I regularly refer to the passage in Leviticus 10:1 that identifies the exploits of several presumptuous Old Testament characters-Nadab and Abihu. They thought that folks didn't really care about the presence of integrity in God's work, just so long as it had the "aura" of authenticity. The KJV records the fiasco that ensued when Nadab and Abihu used "strange fire" or unauthorized ministry "tools" as part of their priestly function. I have always used that passage as a reminder to fellow Pentecostals that we are very susceptible to substituting humanly devised resources in the place of divinely initiated power to carry out our work. So imagine my surprise when Pastor John MacArthur hijacked my "prophetic insight" and essentially hosted a conference announcing jihad on the largest segment of global Protestantism. However, in the middle of all the head-banging and defensive protests by my faith tradition, plus all the loud (well maybe not too loud) shouts of "Amen! Preach it brother!" from the cessationist crowd, I'd like to offer a different angle as we look at the recent sad pronouncements of an aging Christian leader whose ministry I have long admired.
The regular and outlandish pronouncements made by Pastor MacArthur lead me to ask the following question: Do you actually know anybody personally who might qualify as one of the objects of your scorn? All of us can get quite animated when we limit our interaction with opponents to the relative safety of stereotypes, caricatures, and sound bites. Statements that we "falsely call ourselves Evangelical and Orthodox" or "most of these people are not even Christians," simply can't be taken seriously. It's frankly disappointing to hear this experienced Christian leader make these statements when he has pastored for years in the same San Fernando Valley as Jack Hayford. All it would take is a phone call for coffee with Pastor Jack, but my guess is Pastor MacArthur has no Pentecostals on his iPhone contact list. That's part of the reason this current "message" is frankly hard to take seriously.
This leads me to ask another question: "So, who is Pastor MacArthur actually concerned about? Pentecostals? Charismatics? Third Wavers? Or all of the above? I want to know if I am on the hit list; just so I am sure, could you define your terms?" There are nuances to any Christian tradition, but to be taken seriously on the global platform MacArthur currently has, the least he can do is clearly identify the people who pose this current threat to Christ's Kingdom. Right now, his verbal bombs look as if he hasn't done any research since he published The Charismatics in the late 1970s or he's been watching some Christian TV networks or Oprah's Preachers of LA too often. Whoever you are talking about, remember all families have goofy cousins. None of us like to be characterized as goofy just because of that one cousin. Sound bites about our particular "family" can actually be quite entertaining, but a conversation with a few of us might offer some alternative perspectives that would alter the toxicity MacArthur is current spouting. Frankly, this unbridled rhetoric casts shadows on the Jesus we all want to represent fairly. MacArthur's broad brush approach is akin to someone painting the impact of the Reformers selectively through the lens of their violence against the early Anabaptists or the theological framework that undergirded South African apartheid.
Another outlandish statement, that makes MacArthur's whole case so sad, is the accusation that there have been no contributions to Christian theology by the purveyors of this Pentecostal, Neo-Pentecostal, Charismatics, Neo-Charismatic ... oh, whatever you call that group!!! It's as if Pastor MacArthur is waking up after a long nap (from the mid-1970s) and doing his research on info that is limited to that era. I'm 63 years old and can hardly post a picture on Facebook, but even I have heard of Google where names like Gordon Fee, Craig Keener, and Amos Yong certainly pop to the top of list. Their serious biblical and theological scholarship is worthy of consideration by any devoted follower of Jesus. Frank Macchia, Mel Robeck, Veli Matti Karkkainen are sitting in MacArthur's backyard in Southern California. My guess is that a 15-minute conversation with any of them could alter his perspective. But then again, I wonder if any conversation, with a person on MacArthur's list of real live threats to Christ's Kingdom, could lower the intensity of this rhetoric. The eminent Reformed scholar Cornelius Van Til has suggested that people can't really have meaningful communication if they don't first agree on the presuppositions with which they will carry on the conversation. Van Til is spot on! It really doesn't matter how hard we, of this earthly threat to the Gospel, may try to prove our worth to the superior wisdom of the current protectors of Orthodoxy. We're clearly outside the circle of MacArthur's "Grace to You."
On a more tangential note, this saga also provides insight into MacArthur's leadership team. The years seem to have sifted out of the team anyone who would dare offer some perspective to the sheer folly of MacArthur's pronouncements. No one has protected their senior leader from the specter of embarrassment this initiative offers. Obviously, no one has thought about what this could mean to the larger cause of Christ globally. If you had this conference in Seoul, Sao Paulo, Lagos, or Havana, a majority of Christians would simply dismiss it as another attempt at exporting American Christianity. This is a sad case study in leadership and the corporate experience of drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid!
Pastor, I will be there on that day when some from every tribe and tongue and nation will be singing, blessing and honor and glory and power be unto our God forever. I'm going to look at you and smile and be tempted to say, "I told you so," but by then it will sink in ... it really doesn't matter anymore! We will join our voices to sing blessing and honor to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I look forward to that day, but until then, I just don't have time to take you seriously. I am compelled to live this life in obedience to one of the first Scriptures I ever memorized as a child, "Work while it is day, for the night cometh when no man can work" (John 9:4). And just so you know, while I'm "working," I'll be humming my favorite hymn, you know, the one that says, "How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in this excellent Word! What more can He say than to you He hath said--to you for refuge to Jesus have fled?
Byron D. Klaus
ASSEMBLIES OF GOD THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY