It has been said that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is not a Christian organization because Mormonism denies one or more of the “essential” doctrines of the gospel. To determine if that statement is correct, we need to have a good grasp of what actually is essential. To correctly classify the LDS we need to be sure which doctrines of the Holy Bible are absolutely mandatory in order for someone to become a Christian and enter heaven. Roughly seventy percent of Mormon teachings agree with evangelical teachings. But that does not prove that the LDS is a Christian denomination. The tenets and members have to agree with the Bible’s essentials.

I have assembled these essentials into four.

Essential Number 1: Believe God Rewards…
Essential Number 2: Repent to Faith in Jesus…
Essential Number 3: Receive Jesus (the Holy Spirit) Into Your Heart (Be Born Again)…
Essential Number 4: Believe Jesus is the Son of God, the Christ…

According to the Bible, if the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches the four essentials I’ve listed above, we must classify it as a Christian denomination instead of an unchristian cult. That is because God has plainly promised that if you do the essential requirements I have outlined, he will accept you into his eternal family.

Back when I thought the Mormon Church wasn’t Christian, I didn’t pay much attention to whether each of their doctrines had to do with a mandatory requirement for entering heaven. That was one of the reasons I made a tragic mistake of judgment.15

I can hear the sound of palms hitting faces throughout cyberspace as those grounded in historic, biblical theology read that “masterpiece”. I know of no credible theologian who would accept that list as fundamentally sound criteria for soteriology, let alone mainstream Christian orthodoxy! He apparently has no clue that the Essential Doctrines of the Christian faith have recognized throughout Christian Church History as the following:16

"Pentecost 4" William Grosvenor Congdon (1912 - 1998)

“Pentecost 4” by William Grosvenor Congdon (1912 – 1998) (click to zoom)

The Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith
1) The Deity of Jesus Christ.
2) Salvation by Grace.
3) The resurrection of Jesus Christ.
4) The gospel of Jesus Christ, and
5) Monotheism.

In the end Cal Fullerton only demonstrates his own ignorance and destroys his own case by doing a Mormon style “redefining the terms to fit the predetermined conclusion”. In fact, Mormonism doesn’t even get through the Judeo-Christian gate because of it’s rejection of monotheism in favor of henotheistic polytheism.

Likewise, as pointed out in a previous article, Lynn Ridenhour can’t even properly articulate the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity held by mainstream Christianity without speaking heretically. And he then one ups that heresy by concluding that Joseph Smith’s blasphemous tri-theistic view of the godhead is correct.17 Finally, as noted previously, Paul Richardson seems quite happy with the modalistic version of the Trinity presented in the Book of Mormon, as well as its denial of salvation by grace alone. Folks, if you’re looking for theological depth from these three, look elsewhere! The aforementioned John MacArthur could well have been writing specifically about them when he said:

We ought to begin with the Word of God, allowing a proper interpretation of the text to govern our experiences. A true work of the Spirit thrives on sound doctrine. It promotes biblical truth; it does not dismiss it or see it as a threat. Once experience is allowed to be the litmus test for truth, subjectivism becomes dominant and neither doctrine nor practice is defined by the divine standard of Scripture.

Charismatics downplay doctrine for the same reason they demean the Bible: they think any concern for timeless, objective truth stifles the work of the Spirit. They envision the Spirit’s ministry as something wholly free-flowing, infinitely pliable— so subjective as to defy definition. Creeds, confessions of faith, and systematic theology are seen as narrow, confining, not elastic enough for the Spirit to work within. Acknowledging this tendency within charismatic circles, one author wrote, “A college student once warned me of the ‘dangerous doctrine of demons’— his description of systematic theology. ‘The Lord has given us the Holy Spirit to interpret Scripture,’ he explained. ‘Teaching doctrine is Satan’s attempt to use our minds to understand the Bible rather than relying on the Holy Spirit.” (William E. Brown, “Making Sense of Your Faith”, Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1989, p.55)

That is a shocking statement. In reality, the only thing good theology stifles is error, which is why sound doctrine is the single greatest antidote to charismatic deviations. Remember, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 16: 13). Any work of His will elevate biblical truth and sound doctrine in the hearts and minds of His people.18

Pentecostal Charismaniacs: Mormons Gone Bad
But now it should be apparent that these men are more Mormon than Christian in their epistemology. This should come as no surprise since as noted in prior articles19 Mormonism was a byproduct of the same 19th Century American Restorationist Pentecostalism that birthed today’s modern Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. That epistemology, in a nutshell, can be described thusly: Feelings, faith, facts – in that order. As Lutheran Pastor, Don Matzat (who has past involvement with the Charismatic Movement) observed well:

There is nothing wrong with Christians desiring feelings, emotions, and experience. In fact, the lack of any experience is in itself an experience. The lack of feeling is a feeling. The lack of emotion is an emotion. Any cursory reading of the New Testament demonstrates that love, joy, peace, hope, contentment are to be the Christian’s experience, feeling, and emotion…

Rather than coming against a feel-good faith, we should clearly teach that true Christian feelings, emotions, and Holy Spirit experience are the product of sound theology. Rather than confronting imbalance in the church by promoting the alternative and pushing the pendulum to the other side, we should begin with a balanced perspective which means recognizing that feelings will follow a faith that clings to the objective promises of God in Scripture. The person who believes and confesses that his sins are forgiven because Jesus died on the cross should feel guilt-free and experience the joy of having a cleansed conscience. Feelings and emotions. while not the cause of our faith, are the expression of our faith. Martin Luther writes, “We can mark our lack of faith by our lack of joy; for our joy must necessarily be as great as our faith.” Again he writes, “You have as much laughter as you have faith.” (Ewald Plass, What Luther Says, (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1959), Vol. 2, p. 692.)…

Hopefully the present conflict between sound doctrine and feel-good experience will lead to a balanced perspective on both sides. Those who minimize sound doctrine and promote feelings and experience must recognize that they are plotting a course for deception and disaster. Those who focus on sound doctrine must begin teaching people to apply those great truths of Scripture to their daily living so that the experience of God’s people matches what the Word of God commands.20

And Charisma magazine more directly and forcefully articulated the same sentiment in a web article by Joseph Mattera entitled, “10 Signs You Are a Charismaniac”. In fact, according to Mr. Mattera, this is the #1 characteristic of a Charismaniac:

1. You put prophecies and extra-biblical leadings on the same level as the written Word of God. 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, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. The Scriptures are our rule for life and the highest standard for judging truth.

Unfortunately, some in the charismatic camp seem to be led more by personal prophecies and supernatural visions and dreams than by the Scriptures. I have known some people who would record personal prophecies by well-known “prophets” and—without praying about it or comparing it to Scripture or getting discerning counsel from more seasoned leaders in the kingdom—would just obey the prophecy as if it were as inspired as the Bible.21

Jean_II_Restout_-_Pentecôte

“Pentecost” by Jean II Restout, (c.1732)

In other words, biblical epistemology is facts, faith, feelings – in that order. To see the contrast, just consider Paul Richardson’s “evidence” that the Book of Mormon must be true because, “Each time you lay the Book of Mormon down and walk away, it feels just like you had a real good church service.”22 Now compare this to his lack of any acknowledgement that the Book of Mormon does in fact contradict both the Bible and Christian orthodoxy. When you take that and then factor in the reality that there is absolutely no empirical evidence to support the historicity of the Book of Mormon – a glaring omission that somehow fails to be addressed on his website or in any of his articles – the work’s rejection as holy writ should be fait accompli. Instead, again, again, and again in his articles Mr. Richardson endorses the book as scripture equivalent to scripture based on subjective analysis that’s devoid of any objective evidence. As I said to Cal Fullerton regarding this same kind of lack of discernment and failure to plumb line such impressions against objective evidence:

I, a fellow Charismatic who believes in modern prophetic utterances and the other gifts of the Spirit say to you now as I did back on the [now defunct] Concerned Christians board [in 2010]: I don’t care WHO that prophetess was, I could care less what her reputation is among Charismatics or anyone else for matter, she gave a false prophecy – period.

When plumblined against the Bible it was a false prophecy. Period.

And most distressingly she validated a false prophet and a heretical non-Christian group in the name of (and allegedly in the voice of) God. She is, therefore, a false prophet and a deceiver. Period.23

This blatant disregard of objectivity (especially biblical objectivity) over personal subjectivity is very Mormon isn’t it? In fact, Chuck Smith, the founder of Calvary Chapel and a Charismatic with Pentecostal roots, could have been describing these men when he wrote:

It is of utmost importance that we allow the Bible to be the final authority for our faith and practice. Any time we begin to allow experiences to become the criteria for doctrine or belief, we have lost biblical authority, and the inevitable result is confusion. There are so many people today who witness of remarkable and exciting experiences. The Mormons, for example, “bear witness” to the experience of the truth of the Book of Mormon. They encourage people to pray in order to experience whether or not their Book of Mormon is true. One person says he has experienced that it is true, and another says he has experienced that it is false. Which one am I to believe? Each swears he has had a true experience from God; yet one has to be wrong. Whenever you open the door for experience to become the foundation or criterion for doctrinal truth, you are opening a Pandora’s box. The result is that the truth is lost in the conflicting experiences, and the inevitable consequence is total confusion. We know that God is not the Author of confusion.24

Further, didn’t Christ stress the importance of evidence throughout His sermons? And could Paul have been any clearer when he said that if our Christianity isn’t empirically true then “we are of all men the most pitiable”?

If Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
(1 Corinthians 15:14-19, NKJV)

In summary and conclusion, this unbiblical, feeling affirming, evidence denying pattern can be seen plainly in the writings and public instruction of all three men – again, one need only spend some “quality time” on their websites to see this clearly. By embracing false scripture from a False Prophet – and even worse, encouraging others to do the same – these men have become false teachers themselves. And the Bible was quite clear what God’s people are to do when we encounter a false teacher, false prophet, false apostle, or false anything for that matter:

You shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice; you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him.
(Deuteronomy 13:3&4, NKJV) bolding added for emphasis

pentecost

A primitive fresco of Pentecost.

NOTES
1 Full disclosure and clarification: I worked as a Music Reviewer for “Worship Leader Magazine”, which is also owned by Strang Publications, the publisher of Charisma Magazine, from 1992-1993. During that time I found John Strang and his staff to be reasonable, personable, and theologically sound. I think that’s why you will find the editorial content of Charisma Magazine to be generally sound.

That’s why I’ve specifically recommended that you just view the advertisements in the magazine instead – they’re an unvetted, raw picture of the current state of the Pentecostal/Charismatic Church at the grassroots level and, frankly, it’s scary. Whenever someone asks (or challenges) me about my (admittedly blunt) assessment of the modern Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement I just point them to there. After seeing them, nothing else need be said. For example, let’s look at a couple of them from the December 2015 issue of Charisma magazine:

“Blood Moons are not about the end – they are about the beginning.

For over 3,000 years God has used the blood moon tetrads on His feast days of Passover and Tabernacles as a sign of special revival coming to His people. The last great blood moon revival came in 1967, when God poured out His Spirit to begin the charismatic renewal. Today there are over 600 million charismatic Christians who are the fruit of this revival, including most of the readers of this magazine.

The blood moon tetrad of 2014-2015 occurred in troubled time, as have most the previous 14 blood moon tetrads. Yet we can see the beginning of a new revival coming based on unity in Christ in answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Don’t miss it!

we invite you to study the Scriptures, the heavenly signs, and the history of the blood moon tetrads in our new book . . . ”
(Charisma, December 2015, p.9)

But, wait folks, if blood moons aren’t enough, there’s more! Consider this “gem”:

“Discouraged?
Need a miracle?
Lack the faith to believe?
Desire to be empowered to heal?

– Receive step by step Biblical Instruction to activate God’s healing power in your life.
-Be encouraged as you read the amazing testimonies that are in this book.

Afraid?
Feel defeated?

– Tap into the supernatural potential of your faith.
– Unleash the power of God.
– Experience the impossible.
– Overcome in these Last Days.
(Charisma, December 2015, p. 15)

Even more disturbing are the titles and subtitles of the latter books being advertised in the second advertisement: “Dare to Believe: The True Power of Faith to Walk in Divine Healing and Miracles” and “Greater Than Magic: The Supernatural Power of Faith”. Apparently, the Bible isn’t enough any more, now we need the equivalent of “How To” Charismatic cookbooks and computer manuals! Further, if one didn’t know in advance one might even assume from the title alone that these are books from pagans on how to cast spells or channel metaphysical powers and forces. Yet there they are, being advertised in the flagship periodical of American Pentecostals and Charismatics! And not only does no one seem to care, but judging by the reviews of these books on Amazon, my Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters seem to be delighted by it! It is any wonder that prudent and conservative continuationists distance themselves from such things?

My dear Pentecostal and Charismatic brothers and sisters we can do better than this! Brothers and sisters we must do better than this in the Name of, and for the cause of, Christ alone!

2 See “The Errors of Dr. Lynn Ridenhour” and “Weak Arguments #7: ‘The Book of Mormon doesn’t have a trace of orthodox, mainstream Biblical Christianity in it.’” in particular.

3 Lynn Ridenhour, Facebook post October 20, 2014

4 Paul Richardson, “Our Distinctive Stand”; “The Full Revelation Believers” website. The reader may also be interested in reading Dr. Richardson’s biography (which for or some unknown reason he calls a “News Release”) by clicking here.

5 Paul Richardson, “Someone Had To Write The Book of Mormon”; “The Full Revelation Believers” website

6 Paul Richardson, “The Charm of Joseph Smith”; “The Full Revelation Believers” website

7 Donna Morley, “The Errors of Dr. Lynn Ridenhour, Appendix: Is the Book of Mormon Really “Baptist”?”

8 See Ronald V. Huggins, B.F.A., Th.D., “Joseph Smith’s Modalism: Sabellian Sequentialism or Swedenborgian Expansionism?”; Also see Bill McKeever, “Modalism in the Book of Mormon”.

9 Cal Fullerton, “Evangelicals and Mormons for Jesus” home page. Bolding retained from original.

And in accordance with the usage guidelines of that website we post the following: “Copyright © 2008 Cal Fullerton. Permission is granted, and you are encouraged, to print the above article in hard copy form, as well as send it to your own email lists and post it on your own websites. We only ask that you include the name of the originating website (EvangelicalsandMormonsforJesus.com) and this copyright and permission notice.”

10 Please see the Evangelical Ministries to New Religions “Statement On Richard Mouw And Evangelical Countercult Ministries”; And for a good analysis and deconstruction of Richard J. Mouw’s claim that Evangelical Christians have lied about and misrepresented the Mormon Church see Fred W. Anson, “Scolasticus cum Peter Principle”; Also recommended: Mike Thomas, “That Apology and How Liberal Theolgians “Go Native”’, and; Fred W. Anson, “Apologizing For Richard J. Mouw”.

11 See Matt Walsh, “Joel Osteen and his Wife are Heretics, and that’s why America Loves Them”; Also see “Joel Osteen-Preaching a False-Positive, with a Smile”.

12 Cal Fullerton comment, September 18, 2013 at 3:40 pm on the article “Turns out, the Bible says that Protestants should unite with Mormons” by Jared C. on the LDS and Evangelical Conversations website.

13 Op Cit, Fullerton, “Evangelicals and Mormons for Jesus” home page.

And by the way, and for the record Mr. Fullerton, there are thousands of Christians who can subjectively claim that the Mormon Church is neither true or Christian because God told them so. I’m one of them:

I would like to bear my testimony . . .
I have diligently sought God regarding whether the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is true or not. To that end, I have studied the Bible as well as the Book of Mormon and I have prayed consistently for over 30-years. I have taken the “Moroni 10 Challenge” and I have felt an intense “burning in my bosom” many, many, many times in my life — in fact, I carry it with me everyday of my life.

… and my testimony is this:
I am utterly convinced that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is a non-Christian cult, that Joseph Smith was a false prophet, as is Thomas S. Monson. Further, I am utterly convinced that the Book of Mormon is an uninspired, man created work of 19th Century fiction.

Here I stand before God and before men – I can do no other.

In the Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, amen.

And if my testimony isn’t enough, I can provide similar testimony from other Christians with little to no effort at all. Further Mr. Fullerton, please note that -unlike your testimony of the LdS Church – the body of objective evidence, including the bible itself, supports and verifies our subjective testimony. So in the end where has all this subjective testimony bearing of contrary positions gotten either of us? Answer: Absolutely nowhere.

What I have said to countless Mormons, I will now say to Misters Ridenhour, Richardson, and Fullerton: That Mormon testimony of yours plus a buck fifty will get you a cup of coffee at Denny’s and that’s about it! And what’s true for you is just as true for my contra-Mormon testimony: Testimony bearing in and of itself proves nothing. Rather, let’s see the objective evidence that supports and verifies it – because in the end that’s all that really matters.

14 Fred W. Anson reply to Cal Fullerton, September 18, 2013 at 11:01 pm; Op Cit, Jared C., “Turns out, the Bible says that Protestants should unite with Mormons”.

15 Cal Fullerton, “Essentials for Salvation”“Evangelicals and Mormons for Jesus” website. Bolding from original retained.

16 See Matt Slick, “Essential Doctrines of Christianity”, CARM website. While Mr. Slick’s article is an excellent short vernacular primer, C. Michael Patton’s “Essentials and Non-Essentials in a Nutshell” article is the better resource for those seeking a fuller, more nuanced understanding of the subject. Finally for those who find Mr. Slick’s outline format a bit too cryptic and Mr. Patton’s article too long should consider the short but insightful “What are the essentials of the Christian faith?” article on the “Got Questions?” website instead.

17 In his article, “God of the Philosophers: Brief Comments on the Godhead” Lynn Ridenhour writes:

“The God of the Trinity wallows in modalism, stumbling to give its advice to new converts. Listen to Cyril of Jerusalem:

“…For there is one Salvation, one Power, one Faith; One God, the Father; One Lord, His only-begotten Son; One Holy Ghost; the Comforter. And it is enough for us to know these things; but inquire not curiously into His nature or substance: for had it been written, we would have spoken of it; what is not written, let us not venture on; it is sufficient for our salvation to know, that there is Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost.” –Catechetical Lectures 16:24

Enough.

What kind of Being is God?

Let Joseph answer. The Prophet preached that “…if you were to see [God] today, you would see him like a man in form,” and that “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as a man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit” (D&C 130:22).

As I said in the beginning, this may be old hat to most, and not unlike the tour guide, some may be tempted to say “…O, we see it all the time…” and walk away, but for me—it’s like seeing the Niagara Falls for the very first time.”

In case you didn’t notice that a heretical definition of the Trinity followed by an endorsement of Joseph Smith’s blasphemous tri-theistic view of the godhead.

18 John F. MacArthur, “Strange Fire: The Danger of Offending the Holy Spirit with Counterfeit Worship” (pp. 73-74) Kindle Edition.

I would ask the reader to note that while I find much to soundly applaud in this work, overall I was disappointed by John MacArthur’s extremist stances, exaggerations, misrepresentations and generally ungracious, polemic attitude in both this book and the conferences that preceded it. Perhaps Dr. Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School of Samford University and general editor of the “Reformation Commentary on Scripture” as well as several other books said it best 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. 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 also agree with Reformed Theologian John Piper who wrote:

‘On each point, it is surely misguided to single out charismatics, says 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)

I’m trying hard in this article to tread a fine line between being too polemic and too tolerant regarding Charismatic practices that I consider imbalanced or outright unbiblical. I will leave it to the reader’s judgment to determine if I’ve succeeded or not.

19 See Fred W. Anson, “Mormons: Pentecostals Gone Bad”“Mormons: Pentecostals Gone Bad [The Sequel]”; Also see John Farkas, “Speaking in Tongues and The Mormon Church”.

20 Don Matzat, “Feelings, Emotions and Christian Truth”

21 Bishop Joseph Mattera, “10 Signs You Are a Charismaniac”, Charisma magazine’s “Charisma News” website. Bolding from original retained.

22 Paul Richardson, “Someone Had to Write The Book of Mormon”.

23 Fred W. Anson reply to Cal Fullerton, September 18, 2013 at 6:04 pm; Op Cit, Jared C., “Turns out, the Bible says that Protestants should unite with Mormons”.

24 Chuck Smith, “Charisma Versus Charismania”, Kindle Locations 1282-1289.

The Bible

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
(2 Timothy 2:1, KJV)

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loveguruHere’s another classic Luna Flesher Lindsey article for your enjoyment, edification, and enlightenment. If you like this article please consider getting a copy of Luna’s book “Recovering Agency: Lifting the Veil of Mormon Mind Control”

Mind Control 101: Myths of Brainwashing
by Luna Flesher Lindsey
I’ve studied a lot about mind control over the years. My interest piqued shortly after I left a rigorous and restrictive religion. I wanted to better understand how I had willingly allowed myself to be controlled, all the while believing and protesting loudly that I was free.

These methods are deceptive and unethical, tricking the mind rather than persuading through honesty and reason. Knowing this, I now have a very unique perspective on American politics. I can see these techniques used all the time, by politicians, media, and regular people.

This is not owing to a vast conspiracy. It doesn’t take an evil mastermind to notice certain approaches work better to persuade. These methods have always worked and will always continue to work, and so they perpetuate through society. Some who study memetics might even say they self-replicate.

This post is one in a series called “Mind Control 101″, which precedes its non-evil step-twin, “Logical Fallacies 101″.

Please do not use this as a How To! I address this topic not with the intent that you try to take over the world. In instead wish to make you better able to defend yourself when your mind comes under assault.

Let’s begin with the myths. The entire subject of brainwashing is “loaded”. Loading a word is itself, fittingly, a mind control technique that limits thought by giving you preconceived and highly incorrect notions. I’ll start “deprogramming” you by showing where your existing understanding of the topic is probably far from reality.

Mind catrol - ur doing it rong akshully

Remember this guy? Well, he’s STILL doing it wrong!

When I say these words, “Thought Control” or “Brainwashing”, you no doubt envision a wild-haired hypnotist swinging a silver watch, while a stern doctor injects your arm with a strange serum. In the background, hooded figures chant, and soon your eyes begin to glaze over. All the while you are helpless to resist because you are strapped to a chair.

This is all complete fantasy. The great secret is that while being brainwashed you feel in complete control of yourself. A much more accurate term is “coercive persuasion“, because you are persuaded to want the same thing the manipulator wants, to believe as he wants you to believe.

Those who have been thusly persuaded never know they have been brainwashed. Conversely if you think you’ve been brainwashed, you probably haven’t been.

So let’s dispel some myths, shall we?

Thought reform does not require physical restraint.
Scientists used to think this, back in the 1950s, when American POWs returned from Korea singing the praises of their captors. But coercive persuasion in our free society requires a little more skill. No force is required. All it takes is listening to someone who is talking. It also requires that you trust them, at least a little bit. If they do their job right, you will go willingly.

This picture is totally Photoshopped.

This picture is totally Photoshopped.

It does not involve hypnotic disks.
Hypnosis
is a broad word that means any varying state of consciousness other than the one you’re probably experiencing now. Various levels of hypnosis, trance, and meditation are sometimes used by cult groups, but this is never, ever a requirement.

No drugs, truth serums, elixirs, or magical incantations are used in brainwashing.
Other than a few 60′s cults that were using drugs anyway, I’ve never come across any thought reform involving chemicals. Nor does it have anything to do with Satan. No demonic possession, summoning of evil spirits, or worshiping pagan gods is required.

Brainwashed people are not glassy-eyed, drooling zombies.
Most actually appear quite normal. In fact, I would venture to say everyone ends up brainwashed to one degree or another, at some point in their lives. Our brains seem wired to accept manipulation and deception. It seems logical that humankind would have better survived those very dangerous first 100,000 years of pre-history by following a leader without question. Thought control merely capitalizes on those build-in survival skills we are all born with.

There is absolutely no way to know that you’ve been brainwashed.
That’s exactly the point. If you knew you were being controlled, you wouldn’t like it very much, and you wouldn’t stand for it. The manipulated fully believe they are making their own choices, that they are completely free to act in any way they choose.

A good deal of brainwashing involves setting up trigger thoughts, little tricks and traps that help you deflect any incoming facts, beliefs, thoughts, or feelings that would make you suddenly stop believing the lies you’ve been duped into. Part of this series is going to be identifying those traps, so you can avoid them in the first place.

(I could say “…and so you can escape if you’re already brainwashed.” But you see, if I were to accuse you of being controlled, you would immediately become defensive and protest, thinking, “There is no possible way!” That is exactly what I’m talking about.)

There is no “one size fits all” method of mind control.
To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you can control some of the people all of the time, or all the people some of the time, but you can’t control all the people all the time. Manipulators throw out a line with some bait to see what bites. Sometimes it’s you, but usually you will laugh at their crazy ideas. Everyone is ripe for being manipulated at some point in their lives. Someone has something to say that will appeal specifically to you. You will always be able to see how other people are being brainwashed, but you won’t necessarily notice when it’s happening to you, because you will like it.

There are a lot of mind control tricks, but not all are required.
There isn’t a checklist that says, “Must meet all 50 requirements to be considered mind control”. To control, you only need to do what works.

Brainwashing is not total.
It is possible to be partly brainwashed. You can be brainwashed about certain topics but not others. You can be brainwashed to the point of doing or believing almost everything the leader wants, but not quite. Victims of mind control can eventually be freed.

This is what all Mind Control practitioners look like... NOT!

This is what all Mind Control practitioners look like… NOT!

Brainwashers are not creepy, bizarre, crazy, mean-spirited men who ooze evil and darkness from every pore.
Images of cackling, sneering, British-accept-wielding villains were created for the drama of movie fiction, not to reflect reality.

If you’re going to be good at manipulation, you’ve got to be likable. To persuade, you must be charismatic. To convince, you must be, well… convincing. I listened to old recordings of Jim Jones recorded just before the infamous Jonestown kool-aid mass-suicides and he sounded sincere, kind, loving, and wise.

Furthermore, controlling groups or ideologies work best when believers are taught to use brainwashing techniques themselves. That’s right. In almost every case, the controlled end up controlling.

No one is immune from mind control.
Not even me, not even after all I’ve learned about it. I can build up defenses, but even then I will be susceptible to it at some point.

Conclusion.
Now you know what mind control is not, which gives you an advantage over most people.

Yeah . . . this kinda isn't how it works either. Pretty cool graphic though, eh?

Yeah . . . ain’t workin’ is it?

(As originally published on the Mormon Expression Blogs website on September 21, 2011)

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Confirmation driven apologetics.

Confirmation Bias driven apologetics.

by Fred W. Anson
In 2009 a local newspaper in Provo, Utah ran a series of articles written by local people who were trying to persuade members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the “Mormon Church”) to leave their church. In response to these highly critical and spirited articles, a true believing member of the Mormon Church wrote this rebuttal which has been kicking around the Internet ever since:1

Editor:

I have been thinking of quitting the Mormon Church. Yes, if I can, I am going to get even with that church. As soon as I can find another church that teaches about the Gathering of the House of Israel; the return of the Ten Tribes and their mission; the return of the Jews to Palestine and why, and how they are going to build the temple; the building of temples and what to do with them; the mission of Elias, the prophet, as predicted by Malachi; the method for the salvation of the people that died at the time of Noah in the flood; the origin of the American Indian; the complete explanation of why Jesus of Nazareth had to have a mortal mother but not a mortal father; the explanation of the three degrees of glory (three heavens) as mentioned by Paul; the complete explanation of why Elias and Moses did not die but had to be translated (since they both lived before the resurrection was introduced by Christ); the restoration of the gospel by modern revelation as promised by Peter and Paul and Jesus himself; the belief in eternal marriage and the family, and the knowledge and the place to seal for eternity; that teaches abstinence from all harmful drugs and foods; and that sells the best fire insurance policy on earth, for the last days, for only a 10th of my income.

BRM_ConfirmationBias

(click to zoom)

Yes sir, as soon as I can find another church that teaches all that, or even half as much, I will say good-bye to this Mormon Church. The church that I am looking for must also be able to motivate 50,000+ youth, and adults, for the first, second or third time, to leave their homes for two years at their own expense and go to far-away places to teach and preach without salary. It must be able to call, on a frosty day, some 5 or 6 thousand professors, students, lawyers, doctors, judges, policemen, businessmen, housewives and children to go and pick apples at 6 am. It must be able to call meetings and get the attention for two hours of more than 150,000 men. Yes, it must also teach and show why salvation is assured for children who die before eight years of age.

Mr. Editor, could you help me find a church that teaches all that and more than hundreds of other doctrines and principles, which I have no room to mention here, and which brings solace and comfort to the soul; peace, hope, and salvation to mankind, and above all, that answers the key questions that all the great philosophers have asked; questions and answers that explain the meaning of life, the purpose of death, suffering and pain; the absolute need for a Redeemer and the marvelous plan conceived by our Father and executed by Jesus Christ the Savior? Yes, as soon as I find another church that teaches that, and also that has the organization and the powers to make that teaching effective, I am going to quit the Mormon Church. For I should not tolerate that “they” should change a few words in the Book of Mormon-even if those changes simply improve the grammar and the syntax of the verses-for, after all, don’t you think the Divine Church should employ angels as bookmakers, and clerks, to do all the chores on earth? Don’t you think, Mr. Editor that the Divine Church should also have prophets that don’t get sick and don’t get old and die, and certainly, that don’t make a goof here and there. No, sir! A Divine Church should be so divine that only perfect people should belong to it, and only perfect people should run it. As a matter of fact, the Church should be so perfect that it should not even be here on earth!

An example of the double standard – another form of confirmation bias.
(click to zoom)

So, I repeat, if any one of the kind readers of this imperfect letter knows about another church that teaches and does as much for mankind as the Mormon Church, please let me know. And please do it soon, because my turn to go to the cannery is coming up. Also, “they” want my last son (the fifth one) to go away for two years and again, I have to pay for all that. And I also know that they expect me to go to the farm to prune trees, and I have heard that our ward is going to be divided again, and it is our side that must build the new chapel. And also, someone the other day had the gall of suggesting that my wife and I get ready to go on a second mission, and when you come back, they said, you can volunteer as a temple worker.

Boy, these Mormons don’t leave you alone for a minute. And what do I get for all that, I asked? “Well,” they said, “for one, you can look forward to a funeral service at no charge!”… Do you think you can help me to find another church?

Thomas D. Clark

This letter is usually presented by True Believing Mormons as proof of the superiority and veracity of the LdS Church. They tend to think that this letter represents one of the strongest, most convincing arguments for their church available. But outsiders see a problem with this perspective.

Stated plainly, this letter is about as fine a collection of logic fallacies as one could hope to find! I could write a very long article, deconstructing this letter point by point and identifying them. However, you wouldn’t want to read it, and frankly, I don’t want to write it.2 Rather, let’s just focus on the core fallacy used here by both the author of the letter and those who present it as compelling evidence for the Mormon Church: Confirmation Bias.

Wikipedia defines confirmation bias as follows: “Confirmation bias… is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities… People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.”3

A simpler, more vernacular way to define it is, “You only count the hits and ignore the misses for your predetermined, favored position.” To illustrate how this works in Mormonism I wrote an article using the analogy of a Military Tank to paint a picture of how confirmation bias surrounds, runs through, and permeates the culture of the Mormon Church. Stretching the analogy a bit, fanatical confirmation bias is the fuel that runs the Mormon Tank.

ByFacoMIcAA2roX.png large

To illustrate just how easy it is to create a confirmation bias driven equivalent to Thomas D. Clark’s arguments, here’s my version of his letter derived from my experiences, theology, ecclesiology, and preferred church culture.

Editor:

I have been thinking of quitting my church. Yes, if I can, I am going to get even with that church. As soon as I can find another church that teaches about the authority of scripture; the importance of the Reformation; the importance of confessing the creeds; spending money on people not things, that doesn’t teach that the gifts of the Spirit ceased with the death of the Apostles; that teaches that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone; that explains the human condition biblically; the complete explanation of why Jesus of Nazareth had to be sacrificed to atone for the sins of the elect; that has a fully formed theology of heaven; that still practices the gifts of the Holy Spirit as they appear in the Bible; that still believes in, acknowledges, and practices the 5-fold ministries that are taught in Ephesians 4:11; that is committed to strong marriages and families even over ministry, that teaches a Christianity that’s both head and heart not just one or the other; that helps captive addicts snared in bondage (like I was) get free; and that doesn’t demand at least a 10th of my income like authoritarian, legalistic churches do.

Yes sir, as soon as I can find another church that teaches all that, or even half as much, I will say good-bye to my church. The church that I am looking for must also be able to motivate youth, and adults, for the first, second or third time, to leave their homes for one or two years at their own expense and go to far-away places to teach and preach without salary – as so many in my church are doing and have done.

It must be able to call, on an inconvenient day, some 5 or 6 thousand professors, students, lawyers, doctors, judges, policemen, businessmen, housewives and children to volunteer and go serve their neighbors – whether that neighbor be next door or half way around the globe. It must be able to get the entire church to pitch in for a project as so often happens. It must be able to call meetings that get the attention of the men in the church and motivate them in love to be the best husbands, fathers, and Christians that they can be.

confirmation-bias-2Mr. Editor, could you help me find a church that teaches all that and more than hundreds of other doctrines and principles, which I have no room to mention here, and which brings solace and comfort to the soul; peace, hope, and salvation to mankind, and above all, that answers the key questions that all the great philosophers have asked; questions and answers that explain the meaning of life, the purpose of death, suffering and pain; the absolute need for a Redeemer and the marvelous gift of eternal life that we have through the atonement of Jesus Christ my Savior? Yes, as soon as I find another church that teaches that, and also that has the organization and the powers to make that teaching effective, I am going to quit my church.

Further, I should not tolerate that “they” should insist on using the King James Bible alone when better modern translations that use the better, older manuscripts that weren’t available in the 17th Century are available.

And don’t you think, Mr. Editor that the Divine Church should also have imperfect, in process, clergy and laity that God works and speaks through despite their flaws? Yes sir, a Divine Church should be so divine that God’s grace and agape love flows through it in such a way that despite the fact that common, ordinary, broken, imperfect people fill and run it, the gates of hell will not and have not prevailed against it.

As a matter of fact, the Divine Church should be so imperfect that that the song, “Come Just As You Are” is the constant call to both those on the outside and inside of the Church. And in the Divine Church, while Christlike holiness is still the ideal and goal, all are worthy – by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, right here, right now – aren’t they? The Divine Church is one where God in Christ is given all the glory through the weak made strong.  And through Christ’s glorious freedom church members can be 100% authentic 100% of the time – pretense is neither necessary or desirable in God’s true Church is it?

So, I repeat, if any one of the kind readers of this imperfect letter knows about another church that teaches and does as much for mankind as my Church, please let me know. So do you think you can help me to find another church?

Fred W. Anson

See how easy that was? All I did was copy Thomas D. Clark’s letter, take my own biases (the big one of course being to assume that my church is the only one that has these qualities), add a big scoop or two of how we do things in my church, and voilà: The perfect Church according to Fred W. Anson emerges. That was easy wasn’t it?

It was so easy in fact, that I would challenge you to go forth and do likewise: Post your own confirmation bias driven version of Thomas D. Clark’s great opus in the comments section. And when it’s all said and done what have you, I, and Thomas D. Clark proven? Answer: That we all know how to build “the perfect Church” in our own image from our own biases, preferences, self-inflicted blindness, and desires. In other words, we’ve proven nothing at all – except that we all can be closed minded, biased, and prone to use self validation as a means of smug self denial of reality, of course.

But enough of my yackin’ already! It’s time for you to get busy: Rev up that confirmation bias engine of yours and get started. I’m looking forward to seeing your version of Thomas D. Clark’s letter in the comments section soon!

Kierkegaard

NOTES:
1 I discovered this letter on the “My Life by Go Go Goff” blogsite. As a light homage to this source (and because I was feeling a little lazy when I wrote this article) I used some of his original prose in the introduction.

2 However, if you’re just dying to play “find the logical fallacy” on your own, here’s a good list of common logical fallacies (click here) that are used in public rhetoric. Just match the argument to the fallacy and have fun with it! By the way, pay special attention to “Circular reasoning” – for that one you’ll need a tally sheet Mr. Clark used it so often in his letter.

3 Wikipedia article on Confirmation Bias.

2014-05-30-Confirmation-Bias

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