Truth, John MacArthur, and Strange Fire

By Robin Schumacher

A few years back, our pastor's son visited a church in Michigan who thought they had the gift of tongues. To give them credit, at least they were adhering to the practice laid out by Paul of a person speaking in tongues being followed by one who interpreted.

During that time in the service, the pastor's son stood up, recited the Lord's Prayer in Latin, and then sat back down. A person immediately rose and gave an interpretation that had absolutely nothing to do with what the young man had said.

So what was really going on in that church? I'd venture to say that our pastor's son exposed the fact that the congregation most certainly did not possess any of the miraculous sign gifts (at least not the gift of interpretation) and they were self-deceived in thinking that they did.

Experiences like this are why today's Church needs a wake-up call like the one given by Dr. John MacArthur and his recent Strange Fire conference. MacArthur has taken heat from many different directions, but I believe he's right about many of his assessments regarding the supposed exercising of miraculous sign gifts and his exegesis of the Biblical passages that refer to them.

Let me provide a short summary of why I believe MacArthur is on target with his critiques of the supposed exercising of sign gifts in the Church today.

Two Missed Distinctions

MacArthur's arguments zero in on two missed distinctions that the Bible makes regarding miracles and miracle gifts.

The first distinction concerns the difference between what is prescriptive in the Bible vs. what is descriptive. Some who point to the gospels and book of Acts as proof that sign gifts are for today need to realize that books like Acts and 1 Corinthians describe many different historical things that happened in the early Church, with those events not necessarily being prescribed for today (e.g. head coverings for women in 1 Corinthians).

The second distinction involves the difference between the fact of miracles and the gift of miracles. The fact of miracles can be found throughout all of Scripture, but a thorough study of the Bible reveals that the gift of miraculous sign gifts to specific individuals is constrained to three specific and brief periods of past history—the Mosaic period, the prophetic period (with Elijah and Elisha), and the apostolic period with Jesus and the apostles—with there being a fourth future period coming, which is the apocalyptic period.

A Missed Purpose

MacArthur continually highlights the truth that, as with everything the Lord does, He has a specific purpose for sign gifts—a fact that is almost always overlooked by those who champion the argument that the gift of miracles is operative today.

"What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say?" asked Moses when God told him to go free his fellow Israelites from Egypt. How did God respond?

God told him to (1) throw his staff on the ground and it became a snake; (2) put his hand into his cloak and it became leprous; (3) pour out some water from the Nile and it would become blood (Ex. 4:1-9).

It's clear from the passage that the purpose of Moses' sign gifts was to convince unbelievers of God's message.

Now, fast forward to the time of Jesus and the apostles. John the Baptist is sitting in prison and beginning to doubt that Jesus is really the Messiah. How does Jesus respond to his uncertainties?

"Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them" (Matt. 11:4-5).

We see the same thing with Paul when various charges are raised against him that he is not a true apostle (those who were witnesses of Christ and His resurrection). How does he answer his critics?

"The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works" (2 Cor. 12:12).

As with Moses, we see that God uses miraculous sign gifts with Jesus and the apostles not to edify individual believers but to confirm His truth and message among those who doubt and disbelieve.

An interesting side question is: if general believers supposedly possess sign gifts like the apostles, how can Paul's statement above be used to verify an apostle? He clearly says that the signs of an apostle are confirmed through sign gifts, but if non-apostles possess them too, then how do you tell apostles from non-apostles?

What about the specific gift of tongues? Do we have a clear statement made in Scripture in regard to their purpose that matches the other sign gifts? We most certainly do: "Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers" (1 Cor. 14:22).

No matter which page you turn, Scripture is found to be consistent on the matter of sign gifts and their purpose. The question for those who say they possess such gifts today is: do you see your supposed gift being used for the purpose given in the Bible or instead is it used to edify yourself and other believers?


I'm grateful for courageous men like John MacArthur who are willing to stand up and call the Church to account for behavior and practices that fall outside of Scriptural boundaries. All too often I see preachers skirt the issue out of fear or because they say they don't want to be divisive.

The fact is, truth divides and consequences always exist for being wrong. It is much better to preach the truth from conviction than let error do its dangerous work in the Body of Christ.

But, make no mistake about one thing: neither MacArthur nor I claim that God still doesn't work miracles today. It is the claim of God continually gifting people with miracle-working capabilities that is respectfully being challenged.

Falsifying the claims of sign gifts isn't hard to do, as our preacher's son proved in that Michigan church years ago. Those who say that miracle gifts are operative today should allow their positions to be put to the test and see if true healings can be done at will, actual unlearned languages (e.g. Chinese, French, etc.) are spoken vs. babble that no one can falsify, and that such gifts are being used to convince unbelievers of God's gospel vs. simply edify themselves.

Do I have any takers?

TagsChurch-Issues  |  Controversial-Issues  |  False-Teaching

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Published 11-18-13