Strange Fire and Unholy Smoke

Last month Dr John MacArthur convened an anti-charismatic conference and fired his latest written salvo against Pentecostals. Both the conference and the book were called ‘Strange Fire’, an appellation taken from Leviticus 10 where the sons of Aaron offered unauthorised offerings to the Lord and as a result were consumed by fire. MacArthur and other speakers made huge assumptions based on superficial and flawed interpretation and research. In the final analysis they charged most of the 500 million charismatics and Pentecostals in the world with blasphemous doctrines and practices and assigned them to the status of unbelievers. When criticised for dividing the church MacArthur tweeted the now infamous, ‘We are not trying to divide the body of Christ with this conference. We’re trying to identify the body of Christ’. That about sums up the tone and content of the conference.
I am not going to add to the growing number of responses that have already been published such as Frank Viola’s ‘Pouring Holy Water on STRANGE FIRE – A Critique of John MacArthur’s Strange Fire and Charismatic Chaos.’ You can download this paper without charge provided you do so within the next 10 days or so –
Instead of castigating, analysing, and countering I would rather pose a simple question; ‘what would Jesus make of this and how would He respond?’ This is a question we can attempt to answer because of the wonderfully sufficient revelation in scripture. We can get a good idea of His nature and character from what He said and did and we can then apply this to the case at hand.
Consider how Jesus dealt compassionately with the woman caught in the act of adultery recorded in John chapter 8. Read again his charitable response to the ‘unauthorised’ man who was driving out demons in Jesus’ name (Mark 9). Then mark well that the only people He really got angry with were the Pharisees!
Would Jesus approve of the aberrations, antics and smoke and mirrors of SOME charismatic pastors and evangelists? Clearly He would not! What He said concerning blasphemy against the Holy Spirit in Mark 3:29 would no doubt apply – but I fear it would apply even more directly to those who attribute the work of the Spirit of God to the devil! Would Jesus approve of sweeping generalities, harsh judgments and pseudo-intellectual elitism? No He would not!

They say there is no smoke without fire. What the few high profile charismatics sometimes do is indeed ‘strange fire’ unacceptable to God. However, what MacArthur and company are doing is just unholy smoke. What a sad and tragic combination. May the Lord Jesus have mercy on us all.
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Christopher Peppler



3 thoughts on “Strange Fire and Unholy Smoke”

  1. Is the devil, the ultimate liar, seeking to divide Christ’s bride, His church, and then ultimately will rule these divisions, these where his lies have become the truth?
    Why does Dr MacArthur not sit down with his charismatic brothers and sisters, fellow members of Christ’s bride, and through discussion seek unity in stead of creating division. I am not a theologian and do not read and follow the charismatic “movement’s” comings and goings. But from reading Frank Viola’s critique of MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” and from my own experience most “charismatics”, or shall we say an overwhelming majority of them, are true followers of Jesus as their Saviour. But is this not also true of most of the so-called theological “movements”? This is a question and not a rhetorical statement.
    In Frank Viola’s blog dated 27 December 2012, “The most ignored sin”, Bob Mumford is quoted as saying: “The Christian army is the only one that shoots its wounded.”
    As an aside, the misleader, the devil, seemed to have led the Church to more and more create pseudonyms to distinguish “real” from not “so real” Christians. I have found myself doing that by bracketing some people as “strong” Christians.
    It seems to me that the devil is now as per 1 Peter 5:8, like a roaring lion. Will Christ’s bride, His Church, grant this toothless lion, teeth, by allowing him to divide and rule or will His bride unite around the Trinity, God, the Father, Jesus, His Son and our Saviour and the promised Holy Spirit, our heavenly Coach and Adviser. May God prevent the devil from succeeding in creating a division in His Church. One “misled” could be the “quenching” of the Holy Spirit in His church. Another could be the “greying” of the centrality of Jesus. What is “greying”? As Chris pointed out, that is where a pragmatic and/or relative view of the “meaning” of Jesus in His Church becomes the order of the day.
    I hold the five solae dear:
    Sola scriptura (“by Scripture alone”)
    Sola fide (“by faith alone”)
    Sola gratia (“by grace alone”)
    Solus Christus or Solo Christo (“Christ alone” or “through Christ alone”)
    Soli Deo gloria (“glory to God alone”)

  2. One has to see this from Dr MacArthur’s point of view as well though.

    What we have in South Africa, I don’t think even remotely resembles the Charismatics they have there. Have you seen these people throwing “fits” from the Holy Spirit? It is work of Satan. That is in no way the Holy Spirit overtaking their bodies.

    Have you seen preachers of LA? It’s an abomination to the Bride of Christ. This is what Dr MacArthur and the rest are against. This is what they mean by seeing who the real Christians are.

    There are far too many people out there who are taking the pulpit without any training at all in the Theology of Christianity, and base all of their sermons on what they are “guided” to say. Using a verse once, maybe twice. The rest is all self help mumbo jumbo. This leads to people thinking they are saved, but in fact are not. Having an emotional experience within the walls of the Church does not make you saved.

    Dr MacArthur has many friends that are in the Charasmatic movement. He will never speak wrongly against people he believes truly love the Lord. And a lot of the people do, there is absolutely no denying that whatsoever. It is the doctrine that is upsetting. Making a person feel as if their spiritual life is not up to par due to the fact that they don’t drive that BMW is a disgusting trait of a Pastor, and this is what happens in the prosperity Gospel being taught to the Charismatics. That leads to a person doubting their salvation. And this can be extremely dangerous.

    Bottom line is this..Dr MacArthur is trying to expose the Charasmatic Pastors for who they are. Not all, only the frauds. The ones that are in it for personal gain. Misleading a family away from the Truth that is of our Lord. It is done in love, I can assure you. If Christ Himself were here, I believe He would have the same attitude He had towards the money changes at the temple. Righteous anger is exactly that, righteous.

    I pray the Lord lets you see this for what it is. Not an attack of the true followers of Christ in the charasmatic church, but of the satanic false prophets.

  3. @ Darryl Le Roux Firstly, thank you for the gentle spirit in which you make your observations and comments – I appreciate this. If Dr MacArthur was only taking issue with the few high profile ‘charismaniacs’ and charlatans we often see on Christian TV then I would not be taking issue with him. All of the thoughtful responses critical of ‘Strange Fire’ that I have read agree that these individuals deserve to be called out. However MacArthur is levelling serious indictments against the whole of the Pentecostal church and the Charismatic movement. His only concession is that there are some, a few, within the movement who are genuine believers. In his interview with Tim Challies (himself a Calvinist) he says; “I would agree that there are true believers within the charismatic movement. But that does not negate the seriousness of the corruption. The charismatic quest for extrabiblical revelation, subjective impressions, ecstatic experiences, and so on, represents a massive danger to the church. Error is still error, even if there are true believers who embrace and espouse it. And when the error threatens the church in such significant ways, it needs to be called out and directly confronted”.
    He also quotes the ‘research’ presented in J.T Allens’ book ‘The Future Church’ which states that ‘majorities of Pentecostals exceed 90 percent in most countries hold to these beliefs’. The beliefs Allen refers to are Word of Faith doctrines. I place the word ‘research’ in single inverted commas because I do not know the legitimacy of the author’s sources and I cannot see how one can or should make a direct connection between prosperity teaching influences in Pentecostal churches and the implied ‘non-Christian’ status of those churches. MacArthur comments that ‘it reveals just how pervasive the false gospel of health and wealth is within the global charismatic movement.’
    So you see Darryl why I am concerned at MacArthur’s stance – He casts aspersions on most of nearly 500 million Christians within the charismatic movement because they either accept the ‘revelatory gifts of the Spirit’ or, according to him, they are corrupted by prosperity theology. I too have some serious problems with Word of Faith theology, but I also have problems with cessationist doctrine which Dr Roger Olson (an Armininian) comments on as follows;’ Frankly, in my considered opinion, cessationism (belief that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the close of the apostolic age and the completion of Scripture) is simply silly’.

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About Me

My name is Christopher Peppler and I was born in Cape Town, South Africa in 1947. While working in the financial sector I achieved a number of business qualifications from the Institute of Bankers, Damelin Management School, and The University of the Witwatersrand Business School. After over 20 years as a banker, I followed God’s calling and joined the ministry full time. After becoming a pastor of what is now a quite considerable church, I  earned an undergraduate theological qualification from the Baptist Theological College of Southern Africa and post-graduate degrees from two United States institutions. I was also awarded the Doctor of Theology in Systematic Theology from the University of Zululand in 2000.

Four years before that I established the South African Theological Seminary (SATS), which today is represented in over 70 countries and has more than 2 500 active students enrolled with it. I presently play an role supervising Masters and Doctoral students.

I am a passionate champion of the Christocentric or Christ-centred Principle, an approach to biblical interpretation and theological construction that emphasises the centrality of Jesus

I have been happily married to Patricia since the age of 20, have two children, Lance and Karen, a daughter-in-law Tracey, and granddaughters Jessica and Kirsten. I have now retired from both church and seminary leadership and devote my time to writing, discipling, and the classical guitar.

If you would like to read my testimony to Jesus then click HERE.