It has been more than a year since the controversial conference held at Grace Community Church and championed by none other than Rev John Macarthur himself. Whether you have had the opportunity to attend the conference in person, or like myself, wait for the conference sessions to be uploaded online, you would have been aware of the huge wave of criticism and argument that has been generated by this conference. However, as far as I am concerned, being a charismatic Christian, I am more interested in the main issues pertaining to doctrine and teaching than in the secondary issues that has been debated and argued since time immemorial.
My main thesis is not to add more fire to the ongoing debate over issues like the gifts of the Holy Spirit but rather look beyond the surface and hopefully, glean some truth from the main points of the conference.
For this purpose, and also to save on going into too much detail, I will be mainly focusing on the opening session addressed by John Macarthur himself (Or JM in short). The opening session sets the tone of the conference and highlights the theme.
JM begins this session by stating that the Charismatic movement is an issue ( that needs to be dealt with ). He then states that there are half a billion Charismatics compared to 14 million mormons and a billion catholics. (Interesting to note JM places Charismatics in the same category as mormons and catholics)
JM then goes onto the main theme of the conference, which is found in Leviticus 10.
However, at this point JM makes a statement that I would say is also crucial to the whole argument. He states:
“…The Father seeks true worshippers, believers in the gospel, in the Lord Jesus Christ, ARE THOSE TRUE Worshippers!”
According to JM, nothing is more serious than worship and this is something all of us can agree on. Also, according to JM, “ …we are called to worship in Spirit, that means with our emotion and with our human faculties…we are also to worship God with all our heart, soul mind and strength”.
The passage that JM is referring to is found in the story of the Samaritan woman in John Chapter 4. Without going into the details of the story, I will just highlight the particular verse of this scripture:
“But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.” Jn 4:23 (KJV)
However, one should note that in the following verse, Jesus says:
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” (V 24)
In case you did not catch it the first time, please note that Jesus describes God as a pure spirit! Not a material or physical entity but a Spirit! The greek word for Spirit in both verses 23 and 24 is pneuma, which means a spirit. Therefore, it would seem strange to me that Jesus would be describing in verse 23 how the worshipper should worship God with his emotions and human faculties when the word obviously does not mean that!
Moving on, JM quotes Lev 9 and 10 where the theme of the conference is taken from. In chapter 9 of Leviticus, Aaron is commanded to offer sacrifice according to the instructions laid out by Moses. Aaron follows them strictly and his sacrifice is accepted by God. Then in chapter 10, we read the account of how Aaron’s two sons had foolishly offered ‘Strange fire’ or ‘unauthorized fire’ and was slain outright for this act.
JM uses this example to show how serious a crime was with the corrupt worship of God. So with regards to the charismatic movement, JM states that:
“…the Charismatic movement continually dishonours God in its false forms of worship. It dishonours the Father, it dishonours the son and more specifically, it dishonours the Holy Spirit.”
Now let me say here that this is a very serious accusation coming from a man like JM. Accusing charismatics of demonic activity and heretical practices in short is a very serious accusation.
But how can JM make this accusation? This is because according to JM, the vast majority of charismatics are non-believers and non-Christians! If that is a fact, then no wonder we are ‘Offering strange fire’.
Just to give you a brief exposition of strange fire without going into too much detail, please look at lev 9, 10 and especially chapter 30. You need to understand that the old testament offering and practices are a type of the antitype found in the new testament. They speak of the person, attributes and the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. In short, you need to read the OT in the light of the NT. In front of the tent of meeting, there were two altars, the brazen altar on which the sacrifices were offered and from where the authorized fire was taken from. The second altar is the altar of incense where only authorized incense is offered on. This is done every morning and every evening continually forever and blood from the sin offering is sprinkled on it once a year. The incense that was offered on it was made of four distinct ingredients(which speaks of different attributes of Jesus), beaten into very fine powder and mixed in equal proportions. This incense is only to be used as an offering on the altar and no one is allowed to use this particular formula for personal reasons on pain of death! Now let’s look closely at the types that these items represent:
- 1- Brazen altar: This is where the sacrifice for sin was made. This speaks of and represents Jesus’ perfect sacrifice on the cross for our sins and where the fire of God’s judgement has been fully spent on the body of Jesus Christ.
- 2- Golden altar of incense: This altar symbolizes the prayers and intercessions of the people going up as a sweet aroma before the Lord. (See Ps 141:2 , Rev 8: 3-4). The altar further represents Jesus Christ as our intercessor and mediator before God. Only fire from the brazen altar could be used with the incense that was offered on this altar.
- 3- Incense: This very special incense was made only for the purpose of which the golden altar was built for. Also, it had to be burnt only with fire from the brazen altar. The components of this incense was
- – Stacte: a kind of myrrh and this speaks of Jesus’ sacrifice. Also, the root word for this ingredient is natap, which also means to prophesy or proclaim the will of the Lord.
- – Onycha: this ingredient was made from a white sea shell found on the shores of the Red Sea. This may speak of God’s deliverance for His people.
- – Galbanum: This word is translated from the Hebrew word for Fat, which speaks of the worshipper’s energy. It can also symbolize God’s richness and goodness.
- – Frankincense: This final ingredient speaks of Jesus’ purity and holiness.
So you can see each of these ingredients speaks of a different aspect of our Lord Jesus and they are beaten and mixed together in precise proportions. This very fine powder speaks of the nature of Jesus who is perfectly poised and perfectly balanced at all times. So when used on the Golden altar of incense, the result is a sweet smelling aroma going up before the Lord! This speaks of the person and work of Jesus Christ and God is reminded of His Son every time the incense is offered on the Golden altar with fire from the Brazen altar of judgement. Now I have not come across anyone who has tried to teach on this so I will try my best to give an explanation.
The punishment given to Aaron’s two sons may seem to be harsh and serious but if you understand what all of this means, you would also understand why God views their sin so seriously. By offering ‘Strange fire’, which probably was either fire not from the brazen altar or incense not of the type prescribed by God, was tantamount to coming to God without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the shedding of His blood! Jesus Says “ I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) That is, you cannot come to God by any other means except through the Cross of Christ, His blood and sacrifice for you! Coming to God by any other means is tantamount to offering “Strange Fire”. This is the reason why God viewed the crime of offering strange fire so seriously. He will not allow anyone to misrepresent the work of His Son on the cross and of His finished work.
It may also be noted that as believers, we are “..the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” (2 Cor 2:15) The very nature and work of Christ in us is a pleasing fragrance before God! That is, God is pleased with us because God is pleased with ALL that His Son has done in and through us! Now having explained the reason and existence of the altar of incense, brazen altar and the particular practice of offering incense, one may come to the conclusion that in the light of the New testament, only true believers and true worshippers can come to God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to offer ‘incense’ to God. Only true believers can come to God without fear and condemnation. Thus offering “Strange Fire”, although linked to the worship of God, really had nothing to do with the kind of worship that Charismatics are practicing. So the question is, are Charismatics really non-believers?? In other words, offering strange fire in the context of the conference is actually a criticism of the practices and beliefs of charismatics and is not about whether you are a believer or non-believer. If you are a believer and born again Christian, you are already accepted in the eyes of God. You will never offer stranger fire because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross. To speak of anything less of a brother or sister is a direct affront to the grace and mercy of God.
Lastly, I need to stress that we all need to walk in the spirit, in truth and in love. For that is what true worshippers are, and what our aim has to ultimately be.