Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire by Frank Viola – What Is Your Take on the Charismatic Movement?

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In case you missed it there was a book written by John MacArthur and a conference that followed it that was highly critical of the charismatic movement. In response to MacArthur’s statements Frank Viola came out with an ebook where he questions MacArthur’s approach and makes his own case for the continuation of spiritual gifts today. If you would like to read the ebook it will be avaiable for download until this Monday at this link

Download Pouring Holy Water on Strange Fire here

Having grown up in the Churches of Christ I have heard all my life that spiritual gifts like healing, speaking in tongues and gifts of prophesy are no longer being done by God or empowered by the Holy Spirit. Here is my opinion on that topic – I haven’t ever spoken in a tongue. I haven’t ever prophesied that I am aware of. I haven’t ever directly healed someone by touching them. However, I have read enough scripture to know that we should never put ourselves in a position to say that God can’t or won’t do something just because it doesn’t fit with our paradigm. It is a foolish thing to see God’s Spirit at work and say it wasn’t God. So when charismatics tell me about their experience there are still times I am skeptical about the whole thing but never am I going to question God’s ability to do things or say he wouldn’t or couldn’t. You know who did that in scripture? The Pharisees. They thought they would know the Messiah if he were to come and he showed up right in front of them and did mighty miracles and they denied it and killed him for it. I don’t want to be in that camp. So there are times I am suspicious of spiritual gifts but you will never find me being the guy pointing a finger and saying, “No way would God do it like that!” Dangerous ground right there.

What is your take on the reality of these gifts being present today?

27 Responses

  1. You can’t prove a negative.

    All it takes is one instance of a genuine act by the Holy Spirit and you’re proven wrong. Your credibility is besmirched. Your witness is discredited.

    That instance could be half a globe away … half a lifetime away. You might never know about it. And you’re still wrong.

    Can one say “God doesn’t ever act in this way” and still sing that He moves in a mysterious way? Preach that He did once, but after a certain date never expressed in scripture, never again – and still claim that scripture is your only authority?

    The cessationist position is logically untenable.

    The continuationist position is largely unprovable.

    So we are left with faith.

    I choose to believe that God can and does act when and how He chooses.

  2. “You can’t prove a negative”

    Although, the above is itself a negative. So, if you could prove that to be true, you would at the same time prove it untrue 😉

    1. Clever, but avoiding the point.

      You can’t prove an assertion like “God doesn’t work miracles” or “The Spirit doesn’t operate now in the way He used to.”

      I think you knew what I meant, Hank.

    2. That’s fine. My only point was that your statement that “you can’t prove a negative”, is technically, incorrect.

    3. We’d have to define what constitutes a “miracle”. My only point was that the statement “you can’t prove a negative” is not logically correct.

  3. Are they doing something explicitly asserted by Scripture? Are they doing something explicitly forbidden by Scripture? If it doesn’t fall into these categories, it looks like it becomes a matter of interpretation – the opinions of men, no matter how holy. Doesn’t Peter say that such matters are not the revelation of God-given prophecy? I don’t know how one deals with inferred truth if there’s more than one context to relate it to.

  4. In my experience, it’s often less about whether or not God will do miracles as it is whether or not we should expect miraculous gifts to be commonplace in the church today. From my reading of Scripture, I wouldn’t expect them to be commonplace.

    In the vast history of the Bible, miracles weren’t commonplace. They occurred primarily in the time of Moses, the time of Elijah and Elisha, and the time of Jesus and the apostles. Even then, they seemed to be somewhat limited in their occurrence.

    That being said, I’m not going to argue with anyone about their own personal experience, nor am I going to tell God that he can’t work that way today. I will argue with anyone who tells me that I must have those gifts if I have the Spirit. (yes, I have been told that)

    1. Agreed.

      I would also add that it isn’t “putting God in a box” or being Pharisaical even if one does hold a cessationist point of view (a view many hold not because they’re limiting God, but because their interpretation is that God chose to do an exceptional work in an exceptional time…by his choosing, not their boxing up). I think that’s a bit like saying, “You know who likes streusel? Germans! You know who was German? Hitler!”

    2. Thanks James, just to make clear, I am not saying anyone is automatically a Pharisee if they believe these gifts have stopped. I am not charismatic myself and have really wrestled with this topic because on one hand I don’t want to limit what God can do (as if I am able to limit God) but on the other hand I have never personally experienced any of these things. God is not limited by the totality of my experience.

    3. In his comentarry on Daniel, I believe Rex Turner explained it well when he distinguished a miracle from “providence”. He said that a “miracle” had:

      1) Maximum interference
      2) the end result was only incidental
      3) it was obvious
      4) it declared itself
      4) it was associated with an agent

      On the other hand, “providence” has:

      1) minimum interference
      2) the end result was primary
      3) it was not obvious
      4) makes no declaration
      5) not necessarily associated with an agent

      Personally, the above makes much sense to me. For one, it does not “limit God” in any way. God (as we all know) can and does still intervene in the affairs of man. The difference seems to be that when a “miracle” (as described in the bible) occurred, everybody knew it was as much. Whether, healing, prophecy, tongues, etc. Today, although God still works from above, he does not seem to declare his work in an obvious manner. Benny Hinn notwithstanding….

  5. Great coment , James. Like Matt, I have never experienced “any of these things” either. Neither have I ever personally witnessed “any of these things”. Too, the stories I have heard from people who claim to have experienced them, are every time suspect. The difference (to me) is that in the Bible, “miracles” were usually obvious and made a point from on high. Today, they seem to be mere stories, experiences, and feelings of men (or worse).

    That said, I believe God can and still does intervene in the affairs of man in very direct ways, but never to where men stand back and say “wow, did you just see that miracle?”, like happened before. The cases where such does happen, seem to be jokes (like a Benny Hinn show).

    Which is why Rex Turner’s explanation makes so much sense to me.

    1. Hank,

      Try reading the ebook to see some examples from Frank’s life and see what you think. Curious to hear your thoughts.

    2. Okay, read over 35 of the 75 page book and made it to his first to examples. About the Chinese lady that God miraculously revealed via “spiritual gift” that her real name was not Jean, which made me actually laugh (no offense). Also, that she was troubled in spirit and should go back to China to “witness” were also somewhat easy seeming.

      The second, about the smoker who had a female problem that was “miraculously” know to the Canadian evangelist is a little more interesting to me.

      Even if true, stories like that happen all of the time. In my own life, my mom and grandma both have at at least once revealed (prohesied?) Future events that came to pass indeed. When i lived in Oregon, she had knowledge of a life changing event that had just happened to me. The problem is, she had zero faith in God when she received such a “spiritual gift” and so I never considered it a gift of the Holy Spirit. My grandmother was an heathan alcoholic when she was receiving her “spiritual gifts” and remained as much for years after. My wife has similar stories of her drug addict brother projecting future events that came to pass. We likely all have experienced THOSE types of weird deals. My problem is in using them as proof of God working the same today with believers as he did in the first century is weak, because the same things happen to full on atheists and enemies of God.

      But, in the Bible, the miraculous and spiritual gifts we read about had a point and all honest men KNEW that they indisputable “gifts” from the Most High himself.

      There was no need to have a great debate about whether Christians really believed in them or not. Rather, everybody KNEW the deal. No need for books for and against 😉

      Interesting subject though….

    1. The fact that we are having this debate/discussion among Christians is proof positive that times have changed, in terms of spiritual gifts…

  6. Also Matt, you wrote: “It is a foolish thing to see God’s Spirit at work and say it wasn’t God.”

    My question is, how do you accurately determine whether or not the the thing you are seeing (or feeling or whatever) is actually “God’s Spirit at work”?

    And, if the thing you concluded to be God’s Spirit at work actually wasn’t….? would saying it was, be equally foolish?

    Again, all of the debate, ambiguity and confusion here is what puts me more in the camp of what people seem to be calling the “cessationists” here. That, and my understanding of the relative Scripture.

    1. Hank,

      Thanks for the questions. I realized that I have Rex Turner’s systematic theology in my office and am going to give you my copy before I go. He gives a pretty thorough explanation of why he thinks miraculous gifts have ceased (p.344-345) if you want to read his thoughts. He basically says that Paul argues in 1 Cor 13 with three examples that gifts had to stop when the Bible was complete. Child – Man, as in a mirror – see clearly, imperfect – perfect. He is correct in saying that there is a progression in the way God is working but to conclude from these three examples that the perfect is the word is possible but not automatically correct, as he assumes.

      You asked how do you tell something is the work of God. If I saw a dead guy raised by someone commanding it in Jesus’ name I would be convinced. I am sure you would be as well! If I saw someone rebuke a demon-possessed person in the name of Jesus and the demon obeyed, I would believe it. I haven’t ever seen someone possessed by a demon that I have known of but if I somehow knew that was the case and saw that happen I wouldn’t deny it. Let’s get closer to home. If I saw someone with cancer prayed over and the cancer went away, I would believe God was at work doing miraculous healing there. Why else pray unless God is at work? I have seen people speak in tongues and for some my guess was they were just all worked up in a frenzy with very little Spirit involved. I have also known people that I love and trust to tell me they speak in tongues. I am not going to step all over the Holy Spirit’s toes and say the Spirit just can’t or won’t do it.

      I am not saying I am a full fledged, fully Gospel Pentecostal. I am saying that I am never going to put myself in a position where I was condemning something God was doing and when I read scripture I often find God does things I would have never expected and often find people saying it wasn’t God. Then I find those same people judged. So as for me…I won’t go there. I understand how others conclude what they conclude. I am just going to be extra careful on this one.

  7. At the end of the day, we probably all know some co-worker, friend, relative or church who(or where) “speak in tongues” and perform “healings”(albeit of the subjective type) and yet probably most people commenting here stay clear of these people and those churches. If we really truly believed that they were(not could be)speaking in legitimate tongues and were performing true healings, why wouldn’t we all flock there? Why would we want to miss out?

    In other words we just don’t place ourselves in the right environment(as my dad, who is Pentecostal says to me). Seems to me, while we might not want to rule the charismatic gifts completely out, we aren’t really, truly, convinced it is taking place.

  8. Matt, you wrote: “I am not saying that I am never going to put myself in a position where I was condemning something God was doing and when I read scripture I often find God does things I would have never expected and I often find people saying it wasn’t God”

    I agree,I feel the same way. Likewise, I would never want to condemn something God was doing and I also find that God does things I would never have expected.And I would never want to carelessly say that God didn’t do a certain thing.

    My only point is that TODAY, we don’t KNOW (without any doubt) that a thing that was done (or predicted, or felt, etc) was positively the act of God via a miraculous gift of the Holy Spirit. In the first century, such gifts/abilities/etc were seemingly recognized by all in the church as 100% miraculous gifts from on high.

    Again, I don’t doubt or deny that God works directly in terms of healing and/or influencing a person to do and/or say such and such. My only concern is when a person sees or feels or predicts a certain thing that they then claim (positively) that the Holy SPirit worked to and/or through them. Like I said above, countless people have had crazy things happen to and for them (even the most heathen) that probably had nothing to do with the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit.

    I guess my main problem is when a person feels a certain thing or has has a certain thought or has a certain prayer answered, that they then claim to have had a miraculous gift of the Holy spirit comparable to those we read about in the Bible.

    Again, I don’t doubt for a single second that God directly works, influences and changes things down here today. I just don’t believe that when he does, we know exactly when and what he peraonally did. In the NT, people could quote what the Holy Spirit told them to say, and I don’t believe that anybody now can determine their own thoughts from what is so often credited to God.

    I have had direct family members tell me that God had told (revealed to them) “such and such” but I knew they were only attributing their own thoughts to God.

    Lastly, my thought is that we need to be at least just as careful in NOT attributing to God our own thoughts and feelings as so many others claim to have received directly from Him via a “spiritual gift”

  9. “You asked how do you tell something is the work of God. If I saw a dead guy raised by someone commanding it in Jesus’ name I would be convinced. I am sure you would be as well! If I saw someone rebuke a demon-possessed person in the name of Jesus and the demon obeyed, I would believe it. I haven’t ever seen someone possessed by a demon that I have known of but if I somehow knew that was the case and saw that happen I wouldn’t deny it.”

    I agree, absolutely. The problem is, we both admit to have never seen anything like those things. Neither of us (as far I know) have ever seen heard, or felt anything that we could absolutely declare was the work of God via some miraculous “spiritual gift”. It MAY have been the direct work of God (we both know he does things like heal and influence people), but we never know 100% that it was a miracle from above. It may have just happened….

    In the bible however, such gifts were indisputable and the entire church recognized them as such.

    Today, its all done on the “under” and is therefore different. And IMO, for someone to claim “God showed me (or did to me) this or that” is just as wreckless as saying he didn’t. We just never know for sure.

    But, and again, in the first century, they did know. They could quote God and differentiate between their own thoughts and his. There was no doubt.

    Its just not like that anymore. He obviously works behind the scenes and not like described in the Bible.

    1. I get what you are saying here and I appreciate where you are coming from 100%. My experience has been that when you actually start talking about this subject with people, especially people who have done mission work overseas where people are more open to recognizing spiritual forces at work in their lives, that there are some things that happen that you would recognize had a direct spiritual component to them. I will have to ask a few people to share.

      The closest thing I have ever experienced like that was in a Pentecostal church. We were newly married and Missy’s hairdresser invited us to a prayer service. We were hoping to get her to come to church with us and so we went. When we got there it was mostly women and they were all praying out loud. A woman preacher got up and started rebuking evil spirits and things that I felt very uncomfortable with. Like you said, one of those things you have no idea if it has any legitimacy just watching like a fly on the wall. Her friend still hadn’t shown up so we decided it was time for us go. We got up and walked over to a door we thought was an exit but when we opened it, it was a dark classroom hallway. So we turned back around to the auditorium and, being that we were the only Causasion people in the room who had just disturbed their prayer service, everyone was looking at us. Then the woman preacher called us out in front of the whole church and asked us if she could anoint us. I told her no. She asked if she could pray for us and I said that would be fine. She prayed very specific things about our lives, things for both of us, that she couldn’t have ever known that just blew our minds. I don’t know how all of that works but I am open to the possibility of saying God was up to something there.

      There are a lot bigger/more direct stories than that out there that I have been told by people I respect. I don’t always know what to make of them but my faith tells me to keep an open mind because, like you, I know God is at work. I also wonder how and to what extent. I do know God still raises the dead…he does it every time someone is baptized (Rom 6:1-6). I still know he heals the sick…it just doesn’t always coincide with someone laying on hands. It is all very mysterious and humbling but reassuring that God is up to something and I am just happy to be on his team!

  10. Too, back when everybody knew there were miraculous spiritual gifts in the church, they also knew which brethren had which ones. Many envied others.

    Obviously, that has changed as well…

  11. For whatever its worth, my last comment was sent prior to reading your most recent one.

    As far as the lady preacher blowing your minds, I’d compare that to the other examples I gave regarding the least likely of people knowing/predicting the most amazing events. I bet people have been blown away similarly at some of the “spiritual advisors” (palm readers) we sign up for water service 😉

    But to me, such examples are not at all comparable to the indisputable miraculous gifts given by God we read about in the NT. The types that the rest of the church not only all recognized, but often envied.

    Anyway, I honestly can’t think of a brother of whom I have more respect for as a Christian than you. You are a blessing to all who know you, for real.

    If anybody out to be able to lay hands today, it oughta be you 😉

    Thanks for all that you are and do and mean to the church. Love you bro!

    1. Thanks for the conversation Hank. I always get sharpened by you and appreciate your heart. I know God is using and will continue to use you in mighty ways for his kingdom and I look forward to seeing the fruit of your labor. You have been a tremendous blessing to me and to my family and we are going to miss you incredibly. Love you brother.

  12. I think we need to be very careful here. The Book of Revelation predicts miraculous capacities in the Evil One – the healing of the deadly wound in the Beast-that-was-slain. So, we should not be looking for miracles as a sign of witness of God today, except in so far as they confirm the Scriptures. I have no doubt that strange unexplicable things can happen as a consequence of spiritual influence on the material frame but it isn’t only God who can bring such spiritual influences to bear, though I believe He has ultimate say. Surely, Paul in 1 Corinthians 13, urges us to place no weight on such undependable things as prophecy, tongues and knowledge (e.g. the survival lore of our ancestors is of little use in today’s world), but to look principally to having ‘caring concern’ for others in what we do (the word ‘love’ has too many meanings to convey the Greek ‘αγαπη’).

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