John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference wrapped up yesterday. This three-day conference centered around the work of the Holy Spirit — or more accurately the lack of the work of the Holy Spirit. MacArthur is a hard cessationist when it comes to the charismata, believing that miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit such as speaking in tongues, healing and prophecy are no longer operative in the Christian church today. Not surprisingly, the conference was surrounded by controversy and heated debate — even Mark Driscoll managed to get in on the action.
I’m not going to delve into all the nuances of the charismatic versus non-charismatic debate. If you’d like an overview of some of the discussion, Andrew Wilson and Luke Geraty respond ably to Tom Pennington’s case for cessationism and John MacArthur made a final appeal to continuationists to close out the conference.
Rather than getting bogged down in theology, my response to those in the hard cessationist camp is to appropriate the words of Jesus used in another theological debate: “Is not this the reason you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?” Of course such a response doesn’t directly engage with the arguments and is unlikely to change anyone’s mind. But it does neatly sum up where I stand on this issue: nowhere in the Bible do I find good grounds to claim that miraculous gifts have ceased and to deny even the possibility of such gifts in the Church today is to truly deny the power of God.
I’m not a charismatic in practice and I’m dubious — even downright skeptical — of the charismatic experiences of others. But I’m not going to limit God to working in only ways that I feel comfortable with and I’m not going to draw up arbitrary lines limiting how others can experience God’s Spirit. We are all part of the body of Christ — charismatic or not — and it is through each of our individual and unique experiences of God that we truly find unity.