Last week I returned from a three day retreat with fellow interns at CAP to find that the Christian corner of the internet was ablaze with the roaring bushfire of debate. Needless to say, I was rubbing my hands together with no small amount of glee. Some people hate it when Christians argue; I take a differing view: what is the measure of man but (in part) his ability to hold or appreciate an intelligent discussion or debate? All Christians do not hold the same views - what's the point in pretending otherwise? Arguments in Christian circles are a golden opportunity to show grace and love in an arena known for mis-representation and, in the case of the internet, putrid bile. It doesn't always happen, and I know I struggle in this area, but that is our ideal to strive towards.
The cause of the great internet debate was the Strange Fire conference held by John MacArthur's church in the US. To understand why it promoted such an outpouring of internet blog posts and discussion it is sufficient to quote from the description on the Strange Fire website (apologies for American spellings):
"The sons of Aaron…offered strange fire before the LORD…and fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them.
Today an interesting link cropped up in my newsfeed on Facebook. It was a short blog post on the website for Central church detailing a story of a student and a recent encouragement she had. It's probably best to quickly read the post here; should only take a few minutes...
The post provides an excellent example of two of the main errors of the charismatic movement. In saying this, I don't want to be too harsh on Bethany Frank, she is only recording an event as she has been taught to think of it. Nor do I want to detract too much from what is an overly 'cute' but nevertheless broadly encouraging story of God's care for his people.
Talking about the ordinary gifts of the Spirit using the language of the extraordinary gifts
This will require some explanation. I use the term ordinary and extraordinary in their theological sense to talk about the difference between the 'general' gifts of the Holy Spirit (giving, hospitality, preaching, etc) and the 'extra special' gifts of prophecy, tongues and healing. I also want to affirm that the ordinary gifts are just as supernatural as the extraordinary and all gifts stem from God's gracious care for his people.
Piper tends to be quite divisive in reformed circles, either people love him for being a reformed baptist with mainstream appeal or they get really annoyed at his stance on the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit. I fall into both camps, on the one hand I think he's a very wise and godly man with a great gift as a pastor. On the other hand, I get annoyed at his stance on extraordinary spiritual gifts.
The reason I bring this up is because a week ago on the Desiring God blog a video was posted of a short interview with Piper on tongues and prophesy. Of the two, I'm going to engage with the prophesy one first, you can watch it here, there's no strict need to watch it before reading what's to follow (but it will probably help).
In the video he defends the continuationist view on the extraordinary gift of the Holy Spirit. It's a view that most people I know who are continuationist would hold to so its worth exploring what the problems with it are. It's probably worth adding that I use the term 'continuationist' to refer to everybody who thinks that the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit - prophecy, tongues and healing have continued to this day. I use the term 'cessationist' to refer to those who think the extraordinary gifts ended with the death of the Apostles and the closing of the canon of Scripture.