Posted in cessationist, continuationist, john piper, strange fire

John MacArthur and John Piper: lessons from a disagreement over doctrine

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The reverberations from the Strange Fire conference held in southern California at John MacArthur’s church last October go on. The conference was to illustrate the need for a rebuke against the Charismatic movement, which allows for unbiblical practices and so many excesses that the sufficiency of the bible was unknown to millions of people who hold to the ideas within the movement.

As a result, the Strange Fire conference forced the issue. Too many people had either been silent or on the fence as to whether they believe the miracle gifts (tongues, interpretation of tongues, healing and prophecy) are continuing since the first century, or had ceased. (Contnuationist v. Cessationist).

Pastor John Piper is one of those. He believes the miracle gifts continue, and is cautiously open to them as occurring today by the Spirit using men as the vehicle for their manifestation. (Most people believe that God directly performs any and all miracles at any time for His good pleasure and purposes).. Piper is known as a ‘cautious continuationist.’ So is Wayne Grudem, who believes that prophecy is and can be uttered today as a direct revelation from men, but that it can be fallible.

The Strange Fire conference had several goals. One was to present the biblical truth that the miracle spiritual gifts have ceased (healings/miracles, prophecy, tongues, interpretation of tongues.). To this end, the Pastors and speakers at the conference carefully exegeted the passages relevant to the issue and clearly showed that this is so. In addition, the men said that in MOST cases, people who followed these teachings and people who taught these teachings were not saved or that their salvation was in serious doubt. It’s Charismatic Chaos out there as a result, and it has to stop.

The other goal of the conference was to call to account two camps:

–the camp of silent elders of the faith who refuse to condemn the Charismatic Movement and its unbiblical practices, and,

–to address the camp of elders who are trying to stay in the middle, i.e. John Piper.

John MacArthur and the others were firm that opening to the door to the modern day gifts mentioned above was a devastating attack on the sufficiency of scripture. Either the canon is closed and God has ceased speaking new revelation, or He has not. There is no middle ground. Even opening the door a crack in believing there can be new revelation lets in the eventual flood, and that is where we are today.

At one Q&A during Strange Fire, MacArthur was directly asked a pertinent question: “What about Piper?” Piper is on record as seeking the gift of tongues, and of being open to the notion that visions and direct revelation are happening today. He is a continuationist. MacArthur answered that it was a tough question. That Piper no doubt is a brother, and that though Piper personally sought the gifts but doesn’t teach them, he doesn’t promote them nor the unbiblical practices that go with them. MacArthur said “Piper is an anomaly.”

As a rabbit trail to the point I’m making, this brings up an interesting question I’ve been mulling for some time.

–Piper is a continuationist.
–Voddie Baucham is an amillenialist and preaches Revelation as symbol and allegory, not literal
–Martyn Lloyd Jones became a Charismatic-Lite at the end of his life
–John Stott became an annihilationist at the end of his life
–RC Sproul is a post-tribulationist

HOW can such men, all of whom can clearly be seen as brothers of the faith, err on such clearly defined biblical orthodoxy? What does it mean? How can this be? It is completely perplexing.

I contend that in Piper’s case, given his unbiblical stance on continuationism, it opens the door for other less
orthodox things, which Piper has in fact been exhibiting, i.e the Mark Driscoll debacle, the Lectio Divina debacle, and more. But this is a side note. Back to the point:

Piper heard of MacArthur’s comment about Piper’s anomalous stance on the miracle gifts, and responded in writing on his website.

However, in Piper’s response, there were assumptions and misinterpretations Piper made in the piece, not having heard MacArthur directly via the mediacast now available. So MacArthur addressed the issue, both Piper’s continuationism, and Piper’s misinterpretation of MacArthur’s comments, on a 4-part blog essay in much further depth. Here they are-

Piper reaction #4

MacArthur speaks eloquently about the church and protecting the purity of her doctrines, and of keeping boundary lines set for who belongs in it and who don’t belong in it. He is very biblical on church discipline in his personal dealings at Grace Community Church, and very firm on the issue in general across denominations especially concerning doctrine. Phil Johnson said in this essay for MacArthur said a few years ago about “Unity Across Denomination Lines

The limits on this trans-denominational unity are set by Scripture itself. We cannot welcome into our circle of fellowship people who deny truths that are essential to the gospel (2 John 7-11); and we cannot embrace people who affirm a gospel Scripture condemns (Gal. 1:18-19). The gospel and all truths essential to it are therefore nonnegotiable points of doctrine, and unity on these matters is a prerequisite to any other kind of unity.”

The issue of whether the miracle spiritual gifts were ceased or continuing has become a global phenomenon and a divisive issue which was confusing the sheep and undermining the sufficiency of scripture on such a widespread basis that MacArthur called it a ‘flood’. There are no boundary lines anymore and suddenly, everything is acceptable.

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MacArthur said that his primary concern with the Charismatic movement is that though it claims to be a movement of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit does His work through the Word, not through miracles.

He does His work through the scriptures. What that mean is, through a true interpretation of the scriptures. The meaning of the scripture IS the divine revelation. If you don’t get the meaning right, you don’t have the powerful revelation. So, how can you have a ‘move of the Holy Spirit,’ and have a wrong understanding of scripture?” (source)

That gap is exactly where John Piper falls. He has not only been silent about the ridiculous Charismatic excesses in our denomination and within conservative circles, but has perpetuated confusion by seeking tongues and claiming we hear from God via the Roman Catholic practice of Lectio Divina. And the issue is such that when our elders have such drastically wrong interpretations of scripture (Piper on tongues, Grudem on fallible modern prophecy) it causes division and confusion for those who are younger, weak or stumbling. That was the question the man at the Strange Fire Q&A was asking. “What about Piper?”

The friendship between these two elders of our faith, MacArthur and Piper, is just as strong as ever. Both men will appear at the Together 4 The Gospel conference in Louisville KY next week. MacArthur considers Piper a brother and Piper is grateful for MacArthur. In this way, though doctrine is important to contend for, the exhibition of patience and grace between the two men as they have this very public discussion is a worthy one to follow and its pattern to adopt.

Ultimately, doctrine matters. You know, the Gospel is doctrine. The Word must be interpreted rightly, and defended strongly because it is our fence around the boundary of the church. That’s why these things are so important to talk about.

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Posted in cessationist, continuationist, holy spirit, miracles, strange fire, tongues

Does it "limit God" to say the miracle gifts have ceased?

This blog post is an answer regarding a common objection continuationists make, and that is, to say that the Spirit is no longer distributing miracle sign gifts (tongues, miracles and prophecy) that this ‘puts a limit on God.’

Pentecost, Giotto, 1310

This is a very important topic. 1 Corinthians 12:10 speaks of four (temporary) signed gifts; miracles, prophecies, languages, and the interpretation of languages. A continuationist is a person who believes these miracle sign gifts have always continued since Pentecost. A cessationist (like me) says they ceased before the New Testament was even finished being written, that they were never meant to be permanent.

Formerly, this ‘continuing-or-ceased’ issue was seen as a secondary issue, or a non-essential to the faith. It was one of those ‘let’s agree to disagree’ things, and everyone went on their way. However, the fastest growing faith sector in the world is Holiness/Pentecostal/Charismatic believers who hold to the notion that men still perform miracles, speak in babbling tongues, and can receive prophecy directly from God which is separate revelatory knowledge distinct from the bible.

The Strange Fire conference showed me two startling things: that the fastest growing religion is not Islam, it is charismania. There are a billion people in the world who believe, in effect, the bible is not the final word of God. This has diluted the word of God and the works of God  -as He has revealed them- from something final, absolute, and with integrity, to something that is secondary to the latest word one has received this day. This has opened the door to everything from merely wayward thinking, to people making a shipwreck of the faith, to the purely demonic. Therefore with this many people at risk, it is no longer a secondary issue.

Every cessationist, like me, and every continuationist knows, that God is infinitely powerful, and can do anything. He has no limit, at anytime. However, there are two things to consider here. First, God does not intervene in a visible, global, or dramatic supernatural way very often. Even in the bible days, seas parting, fire coming down, and resurrections etc. were not common. 

Secondly, God already limits Himself TO US in at least one important way: His revelation of Himself . 1 Corinthians 13:12 says that we know in part now but later we will fully know. He has chosen to limit His infinite revelation to us for now, through creation (Romans 1:19-20) and the bible (Revelation 22:18-19; Hebrews 1:1). It is not germane to any discussion to allow the talk of  “that puts a limit on God” to become part of the discussion. We are talking the miracle Spiritual gifts here, and those gifts were given to humans to employ. THAT is what we are talking about. Humans working the gifts, not God working supernaturally.

Lazarus, come forth, Salvador Dali, 1964

So the Word is where we look for a basis for any discussion about whether miracle gifts continue, or not.

And what the bible says, is that the sign gifts (tongues, miracles and prophecies) were given to men by the Spirit to authenticate Jesus’s message. (2 Corinthians 12:12, Hebrews 2:3). The bible even shows that tongues were not meant for the church, but for those who didn’t believe, a fulfillment of an OT prophecy. (1 Corinthians 14:22; Isaiah 28:11-12.) Now that the message is complete, the Spirit is no longer giving those particular sign gifts to men. Though we all agree God could perform them if He wants, and Revelation is full of examples of how He will do exactly that, in the Tribulation.

The difference is, the Spirit does not give miracle working ability to men like He did before the canon was complete. Today, there are no apostles bringing His message, it’s all of us bringing it (Mark 16:15) and we can authenticate the message through His word, (Acts 17:11) with the Spirit’s help. That is why the miracle sign gifts faded away even as the NT was being written. 

As far as God moving in supernatural ways, no, God has never stopped. That is what providence is. (Romans 8:28). It’s what justification is. (Romans 4:25). It’s what regeneration is. (Titus 3:5). It’s what sanctification is. (1 Thessalonians 4:3). But He did stop giving men the gift of miracles, tongues, and prophecy.

Miracle of the Loaves & Fishes, James Tissot, 1896
Posted in cessationist, continuationist, speaking in tongues

Are the miracle spiritual gifts for today? Part 2: Speaking in tongues

Yesterday I wrote the beginning of a look at the question “Are the miracle spiritual gifts for today?” I noted that a controversy exists. People who say that the miracle sign gifts have stopped with the deaths of the Apostles are cessationists (miracle gifts have ceased). People who say that miracles and prophecies and tongues and healings happen today, and that they have never stopped, are continuationists.

I also noted that the controversy is based on a biblical belief that’s not a part of the essential doctrines of saving faith, so we need to have grace when discussing these.

I have friends who are in or who came from circles where it was taught or demonstrated that the miracle gifts are a normal part of Christian walk. As I explore whether the miracle spiritual gifts have stopped or not, I plan to make it a biblical exploration. Please do not consider this an attack on any person’s particular faith or denomination. I want to soberly take a look at the question, but I know that in so doing, the fact that so many people have had an experience which is tied to their emotions, they may react emotionally. Let’s just put Jesus in the center and discern His word, with full assurance from me that this discussion is from the heart and not a jab at any person’s salvation or any particular denomination’s legitimacy.


In the last post I posed the question and offered scriptures that indicate that the sign gifts of ‘tongues’, interpretation of tongues, healing, miracles, and prophecies healing, seemed to have the strongest biblical position as having stopped with the death of the Apostles. Most discussions about the miracle gifts center around a misunderstanding of the ministry of the Holy Spirit’s ministry, and a misunderstanding of why the miracle gifts were given in the first place. You can refer back to that part for the biblical discussion for more information. Personally I do not believe the sign gifts are continuing in the church age.

Yet so many people today wonder about being Spirit-filled, or being “baptized with the Holy Spirit” and if it is a separate event from the regenerating work.

Others wonder about “praying in the Spirit”?

Still others wonder about praying in tongues?

We see a lot of external manifestation of these on television and at revivals of different sorts. This is confusing people. They wonder what is real and what is not.

Let’s take a look at “tongues.”

My understanding of the biblical meaning of speaking in tongues is that the sermon at Pentecost miraculously delivered unto the disciples an ability to speak in the same language as the multitudes that had gathered from the nations for Passover. The annual pilgrimage swelled the walls of Jerusalem because so many people came from so many nations. They all spoke different languages. The disciples didn’t have time to go to a mission college and take two years to learn Arabic, the Lord delivered to them an ability to speak in Persian, and Cyrillic and Greek and all the other languages of the day- instantly. It was NOT a baby talk gibberish! Look at the verses:

“And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (Acts 2:6-11 ESV).

The Lord opened up their mind so they would be able to preach to the Gentiles who had traveled there from far places for the Passover. They spoke each in their own language so the visitors could hear the Gospel message. It could not be clearer. It means native language, not a gibberish language.

So what did Paul mean in 1st Corinthians when he said,

“Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” (1 Corinthians 14:5)

The same thing. The word for tongues is glossa, and it is defined by Strong’s in the Greek as, “a language, a nation (usually distinguished by their speech).”

How could all those people who spoke other languages understand and be saved if it was in gibberish??? Did the Lord deliver gibberish unto Peter and to Thomas an ability understand Peter’s gibberish and to translate? And to translate into what language? The Acts verse states there were people from at least 15 different countries present. It was not gibberish.

Let’s take a look at the history of languages and the Lord. Before Nimrod built the tower at Babel, the world had one language. “Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.” (Genesis 11:1)

Note that they not only had the same language, but the same words. Same words means same vocabulary. Britons and Americans share a language today but not the same vocabulary words. Boot/trunk, roundabout/rotary, queue/line, like that. But in the early days of history all people understood each other perfectly, with no linguistic variations, no dialects, and no difference in vocabulary.

Then the LORD confused the languages as the men built the tower, and dispersed them over the world. “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” (Genesis 11:7).

He will reverse that in the end. Zephaniah 3:9 prophesies: ““For at that time I will change the speech of the peoples to a pure speech, that all of them may call upon the name of the LORD and serve him with one accord.”

The word in Genesis for “confused language” and the word in Zephaniah for “same language”, is the same: language=saphah.

He confused the languages at Babel… so why can’t he make those languages understandable at Pentecost? He did. And it seems that Zephaniah 3:10 speaks to the possibility of one language again at the very end.

So the Lord opened up their mind to give them instant ability to speak and interpret languages. That is so wonderful!

Tongues means language. It cannot be clearer. Now that we have a biblical understanding of tongues, does the spiritual gift of instantly understanding another’s language remain in force today? It does not seem so. We can understand that the miracle of speaking instantly in other languages is ceased for now by implicit position because missionaries aren’t given that miracle. They go to school and learn the language the regular way, lol. I know of one missionary who is in Jordan right now wishing she could be instantly delivered into an ability to speak Arabic! But no, she is slogging through the old fashioned way.

The Pentecostals in particular have perverted the notion of “tongues”. The proper understanding of tongues is languages, but they take it to mean something completely unbiblical. They have created a Gnostic approach to the faith by instituting a multi-leveled maturity. The Gnostics claim that they have special wisdom and understanding that is higher than the regular Christian. Not so. But Pentecostals say, “You’re not really a Christian unless you demonstrate tongues…” This is false. (1 Corinthians 12: 29-30, 1 Cor 14:23). You are saved by grace when you repent and believe on the name of the resurrected Jesus. No tongues necessary.

Justin Peters has a multi-part discernment series titled “A Call For Discernment“. In his updated lesson from July 2012, he notes the verse in 1 Corinthians 14:20-22, “Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers.”

In the OT, the way the Hebrews knew the hammer judgment of God was about to come down would be when they looked up and saw many foreign people speaking to them foreign language. Paul referred to it when he said’ it is written in the Law’, it is found in Isaiah 28:11. When the men in Acts at Pentecost began to speak in foreign tongues it was the same indicator, that judgment was here. God’s salvific gaze shifted from the Jews to the Gentiles, where His gaze remains to this day. One day, His salvific gaze will return to Israel. But back then and up to today, His judgment is that the Jews remain in judgment, hardened to his salvation offer.

If a person says they speak in tongues as a private prayer language, that has no biblical support either. The gifts are given by the Spirit for the edification of the body, not for personal, private use. The gifts are for the common good. (1 Cor. 12:7; 1 Pet. 4:10).

“If the gift of speaking in tongues were active in the church today, it would be performed in agreement with Scripture. It would be a real and intelligible language (1 Corinthians 14:10). It would be for the purpose of communicating God’s Word with a person of another language (Acts 2:6-12). It would be in agreement with the command God gave through the apostle Paul, “If anyone speaks in a tongue, two—or at the most three—should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret. If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God” (1 Corinthians 14:27-28). It would also be in accordance with 1 Corinthians 14:33, “For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints.” … The vast majority of believers who claim to practice the gift of speaking in tongues do not do so in agreement with the Scriptures mentioned above.” (source)

So they misunderstand it to begin with and then apply it incorrectly, thus continuing the error.

It always goes back to the Holy Spirit because He is the One who distributes the gifts, and the gifts are supposed to testify to Jesus. Art Azurdia speaking at a Discernment Conference said he has seen an evolution in things said about the Holy Spirit:

40 years ago: Come and get a ‘second blessing’
35 years ago: Come and get baptized with the Holy Spirit
25 years ago: Come and get slain by the Holy Spirit
20 years ago: Come and get blasted by the Holy Spirit
15 years ago: Come and laugh in the Holy Spirit
10 years ago: Come and vomit in the Holy Spirit
Today: Come and get punched in the Holy Spirit

The “Charismatic Chaos” that the misapplication of the continuation of the miraculous gifts has bestowed is confusion, doubt, mockery, and  just plain silliness. These in turn have raised concerns. Azurdia said, “A pastoral concern is that the spiritual development of well-meaning Christians easily falls prey to law of diminishing returns. Today’s enthusiasm becomes tomorrow’s bore. Today’s spiritual ecstasy this week will need to be out-done next week. You’ve seen it, the ordinary gives way to the unusual, the unusual gives way to the extreme, the extreme gives way to the ridiculous, and eventually it always leads to the same end: emptiness.”

Azurdia said a doctrinal issue arises after the pastoral issue. The gifts have become Christian-centered rather than Christ centered.

Azurdia said, “It’s about meeee, and getting those goosebumps on the back of my neck. And yet, it is as clear as can be. The Holy ambition of the Spirit of God is to reveal and glorify Jesus Christ.”

Arthur Johnson, in his excellent expose of mysticism, entitled, “Faith Misguided”, a very good book, calls the Charismatic movement, “The zenith of mysticism,” and he does so with good reason, because there is the desire, in some cases and through some experiences, to switch off the mind and disconnect yourself from what is rational, and reasonable, and logical.” (source)

If the miracle gift of tongues is ceased, and if it was a language and not gibberish anyway, what is all this flailing around in tongues?

Fakery. Self-delusion. Satanic trickery. Misplaced emotion. Whatever you would like to call it, it does not glorify God because it is not biblical, orderly, edifying, or Jesus honoring.

How can I say that so definitively? Because we’re told in many passages the Holy Spirit testifies about Jesus. The gifts are given to bear witness of Jesus, to build His church. Not to sow confusion, spread doubt, or create second class citizens separated from from each other by man-made, artificial levels of maturity.

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26)

Do you think the Spirit is bearing witness about Jesus in the clip below?

If you have been told that you are not saved until you pass some man-made benchmark of maturity, or not until you demonstrate a man-made level of holiness, or not until you show you have an insider track on tongues or being slain or getting a second blessing, then I am sorry. I grieve for you, but we can rejoice now in knowing that the bible declares you saved when you repent and believe.

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:17)

Here is a good series on the Gifts and the Ministry of the Holy Spirit:

Miracles and Spiritual Gifts
The Duration of the Miraculous Spiritual Gifts
The Nature of the Miraculous Spiritual Gifts


Spiritual Gifts part 1
Spiritual Gifts part 3

EDITED to add this link: it is a short, clear, concise essay demonstrating the original purpose for speaking in different languages, and scripturally showing how and why tongues have ceased. “The gift of tongues