Yesterday marked the one year anniversary of the Strange Fire Conference. This was an event that came from the heart of a veteran pastor who- I truly believe- cares deeply for the maturity and well being of the Church of Christ and wants to guard it from wolves who would try to sneak in and destroy it. He brought together a group of like minded theologians and pastors, who love God and love His Word, to address some very real, and serious, concerns he was seeing in the church worldwide. But sadly, what could have been a powerful few days of calling Evangelical Christians together, in Gospel centered unity, to address the excesses, errors, and- in some cases- false teachings of the more extreme wing of the charismatic church, instead became a divisive platform for “calling out” all- or nearly all- charismatic Christians as heretics, as being on the road to heresy, or, at the very least, being under the influence of heretical teaching.
One year later I am still grieved by much of this conference, by the choice of tone and rhetoric used throughout it by my brothers in Christ, and by some of the straw man arguments that were put forth in an effort to discredit charismatic beliefs and individuals. I am saddened by the fact that when someone, like myself, speaks of being offended by nature of this conference, I am informed that the truth is often, if not always divisive. This is, of course true, however it is a logical fallacy to assume that just because something is divisive, it therefore must be true.
However, I am also sad because, in a very real way, this conference had to happen (albeit, I think it could have happened differently). It was brought on by, and addressed, some dangerous trends- even false teachings and abuses- that are found in the more extreme wing of Charismatic Christianity (Prosperity Gospel, Name it and Claim it, Radical Inclusivism, etc.). There are teachers and ministries that are accepted- or at least not openly opposed- in charismatic circles that do not preach Biblical Christianity and that push beyond the boundaries of historic orthodoxy. As a Charismatic, I will be the first to confess that we need to stand up against these excesses, errors, and false teachings and teachers. However, I cannot be convinced that the best way to do this is by throwing the whole movement (with the exception of two or three friends) under the bus. Many charismatic believers hold to the very same confessions, creeds, and doctrines as their cessationalist brothers and sisters, but with a different Scriptural interpretation of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the church. To- essentially- posit that a Charismatic understanding of the Holy Spirit’s activity in the church today puts Christians on the slippery slope towards heresy is a bridge too far (In short; Charismatic Evangelicals believe that the Bible, being itself the final authoritative and inerrant Word of God to His church, teaches that the miraculous gifts of the Spirit continue, that God still speaks today through other means than- but never in opposition to, or at cross purposes with- Scripture, and that there is a decidedly experiential side to the faith, or, to put it another way, we can, and should want to, experience God’s presence and activity today, both corporately and personally).
But, I think what breaks my heart the most, is that I agree with much of the critique that was offered at this conference one year ago and share many of their concerns. I see the same problems, the same errors, the same false teaching and sin (need I even mention my deep disagreement with those that teach Open Theism, Oneness theology of the Godhead, or a Trinity of Trinities?!?!). I would like nothing more then to partner with Christ centered men and women, like those that put on the Strange Fire Conference, to address these errors- and, in some cases, outright deceptions- and to, if at all possible, draw wandering believers back to the Scriptures and to help lead unbelievers, who may be caught in a web of false teaching, to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. However, because of the manner in which the proponents of the Strange Fire Conference, and its aftermath, have seemingly dismissed all charismatics, I find myself in a defensive crouch against them- against my brothers and sisters in Christ. This should not be so! I look at my cessationalist brothers and sisters knowing that we share a passion for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for the sufficiency of Scripture, and the for the church, I am just not always sure that they see me the same way, and- to be perfectly honest- that is wearisome and disheartening.
That being said, I still have hope. I believe that the church of Christ- those of us who have been called out of sin and death, saved by the grace of God, through faith in the finished work of the Son, and indwelt by the Holy Spirit- can walk arm-in-arm as brothers and sisters. I believe this because, as much as truth divides, it is also a banner under which people of shared conviction can gather- and there is no greater conviction then that which is brought by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe the church can come together under this Gospel banner because, Jesus Himself prayed that we would be, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:20-23).
In similar vain, the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and he gave gifts to men.’ (In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (Ephesians 4:1-16).
I have confidence that as we, the church, pursue the Christ, pursue His truth- as handed down to us in the Scriptures- the Holy Spirit will be faithful to draw us together in love and unity. “For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:18-22).
-Soli Deo Gloria