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Strange-ly Fire-ed up

[reading time 8 minutes] 

What do the following things have in common: cane toads; a bunch of 1980’s preaching tapes in a country-church library; a true-believing churchman ordered to remain silent in the pews; a nearly dead and suffering African child prayed for by a well fed and very much alive Australian child; a severed tendon; a kidney stone, a school song and a webcast conference (which made a lot of people downcast) called Strange Fire

Hmmm, where to start my little cohering mind experiment… Lets start with the Strange Fire conference. You can fill up on it here but I warn you it could be like filling up on greasy fries and burgers at Maccas: tasty and satisfying at first (especially if you have a hankering for charismatics on a sesame seed bun) but then bloat n burp inducing when the body has to digest it all (which is just as uncomfortable for your companions as for you). 

But perhaps I’m starting my little blog entry too harshly. Even Macca’s has a heart-tick menu to choose from alongside the fat-tick choices. And so it was at the conference.  As would be expected from very gifted, erudite and Godly teachers, there were morsels that were tasty and nutritious. John Mcarthur’s (JM) opening session on right, true and respectful worship of a God who could go all thermonuclear on you but instead takes the nails and the spear was especially good and got the heart-tick. Made me remember why I really like listening to him. His solemn entreaty to remember God as holy, powerful and frightening as well as loving, kind and gracious and therefore worthy of much more than chicken-clucking or praise-jingles was full of fibre. 

Joni was good, really good, with her session on authentic healing preached both with words and with a broken body as a quadriplegic in a wheel chair. Hearing a biblical argument for cessationism (warning: sporadic use of wiki links) from Tom Pennington  was also helpful although ultimately unconvincing when one has to breach ‘eagerly desire spiritual gifts’ as a timeless command to all church people in 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14

I just wish there had been more ‘heart-start’ teaching for all Christians of all brands and less cluster bomb  ’teaching’ which may or may not have hit the fringe chicken-cluckers but certainly hit genuine Christ-loving Charismatics. 

Sure, we as Christ-followers are all embarrassingly concerned about some of the strange goings on in some fringe ‘charismatic’ groups - just as we are concerned about the fringe 5-point Calvinists over at Westboro Baptist with their disgusting ‘God hates fags’ rubbish.  Yep, they are as passionate about placarding solider’s funerals as they are about the Dort five - check out the screen-grab above right - but I doubt whether anyone will be organising a conference, perhaps calling it ’Strange and Shrivelled TULIP’, because a fringe group desires to be as calvinistic as the next guy. So why go all Westboro on so called Charismatics? I’ve seen a lot of bad cops on television documentary’s but that doesn’t mean I’m going to organise a web-streamed global conference and invite all my cop-disliker ‘friends’ for fun times hammering the whole of the police force.

I especially wish JM had offered up some slots to respected guys from the ‘other’ camps so they could have right of immediate reply. Perhaps then the capital t ‘Truth’ - nicely balanced like a Volkswagen - could have got a guernsey rather than the small t Mcarthurised ’truth' in which my friends, brothers, sisters - genetically and Christologically - belong to churches ‘as dangerous as any cult or heresy that has ever assaulted Christianity’. That’s a direct quote by the way.  And a direct hurt to me and my friends. And I’m not even ‘charismatic’. 

This is the main reason ‘Strange Fire’ got me strangely fired up. Not because it’s teachings made thin-threaded allegations against a movement at least as nuanced as the Reformed movement; or made unfair comments about ‘charismatic calvinists’  like Piper, Grudem and Driscoll: a 'charismatic calvinist' being apparently as oxymoronic as a ‘saved methodist’, another direct quote from the conference (cue the 'snicker snicker' from the Strange Fire crowd). Nor that JM neither bothered to approach or respond to Charismatic leaders before the global backhander but that he, like other church leaders when they do this, hurt my friends and my family by throwing us all into the same rubbish bin. (For my three blog readers I wrote more about how this is personal, and how we should make it personal in all the right ways, over here.)

Well, anyway this was supposed to be a mental exercise not another in a myriad of critiques and counter critiques about strange fire (including, no surprises, a counter website and and a counter book). Still a balanced diet should include all the food groups so I’d be very disheartened if either crowd hasn’t sampled both ‘Strange Fire’ and ‘Authentic Fire’ together. 

Meanwhile back to my cohering…

The school song. We were so blessed to see our daughter graduate from her final year at school: a year of great spiritual growth including baptism, a mission trip abroad and then a mission at home to see her school as a one community praising the one very special and very awesome God. Part of this was turning school assemblies back into living worship sessions. At her graduation the year 11’s publicly thanked the outgoing year 12 class for doing exactly that. One of the year eleven lads then recounted how in one special worship time, involving a particular song using ‘fire’ in it’s verse and chorus, God seemed to speak so powerfully to his soul of the living Lord Jesus. It was a turning point for him that year. As I listened to the kid, tears formed in my eyes at the strange irony of a teenager so drawn to Jesus by this song and the picture of an American preacher (JM)apparently so angry at it. It was this very song JM used as an anti-exemplar of the Charismatic movement’s 'theologically questionable' worship songs. JM, are you really so sure of your theology that you can unequivocally say such a song is silly and/or heretical while looking this kid in the eyes that burn with a desire to know and serve Jesus better?  And have you really looked at all the lyrics of the song most of which are Jesus-on-the-cross, Jesus resurrected, Jesus glorified lyrics?

The kidney stone. They are excruciatingly painful things, and sometimes life threatening if they block a bile duct. Strange old thing. While discussing Strange Fire a text comes through about another kidney stone problem with one of our church people. In the past this had been critical. They are waiting in emergency for an ultrasound. Here’s where the rubber hits the road (or the striker hits the flint). Should we pray JM or not - for healing? We do pray and within thirty minutes a text comes back. All clear, the kidney stone has passed. 

The severed tendon. It belonged to a farmer we have been helping with our church fencing project. There we were, at approximately the same time as the strange-fire conference, sweating into strainer holes with a farmer whose shoulder is in bad shape - literally. The shoulder is angled awkwardly and the arm hangs limp like Strange Fire’s working concept of charity towards the charismatic movement. 

IMG 2327

Medical tests have confirmed a major tendon is severed. He struggles to help us with his good arm, clearly a bit embarrassed at having to accept help at all. As we work I feel as though we should pray for his shoulder to be healed. But then the doubts. What if it doesn’t work? What if he goes all angry-atheist on me? Worse, what if it’s just awkward and embarrassing? Quietly I say to my church colleague as we tie off the last bits of wire: ‘you’d better start praying I feel like God is saying pray for that shoulder to be healed’. 

When we are finished I take a bit of wire off cut and twist it into a love heart. It’s our calling card. I tell the farmer whenever we fence we leave this behind as a reminder "the love of Christ that compels us'. He smiles broadly and says ‘well if that’s the case put it on the gate post so I can see it all the time’ 

And that’s when I get the courage to say ‘Mate, we’ve noticed you are really struggling with that arm. In the past I’ve seen people healed. I don’t know for sure if God will heal you but I’d like to put my hand on your shoulder and pray cause you never know what might happen’ He smiles (no angry atheist) and says yes. I put my hand on his shoulder and pray a simple prayer for the arm to be healed. ‘Well, let’s what happens over the next few days' I say and we leave. 

A few days later we get an email from a neighbour near the farmer. It goes like this: “RP was here last night.  He said you guys prayed for his shoulder.  He is not in pain now and can move it around, a miracle he reckons.  Praise God!”

An African child pale and malnourished and as sickly as death. Organs afflicted by disease. The clinical staff say it won’t be long before he dies. Then within me a strange sense of hopeful compassion rises up. I don’t remember all the details but I remember that glimmering soul-hope even 35 years later. Couldn’t God save this kid? Couldn’t He heal him? I say what I’m thinking out loud and I tell my mum I’m going to pray the child will be healed. He is. He recovers fully. Glorious story to tell about the Glorious God.

And the not so glorious. There’s the churchman told he can attend church but because of his public prayer for healing he must not speak or sing any longer. It break’s his wife’s heart, and her commitment to church. She never attends again and keeps the gag order (the church letter telling him he can’t speak anymore) until one day the faithful churchman finds it and tosses it out. The faithful churchman who loves to pray passionately, sing loud and interject regularly with a well placed ‘amen brother’ sits as silent in the pews as black cassette cases sit silent in the church library. 

Ah, and we are up to the tapes in our exercise: a bunch of 1980’s preaching tapes in a country-church library.

They are the old cassette type, black with white labels to allow easy cataloguing for postage. The label reads ‘Charismatic Chaos by John MacArthur’. 

Some other churchman took to listening to the series because they were concerned a belief in healing-prayer, tongues and prophecy would lead to falling backwards and the rise of the chicken cluckers. Thus, when one who had no such concerns for fringe rubbish, but every concern for biblical obedience insisted ala James he was going to keep praying for healing, reaction, then over reaction, then over, over reaction led to the gag order. That gagged churchman was my Opa, my grandfather - one of the most God-in-spiring influences in my whole life. I miss him even now. I don’t miss the tapes.

And finally the cane toads. In 1935, in areas around Cairns, 102 young cane toads were given a sniff of Australian fields and the troublesome cane-beetles therein. The cane toads were a natural predator for the cane beetle and made pretty short work of the dodgy beetles that had devastated the cane crops. Good news: no more cane beetles. Bad news: the cane toads quickly took over over many other frog species as well as becoming a threat to wild life because of the poison sacs in their grossed out skin. 

Cane toads are now pretty much successful in their hostile takeover of Australia and cause trouble wherever they go. They have no natural predator. When John MacArthur released the ‘truth’-toad - the globalised strange fire conference - to destroy one species of pseudo-gospel did he not see that the authentic species would also be under attack? More than that, did he not see that truth without love is just a big toad? 

Sure, some will say its very loving to call distortion distortion, error error and heresy heresy and I’m the first that desperately wants to see the Church re-formed in love AND truth but was this really the way to go? All we can do now is hope the cane beetles at work in modern Christianity go the way of the cane beetles in Cairns…but without phase 2: Mr Cane Toad who, armed with black cassette tapes, poisons genuine 'charismatic’ churchmen genuinely seeking to follow the genuine Jesus. 

 2000 years ago a carpenter who turned out to be God, prayed a noble prayer for charismatics, calvinists, JM and all the struggling Christ-followers in between. It went, in part, like this:

 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete oneness. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

The head-turning, crowd-pleasing mega-glow of Christianity is supposed to be our supernatural love for each other. But I fear if one struggles to believe in supernatural gifts one may also struggle to believe in supernatural love. 

We should though… believe in the truth-reality of this oneness-ing love from above as much as we believe in the authenticity of Jesus and the bible that speaks of Him: after all He’s the one that says that if we do the world will know He’s way more than a teacher-carpenter - He is in fact God from above…(John 17:23)

We really should believe in and fight for this supernatural intra-church love. Things would be pretty cool if we did. 

So why don’t we? 




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