Are Experiences a Valid Source of Truth?

by: John MacArthur

John MacArthurWe are going to embark upon a study of the Charismatic movement, the contemporary Charismatic movement that surrounds us in the Evangelical Church. Back in 1977, to be exact, I preached a series on the movement, or maybe a little even before that year. But a book came from it which I spent 1977 writing. That book was entitled, “The Charismatics.” And now we are about a dozen or more years beyond that publication, and I felt that it is time for an update. And from this series will come another book entitled, “Charismatic Chaos.” I believe that book will be released sometime after the first of next year.

So many Christians are confused by the theology and the experiences of Charismatic people. And they have become so visible because of Christian television, radio, books, magazines, and because their ministries are so aggressive that we all are inundated by them through direct mail. Television and the media has spread this movement, it has created for them a tremendous platform. In fact, it is probably not far from the truth to say that most people would assume that Evangelical Christianity is what the Charismatic movement represents, because it is such an exposed movement.

But we must deal with it in line with 1 Thessalonians 5:21, and that is to examine it carefully, to determine what is true and what is not. Now as we embark upon this examination, I want you to know at the very outset, that I love my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, and I have no intent to convey anything other than love for them. I think in the movement there are many who are not genuinely saved, and I am equally concerned about their salvation. My purpose is not to debate them, pitting our theology against theirs, but to call them to the test of Scripture, to drop what Amos called the “plumb line,” to see if they are straight with the Word of God.

I have to say at the very outset that a rather powerful intimidation factor works against those who wish to deal with this movement Biblically. To critique Charismatic doctrine or practice is commonly viewed as inherently unloving, inherently unkind, inherently divisive, and even blasphemous. I have personally been accused of blaspheming the Holy Spirit by calling this movement to the test of Scripture. Anybody who wants to answer the movement; to confront the movement; to measure it by Scripture; can be intimidated. Because it is very hard, then, to find a platform to speak about the movement. It runs almost rampant like wildfire.

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1 thought on “Are Experiences a Valid Source of Truth?

  1. John MacArthur’s objections to spiritual gifts are based on basically, nothing, Biblically.

    I can see three main approaches to discounting spiritual gifts.

    1. Straw man.
    The first is the ‘straw man’ by choosing some of the most extreme examples of things he can find, things some Pentecostals and Charismatics would disagree with. It is clear from the Bible that there are false prophets, false manifestations of gifts. Some things MacArthur takes issue with are in line with scripture.

    2. Mysticism
    If John MacArthur doesn’t like something because it is too supernatural or ‘Charismatic’ he calls it ‘mysticism’ as if calling something mysicism makes it bad.

    3. Time period argument
    MacArthur cites various examples of miracles FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT BEFORE THE OUTPOURING OF THE SPIRIT IN ACTS 2, and tries to demonstrate a connection between the occurance of miracles and the writing of scripture. The idea is that miracles occur when scripture is being written.

    A major problem with this line of reasoning is that it is not true even in the OT time period. Elijah and Elisha were both miracle workers, but just from reading the text, we can see the the accounts of their lives were written down as scripture CENTURIES LATER, after their miracles were performed.

    Plus, there is a major problem with this whole approach, one that a dispensationalism should be aware of. Peter qutoes Joel to show that in the last days, the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh. He identifies what happened as recorded in Acts 2 as what Joel prophesied about. After Acts 2, we see that the Spirit has been poured out on the church, and that the Bible teaches that the Spirit gives gifts including tongues, healing, prophcy, etc. to the saints.

    Basically, MacArthur’s argument is built on his form of dispensationlism, and not on scripture. MacArthur draws his dispensational time lines to exclude spiritual gifts from our time period but scripture doesn’t.

    MacArthur’s Approach to History

    MacArthur argued that there was no reliable historical evidence of these supernatural spiritual gifts (forget the exact wording) after the first century. This claim strikes me as disingenious. Either he hasn’t read the ‘patristic’ writings and just is so sure he is right that he alledges there is not reliable historical evidence, or he dismisses the historical evidence as ‘unreliable’ without dealing with it. Ireneaus spoke of spiritual gifts in his day, even foreknowledge, raising the dead, and speaking in tongues. That was about 200 AD. Plus, there are so many numerous accounts of miracles throughout church history. Prophecy was well accepted as genuine in the church– certainly not just in Montanist circles. In fact, one of the mainstream Christian arguments against Montanists after their prophet and prophetesses died off was that Paul taught that prophecy would continue until the Lord returned.

    Perhaps they had a verse like this one in mind.

    I Corinthians 1:7 So that ye come behind in no gift; waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ:

    Some Flawed Dispensationalist Cessationist Arguments

    Some dispensationalist will argue that Paul gradually lost the ability to heal later in his life. However, a careful study of scripture argues against this. Usually, this dispensational cessationist argument is based on the idea that the apostles could heal at will, like Superman using his heat vision, without dependance on God’s will for that particular moment. But if we look at Paul’s life, we see that EARLY ON in his apostolic ministry, on his first missionary journey, he had some sort of infirmity that caused him to go to the Galatians, perhaps related to his eyes, since they would have been willing to give him their eyes, as he writes in Galatians. So we see Paul sick early on, and we see him leaving a helper sick in Miletus on one occasion late in his ministry. If we were to graph Paul’s healing experiences as recorded in scripture ona chart, with his illness in Galatia and his leaving Tromiphus sick at Miletus as low points, and all the extraordinary miracles in Ephesus as high points, we would see peaks and valleys, not a declining curve as certain dispensational cessationists would have us believe.

    Another major flaw with the dispensational cessationism is the fact that there are true prophets at the end of the age as recorded in the book of Revelation.

    Christ warned about false prophets that bring forth bad fruit. I don’t think many on either side of the issue would dispute that this was a valid concern in the first century. We also see a false prophet at the end of the age doing the miracle of calling down fire from heaven.

    The Lord Jesus also said that He would send prophets. Acts mentions prophets in the church. If we look at the end of the age, we see the blood of prophets in Babylon, presumably true prophets given the context. We also see the two witnesses prophesying and doing a miracle of fire.

    So we see true and false prophets and true and false signs at the beginning of the age and at the end of the age. Where is the dispensational cessationists scripture for killing off the gift of prophecy in the middle of the age, and resurrecting it at the end? If prophecy is gone, why would it return? If it hasn’t gone, why be a cessationist?

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