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A Look at the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement - Is it Biblical?

By John MacArthur

      The following "Question" was asked by a member of the congregation at Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California, and "Answered" by their pastor, John MacArthur Jr.


      I read an article in a "big city" newspaper, on the Pentecostal movement and I am still puzzled.   These people, true believers, and if they are true believers, what are they doing in this movement: "Heal me right away or maybe I'll walk away from Jesus Christ."   Can you shed some light on that?


      You are opening up a huge issue here of the Pentecostal Movement.   The Pentecostal Movement, as a movement, defined by its unique characteristics, is not Biblical.   

      Now, understand what I am saying.   I am not saying that all the people in it are not Christians, some of them are, but those things that define the Pentecostal Movement are not Biblical.   It is not Biblical to say, that speaking in tongues is a sign of receiving the Holy Spirit, and if you haven't spoken in tongues you haven't received the Holy Spirit--that is not Biblical.   It is not even Biblical to encourage people to speak in tongues, as if that in itself, was some spiritual gift that everybody had to have.   It is not Biblical to believe that God is going to heal you.   It is not Biblical to believe that some people have the power to heal and can go into great places and knock people over, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that they wield this great supernatural power.   

      So, what I am saying is: the defining characteristics that label Pentecostalism "Pentecostalism" as apart from general Orthodox Christianity, are not Biblical.   So the movement is defined by things that aren't Biblical.   If you, for example, compared it to the Reformed Movement.   What distinguishes Reformed Theology is an accurate theology; it goes back to the Reformation and it's based on an accurate understanding of theology.   What distinguishes Pentecostalism is an inaccurate, wrong interpretation of Scripture, and all the distinctives are not accurately interpreted from Scripture.   So you have a movement defined unbiblically.   At the heart of it, I think, there are masses of people who are unconverted--unconverted--who couldn't explain the gospel, the way you heard it explained tonight.   They could say that Jesus died for their sins and rose again, but they have no idea just exactly how God used the death of Christ to satisfy His justice and grant righteousness to those who believe.   They do not understand anything more than a very shallow and thin grasp of the gospel.

      Many of them (and this has been reiterated to me by people who have come to our church, from other large Pentecostal churches in the area) live under a strange and bizarre doctrine that they never articulate, but it is definitive in the movement, and it is the doctrine of the "Sovereignty of Satan."   It is inherent, at least to contemporary "Charisimania"...Pentecostalism, by the definition of the current Charismatic Movement, and the Pentecostals and the Charismatics are so blended now, you can't seperate them...but, it is inimical to that system to believe that Satan is sovereign--not God.   God would like people to be saved but He is not sovereign in salvation.   God would like to keep people saved but He can't, so people can get unsaved on their own.   God would like to solve the problems in the world but the devil keeps messing things up.   People in that movement are taught that when you get sick: it's the devil.   When you little baby gets sick: it's the devil.   When you lose your job: it's the devil.   When it's announced to you that you have heart disease or you have cancer, or you have some other problem; when one of your children goes astray, whatever it is: it's the devil.   And so, you are living, literally, under the sovereignty of Satan in a mode of constant fear.   That's one very unbiblical element of that, so you're always trying to "bind Satan;" you're always trying to cast out demons.   God, in Pentecostalism becomes the victim.   It is a strange kind of thing where there is this pervasive fear of Satan.   Parents who can't sleep, who live with anxieties and fears that the devil is going to come in and make their baby sick at night.   Or the devil is going to get in their house, and they have to pray the devil out, or the demons out of their house, or bind Satan some way.   This is utterly unbiblical.   We as believers have nothing to fear from Satan, in the ultimate sense.   It is God Himself who has made the blind and the lame, it says in the Book of Exodus.   

      The enemy of God, who is Satan, is God's servant.   I don't know if you have ever thought of it that way, but the devil is God's servant: he can only do what God allows him to do, and his borders and boundaries are established by a sovereign God.   There are some people who came to our church from out of this kind of background, and they happened to come on a Sunday (I think), and when they heard me preach on the sovereignty of God, they said it was the most liberating thing they had ever heard--to find out the "God" was sovereign, that God was in charge, was totally opposite everything they had ever heard.   Now that is an aberrant theology that says that.

      Pentecostalism, also because of its belief that people today can have the same gifts that the Apostles have...Benny Hinn and whoever the "healers" are, he's sort of the prototypical healer today, it started out with A. A. Allen, and Oral Roberts, and down to Morris Cerullo, and on and on it goes...Jimmy Swaggart and Benny Hinn, and whoever it is.   Benny Hinn is the latest edition of con men in that area.   This idea, that they believe that these men can do what the Apostles did: they have the power to heal, the power to cast out disease...I heard Benny Hinn say, with my own ears, I heard it, "that if you have somebody in your family die.   Leave their body in the living room, take their body over to the TV, drape their arms over the TV, because God is going use me to raise the dead through the television!"   I can't think of a more insensitive thing for a man to do, than to have some poor bereaved person drag the corpse of their family member and drape them over the television, under some bizarre illusion that Benny Hinn is going to heal them through the TV set--it's cruel, is what it is!   But that is only the extreme form of cruelty.   There is a cruelty that goes along day after day, week after week, with this bizarre expectation of healing, and then this false staging of supposed healings, that continue to raise people's hopes, and all that does is create false hopes that are dashed to pieces.   And much of the fallout of that movement is people who reject the gospel, reject Christ, because they didn't get what they were promised they would get.   

      As I said, the defining elements of the movement itself, what gives it its identity are unbiblical, and yet at the core there are many in the Pentecostal Movement who are Christians who understand the gospel.   If you just took all the "Pentecostal stuff," the "Charismatic stuff" out, there would be a core understanding of the gospel there, so I believe that some of them are Christians.   The Lord knows how many, but it is my own conviction, that the vast majority are not.   And also, that those people who purvey and ply the trade, particularly in the media, know they are deceivers, and they are very effective at it--raising millions of dollars.   One such preacher alone, T. D. Jakes, took in, personally, last year, 63 million dollars!   They are trading on a certain desperation.   That's why Jesus, when He sent out the Seventy, said, "go and heal, but take no money."   If you can heal people--you can be instantly rich.   People get instantly rich who can't heal, but pretend they can.

      But at the heart of it, if you can just strip the trappings, there are some who know the gospel truth.   So I guess I would say, somewhere in that movement there is a true body of believers, not to be confused with the Movement, which is full of schemers, and dreamers, and con men, and people with aberrant theology, and false teachers who take advantage of people.   And then people in the middle: there's the serious, very serious errors of the Word-Faith Movement: Fred Price, Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagin, etcetera, Marilyn Hickey, Joyce Meyer, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera, who have an aberrant view of the nature of Christ.   They are the ones who say, that on the cross Jesus became a sinner, had to go to hell and suffer for His sins for three days, and then the Father let Him come out of hell, and that is when He was raised.   They turned Jesus into a sinner who had to be punished for sin.   This is a frightening view of Christ.   Also, Kenneth Copeland is the one who said, "That Jesus wasn't any more God than he is!"   

      So you have aberrations all the way down the line.   Of course, because the movement is defined by its experiences and its phenomena, they don't ever deal with the aberrations.   Nobody polices the movement.   You can turn on "Channel 40" [Southern California UHF TV Station], and you can see them...they will literally advocate anything!   They would advocate absolutely anything.   Anybody can come on there and say anything they want about God, anything they want about Christ, anything they want about the Holy Spirit, anything they want to say about the work of God, any interpretation of the Bible will stand.   But what you can't do, is go on "Channel 40" and say somebody is wrong--that's intolerable!   And so that's why in some of their books, they call me a "Heresy Hunter."   There is one book that has a whole chapter on me as a "Heresy Hunter"--well, I am!   And I thank them for the compliment!   [Applause].   I don't have any axe to grind with those people, I just am committed to the truth, and I want to bring the truth to those people.   It's really one of the wonderful realities that "Grace to You Radio" penetrates into those people, who don't come to this church, but they turn on the radio, and they get the books.   The book, The Charismatics, that I wrote back in 1978, I think it was, later on we wrote a new one called Charismatic Chaos .   Those books have had a great impact, and continue to have an impact on the hearts of people who are questioning the movement--they're in it, they are questioning the reality of it.

      As a final thought, one of the give-a-ways that there is something seriously wrong with the movement is its breadth.   It embraces anybody, and anything, and any view of anything that purports to be of God.   If you just say, the Lord told you this, or the Lord told you that, or you had a vision, or you saw this, or you heard voices, or the angels told you--if you have the experience, you supposedly experienced some of this supernatural phenomena, it will embrace you.   The movement will take you in no matter how bizarre your theology is.

      I remember when Benny Hinn first wrote his first book, called Good Morning Holy Spirit (I think it was), and in the book, he had nine members of the Trinity.   It's not even good English to have nine members of a Trinity!   You can have a double-quartet plus one, but you can't have a Trinity with nine people--it's not a Trinity.   But in the book, he had nine members of the Trinity.   He had the Father having three parts (three persons), the Son having three persons, and the Holy Spirit having three persons, totaling nine.   I said to the publisher, who was having lunch with me, wanting to sign me to a book contract.   I said to him, "Why in the world did you publish that book?"   "Why would you publish that?"   And with a look of incredulity he said to me, "What do you mean?   We publish everything!"   He didn't even understand the question!   It didn't even connect, for "What do you mean?   We publish everything!"   And I would say, that has been pretty much the reality with the Pentecostal Movement, there is just no borders, at all.   

      The way the "movement" has perpetuated itself--it's an infection in the Body of Christ that is spreading rapidly.   It's a kind of "Spiritual AIDS."   AIDS is a deficient immune system, and this kills the Church's immune system!   The Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement kills the immune system, because it makes it a sin to question their theology.   You see, the only way error can survive is if truth doesn't prevail--right?   It's the only way.   The only way error can survive is if truth does not prevail.   So how do you get the truth out of the way?   You have to silence the people who speak the truth.   So how do you do that?   You have to turn them into "bad guys"--those people with discernment, those people who speak the truth, those people who draw lines that are Biblical.   You have to turn them into the "bad guys" the non-spiritual.   

      I remember a radio program, where a man who was prominent in the Charismatic Movement said, "I don't know much about John MacArthur, but I know one thing, he doesn't possess the Holy Spirit."   And that was on a radio talk show, and that created an interesting dialogue.   I was being vilified as someone who didn't possess the Holy Spirit, was not therefore of God, simply because I called into question some of their unbiblical teaching.   And what has happened is, they have been saying this long enough; they have been working their way into the mainstream of Evangelicalism simply by attacking the critics, and silencing the critics, and most people just rollover.   

      I can give you an illustration.   In, about 1980, after I had written the book, The Charismatics, which was a bomb when it came.   It was the first book that was out really definitively taking on that movement, and it just hit with thunder, but it was really an important statement.   At the time, Moody Monthly, was a monthly periodical put out by Moody as sort of a standard, fundamental, Evangelical magazine.   They said, "This is so important, we want to serialize the book."   So the magazine picks up the book, they put the cover of the book on the cover of the magazine, which had a circulation of...I don't know, let's just say for the sake of argument, 150,000.   During the time they serialized the book it went up 50%, so maybe to 225,000--tremendous response, and this book was a direct attack on that issue. And Moody, at that time, says, "This needs to be heard, this is discernment."   Today, if I say on "Grace to You" anything negative about the Charismatic Movement--the Moody Broadcasting Network will remove it from the broadcast!   Because what has happened over a period of time is that Evangelicalism has just rolled over, because we have been vilified so much as being unloving, and heresy hunters, and divisive, and so they literally have shouted, long enough and loud enough to silence people.   And they have found their way into the mainstream, and now they dictate what is "Politically Correct" to say within the body of Evangelicalism.   

      Now that Evangelicalism is so softened up theologically; now that we have this case of AIDS, this immune deficiency that can't fight off error--we can't stop the influx of disease--theological disease.   The latest is called the "Openness of God" (I am digressing, but I need to take you there for a minute).   Have you been reading about this?   This is the last place you can attack.   They have attacked the Person of the Holy Spirit.   They have attacked the Person of Christ.   They have attacked the gospel.   They have attacked the authority of Scripture by adding to Scripture revelations, and visions, and Words of Wisdom, and Words of Knowledge, and on and on and on.....   And they have created a fertile ground now for an all out assault on God, which is coming from some pretty heady places--the parade is being led by Christianity Today, a magazine, which finds a very open climate to question God.   The new view of God is: God is not sovereign; God not only doesn't determine the future, He doesn't even know what it is; that God is about as clear about the future as you are.   He has about as much control over it as you do.   This is the redefinition of God!

      I said to someone the other day, "That is the end!   Jesus has to come soon!   Where else do you go, when you have attacked the nature of God?"   I have a chapter in a new book that came out called, What Ever Happened to the Reformation? I wrote one chapter, R. C. Sproul wrote one, a bunch of us wrote them, and Sproul in his chapter says, "Call yourself a Christian if you want, but if you have the wrong view of God--you're a pagan!"   You're a pagan!   That's idolatry!   That's the last place you can go in heresy, is to reinvent God!   That climate to do that, I think is largely aided and abetted by the utter disinterest in doctrine that has been created by this Charismatic pressure--Pentecostal pressure.   

      So, at the same time I say that, there are people in that movement who are Christians, and most of the Evangelical Church doesn't have the discernment to know how to sort all of that out, and many of these people don't either.   They are subject to their leaders--like Hosea says, "Like people, like priests."   They can't rise above it, and so they just sort of take it in, but in their hearts they are truly trusting Christ for their salvation.   Surely there are true believers in that movement.   I have said this before: You can take the Charismatic Movement; you can take the "Seeker-Friendly Church Growth" Movement, and somewhere in those movements there is a true church, not to be confused with the crowd.   

      But I think when you look at the legacy of the Charismatic or Pentecostal Movement, in history looking back, it is not going to be, "Oh, they were speaking in tongues," that's true, but speaking in tongues, to me, is a minor detail.   In fact, I have even gone so far as to say, "If you have the choice between going in your closet and mumbling in tongues, and going out and gossiping--go in your closet and mumble in tongues!   So I don't want to overstate the importance of that.   

      I don't think history is going to look back and define the impact of Pentecostalism in tongues; I don't think it'll look back and define it in terms of healings, since everybody who goes into that movement, with any kind of honest, analytical, and critical approach, and tries to find healings can't find them, and that's documented many, many times over.   But what is going to be history's verdict on the effect of the Pentecostal Movement, is that the Pentecostal Movement caused the Church to become disinterested in sound doctrine.   And that ultimately, is the greatest impact, and that's Spiritual AIDS--the Church no longer has a functioning immune system to recognize deadly error.


      I am trying to understand how to articulate or teach to someone in the Charismatic Movement about the following: When they are taught a story in the Old Testament, like Israel being in bondage, they'll build a construct out of that and then say, "We were born into this bondage principle," And then they will build a theology out of that, and I don't know how to articulate: "No, what you just did was wrong.   You misapplied Scripture.   You built a construct out of thin air."   


      This is an excellent question.   This is their "stock and trade"...This is their "stock and trade."   They can't interpret the Scripture accurately and come up with their theology--it's not there!   So, where are they going to get it?   Well, they have to invent it off of analogies, spiritualization, and allegory.   This is standard stuff.   Most of those people have no Biblical education--no formal education in the languages of Scripture.   They do not have a sound hermeneutic, that is, a principle for interpreting the Scripture: Historical, Grammatical, Literal interpretation, because it would never yield their system!   So what happens is, they use analogies to create their theology.   

      This is not new, but this is endemic in the Charismatic Movement.   They will interpret portions of the Scripture: the gospel or whatever, in a straightforward way. You know, Jesus went here, did this, said that, said that--that's pretty straightforward.   

      But they will go to the Old Testament and "novelty is king" in the Charismatic Movement....right?   I mean, they are like those people in Athens who always wanted to hear "!"--tickle their ears.   Now, how are you going to come up with a new thing if you just have the old Bible?   Well, you have got to find stuff that's not there, but you have got to use the Bible to do it.   One of the things that I commented on in my book Charismatic Chaos was a pastor, a prominent Charismatic pastor in Southern California.   He did a series on the Book of Nehemiah.   You know what Nehemiah is about...right?   It's a story about Nehemiah who was the cup bearer to the king in the captivity in Babylon.   The king makes a decree: the people can go back; they go back under the leadership of Nehemiah--they build the wall.   Right?   They rebuild the city of Jerusalem, and Israel, after 70 years of captivity is back restoring its nation again, and Nehemiah is there.   Right?   Everybody is building their little section of the wall, and some of the guys are armed, and they got the enemies, and Sanballat and Tobiah trying to thwart the work.   You know the story.   The story is about Israel going back and rebuilding its country and its city and its wall, and sort of reestablishing its nation again.   

      Well, this series on the Book of Nehemiah, went like this:

      Nehemiah is the Holy Spirit. The broken walls are the fallen walls of human personality.   The building of the wall is the rebuilding of human personality.   The mortar between the bricks is "tongues."   The pool (there was pool referred to in Nehemiah, in the city), the pool is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit.   Now, there is what the Book of Nehemiah wants to teach!   Nehemiah, a.k.a. the Holy Spirit, wants to come into your fallen life, dip you in the pool of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, and rebuild your life through speaking in tongues!   This was like eight tapes of this.   And you know, people are sitting there saying , "This is deep.   I have never seen that!"   You know why they have never seen it?   It's not there!   It's not there!   But you see, the average person in the pew says, "Wow!   This is fabulous insight!   

      This is bunk!   This is a misrepresentation of Scripture, but this is the "stock and trade."   

      I remember years ago, when some guy came in for counseling here, and he said, "I am in a real bad situation."   This actually occurred.   

      MacArthur: "How did you get into that situation?"   

      The guy with the problem: "Well, I married the wrong woman."   

      MacArthur: "Well, why did you marry her?"   

      The guy with the problem: "Well, it was the sermon my pastor preached."   

      MacArthur: "Really?   What was the sermon?"   

      The guy with the problem: "It was on the walls of Jericho."

      MacArthur: "The walls of Jericho?"

      The guy with the problem: "He [the pastor] said, the principle of Jericho is, that anything you want, you march around it seven times and it'll fall to you!"   "So, there was this girl and I really wanted her."

      And so, literally, he found himself in a position where he could go around her seven times!   And the walls of her heart would fall down and they did and they got married.   No wonder the guy was in trouble.   But see, that kind of novelty is the "stock and trade" of that Movement.   

      Let me tell you how serious this is, and I want you to understand this--this is like Bible Codes.   This is attributing to God things God never said!   And that, my friend, is serious stuff!

      You are not going to be telling people, "This is what God meant," if this is not what He meant!   That's pretty serious stuff.   The only way you can deal with people like that is to say, "How is it that you know that it means that?"   And their answer is going to be, standard answer: "The Lord...told me!"   And now you've got no revelation confined've got Pandora's Box--opened up!

      How do you answer people like that?   I think you answer them "right between the eyes"--"this is an aberrant, unacceptable form of interpreting the Bible!   This kind of spiritualizing, allegorizing is serious error.   In fact, that kind of stuff...I used to talk to pastors about this..."if you are going to interpret the Bible like that, then you don't need the Bible!   You don't need the Bible!   You could use anything!   You could use "Little Bo Peep"

      You could say, "You know the other night I was reciting 'Little Bo Peep' and the Lord showed me what it meant.   Little Bo Peep, she was little, but God can use the little!"   You get the drift?   "Little Bo Peep, she lost her sheep.   All over the world sheep are lost!   People are lost!   Did you ever met lost people?   Lost people over here, and lost..." That's exactly what they do!   "And she didn't know where to find them!   Have you ever felt like just don't know where to find them?   

      You laugh at that, but that is the "stock and trade" of that kind of preaching.   "Ah, but they'll come home!"   I haven't figured out what to do with the "waging their tails behind them."   

      But I mean, we laugh at that, but that's the point is that the hermeneutic is aberrant to start with, and the only way to deal with that is to say, "That is not an adequate way to handle the Scripture."   I have said this so many times to students, "The Bible is real people, actual history, normal language."   You can't be spinning off these wild fantasies at the expense of Scripture, and saying this is what God meant by what He said, because you are putting words in the mouth of Almighty God, and that is not a trivial matter!

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