Grace to You employee, Cameron Buettel has issued another challenge to charismatics and continuationists. He claims that there is an "Elephant in the Strange Fire".
Buettel's article is interesting to me from a personal perspective, mainly because he argues (as I have elsewhere) that Strange Fire was not ultimately about the cessationist and continuationist debate. Instead he argues:
Strange Fire was not primarily or even significantly about cessationism. Yes, it’s true that one of the keynote sessions made a biblical case for the cessation of the apostolic gifts, while others defended cessationism as the historical position of the church. But it still constituted only one part of a broad response to the charismatic movement as a whole.
In fact, if continuationism was the only issue in the charismatic movement that John MacArthur and the other Strange Fire speakers were concerned about, there likely never would have been a conference or a book to begin with.
This is the exact point I made about Strange Fire, just over a year ago. At that time, I had just transitioned from the charismatic movement to a presbyterian denomination, and I recognised that MacArthur was raising genuine issues, and that these issues were deeper than charismata and continuationism. Here is what I said:
We need to understand that this issue 9Strange Fire) is not primarily about charismata. The issues that are at stake are the authority and sufficiency scriptures; the true gospel; biblical worship; the wellbeing of the church and the salvation of souls. This is why the issues raised at Strange Fire are so important. Sadly, many people in churches do not realise just how far we are removed from biblical Christianity.
So, what does Buettel say the issue was really about?
Instead, Strange Fire addressed the rampant abuse of the Holy Spirit, the perversion of Scripture, and the danger charismatic teaching and practice represent to hundreds of millions of people around the world. It covered an array of theological and doctrinal issues, and it raised several important questions that charismatics need to address.
Buettel claims that charismatic have failed to respond to the "several important questions" which were raised by Strange Fire.
Having observed the discussions at the time of the conference, I think he may have a point. Most charismatic leaders simply reacted to the conference. So, what are these issues that Charismatics are being called to address? Well, Buettel restates them, but more than this, he also puts forth a fresh challenge for charismatics to respond to these issues. What are they? They are as follows . . .
Is there any statistical evidence that proves the so-called “lunatic fringe” of the charismatic world is not actually the mainstream of the movement? Compelling statistics were produced at Strange Fire that indicated the prevalence of prosperity theology in mainstream charismatic churches. Can those numbers be contradicted, or is it time to reconsider who is truly on the fringe?
What is the responsibility of charismatic leaders to police their own movement beyond the walls of their individual churches? Who will be willing unequivocally to call out heretics and charlatans? And why are so many charismatics comfortable with false teachers serving as the face of their movement?
What constitutes the true, biblical gospel? And what deviations from it qualify as apostasy and heresy? In particular, how do you make sense of the rise of charismatic expressions in the Catholic Church? Is it possible to receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit while continuing to reject the biblical gospel?
Is Oneness Pentecostalism heresy? Or is perverting the doctrine of the Trinity not really such a big deal after all?
How are manufactured experiences—like seeding air conditioning vents with gold flakes and promoting man-made prophecies—helpful or encouraging for true spiritual growth? Why should the proliferation of phonies give anyone confidence that the real thing even exists?
Is the prosperity gospel biblical? If not, doesn’t it fall under the curse of Galatians 1:8–9?
When it comes to Scripture’s instructions and prohibitions for life in the church—for example, Paul’s clear teaching about female pastors, or his admonition for only one person at a time to speak in tongues—how seriously do we need to take those things today? Again, are these matters worth dividing over?
Does the gift of tongues as practiced in charismatic churches today bear any resemblance to the supernatural events on the Day of Pentecost, or any other expression of the gift of tongues found in the book of Acts? If not, why is the dramatic difference acceptable for continuationists?
If today’s prophets are not held to the biblical standard of one-hundred percent accuracy, what standard is there for people who make false prophecies? Or is modern prophecy nothing more than a crapshoot?
Finally, in the immediate aftermath of Strange Fire, Phil Johnson made an appearance on Dr. Michael Brown’s radio program. Phil issued Brown a challenge—which Brown accepted—to produce any audio of Mike Bickle or someone of similar influence in the charismatic movement making a clear presentation of the gospel. We’re still waiting for that audio.
I have a few thoughts on these questions. On the one hand, I think many of these questions need to be answered. Very often charismatics are not aware of the depths of these issues within their own movement. However, I also wonder if Buettel has bitten off a little more than he can chew, or at least more than he will be willing to swallow. Having only scanned that list of questions, I can see that there are issues raised which could easily be answered by key people within the charismatic movement.
It will be interesting to see if anyone from the charismatic/pentecostal movements take the bate.