The Strange Fire Conference and Calvary Chapel

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This week John MacArthur gave Calvary Chapel an awesome opportunity to rally, and unite around the topic of the Holy Spirit. Let me explain... John MacArthur, a cessationist, just wrapped up his Strange Fire conference. The conference web site says that the purpose of the event is to "set forth what the Bible really says about the Holy Spirit, and how that squares with the charismatic movement." There were a number of summaries, responses and reactions written about the conference. There was also a side show when Driscoll showed up on Friday and caused a stir.

I didn't watch any of the conference sessions. I only read what others said and quotes that came out of the conference.

The Christian Post quoted John MacArther regarding Calvary Chapel and the Charismatic movement:

"According to MacArthur, the Charismatic movement is an "alien movement" whose roots can be traced back to 1966 when the hippies of San Francisco moved to Orange County and joined Calvary Chapel and the "barefoot, drug-induced young people told the church how the church should act." he said. "Hymns and suits went out. For the first time in the history of the church, the conduct of the church was conformed to a sub-culture that was born of LSD and marijuana."

I think MacArthur is right to dog-ear the page in church history that connects the continuationist  position with Calvary Chapel. Chuch Smith did play a key role articulating a conservative position and exemplifying how that position could manifest itself. At the same time the continuationist view on the Holy Spirit predates Calvary Chapel. As much as MacArthur would love to chock up our theological position to LSD and youthfulness, there is a strong thread of Christians who have taught the continuationist position.

Charisma vs Charismania

MacArthur's disagreement with Calvary Chapel on their Holy Spirit Theology has been a historic feud dating back 30 years. MacArthur wrote a book in 1978 called The Charismatics and Chuck Smith wrote a book in 1983 called Charisma vs. Charismania.

Since those books were written we have seen an number of evangelical leaders take the same position as Chuck Smith. This has been a quiet evangelical shift. But it has been real.  Michael Patton expresses this in an recent article:

"Though I am not charismatic, I am excited about the popularity of this “fourth wave.” Why? Because they have brought so much balance. They have caused many of us (who formerly wrote off all charismatics as Christianity’s “nutjobs”) to consider seriously for the first time the continuationist theology and biblical exegesis that provides the backbone to the movement. Credit pastors like John Piper, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, and Sam Storms along with scholars such as J.P. Moreland, Craig Keener, Wayne Grudem, and D.A. Carson for so much of this. And, like it or not, most of these men are far more well-known and popular than the fading ”cessationists” (non-charismatics) who went before them (Chuck Swindoll, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Hank Hanagraaff, etc.), especially among the younger generation of evangelicals. It is hard to ignore such a growing movement within evangelicalism."

Through my seminary experience I have met a number of Southern Baptist and Lutherans who agree with the continuationist position but don't know what to do with that theological position. As one of my professors said "I am a in-the-closet Charismatic." He couldn't deny the legitimacy of charismatic gifts, but at the same time he seemed lost when it came to the practical application for his own life.  I have been shocked by the number of people outside of Calvary Chapel that have come to believe that the gifts of the Spirit are for today.

What Does This Mean for Calvary?

It could mean nothing at all...

But I think this is a great opportunity for Calvary Chapel to unify around one of it's strongest points, unite with other tribes, and experience its own resurgence.

It is my opinion that MacArthur and the cessationist are in the minority. I also believe that a younger generation is not interested in leaders who define themselves by what they are against. It is an issue of tone as much as it is an issue of substance. So this leads me to believe that anyone who presents the continuatinist position will have the upper hand, draw a larger crowd, and edify the church.

Calvary Chapel has a strong history of believing in the gifts of the Spirit. But it also has a strong history of letting those gifts be exercised in the church with decency and order. We have been practitioners and that is where we have something to offer.

I would love to see Calvary Chapel host a conference over the theme of the Holy Spirit. It doesn't have to be a tit-for-tat rebuttal to the Strange Fire Conference. It can be a clear articulation of our position, an explanation on how to lead the church in the continuationist position and a call to act on what we believe.

This conference would serve three key purposes:

  1. It would continue that unifying work that is going on within Calvary Chapel. We just lost our figure head leader. It is a new day in Calvary Chapel and unifying around the active work of the Holy Spirit would be healthy.
  2. It would be a great opportunity to unify with the broader body of Christ on an important topic. There are a number of other leaders from different tribes that agree with our position on the Holy Spirit and would love to participate in a conference. Again, this bring unity.
  3. It should stir us up to act on what we have always believed. This subject does not get old. Teaching on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit would not be beating a dead horse.

At the End of the Day

At the end of the day I need to experience more of what I believe about the Holy Spirit. I know that I need to be yielded to his work in my life. Whether Calvary Chapel capitalizes on John MacArthur taking shots or not, I want to be filled with the Holy Spirit and exercising the gifts he has given me.

[Note: as always, the opinions shared in this post in no way reflect the stance of Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa, it's leadership, or the Calvary Chapel movement. I take full responsibility for the content on this page.]