There is a well known apologetic that is given as evidence regarding the resurrection of Christ. Preachers, teachers, theologians and laypeople point to the deaths of the Apostles as circumstantial evidence concerning that event. They say things like “People will die for a cause if they believe it to be true, but they won’t die for a lie. The 12 Apostles suffered horrendous deaths as martyrs for the cause- now why would they endure such profound suffering if they believed it a lie?
It seems to be a given that almost all the Apostles were martyred and that their gruesome, grotesque end is known. They say things like “Church tradition has it that……” or ” Church history tells us that….” and that seems to be the end of it, as if such matters are settled and secure. They have an assumed confidence in the historicity of these accounts, supposing we have sufficient certainty to know what actually happened, and in turn recount this to others without impunity.
There are several problems with this though, the least of which is that even a cursory examination of the accounts of the deaths of the apostles show gaps, contradictions, conflicting testimony, unreliable witnesses, suspect testimonies and incredible uncertainty. The whole thing really is a complete mess, and it seems that if someone told me “Church tradition has it that they all died a martyr’s death” and I would ask them “What traditions? What church fathers” No one would even have a clue. Its a good line, but it harder to back up once you go deeper than surface-level sound clips.
To offer an example, the one I want to focus on is the supposed martyrdom of Bartholomew the Apostle. Finding primary sources for the Martyrdom of Bartholomew has been a nightmare. What we typically see is “Some local traditions have him going to India. Other traditions record him as serving as a missionary in Ethiopia. Mesopotamia, Parthia, and Lycaonia”. In the NewAdvent entry on Bartholomew by John Fenlon, we read without sources or citations “Other traditions represent St. Bartholomew as preaching in Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt, Armenia, Lycaonia, Phrygia, and on the shores of the Black Sea. One legend, it is interesting to note, identifies him with Nathanael. The manner of his death, said to have occurred at Albanopolis in Armenia, is equally uncertain; according to some, he was beheaded, according to others, flayed alive and crucified, head downward, by order of Astyages, for having converted his brother, Polymius, King of Armenia.” I find that incredibly unhelpful and have not been able to track down most of those so-called traditions. To that end after some careful research I’ve managed to dig up the most relevant and recent sources for the evidence of the Martyrdom of just one of the Apostles.
1. The Biblical Evidence. There is no biblical extant evidence of the fate of Bartholomew. The Scriptures are wholly silent on the matter.
2. Hippolytus of Rome [170-235] . Though in his own day he was considered to be a prolific writer, the details of his life and his writings were quickly forgotten and little is known about him. He wrote that “Bartholomew, again, preached to the Indians, to whom he also gave the Gospel according to Matthew, and was crucified with his head downward, and was buried in Allanum, a town of the great Armenia. [Hippolytus. "On the Twelve Apostles of Christ." Ante-Nicean Fathers, Vol. 5.] Hippolytus does not give us sources for this account, and likewise his authorship of said source is highly disputed. That is to say- we don’t even know if he actually wrote it. But if he did, it is also interesting to note that Hippolytus reports natural deaths for four of the twelve disciples [John, Matthew, Thaddeus, and Simon the Zealot, which would contradict Eusebius and others regarding other apostolic deaths.
3. Eusebius of Caesarea, [AD 263 – 339] Recounts only that Bartholomew went off to India. ” Pantænus was one of these, and is said to have gone to India. It is reported that among persons there who knew of Christ, He found the Gospel, according to Matthew, which had anticipated his own arrival. For Bartholomew, one of the apostles, had preached to them, and left with them the writing of Matthew in the Hebrew language, which they had preserved till that time.” [Eusebius. Church History. Book V. Chapter 10.]
4. Jerome. [ 347 – 420] In his commentary on Matthew he mentions a number of no-longer-extant apocryphal gospels, including a document entitled The Gospel of Bartholomew [Sometimes called the Questions of Bartholomew] This document is strongly Nestorian [The Nestorian heresy taught that Jesus existed simultaneously as two distinct entities: the human Jesus, mortal and finite; and the divine Logos or "Word of God," which had existed with God the Father throughout all time] and was condemned as heretical by the Gelasian decree. The Questions of Bartholomew describes several conversations between Jesus and the Apostles, after the Crucifixion, Christ’s Harrowing of Hell, and the Resurrection. Jesus explicitly grants Bartholomew power and authority over the denizens of Hell, which gives him the ability to question Satan about his battle with Heaven. Written possibly as early as the 6th century, it does not cast light on his death
5. There is a non-Biblical document called the “Martyrdom of Bartholomew” written as early as the 5th century, which claims that Bartholomew was martyred by King Astyages in Armenia: “Then the King rent the purple in which he was clothed, and ordered the holy apostle Bartholomew to be beaten with rods; and after having been thus scourged, to be beheaded.” Interestingly enough, in this book the demons are speaking amongst themselves about how to recognize him, and they are given this description “And the demon answered and said: He has black hair, a shaggy head, a fair skin, large eyes, beautiful nostrils, his ears hidden by the hair of his head, with a yellow beard, a few grey hairs, of middle height, and neither tall nor stunted, but middling…His voice is like the sonnet of a strong trumpet; there go along with him angels of God, who allow him neither to be weary, nor to hunger, nor to thirst; his face, and his soul, and his heart are always glad and rejoicing; he foresees everything, he knows and speaks every tongue of every nation.”
6. Moses of Chorena, a writer who lived either in the late 5th century or sometime in the 7th century, wrote “There came then into Armenia the Apostle Bartholomew, who suffered martyrdom among us in the town of Arepan. As to Simon, who was sent unto Persia I cannot relate with certainty what he did, nor where he suffered martyrdom. It is said that one Simon, an apostle, was martyred at Veriospore. Is this true or why did the saint come to this place? I do not know I have only mentioned this circumstance that you may know I spare no pains to tell you all that is necessary.” [ History of Armenia . Section IX]
7. The Acts of Phillip. A bizarre, mystical, Gnostic apocryphal late 4th century book. In a later addition to it we read “And the Saviour said: O Philip, since you have forsaken this commandment of mine, not to render evil for evil, for this reason you shall be debarred in the next world for forty years from being in the place of my promise: besides, this is the end of your departure from the body in this place; and Bartholomew has his lot in Lycaonia, and shall be crucified there; and Mariamne shall lay down her body in the river Jordan. [Addition to the Acts of Phillip. Paragraph 52]
8. Allegedly there is an old Roman Breviary which states “In Great Armenia Bartholomew led the king, Poplymius, and his wife, in addition to twelve cities, to the Christian belief. These conversions very much enkindled the jealousy of the clergy there. The priests succeeded in stirring up the brother of King Polymius, Astyages, to such an anger that he gave the gruesome order to have Bartholomew skinned alive and then beheaded. In this martyrdom he gave his soul back to God.” I have not been able to locate any source for it.
So here’s where we are; concerning the apostolic work of St. Bartholomew we have only unreliable and contradictory statements. The earliest accounts have been lost. The first that have been preserved originated between 450 and 550 in the eastern provinces of the Byzantine Empire with traces of Nestoriansim. His manner of deaths range from being beaten, beheaded, flayed, crucified, and a host of others ends. He is said to have died in dozens of different places and countries, and most of the information that supposedly sheds light on his death was written hundreds of years after his actual death, in unreliable, unbelievable, fantastical sources. I would suggest that during the first several centuries after Christ, stories about Him, the apostles, and their lives — not to mention writings on the meaning of Christ’s life, the duties of a Christian, and predictions about the end of the world — exploded into existence and the adventures of Bartholomew consists entirely of that- stories, traditions, myths and legends.
To that end, the title of this post is a bit misleading but it makes its point well. While we have stronger and more solid evidence for the martyrdom of other Apostles, the point I want to make stands; we don’t even know that Bartholomew was martyred. We don’t know how, why or where or even IF. We don’t with any certainty know a single detail about his death, other than that he indeed did die. Appeals to Church history and Church tradition are useless and confusing, and so because we want to speak the truth, we need to be precise. I think it’s fair to say something like “While we have a mess to sort our regarding which apostles died where how and why, its reasonable to conclude that many of them if not most of them probably were martyred for their faith” It doesn’t have the impact that “They were all martyred for their faith and suffered this specific gruesome fate..”, but the purpose is not maximum impact, but maximum truth so that God may be glorified.
I recently had the opportunity to check out a local Church’s church bookstore. Perusing their selection got me thinking;
What is the purpose of a church bookstore? Apart from being a small source of revenue, which undoubtedly must be the secondary or even tertiary purpose, I would have imagined that it would be a place where you honor and glorify Christ by presenting to your congregation the best books that they can read to build their faith. This should represent what the pastor, elders and church leadership recommend as being the most thoughtful, engaging, edifying, provoking, and biblically faithful resources that they can give their members in order to build their sanctification and help them understand the purposes and character of God.
As a pastors job is to shepherd the flock and feed them God’s word, a bookstore [or even a church library- they have the exact same purpose] can serve as a small part of that. During the sermon you should be teaching doctrine that will more or less agree the theology being espouse in a bookstore, and likewise the books compliment the messages being preached from the pulpit. Simply put; the very act of stocking certain books and authors is a implicit and tacit endorsement of that authors theology. The books in the bookstore function like little sermons and teaching lessons that you are unable to deliver, but would like to. When you carry certain books, you are telling your flock “we want you to read this books, and we agree with what is being taught.” Not only that, but you are saying that the book is safe, that the theology can be trusted, and that you support what is being written about. Unlike a for-profit bookstore, the motivations are a little different.
Given this, every book should be vetted by either the pastor, elders, or a qualified layperson who understands law and gospel, sin and grace, and knows how to properly handle the scriptures so that they can, in the words of Chris Rosebrough “Compare what people are saying in the name of God to the word of God.” You don’t have to agree with everything that the author says, in this book or in others they have, however. The purpose is not to nitpick every tiny minutia that the book relates, but rather to determine if they authors are being faithful to the scriptures in their exegesis, interpretation, extrapolation and application, so that you can feel confident that you have your due diligence in caring for people’s souls.
So why do so many Church bookstores or lending libraries have such rotten books? And not to put too fine a point on it, but why do so many churches sell books from authors who are either heretics, flaming heretics, false teachers, bible twisters, narcegetes [narcissistic eisegeters] and every other variety of bizarre purveyors of theological poison? These are books where it can be demonstrably and objectively proven that the authors are misusing God’s word, and that they are teaching things that can’t either can’t be found in scripture, or that scripture condemns.
They should be places where you can let your guard down, not have to raise it up. They should be places where you can learn about biblical prayer without being exposed to gnostic witchcraft involving a mythical figures named Honi and circlemaking practices. They should be places where you can learn to see Jesus in the Old Testament and not be a breeding ground for teaching you how to make the Bible about you so that you can narcisistically insert yourself into the text. They should be places where you can read about the glories and mysteries of heaven, as revealed in scriptures, and not have some five year old boy regale you with delusions and lies about how “for real” he thinks heaven is.
The bookstore is where you learn about how to manage your finances well so that you can give sacrificially to the Church and to your neighbour. Its not a place where you should find yourself exposed to the health and wealth/prosperity gospel- the theological abortion that would feed on your greed and lust of the world as it chains you to the lie that is the “american dream”. The bookstore should be a places where you get a clear articulation of the gospel and the forgiveness of sins that Christ has provided for you on the cross through his death and resurrection, not where you die on the altar of self-esteem. Its not supposed to be a place that leaves you embroiled in “moralistic therapeutic deism” by enslaving you to Christless Christianity by a man with big shiny teeth who will drag you to hell as he smiles and talks about “your best life now.” The bookstore ought to build your sanctification, not your self esteem. Promote the sure word of the faith delivered “once for all”, not mysticism and spiritual whimsicality.
From a personal standpoint, when I see that sort of thing, it demonstrates to me that the church leadership is not acting with wisdom and discernment. It show they are failing to be watchmen and good shepherds over their flocks. This is because they are allowing and encouraging into their midsts purveyors of scriptural strychnine . How then can I submit to them and trust them to feed my soul on a Sunday morning when they’re giving the enemy the knife to slit my throat the other six days of the week? I’m not saying they don’t love the Lord or love people, but in a way they are showing hatred towards their brothers and sisters by exposing them to the worst that Christianity has to offer. I instinctually question how committed they are to be sound teachers and exegetes of the Word when they tolerate the sloppy molestation of that very same Word by other preachers and teachers in their own homes.
What say you? Do you trust your Church bookstore?
A few weeks ago a friend off mine posted this picture on facebook. I asked her what ”valid” means and she told me “ valid = real, noteworthy, substantial, precious.” Therefore to frame this another way, the feelings of every single person, no matter what they are, and regardless of their nature, are real, substantial and precious. It doesn’t take more than a few seconds to see the deep flaws and perverse logic of such a statement. I jumped on MS paint and within a few minutes I had created these two beauties.
and then this one, which I posted to her facebook wall
She promptly deleted my post, which I suppose demonstrates the hypocrisy and irrationality of such a proposition. The people who promote this mindset don’t believe it themselves, nor do they practice it. It is enabling childishness and selfishness under the guise of love and tolerance. It enables emotional immaturity in such a way that those who cling to it are being hurt by their belief in it, even as they believe they are being helped. Put the lie to it. Don’t believe it. And don’t fall for it.
John MacArthur Answers His Critics
What was the purpose of such a controversial conference like Strange Fire? Why did you choose not to invite one of the best of the reformed continuationists to speak at your event and to defend his position? Wouldn’t that have strengthened the cessationist arguments while also showing an earnest desire for unity?
Let me begin by thanking you, Tim, for the opportunity to respond to these important questions about the Strange Fire conference and book. I would also like to thank your readers for their willingness to post these questions.
Sometimes you need to take a strong stand in order to get people’s attention
The goal of the Strange Fire Conference was to sound a trumpet blast in the midst of an evangelical world that has largely grown ambivalent about this vital issue. Sometimes you need to take a strong stand in order to get people’s attention and we wanted the conference to make that kind of definitive statement. Because the honor of the Holy Spirit is at stake, we were convinced that we could not remain silent.
Our decision not to host a debate at the Strange Fire Conference was intentional. Debates are rarely effective in truly helping people think carefully through the issues, since they can easily be reduced to sound bites and talking points. By contrast, a clear understanding of biblical truth comes from a faithful study of the Scriptures. Our hope is that the conference sparked a renewed desire for that kind diligent study on this important issue.
I also expect continuationists to respond in writing to the things I have written in the book. I welcome that kind of interchange. It allows people to think carefully, over a prolonged period of time, about the arguments on both sides of the issue. It has always been through the written word that theological disputes like this have been grappled with in church history. That requires the kind of devotion and effort that brings serious discussion to the fore. I have taken those pains in Strange Fire, and would hope that others would interact on that same level.
There are some matters the Bible makes absolutely clear (e.g. You must trust in Christ alone for your salvation) and some things that continue to perplex us so that even genuine, Bible-loving Christians can disagree on them (e.g. baptism and the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit). Why does God allow questions like these to remain unclear to us? Why are you taking such a strong stand on what is really just a secondary issue?
These questions remind me of an article Thabiti Anyabwile wrote during the Strange Fire Conference, in which he explained why this issue is so important. He wrote, “First, we have to admit that there’s a correct and an incorrect position on this issue. Somebody is right and somebody is wrong… . Second, we have to admit that how we view this issue substantially impacts the nature of the Christian life. It matters. It’s not an inconsequential idea. Someone worships God appropriately, someone doesn’t… . Third, we have to admit that this issue practically impacts Christian worship and fellowship. It’s not only a private matter, but a corporate one as well.”
I agree with all of that. This is an issue of critical importance because it affects our view of God as well as our understanding of how to live out the Christian life, both individually and corporately.
I don’t think, however, that this issue is unclear in Scripture. The fact that Christians disagree on what the Bible teaches does not mean that there is a lack of clarity in Scripture, but rather in Christians. The Word of God is our authoritative rule for faith and practice—meaning that it is perfectly sufficient for teaching sound doctrine and governing right living. Certainly, an orthodox pneumatology fits under that umbrella.
On the one hand, I would agree that this is a second-level doctrinal issue—meaning that someone can be either a continuationist or a cessationist and still be a genuine follower of Jesus Christ. I have always maintained that position, and I reiterated that point several times during the conference. I have good friends who consider themselves continuationists, and I am confident that these men are fellow brothers in Christ. But that doesn’t excuse the seriousness of the error. In fact, I would appeal to my continuationist brethren to reconsider their views in light of what Scripture teaches.
On the other hand, I am firmly convinced that this secondary issue has the very real potential to taint a person’s understanding of the gospel itself. In such cases, it becomes a primary issue. For example, charismatic theology does corrupt the gospel when it expresses itself in the form of the prosperity gospel. Moreover, the global charismatic movement happily shelters other heretical movements—such as Catholic Charismatics and Oneness Pentecostals. Taken together, the number of charismatics who hold to a false form of the gospel (whether it is a gospel of health and wealth or a gospel of works righteousness) number in the hundreds of millions, which means they actually represent the majority of the global charismatic movement. That is why we took such a strong stand both at the conference and in the book.
You noted that you see this issue clearly resolved in Scripture. Can you explain, briefly, the biblical case for cessationism?
The full answer to this question would require a lengthy response; and I spend several chapters in the book making the case. But since you asked me to be brief, I’ll do my best to stay concise. I find it helpful to shape the case for cessationism around three questions: What?, When?, and Why?.
First, what were the miraculous and revelatory gifts (like apostleship, prophecy, tongues, and healing) according to the Word of God? Scripture gives us a clear description. But when we compare that biblical description with the modern charismatic movement, we find that the latter falls far short. Though charismatics use biblical terminology to describe their contemporary experiences, nothing about the modern charismatic gifts matches the biblical reality.
For example, God’s Word explicitly says that true prophets must adhere to a standard of 100% accuracy (Deut. 18:20–22) and nothing in the New Testament exempts them from that standard. The book of Acts depicts the gift of tongues as producing real human languages (Acts 2:9–11), and nothing in 1 Corinthians redefines tongues as irrational babble. And the New Testament further describes the miraculous healings of Jesus and the Apostles (including the healing of organic diseases like paralysis, blindness, and leprosy) as being immediate, complete, and undeniable (cf. Mark 1:42; 10:52; etc.). These, and many other Scripture passages, demonstrate the truly extraordinary quality of the biblical gifts.
But here is the point. The modern gifts of the charismatic movement simply do not match up to their biblical counterparts. Modern prophecy is fallible and full of errors. Modern tongues consists of unintelligible speech that does not conform to any human language. Modern healings do not compare to the miracles performed by Jesus and the Apostles.
Amazingly, leading continuationists readily acknowledge this fact. Wayne Grudem, for example, agrees that apostleship has ceased. He further argues for a modern version of prophecy that is fallible and frequently characterized by mistakes. Sam Storms has a whole article attempting to justify the idea that modern tongues do not have to be real human languages. And in a recent interview, John Piper acknowledges that there was something unique and unrepeatable about the healing miracles of Christ.
Based on those admissions, I would challenge them to consider in what sense they should even be called ‘continuationists,’ because they essentially acknowledge that the biblical gifts have not continued. And if these aren’t the biblical gifts we’re talking about, what are they, and what Scriptural evidence is there for their operation in the church?
There is nothing extraordinary about fallible prophecy, irrational tongues, or failed healings.
So, I don’t deny that charismatics have lots of experiences. But I do deny the notion that those experiences match what the Bible describes as the miraculous and revelatory gifts of the New Testament. The modern experiences don’t even come close. There is nothing extraordinary about fallible prophecy, irrational tongues, or failed healings. While I recognize that sometimes God providentially chooses to heal people through answered prayer, those occurrences are not at all the same thing as the New Testament gift of healing.
Second, when did the gifts cease? One important passage that helps answer that question is Ephesians 2:20, which explains that apostles and New Testament prophets were the “foundation” upon which the church was being built. Before the canon of Scripture was complete, that foundation was still being laid through the apostles and prophets, and through the miraculous and revelatory gifts that accompanied and authenticated their ministries. But once the foundation was laid, those offices and gifts passed away. To follow Paul’s metaphor, the foundation is not something that is rebuilt at every phase of construction. It is laid only once.
Many reformed continuationists (including Wayne Grudem) readily acknowledge that apostleship has ceased. So even they admit that one of the most significant elements listed in both 1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4 has passed away. So, at that level at least, they are cessationists.
Finally, we must look to the purpose of the gifts—why they were given. The New Testament explains that they functioned to authenticate God’s messengers, while the canon of Scripture—and thus the fullness of God’s revelation—was still incomplete. Jesus Himself was “attested to you by God with miracles and wonders and signs” (Acts 2:22). Paul referred to “the signs of a true apostle” (2 Cor. 12:12). The author of Hebrews spoke of the Gospel being attested by God “both with signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will” (Heb. 2:4).
After the apostolic age passed, with the foundation of the church laid and the canon of Scripture closed, such attestation was no longer required. The sufficiency of Scripture and the fullness of God’s completed revelation in His written Word is so glorious that it no longer needs miraculous confirmation. As Peter explains, the prophetic word is even more sure than the most extraordinary of eye-witness experiences (2 Pet 1:16–21). In the all-sufficient Scriptures, God’s truth is self-attesting and self-evident through the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 4:12).
Now, I realize there are disputes over some of those passages. But that is the very discussion I want to spark in the evangelical community. Let’s dig into the Scriptures and deal with the biblical and theological issues. I should add that we address these and other passages in much greater depth in the Strange Fire book. Not that anyone would want to count, but the Scripture index includes nearly 450 biblical references.
You acknowledge, of course, that many godly, respected theologians are continuationists. How would you explain the continuationist theology of faithful men like John Piper, D.A. Carson, and Wayne Grudem if the cessationist position is so clearly taught in the Bible?
First, let me reiterate how much I do appreciate those men. As I explain in the book, I am truly grateful for the extensive contributions they have made to the truth and life of the church. I have personally benefited from my interactions with each of them, and from the many helpful books they have authored. I love these men as coworkers in the ministry of the gospel, and I thank the Lord for giving them as gifts to the church in this generation.
As I noted at the conference, I believe their openness to modern charismatic gifts is an anomaly. Obviously, I cannot read minds nor do I desire to judge motives. But I do wonder if perhaps their positions are evidence of either the influence of personal relationships with charismatic friends and family members, or the pervasive impact charismatic theology has had on the wider culture.
Wayne Grudem, as I mentioned earlier, openly acknowledges that there are no apostles in the church today. John Piper says that he does not speak in tongues. And I’m fairly confident that D. A. Carson does not personally practice any of the charismatic gifts. In that sense, then, I think they may be more cessationist (in terms of their personal practice) than their published positions would suggest.
My major concern is that their openness to the issue unwittingly gives the whole movement an aura of theological credibility that it does not deserve. That is why I titled the last chapter of Strange Fire, “An Open Letter to My Continuationist Friends.” I want to appeal to them, on the basis of their theological acumen and exegetical expertise, to reexamine the issue. At the very least, I hope they will join with us in drawing a clear line in the sand and condemning the aberrations and excesses of the broader charismatic movement.
You have been clear that charismatic theology damages Christ’s name and the gospel. Excluding the obviously and patently unbiblical, extreme charismatics such as Benny Hinn, what is the damage that may be done as a result of reformed, continuationist preaching and practice?
This is a question we directly address in chapter 12 of the book—identifying eight dangerous ramifications of holding to a continuationist position. I can’t go into detail on all eight of those concerns here, but perhaps I can briefly highlight two of them.
I am concerned that reformed continuationists provide theological cover for the broader movement
First, I am concerned that reformed continuationists provide theological cover for the broader movement—including those who are not nearly as careful as they are. Once you legitimize fallible prophecy, irrational tongues, and failed healings (as if those are true expressions of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit), you open Pandora’s Box to all sorts of theological error and disaster. In using biblical terminology to describe something other than the biblical phenomena, continuationists unwittingly provide cover for charlatans and deceivers who use their arguments to propagate falsehood and justify abuses.
Let me give one quick example of that. I remember meeting with a charismatic prophet in my office several years ago—a man who has since been publicly discredited as a drunken, immoral fraud. But at the time, he was considered one of the foremost of the Kansas City Prophets. And he had come, along with another continuationist leader, in order to convince me that he was a true prophet. It was a strange meeting. His behavior was extremely bizarre. But the other leader defended him, insisting that this was how he acted when he was under the power of the Spirit.
So we asked this other continuationist leader why he believed this man to be a true prophet when he acted so strangely, and when so many of his so-called revelations were wrong and full of errors. I’ll never forget his response. He simply appealed to Wayne Grudem’s work on prophecy as his defense.
Examples like that illustrate the problem. Albeit unintentionally, reformed continuationists are providing a defense for people far less-noble or ethical than they are. In that sense, they are holding the gates open for the Trojan horse of aberrant theology and spiritual abuse that runs rampant in the broader charismatic world.
Second, on a related note, I am deeply concerned with the notion of ongoing revelation in the church today. Though my continuationist friends would never intentionally attack the sufficiency of Scripture, I believe their acceptance of modern prophecy actually undermines the sufficiency of Scripture in profoundly destructive ways.
As I write in Strange Fire, “The continuationist view actually defaults on the sole sufficiency of Scripture at the most practical levels—because it teaches believers to look for additional revelation from God outside the Bible. As a result, people are conditioned to expect impressions and words from God beyond what is recorded on the pages of Scripture. By using terms like prophecy, revelation, or a word from the Lord, the continuationist position has the real potential to harm people by binding their consciences to an erroneous message or manipulating them to make unwise decisions (because they think God is directing them to do so). Though continuationists insist that congregational prophecy is not authoritative (at least, not at the corporate level), it is not difficult to imagine countless ways it might be abused by unscrupulous church leaders” (pp. 242–3).
By definition, then, and contrary to 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Scripture alone cannot be said to make the man of God complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. Some other extrabiblical revelation or experience is made necessary. That kind of theology is downright dangerous.
In his review of your book, Thomas Schreiner says that you painted with too broad a brush and failed to acknowledge some of the good qualities of the reformed continuationist movement. He says, “The clarion call of warning should be modified with clearer and more forthright admissions that many charismatics adhere to the gospel and are faithful to God’s Word.” How would you respond?
First, I’d like to thank Tom for his willingness to review the book. I have great respect for his work as a careful exegete and biblical commentator. Second, I was encouraged to see where he has landed on the issue. I hope more will follow his example—being willing to rethink their continuationist leanings and come to a cessationist conclusion in light of the biblical evidence.
Regarding his concerns about the broad brush, I would respectfully disagree. Certainly, I would affirm that there are charismatics who adhere to the true gospel, and I acknowledge that point in the book. Here are a couple examples:
Page 81 – “I do believe there are sincere people within the Charismatic Movement who, in spite of the systemic corruption and confusion, have come to understand the necessary truths of the gospel. They embrace substitutionary atonement, the true nature of Christ, the Trinitarian nature of God, biblical repentance, and the unique authority of the Bible. They recognize that salvation is not about health and wealth, and they genuinely desire to be rescued from sin, spiritual death, and everlasting hell.”
Page 231 – “I want to emphasize, from the outset, that I regard as brothers in Christ and friends in the ministry all who are faithful fellow workmen in the Word and the gospel, even if they give a place of legitimacy to the charismatic experience. I have good friends among them who label themselves as ‘reformed charismatics’ or ‘evangelical continuationists.’”
Error is still error, even if there are true believers who embrace and espouse it.
So of course I would agree that there are true believers within the charismatic movement. But that does not negate the seriousness of the corruption. The charismatic quest for extrabiblical revelation, subjective impressions, ecstatic experiences, and so on, represents a massive danger to the church. Error is still error, even if there are true believers who embrace and espouse it. And when the error threatens the church in such significant ways, it needs to be called out and directly confronted.
After the conference, there were some who accused me of saying that nothing good has ever come from those who are part of the charismatic movement. But that is not what I said, nor is it what I believe. Regarding those who are genuine believers, I would readily acknowledge the positive contributions that various charismatic pastors, authors, and laypeople have made within the larger church. However, I’m convinced that those contributions have been made in spite of their heterodox pneumatology, not because of it.
Finally, I think those who accuse me of using too broad of a brush are being naïve about the actual composition of the global charismatic movement. We briefly mentioned this earlier, but it is worth reiterating. The fact of the matter is that the majority of charismatics around the world (including both classic Pentecostals and neo-Pentecostals) embrace the prosperity gospel. John T. Allen, in his book The Future Church (Doubleday 2009) explains how pervasive the prosperity gospel really is:
“Perhaps the most controversial element of the Pentecostal outlook is the so-called ‘prosperity gospel,’ meaning the belief that God will reward those with sufficient faith with both material prosperity and physical health. Some analysts distinguish between ‘neo-Pentecostal,’ which they see as focused on the prosperity gospel, and classic Pentecostalism, oriented toward the gifts of the Spirit such as healings and tongues. Yet the Pew Forum data suggests that the prosperity gospel is actually a defining feature of all Pentecostalism; majorities of Pentecostals exceeding 90 percent in most countries hold to these beliefs” (pp. 382–83).
That is a frightening statement, and it reveals just how pervasive the false gospel of health and wealth is within the global charismatic movement. But the data from surveys and studies back up those numbers.
Now that may be shocking to many, especially in North America (and also in theUK). People have responded to the conference by saying that I need to turn off TBNand get out more. They say that they personally know many charismatics who affirm sola fide and the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, and who deny the excesses and heresies of prosperity theology. In point of fact, I know those kinds of people too. Some of them are my dear friends. But the makeup of the movement is not determined by any single individual’s personal experience—unless he or she has personal knowledge of more than a half billion people. In the book, the argument is made by documenting the relevant statistical data. And the numbers paint a very different picture than that imagined by most American evangelicals.
On a global level, the majority of charismatics are being seduced by the false gospel of prosperity theology.
On a global level, the majority of charismatics are being seduced by the false gospel of prosperity theology. Add to that the fact that the charismatic movement includes 120 million Catholic Charismatics and another 24 million Oneness Pentecostals, and you begin to realize just how widespread the problem is.
I’m deeply concerned that most American evangelicals are blissfully ignorant of what is actually happening across the globe. The reality is that the gospel being proclaimed and believed by the majority of charismatics around the world is not the biblical gospel. That was why I wanted Conrad Mbewe to speak at the Strange Fire Conference—because he sees what the charismatic movement is actually doing in places like the African church.
So, coming back to your question, I understand that some reviewers will find my tone too harsh and my brush too broad. But I think the problem is a whole lot bigger than anyone realizes. And it breaks my heart to think that hundreds of millions of souls are being caught up into a movement where they are being seduced by false forms of the gospel.
That is why I wanted to sound such a strong warning. And I’m willing to be accused of broad-brushing in order to get that message out.
On October first my wife gave birth to our first child, a little girl. The birth was difficult, the hospital stay long, and because she was born with congenital hypothyroidism, her long term health prognosis is impossible to predict.
6.3 pounds of alternately squalling and cooing awesomeness, we called her Zahavah Calvary Germain. Zahavah is a Hebrew name and it means “Golden one.” It is also a variation on “Ahavah”, which is the Hebrew word for love, notably found in Jeremiah 31:3 “I have loved you with an everlasting love, ”Hosea 11:4 “I drew them…with bands of love ” Micah 6:8 “and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and John 3;16 “For God so loved the world…”
We chose the middle name “Calvary”, because that’s where God poured out his wrath upon his Son and where the Trinity demonstrated their ahavah for us when Christ died for his elect so that we might be at peace with him.
Because of this birth and subsequent efforts taking care of our newborn I’ been busy and have neglected this blog a bit, but I hope now that we have a bit of a routine, and as the long winter months settle in, that I will be more active.
What Did Jesus Mean When He Said We Would Do Greater Work Than He Did?
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Written by R.C. Sproul Oct 23, 2013
First of all, he said that to his disciples and only to us indirectly, if at all. He is speaking to the first-century church, and he makes the statement that the works they do will be greater than the works that he performed (John 14:12). Let me tell you what I don’t think it means.
There are many today who believe that there are people running around this world right now who are performing greater miracles, performing miracles in greater abundance, and actually doing more incredible acts of divine healing than Jesus himself did. I can’t think of any more serious delusion than that, that somebody would actually think they have exceeded Jesus in terms of the works he has done. There’s nobody who comes close to the work that Jesus did.
Some say that perhaps we can’t do greater works than Jesus individually but that corporately we are able to exceed in power the things that Jesus did. We see amazing things happening in the first-century church through the power that Christ gave to his apostles. We see people raised from the dead through Peter and Paul. But at the same time I would challenge people by telling them to add up all of the miracles that, according to New Testament records, were wrought through the hands of Paul, Peter, and the rest of the disciples corporately, put them all together, and see if they measure a greater degree than those which our Lord performed. If Jesus meant that people would do greater miracles than he performed in the sense of displaying more power and more astonishing things than he did, then obviously one of the works that Jesus failed to perform was sound prophecy, because that just didn’t happen. Nobody exceeded Jesus’ works. That’s what leads me to believe that’s not what he meant. I think he’s using the term “greater” in a different way.
I heard a church historian say that he was convinced that when Jesus made the statement “Greater works than these will you do,” he was referring to the whole scope of the impact of Christ’s people and his church on the world throughout history. I know a lot of people look at the history of Western civilization and say that the bulk of the church’s influence has been negative—the black eye of the Crusades, the Galileo episode, and holy wars, etc. If you look at the record, you will see that it was the Christian church that spearheaded the abolition of slavery, the end of the Roman arena, the whole concept of education, the concept of charitable hospitals and orphanages, and a host of other humanitarian activities. I think, personally, that that’s what Jesus meant when he talked about greater works.
I want to teach in a Church one day. In fact, I’ve already prepared a sermon for you all to see. As one who has listened to thousands of sermons in my life I believe I’ve found the key to be able to condense the vast majority of the sermons I’ve listened to and boil it down in a short, succinct message. For this reason I wanted to show you the outline I will be using, which it seems is the standard outline for 90% of modern evangelical mainline protestant churches, then offer a brief homily.
But before we do that, I need to lay out my primary assumption to my audience, so they know where I, and apparently most of the other bible teachers/pastors are coming from. We work from the understanding that, “ Every Bible story is about YOU, my beloved congregation. And, since YOU all struggle with setbacks, problems and challenges that keep YOU from achieving YOUR maximal greatness, that means that the Bible is really all about giving YOU a road map that YOU can follow to achieve YOUR dreams and God-given destiny.”
So in the spirit of transparency, here is the outline and the steps I have taken to create this sermon.
Step 1. Read a bible story. In our case, 1 Kings 18, which is the story of Elijah on Mount Carmel. It’s best if you read it from the Message Bible as that will result in maximum fluidity of textual fidelity . Also, it is recommended that as time permits, you paraphrase the paraphrase. This lets you emphasize the points you want to emphasize in the story and leave out the points that aren’t relevant or that may contradict the point you want to make. For our purposes we will copy the entire text here, but as long as the congregation more or less gets the gist of the story, as told by you, that is more than sufficient.
16 So Obadiah went straight to Ahab and told him. And Ahab went out to meet Elijah.
17-19 The moment Ahab saw Elijah he said, “So it’s you, old troublemaker!”
“It’s not I who has caused trouble in Israel,” said Elijah, “but you and your government—you’ve dumped God’s ways and commands and run off after the local gods, the Baals. Here’s what I want you to do: Assemble everyone in Israel at Mount Carmel. And make sure that the special pets of Jezebel, the four hundred and fifty prophets of the local gods, the Baals, and the four hundred prophets of the whore goddess Asherah, are there.”
20 So Ahab summoned everyone in Israel, particularly the prophets, to Mount Carmel.
21 Elijah challenged the people: “How long are you going to sit on the fence? If God is the real God, follow him; if it’s Baal, follow him. Make up your minds!”
Nobody said a word; nobody made a move.
22-24 Then Elijah said, “I’m the only prophet of God left in Israel; and there are 450 prophets of Baal. Let the Baal prophets bring up two oxen; let them pick one, butcher it, and lay it out on an altar on firewood—but don’t ignite it. I’ll take the other ox, cut it up, and lay it on the wood. But neither will I light the fire. Then you pray to your gods and I’ll pray to God. The god who answers with fire will prove to be, in fact, God.”
All the people agreed: “A good plan—do it!”
25 Elijah told the Baal prophets, “Choose your ox and prepare it. You go first, you’re the majority. Then pray to your god, but don’t light the fire.”
26 So they took the ox he had given them, prepared it for the altar, then prayed to Baal. They prayed all morning long, “O Baal, answer us!” But nothing happened—not so much as a whisper of breeze. Desperate, they jumped and stomped on the altar they had made.
27-28 By noon, Elijah had started making fun of them, taunting, “Call a little louder—he is a god, after all. Maybe he’s off meditating somewhere or other, or maybe he’s gotten involved in a project, or maybe he’s on vacation. You don’t suppose he’s overslept, do you, and needs to be waked up?” They prayed louder and louder, cutting themselves with swords and knives—a ritual common to them—until they were covered with blood.
29 This went on until well past noon. They used every religious trick and strategy they knew to make something happen on the altar, but nothing happened—not so much as a whisper, not a flicker of response.
30-35 Then Elijah told the people, “Enough of that—it’s my turn. Gather around.” And they gathered. He then put the altar back together for by now it was in ruins. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes of Jacob, the same Jacob to whom God had said, “From now on your name is Israel.” He built the stones into the altar in honor of God. Then Elijah dug a fairly wide trench around the altar. He laid firewood on the altar, cut up the ox, put it on the wood, and said, “Fill four buckets with water and drench both the ox and the firewood.” Then he said, “Do it again,” and they did it. Then he said, “Do it a third time,” and they did it a third time. The altar was drenched and the trench was filled with water.
36-37 When it was time for the sacrifice to be offered, Elijah the prophet came up and prayed, “O God, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, make it known right now that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I’m doing what I’m doing under your orders. Answer me, God; O answer me and reveal to this people that you are God, the true God, and that you are giving these people another chance at repentance.”
38 Immediately the fire of God fell and burned up the offering, the wood, the stones, the dirt, and even the water in the trench.
39 All the people saw it happen and fell on their faces in awed worship, exclaiming, “God is the true God! God is the true God!”
40 Elijah told them, “Grab the Baal prophets! Don’t let one get away!”
They grabbed them. Elijah had them taken down to the Brook Kishon and they massacred the lot.
Step 2. Identify the hero and the villain(s) in the story.
Villain= Prophets of Baal.
Step 3. Identify yourself with the hero (who also happens to be on a journey toward greatness and achieving his God-given destiny, just like you).
Villain= Debt, negative people in your life, a boring job, marital challenges, unfulfilled dreams, broken relationships, etc.
Step 4. Identify the key action taken by the hero to defeat the villain.
Key action- Built an altar. Covered it with water and then called down the fires of God. Also slaughtered the prophets.
Step 5. Allegorize that action by calling it a ‘principle’ and then challenge people to ‘apply this principle’ in their lives in order to defeat the problems, challenges, and setbacks in their lives so that they can achieve greatness.
Here’s how it comes together
“Today I want to tell you a story about a guy named Elijah. He was a prophet of God who lived in the Old Testament, and he’s probably most famous for defeating the prophets of Baal. The story is that there was a famine in the land, the people had forgotten about God, and there was an evil king named Ahad who brought a challenge to Elijah to end the famine. So Elijah went to Mount Carmel, and both he and the prophets each built an altar with the idea that whoever’s altar caught fire first, without getting lit, would demonstrate whose God was real.
The prophets of Baal went first, and they chanted to their gods for half the day to set fire to their altar and prove he was real until they were all sweating in the sun. When nothing happened, Elijah started taunting them and mocking them, so they tried all the harder and even cut themselves to show their sincerity. After a while Elijah got sick of this, and built his own altar, drenched it with water, then prayed to God, and “Whoosh!” the fire of God came down and burned up everything, proving that The God of Elijah was the one and only God.
You know, what we see in this story is that Elijah had a problem. He knew he was called to be a prophet, but guys like Ahab kept him down and was keeping him from reaching his highest potential. Elijah had a dream to serve God and be a Godly man, but Ahab made him question himself and caused him to doubt the vision that God gave him for his life. Elijah knew that God had a plan for his life, plans for good and not for evil, plans to prosper and give him a hope and a future, however Ahab and Jezebel were so powerful, and in that moment Elijah must have felt so helpless. In that moment Ahab issued an impossible challenge- “let’s build two altars, one for you and one for me, and we’ll see which God is real.”
Do you have an impossible dream in your life nobody says you can do, but you feel in the depths of your heart it is from God that you’re just aching to fulfill? We all have impossible things in our life. Maybe you’re in a ton of financial debt, you have fifty thousand dollars on the credit card, and you don’t know how you’ll get out of it. Maybe you have a broken relationship, and the two of you have been fighting for so long that it seems impossible you’ll ever reconcile. Maybe you’re stuck in the daily grind of a dead-end job, and you think it’s impossible to ever get promoted out of it. Well Elijah was in that same situation, and what did he do? He stepped out in faith and built an altar to God.
Sometimes you just have to put it out there and build your altar. If Elijah hadn’t built it, the fires of God wouldn’t have come down and he wouldn’t have gotten out of that impossible situation. He had to put himself out there and try something out even though he had no idea if it would work or not. And I’m sure the people of Israel were laughing at him, and were thinking he was nuts when he poured water all over it, but he had to create a place for God to bless him in the midst of this impossible situation.
What’s the shot in the dark that you need to take to go out on a limb to overcome the setbacks in your life? Maybe for some of you, you’ve been fighting with your wife for years now, and you’re only sticking together for the kids. Maybe you need to put yourself out there and send her flowers in the mail, or write her a nice note, anything to get the ball rolling. Maybe for some of you, stuck in that job, you need to write out your resume and submit it for the Managers position as an act of obedience. God wants you to bless you, but you need to build an altar of opportunity and possibility so that he can.
After that in the story we see the fire come down which represents God’s blessing. God wants to bless you financially, emotionally, and relationally, and if you build that altar he’ll be able to. Finally, the last key is that after he is blessed, Elijah kills all the prophets. That’s an important step. After you build your altar, you need to get rid of all the people and situations that oppose you. You need to get rid of the doubters, and haters, and people who are discouraging you from your impossible dream and are keeping you mired in your problems
Because if you let those things live, they’ll just fester and grow and make you doubt what God’s helping you achieve. You need to un-friend those friends on facebook who are keeping you down. You need to stop hanging around those co-workers who are lazy and have no plans to better themselves. You need to cut up the credit card bills just like Elijah cut the throats of the prophets of Baal so that you don’t use them again.
And so I want to ask you- what’s your altar that you need to build today so that you can defeat your prophets of Baal? Let’s pray.”
That’s the meat of the message. I know it seems short, but I’ll punctuate it with personal life stories as well as a few funny anecdotes about my week, which will add another 30 minutes to the sermon so that it will cIock in at the 40 minute mark. I hope you all like it. If any Churches in the Fort McMurray area need a guest speaker, I’ll be more than happy to fill in and preach it. Just let me know.
*Note; Props to Chris Rosebrough for the scheme. I riffed on your idea a bit.