John MacArthur and his Grace to You ministry have engaged in an in-depth way with the excesses surrounding the charismatic movement for many years. I’ve appreciated a lot of the issues that Johnny Mac and his Strange Fire conference have raised. Of course, it’s worth noting that MacArthur and Co. can be guilty of pushing the pendulum too far in the other direction. They can overstate things and overlook valuable and insightful Pentecostal and charismatic contributions to the wider church.
Having said that, a recent article from GTY touches on a deeply embedded problem within many charismatic circles. Cameron Buettel writes:
False teaching thrives in environments where it is unlikely to be questioned. Charlatans and heretics prey on uncritical minds, and work tirelessly to protect and preserve that gullibility. Their success depends on dismantling every challenge to their authority and accuracy.
This was certainly my experience in a number of Pentecostal and charismatic churches. At various times, as a new believer, I would raise questions about the Toronto Blessing, or the Prosperity Gospel — or some other form of strange teaching, and I’d always be told to not question. Basically, people were conditioned to embrace every whim and fad that would be pushed from the pulpit.
This is one of the main reasons why I’m now in a confessional denomination. In a confessional context, we have a Confession of Faith which lays out what we consider to be clear, non-negotiable priorities. Ministers and elders are held accountable to that Confession. This Confession helps preserve solid teaching; it functions as a basis for unity and it is a means of enabling church discipline.
Further, Confessionalism can help to counter the unhealthy culture described above by Buettel because it helps nurture an environment of discernment. There is a reason why you won’t find the Prosperity gospel in a reformed church, there is a reason why preachers can’t introduce novel revelations and there is a reason why reformed churches don’t facilitate the kind of chaos that comes with fads like the Toronto Blessing — the reason is this: our confession operates as a safe-guard.
If you want to read more about why contemporary evangelicalism could benefit from a recovery of Confessional Christianity, you may be interested in my recent book Radical Church: A Call to Rediscover the Radical Roots of the Christian Faith.