John MacArthur, Strange Fire, and His Pentecostal Wife

I’m not going to share all of my thoughts concerning the whole Strange Fire controversy, but did want to relay a story that many don’t know about that’s relevant to the broader discussion – and then share a few thoughts.

Jack Hayford (longtime pastor of The Church on the Way, founder of The King’s University and Seminary, ex-president for The Foursquare denomination) extended an invitation to MacArthur back in the 90’s to speak at their (The Church on the Way) annual Fall leadership conference, which MacArthur graciously accepted. He took some heat from his folks for walking into Pentecostal territory. If you don’t know, MacArthur’s and Hayford’s respective churches were very close to each other. There was a running joke back when I attended The King’s University (housed on the church campus) that some folks were attending The Church on the Way to Grace Community for folks turning cessationist and transferring their membership to Grace Community; and those that attended Full Grace Community was for transfers away from Grace to TCOTW. We actually had a decent relationship with one another and I often accessed Master’s Seminary’s library for research and got to know some of the students there.

Back to the conference. It’s been a long time and I’m sharing the best of my recollection as to the happenings. MacArthur was asked to address the topic of the sufficiency of Scripture and he shared a passionate message from Psalm 119 that was greeted with approval from a sustained standing ovation from the thousands in attendance. It’s what MacArthur said at the beginning that stuck out in my mind in the midst of this Strange Fire controversy. He opened by trying to disarm whatever tension there might be because of the clearly known doctrinal disagreements between the two. He commended Hayford for being a faithful servant and encourager to MacArthur through their personal correspondence which included lunches together and such. It’s what he shared about his wife, Patricia, that had the folks bursting with laughter.

He shared that Patricia was actually a member of The First Foursquare Church of Van Nuys (later named The Church on the Way) and that during their courting how she had him drive by the church, where she shared how important the church was to her upbringing. He followed by saying, “Well, I really liked her and married her – and I’m still trying to get her to read my books.” The audience laughed hard. It was funny. MacArthur grinned. That insight totally disarmed any hard feelings that might have existed in the room. I have no clue whether there was some truth to his quip about her not reading his books, but it sounded as if he married a Pentecostal girl without her needing to repudiate her heritage. Perhaps someone who knows more can chime in and fill in some of the biographical details.

Apparently, MacArthur didn’t show any such charity to the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement in this latest conference. This came after years of bridge-building with John Piper and, surprisingly, C.J. Mahaney. I didn’t, for one second, think MacArthur’s convictions had changed on the matter, but was grateful that it wasn’t a litmus test, by itself, for whom he’d associate with. Perhaps the whole C.J. scandal was a setback for MacArthur’s cautious associations – don’t know.

I want to thank MacArthur for calling out the charlatans – I feel the same way. Piper has also railed against the exportation of the Word of Faith movement (very passionately, I might add), though he’s a continuationst (believe that the majority of Spirtual gifts continue). Hank Hanegraaff (The Bible Answer Man) has been one of the strongest and consistent critics of the abuses in the Pentecostal/Charismatic, and he, like Piper, is a continuationst. Even academic heavyweight, NT scholar Gordon Fee (a Pentecostal), has vocalized strong criticism for abuses in the movement. He also happens to disagree with the insistence in his own camp that Spirit baptism is necessarily a subsequent work. I also think of Lee Grady over at Charisma Magazine, who’s also been a guard against excesses in the movement.

I could go on and on with examples of folks within the camp who’ve criticized the fringe elements in the movement. It perplexes me that MacArthur would view the fringe as the norm and the norm as the exception. I wish he invited a Charismatic to the conference, who’d affirm wholeheartedly MacArthur’s concerns – there are plenty of them (me included).

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© 2013, Rick Hogaboam. All rights reserved.

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