Reckless Faith: When the Church Loses Its Will to Discern
By John MacArthur
Crossway Books, 1994, 256 pages
Over the course of the last year, I’ve reviewed several books which were written in response to Chuck Colson’s misguided Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT) ecumenical project. Pastor John MacArthur wrote this book in 1994 as an answer to ECT and also as a general warning to the evangelical church that it was losing its way.
The foundation of the church has always been Jesus Christ, the Gospel, and truths of God’s Word, but in this post-modern era, those who continue to uphold doctrine are being assailed as sectarians and legalists. “Doesn’t the Bible say we’re not to judge others?,” post-modernist Christians ask. Of course, the Bible says we’re not to judge the brethren hypocritically, but we absolutely are to judge right doctrine and to use discernment in all things. Today, non-critical “love” as well as experientialism and emotionalism trump doctrine. So what we have in this era are a lot of people embracing each other as “Christians” even though some of them don’t believe in the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through Jesus Christ alone. We also have many people proclaiming their own personal experiences as, “Thus saith the Lord.”
MacArthur criticizes those evangelicals who embraced Catholicism in ECT. What were they thinking? Salvation by grace and Catholicism’s salvation by sacramental grace and merit are irreconcilable so the ECT declaration writers buried the differences in platitudes of unity and cooperation.
MacArthur then criticizes Pentecostals and charismatics, using the “laughing revival” of 1994 at the Airport Vineyard church in Toronto as his example. MacArthur is a “cessationist,” meaning he believes some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased with the end of the apostolic age. He’s written a couple of books (“Charismatic Chaos” in 1992 and “Strange Fire” in 2013) that are very critical of “continuationist” theology, the belief that the apostolic gifts continue today.
Okay, let’s all put on the brakes and take a deep breath. We all need to have some humility when it comes to discussions regarding the apostolic gifts. I’m a cessationist, like MacArthur, but I certainly don’t pretend to have all the answers this side of eternity. My Pentecostal and charismatic brothers and sisters worship the Lord according to their consciences and I worship Him according to what I believe is right. The differences that we have over the apostolic gifts are secondary issues. We all believe the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith, which unites us in Christ. But, as MacArthur points out, the continuationists’ reliance on experience and personal revelation opens them up to some very real dangers. I’ll give you an example from my own observations.
I listen to Catholic talk radio every day and one of the regular hosts is a Catholic priest. Father Rick is a very conservative Catholic and he fully supports traditional Catholicism. He regularly propagates and defends the Catholic church’s gospel of salvation by sacramental grace and merit. But he also belongs to the Catholic charismatic movement. He says he’s been baptized by the Holy Spirit and that he speaks in tongues. So how does that work? Rick doesn’t believe in the Gospel of grace through faith in Christ alone but, like millions of other charismatic Catholics who are faithful to their church’s teachings, he manifests the requisite “proof” of Holy Spirit baptism. Can an unsaved person speak in tongues? Is speaking in tongues a litmus test of true salvation and advanced spirituality? If that claim is true then what about the paradox of father Rick who believes salvation is earned via the sacraments and obedience to the Ten Commandments and church laws? Pentecostals and charismatics are forced to embrace works-righteous Catholics like Rick as Christians because their shared experiences supersede right doctrine.
A lot of water has gone under the bridge since MacArthur wrote this book in 1994. The church has moved farther and farther away from being doctrine-based to experience-based. People go to entertainment-focused mega-churches or foundationless “emerging” churches every Sunday looking for tips on self-improvement, material success, and “just loving Jesus” warm fuzzies. Right doctrine is the very last thing they’re looking for.