Strange Fire Was… Strange

Strange Fire

The Strange Fire conference led by John MacArthur at Grace Community Church has concluded.

And it was a bit strange.

Pentecostal and Charismatic indictment was in order.  Any manifestation of the miraculous spiritual gifts (even biblical) was put in the same category as mysticism.  That’s too bad.

The conference had its lighter moments too, especially when neo-Calvinist charismatic and controversial pastor Mark Driscoll showed up and set up shop on campus with a bunch of his new books.  He was kicked (ahem, gently asked) out.  Todd Friel of Wretched also had a great line in one of the sessions: “This conference is called Strange Fire, maybe next year’s conference will be called Strange Water, about that infant baptism stuff…” 🙂 That was a jab at MacArthur who was joined by the cessationist infant baptizing crowd in this endeavor.

On a more serious note, the conference did nothing but drive a wider wedge between people who love the Lord. Initially, MacArthur asked the “faithful Pentecostals” to join him and denounce Word of Faith, Toronto Blessing, New Apostolic Reformation and Bill Johnson type of charismatism, but then he turned around and slammed anyone who is not a cessationist with respect to spiritual gifts and miracles in the strongest possible terms.

So the conference failed on that front. Instead of winning over on his side those of us who continue to believe in the miraculous gifts as described in 1 Corinthians 14 and practiced biblically, MacArthur slammed us as demonic and mystic. Typical cessationist approach.

Well balanced and well-respected pastors and theologians like John Piper and Sam Storms were criticized from the pulpit. Again, for something that is black on white in the Bible.

There was however, a bright spot in the conference: Conrad Mbewe, the so-called Spurgeon of Africa. He is a reformed preacher used by God in a mighty way in Africa to denounce the prosperity gospel and charismatic abuses. He was the only speaker who actually differentiated between those involved in charismatic abuses and continuationists who are grounded in Scripture. He made the point that the latter are fewer and fewer in Africa.  He used to have university colleagues in Pentecostal circles, and they would exchange doctrinal points and Bible study experience.

That’s right, Bible study among Pentecostals and Charismatics.  It is sad that such a concept is rare now-a-days.

That is where the baby is found in the murky bath water.  There are still those of us who study the Word of God and are committed to its prescriptions, and continue to believe in the gifts of tongues and prophecy.

The Body of Christ should not be divided over secondary issues like continuation of spiritual gifts.  We should denounce heretical theology and manifestations found in some charismatic circles, but accept those believers who are grounded in the Bible and have experienced the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit.

photo: the Christian Post

Could Jesus Culture Be More Popular Than Jesus Christ?

Following a provocation by Todd Friel from “Wretched” (here)I dared to Google “Jesus C” and observe the prompt choices that come up. The first choice in my browser’s search bar was “Jesus Culture” followed by “Jesus Christ.”

Through no fault of their own, at least by this metric, the band Jesus Culture has become more searchable and popular than Jesus Christ. Many young Christians are aware of who they are and probably listen to their worship music.  Jesus Culture is way bigger then Hillsong was in their prime (early to mid 2000’s) or any other worship band.  Ever.

They are part of the New Apostolic Reformation charismatic movement out of Redding, CA based at Bill Johnson’s church, whose theology is very focused on the mandate given to the 12 disciples in Matthew 10:  heal the sick, raise the dead and exorcise the demon-possessed.  That, and also establish God’s kingdom in Redding.

The question is why are they so popular? I’ve done some research on this including attending their conference in Los Angeles (mostly out of curiosity) and try to analyze this phenomenon. I personally believe that a pure gospel message based on the cross would not bring a band to this level of popularity.

The music is well done from an artistic stand point but this alone does not explain it. While many of their songs do have an uplifting message (some are not written by them), the lyrics are mostly your usual modern worship lyrics centered on what God does for us, and NOT Who God is… So the lyrics do not necessarily explain the Jesus Culture phenomenon.

The answer is that Jesus Culture popularity has to do with the package they have become.

1. In their interviews and concerts they are focused on promoting “deep encounters” with God and experimental trance-like scenarios built around receiving power and baptism with fire. At the Los Angeles concert they performed a maneuver where after a 10 minute instrumental and light show build-up to a climax, everything suddenly stopped, the crowd went nuts and received power on command from the speaker who declared “receive it, receive it, receive it.” This transfer of power is practiced in the “tunnel of fire” at their church as well. Wild expressions of ecstasy on command from the speaker were common throughout the event.

2. They advertise “new experience” when attending their conferences. This makes them highly attractive for those who seek this type of physical stimulation of the senses. We live in a world which loves sensational experiences, and Jesus Culture provides that. For example vocalist Kim Walker’s testimony of her physical/metaphysical encounter with Jesus is astounding (here, starting at minute 28). It sounds like a description of a scene from a badly made 80’s movie, where she hugs Jesus and presses Him to answer how much He loves her, and whether she was really meant to be a girl and not a boy.  For comparison… a look back at the encounter Paul had with Jesus on the way to Damascus which left him as dead, reveals a completely different type of encounter than the one experienced by Kim.

3. Another reason for their popularity is the fact that their message and conferences have nothing to do with repentance, the new birth, and the cross. Instead the message is focused on power. Power to perform miracles, heal the sick, raise the dead, etc. That is attractive! It makes the followers feel good, and it empowers them, but  in a misleading way.

So, the question will come up… Should we listen to this music because after all, the sound or the lyrics are not different from Hillsong and Gateway?

Can one can separate the recording from the band’s theology and practice, and be edified by songs with a biblical message like “There is power in the name of Jesus to break every chain…?”  One has to use his discerning ability and decide for himself.  I will personally never attend another Jesus Culture event, and I will warn the youth about their practices.

But if you really love this music and want to listen to it, I strongly caution you not to get sucked into the bad theology and mystical practice of Jesus Culture.

image credit

Time for Revival in the Catholic Church

Christianity is undergoing transformation these days, especially the Catholic Church which will soon have a new Pontiff. I would like to propose that we may see a spiritual revival in the Catholic Church with possibly a new guard coming in, as Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down.

The current Pope was the main doctrinarian and theologian of the Catholic Church, and I am inclined to say he was part of an old guard accepting liberal doctrines such as the denying of the physical resurrection, and salvation via the beatitudes. He was elderly to begin with when he was elected, so he was bound to be a transitional figure.

As we are living in the last days, could we be seeing perhaps the last opportunity for a leader in the Catholic Church through whom God will bring in a long overdue revival?

Everyone is talking about revival in the Evangelical Church, but what about revival in the fertile ground of the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide today? Image a spiritual revival in this block of people, and imagine the impact a new leader may have toward this purpose.

Imagine a pontiff who may be bold enough to embrace the Charismatic and Pentecostal type movements going on among Catholics in South America, or one willing to move toward reformed positions… a pontiff who is willing to chastise the liberal wings of catholic priests who deny Jesus as the only way to eternal life.

Even here in the US, I have seen sporadic evidence that Catholicism is changing.  I was playing a worship song in the operating room not too long ago, a song known in our Evangelical churches, and to my surprise one of my nurses who is Catholic recognized the song and the band, and said “we sing this song all the time at mass.”

After my initial shock I got more information, and it turns out that for some time now their church is holding evangelical style services, with worship songs that typically have a Reformed or Pentecostal message… followed by sermons!  She even said “we love to sing music from our evangelical brethren!” Amazing!

Imagine the Catholic Church moving away from empty rituals and toward a real salvation relationship with Jesus.

We must think in these positive revival terms because the opposite is an apocalyptic scenario. At the opposite end of the spectrum we could be seeing a new pope who will usher in the era of the AntiChrist. And let me tell you, the lukewarm (or dead) post-modern Evangelical Church is not ready for such turn of events.

However, the real Body of Christ will be ready for whatever will happen. A revival will be welcomed as the kingdom of God will be extended throughout the earth even more. But also the opposite will be welcomed, the ushering in of the AntiChristic era which will mean that our time is at hand and Jesus is about to return.

Right now though, the world needs revival, and I am hoping for the salvation of many souls.

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Bill Johnson, Jesus Culture, Glory Cloud, and Mysticism

I will not write off the entire charismatic movement because I believe there are authentic Christians who attend these churches, but I will focus on non-biblical practices in this movement which seem to be in line with mysticism.  One such ritual is the observance of the presence of God in the “glory cloud” at Bill Johnson’s church in Redding, CA, the home base of the hugely popular band Jesus Culture.

In the first video, as the Jesus Culture band plays “Show Me Your Glory” the crowd is fixated on the lights in the ceiling waiting for the “glory cloud…” and it appears at minute 1:45.  Please observe and decide if that is the presence of God…

The next video is a short documentary on Bill Johnson and the “glory cloud” phenomenon at Bethel in Redding, CA.

Let us go back to the Bible and reflect on some passages that tell us about the presence of God and the what truly happens when God “shows up,” and then we can compare such descriptions with what we see in these videos.

Isaiah 6  

1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost…”

Exodus 19

16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.

Exodus 20

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.

Revelation 1

16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. 17 When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.

The point I am trying to make is that when God truly shows up in a physical way like Bill Johnson claims, THERE WILL BE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES.  Holy men like John fell “as though dead” in the physical presence of the Lord.  Isaiah said “woe to me” and temple’s foundations shook.  Israel could not bear to hear God’s voice and stand in the presence of God “lest we die.”

And Bill Johnson is trying to convince us that the “glory cloud” made of glitter and fanned by the air conditioning is a sign and wonder of the presence of God?