Charismatic Chaos - Part 6
Written by: MacArthur Jr., John Posted on: 04/02/2003
The following message was delivered at Grace Community Church in Panorama
City, California, By John MacArthur Jr. It was transcribed from the tape,
GC 90-57, titled "Charismatic Chaos" Part 6. A copy of the tape can be
obtained by writing, Word of Grace, P.O. Box 4000, Panorama City, CA 91412.
I have made every effort to ensure that an accurate transcription of the
original tape was made. Please note that at times sentence structure may
appear to vary from accepted English conventions. This is due primarily to
the techniques involved in preaching and the obvious choices I had to make in
placing the correct punctuation in the article.
It is my intent and prayer that the Holy Spirit will use this transcription
of the sermon, "Charismatic Chaos" Part 6, to strengthen and encourage the
true Church of Jesus Christ.
Charismatic Chaos - Part 6
"The Third Wave"
John F. MacArthur, Jr.
All rights reserved.
It is a somewhat difficult task that falls to me this evening, to discuss
with you, in the series on "Charismatic Chaos," some of the matters with
regard to a movement known as the "The Third Wave." I cannot, by any means,
consider all of the issues, nor can I speak of all those who represent that
movement. But I do want to give you some perspective so that you can be
alert and aware in regard to what is happening.
Of all of the elements of the Charismatic movement, that are contemporary to
us today, this one is getting the most press. Of all the questions that are
asked to me by people who write and call with regard to issues facing us in
the Charismatic movement, this is the most commonly discussed one. The main
figure in what is known as the "Third Wave" is a man by the name of John
Wimber who is pastor of the Vineyard Christian Fellowship in Anaheim. He is
the major figure in this movement that has come to be known as the "Third
Wave of the Holy Spirit." It is sometimes called the "Signs and Wonders"
movement. And this latest Charismatic tide seems to have swept across the
globe in the last decade. It is literally everywhere in the English speaking
parts of the world.
The term the "Third Wave" was coined by C. Peter Wagner who is a Missions
professor at Fuller Seminary and the author of several books on church
growth. He is really the leading proponent of the Third Wave philosophy and
methodology. According to Wagner, he said, "The First Wave was the
Pentecostal Movement, the Second Wave was the Charismatic Movement, and now
the Third Wave is joining them." And by that he means an inundating wave of
the power of the Holy Spirit manifesting itself in visible ways. And while
acknowledging the Third Wave's spiritual ancestry, that is, that it is the
third of those three, Wagner nonetheless rejects the label "Charismatic and
Pentecostal." In fact, most of the people in the Third Wave don't want to be
identified in that way. Wagner says,
The Third Wave is a new moving of the Holy Spirit among
evangelicals who for one reason or another have chosen not to
identify with either the Pentecostals or the Charismatics. Its
roots go back a little further but I see it as mainly a movement
beginning in the 1980's and gathering momentum through the
closing years of the 20th century. I see the Third Wave as
distinct from, but at the same time, very similar to the first
and second waves. They have to be similar because it is the
same Spirit of God who is doing the work. The major variation
comes in the understanding of the meaning of "Baptism in the
Holy Spirit" and the role of tongues in authenticating this. I
myself, for example, would rather not have people call me a
Charismatic, I do not consider myself a Charismatic, I am simply
an Evangelical Congregationalist who is open to the Holy Spirit
working through me and my church in any way He chooses.
He refuses the label "Charismatic," not primarily because of any doctrinal
distinction, but primarily because of the stigma attached to the name. It's
important for me to mention that to you because if you talk to someone in the
Third Wave they might endeavor to distance themselves from classic
Pentecostalism or more contemporary Charismaticism, but the fact is that they
are basically the Third Wave by their own admission of the very same kind of
theology. It is accurate then to see the Third Wave as part of the whole
Charismatic movement as we know it. While it is true that many who identify
with the Third Wave will avoid using the term "Charismatic" and they'll even
avoid using Charismatic jargon when writing or speaking about Spirit Baptism
or other issues. Basically, the theology is the same. The terminology may
change; the theology is for all intents and purposes identical. Most Third
Wave teaching and preaching that I have listened to, that I have read, echoes
standard Charismatic theology, and therefore in evaluating the Third Wave, we
would assume that it is safe to say that the other issues that we have been
discussing, that we find unbiblical in the Charismatic movement, are
generally true of this movement as well, although there may be some
individuals in the movement who would vary from that.
So at its very core it is an element of the Charismatic movement. At its
core is an obsession with sensational experiences, a preoccupation with the
"Charismata" that is, tongues, healings, prophecies, words of knowledge,
visions, and ecstatic experiences, and that is, of course, where we find the
indisputable link between the Third Wave and the Charismatic and Pentecostal
movements. In all three movements there is a major absorption with these
supernatural, sensational kind of power encounters or power displays as they
like to call them. They de-emphasize what you and I would know as the
traditional means of spiritual growth: prayer, Bible study, the teaching of
the Word, and the fellowship of other believers. They don't intend to do
that and they wouldn't do that in statement or even in print. But because of
the very surpassing emphasis on the sensational experiences, those matters
tend to get pushed significantly, if not all together, into the background.
Pentecostals, Charismatics, and Third Wavers, all will affirm that any
Christian who is not experiencing some supernatural events, some supernatural
giftedness, some kinds of healings, some kinds of prophecies, words of
knowledge, or manifestations of the Spirit of God, in visible tangible ways,
is really stuck at a low level of spiritual progress; is denying the full
power of God and denying himself the blessing of God.
Now, while those in the Third Wave would like to distance themselves from the
first and second wave, because of its excesses. The truth of the matter is,
the third wave has not managed to avoid any of the excesses that are
characteristic of the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. In fact, there
are some in the Charismatic movement who want to distance themselves from the
Third Wavers because they feel that they go to excesses that even those
Charismatics wouldn't go to.
A visit, for example, to the Vineyard, would reveal to you all the commotion
of many people speaking in tongues at the same time. It would reveal to you
intense kind of emotional experiences going on where people were falling on
the floor and laying in prone positions for as long as an hour, some people
with their limbs extended. It would reveal to you people giving multiple
prophecies, some of them rather bizarre, and some of them with poor grammar,
and yet claiming they come from the Lord. There would be likely an
experience in which they would clear the floor of chairs and they would be
dancing around in a completely liberated fashion in any form that they would
choose to do that, with people again perhaps falling over, climbing on
chairs, dancing on the top of chairs, and doing all the things that once were
associated with what we used to call, "Holy Rollers." In fact, Chuck Smith,
pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, told one researcher, "John Wimber has
absorbed every abhorrent teaching developed by the Pentecostals into his
Now, all I want you to understand is that the Third Wave people very often
want to see themselves as mainline evangelical. They want to distance
themselves from the Pentecostal, Charismatic excesses, and yet it seems to be
true that the excesses that occurred in both the Pentecostal and Charismatic
movements are very characteristic of the Third Wave as well. What makes them
a bit different is that they can line up some teachers and leaders that
appear to have more academic credentials than has been true in the
Charismatic and Pentecostal movement. That may mean, that in the future,
there will be some correctives that will come to some of those excesses,
which as of yet has not taken place. But despite all of their claims to the
contrary, Third Wave apologists have had astonishing success in selling their
movement as a non-Charismatic phenomena. Unsuspecting churches, and I think
unsuspecting denominations have opened their doors and their pulpits to Third
Wave teachers, I think because of their academic credentials and because they
claim not to be in the line of the Charismatics, but in fact, they are.
If you look very closely at the Third Wave you will see in it the very same
kind of things you see typically in the Charismatic movement. And so I want
to do a little bit closer inspection, and as I said we can't by any means
exhaust this in the next half hour or so as we examine it, but I will try to
put you in touch with some of the issues that need to be addressed in a much
more comprehensive way than I'll be able to do tonight. But I hope that I
can give you enough information to set you in the right direction.
I want to just consider maybe four of the promises that the Third Wave makes
that need to be inspected rather carefully. The first promise they make is
that they are experiencing supernatural Signs and Wonders, and that these
Signs and Wonders come at a rather proliferated rate. That is to say they
are not abnormal, they are not uncommon, they are not few and far between,
but rather they are normal, common, and very often come in a flurry. They
believe that fantastic Signs and Wonders demonstrate the genuineness of their
movement. The fact is that we cannot turn our back on it because
supernatural things are happening all the time. Miraculous phenomena is at
the very heart of the Third Wave credo and experience.
Third Wave people are persuaded they are having miracles, they are having
visions, they are speaking in tongues, giving prophecies, predicting the
future, reading peoples minds (that is, they can stand up in a meeting and
tell you your home address, your mother's maiden name, your father's mother's
maiden name), and all of those kinds of things that we have always associated
with people like the "Amazing Crescan" (sp.) who purvey a certain kind of
magic, a certain kind of con art or whatever you want to call it. But they
are into these very same kind of things. In fact, it was interesting to me
that one of their leaders said that the key to his really "buying into" and
believing this whole thing was when one of their prophets stood up and told
him, and told the whole audience, his mother's maiden name and the true first
name of his father who was only known by a nickname.
And so they believe that these kind of things are happening, that there are
healings; that there are resurrections from the dead, and they frankly view
Christianity without those things as impotent and adulterated by the western
materialistic mindset. And [they believe that] unless we can escape the
western materialistic mindset and catapult ourselves into the Third World
paradigm, and begin to think in terms of mystical phenomena, we are going to
be locked into a very shallow kind of Christianity. Signs and Wonders also
would be the key, they believe, to Third Wave evangelism. Third Wavers say
that unbelievers must experience the miraculous in order to be brought to
full faith. Merely preaching the gospel message, they believe, will never
reach the world for Christ.
One of their leaders has said, "That we cannot evangelize the world with the
simple gospel, apart from Signs and Wonders." This, in spite of the fact,
that Paul, in Romans 1, says that the simple gospel is the power of God unto
salvation to everyone who believes. But merely preaching the gospel, they
believe, isn't going to do it, it'll never reach the world for Christ. Most
people will not believe without seeing miracles, they say, and those who do
will be inadequately converted, and therefore stunted in their spiritual
growth. John Wimber, himself, cites Elijah's confrontation with the prophets
of Baal on Mount Carmel, as a classic example of power encounter, where the
power of God vanquishes the power of evil.
Similar Signs and Wonders, say third wave gurus are the chief means we will
be using to spread the gospel. And so what they are doing is traveling all
over the world endeavoring to teach the Church how to do Signs and Wonders.
And you will hear them openly confess, even the leaders at the highest level
and those that are kind of developing into their next generation of leaders,
that they are learning how to do miracles. They are learning how to heal the
sick, raise the dead, read minds, tell people their address and phone
numbers, and their names of their parents. They are learning to do that,
they are learning to call out healings, they are learning to read behind
somebody's face and see the sin that is in them. They are learning to do
that, because that is very essential if they are going to convince the world
that the message is from God.
Modern miracles workers have yet to call down fire from heaven as did Elijah,
but they may be working on that as well. Third Wave officials tell of some
fantastic Signs and Wonders, Wimber, for example, reported an incident where
a woman's toe, which had been cut off, supposedly grew back. He described
another woman in Australia whose cleft palate closed up miraculously three
days after God him a "word of knowledge" that she would be healed. Wagner
recounted a report from an Argentine faith healer, who's in the movement, by
the name of Carlos Anacondia (sp.), who said, two particular manifestations
of the Holy Spirit seem to impress unbelievers more than anything else in his
crusades, "falling in the power of the Spirit" and "filling teeth." On a
fairly regular basis, decayed teeth are filled and new teeth grow where there
were none before. Interestingly enough, according to Anacondia, most
unbeliever's teeth are filled and very few believers get their teeth filled.
Now, I don't why he said that, or even why that's supposedly true, but I have
another question, "Why does God fill teeth instead of just giving them new
teeth as long as He is going to do it?"
But, nonetheless, whether you are talking about Wagner or Wimber, they are
convinced that these miracles are happening. They are at least trying to
convince us they are happening. Both of them are convinced, for example, at
least from what they say, that many dead people are being raised from the
dead. Many of them, not just some, not just a few, but many. And it is
really difficult to resist the conclusion that these are either utter
fabrications, that have just grown with the telling, or that these people are
so caught in the wish that these things come to pass, that they have
convinced themselves that in fact they do. In the two cases that I mentioned
to you from John Wimber, he maintains that medical doctors witnessed the
events, yet he offers no documentation.
And you have to ask the question somewhere along the line, "Why don't they
publish proof that these events really took place?" It would seem to me that
if people are being raised from the dead, at a fairly regular clip through
the year, some of these people could show up somewhere and there could be
some evidence. Particularly if they had been in the grave for several days
like Lazarus, because somebody would have been there to see them put in the
ground. And we wonder why they don't publish the proof of these things,
phenomena such as digit and limb replacement, the healing of birth defects,
supernatural dentistry, and raising the dead. It seems to me that it would
be rather easy to document. It would certainly help bring about the kind of
world wide response the Third Wave people say they are hoping to have.
To borrow from one of them, you can only imagine if they could take four
quadriplegics and instantly heal them of their quadriplegia. Four who were
well known by many and been known for years to be in that condition, and they
could step out of the wheel chair and be absolutely 100% whole. It wouldn't
seem too difficult a thing to present the evidence for that. And it would
seem to me to be quite a powerful statement.
But a pattern has begun to emerge from the Third Wave literature, and that is
this, the truly spectacular miracles always seem to involve nameless people.
Real people's miracles tend to be mundane and hard to prove: cures involving
back pain, inner healings, migraine relief, emotional deliverance, ringing in
the ears, maybe some internal problem that is stated but not verified. The
only time you get a detailed, step-by-step, carefully laid out description of
a healing situation is an occasion when the healing doesn't happen. You hear
rather oblique references to the healing that did happen, and rather detailed
descriptions of the ones that don't.
A prime example is Wagner's account of his friend Tom Brewster, a paraplegic,
who believed in healing. Brewster was so hopeful that God would heal him
that he even distributed a "Declaration of Expectation" to his friends--an
expression of his faith that he would one day walk. That faith never
wavered, Wagner says, though it had been almost thirty years since a diving
accident left him confined to a wheel chair. But the miracle never came.
Brewster died after unsuccessful bladder surgery. It's difficult to read
that account without noting how markedly it contrasts with the many supposed
miracles that these Third Wave people account. The most dramatic miracles
come with only sketchy details and are almost nearly always anonymous.
Rarely do they ever involve people who are known personally to those who
report the miracles. You understand that? They are not first hand. And
whenever you hear the story told about the first hand it seems to have a sad
Perhaps the most significant man in the life of John Wimber was a British
Anglican who died of cancer, much to the great dismay and concern and sorrow
of John. A group of five medical doctors, Christians, attended a recent
conference the Third Wave had. These men were hoping to establish the truth
of the claims that miraculous healings were taking place. One of them,
Doctor Philip Seldon (sp.) reported,
The fact that John Wimber knew we were present and observing may
have served to tone down the claims which we understand were
made at previous conferences. Mr. Wimber, himself, referred to
bad backs and indicated that people could expect pain relief but
no change which could be documented by a doctor. He admitted
that he had never seen a degenerated vertebrae restored to
normal shape. And as I suspected, most of the conditions which
were prayed over were in the psychosomatic, trivial, or
medically difficult to document categories. Problems with left
great toe, nervous disorder, breathing problems, barrenness,
unequal leg lengths, bad backs and neck.
The doctor concluded, "At this stage we are unaware of any organic healings
which could be proven."
Now, what explanation is given for people who are not healed, because we know
that many people must go there who have real problems. Right? I mean, if
you hear that miracles are being done and you are looking for that to happen
in your life--you are going to go. And people do not get healed--obviously.
The reasons given are: some people don't have faith in God for healing;
another reason, personal unconfessed sin creates a barrier to God's healing
power; another one they say is persistent and widespread disunity, sin, and
unbelief in bodies of believers and families, inhibits healings in individual
members of the body.
In other words, they will say, one, "You don't have enough faith to be
healed. Your lack of faith is hindering God." Or they will say, "You have
unconfessed sin in your life and you put a barrier between you and God." Or
they will say, "You are going to a church that doesn't believe in healings so
you are not going to get healed as long as you are in that environment." Or
they will say, "Because of incomplete or incorrect diagnosis of what is
causing your problem, you do not know how to pray correctly, and if you don't
know what your problem is you can't pray correctly to get it fixed, it won't
get fixed, or it might not." "And some people," they say further, don't get
healed because they assume that God always heals instantly, and when they
don't get instantly healed they stop praying, so they don't get healed.
Oddly enough, John Wimber, himself, said, "I never blame the sick person for
lack of faith if healing doesn't come." That's a contradictory statement.
And eventually he is still trying to piece together the theology of this. He
struggles, because he said also, "I have a continually expanding group of
disgruntled people who have come for healing and don't get it."
Now, the reality is, with the Third Wave, with all of its emphasis on signs
and wonders, it has produced nothing really verifiable that qualifies in the
New Testament sense as an authentic sign or wonder, at least nothing that
they have made available. Jesus' miracles must, after all, be the standard
by which we make an evaluation. Right? No one before Jesus or since has
performed as many signs and wonders as He did during His earthly ministry.
His miracles were strikingly different from those produced by the modern
signs and wonders movement. None involved psychosomatic infirmities, all
were visible and verifiable, they were, in short, true signs and wonders.
We learned some other things about the miracles from our Lord's ministry,
chiefly that miracles do not necessarily produce faith in an unbelieving
heart. Let me say that again, they do not necessarily produce faith in an
unbelieving heart. I don't want to say that there aren't times when God can
use or has used the miraculous to produce or to assist in producing faith.
Faith is a gift from God but it is possible that a miracle has been a
component in God bringing about that faith. But that is not necessarily what
happens, and that certainly cannot be guaranteed to happen. In fact, in the
Gospel of John, Jesus did many signs and many wonders. In fact, He
proliferated that entire nation of Palestine with signs and wonders. And the
people were able to see them and even to participate in them, such as in the
feeding of the Great Multitude.
The net effect of all of that tremendous, tremendous, miracle working
enterprise could be summed up in the words of John 12:37, "But though He had
performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him."
There is no guarantee that because there are miracles there will be saving
faith. It is true that as I said, God may use miracles to bring about faith.
In Acts 9, you might want to look at it for a moment; in Acts, chapter 9, in
verse 32, "Peter was traveling through all those parts," writes Luke. "He
came down to the saints who lived at Lydda. And there he found a certain man
named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years, for he was paralyzed. And
peter said to him, 'Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; arise, and make your
bed.' And immediately he arose. And all who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw
him, and they turned to the Lord."
If you were to read into the next section, in Joppa, there was a woman there
named Tabitha (or Dorcas). She died and Peter was used to bring her back to
life. And in verse 42 it says, "And it became known all over Joppa, and many
believed in the Lord." We don't want to say categorically, that there would
never be a time when God wouldn't cause some miraculous act to be a component
in the producing of faith. But that seems to be the minority effect. The
majority seem not to have such a response. In spite of all of Jesus'
miracles, raising the dead, healing the sick, giving sight to the blind,
having authority over demons, the people rejected Him, the people crucified
Him, and at the time of His death there were only about 120 followers
gathered in the Upper Room, and that after several years of miraculous acts.
The gospels contain numerous examples of people who witnessed Jesus' signs,
who witnessed His wonders, and yet remained in utter unbelief. He rebuked
the cities where He performed most of His miracles: He rebuked Korazim,
Bethsedia, He rebuked Capernaum, because they didn't repent, and because they
had seen so many miracles. And He even says that they were even worse off
than Sodom and Gomorrah, because Sodom and Gomorrah, as bad as it was, would
have repented if it had seen as much as they had seen. John 2:23 tells us
that, "Many believed in His name, because they saw the signs," yet that kind
of belief was not a saving belief. Jesus didn't consider them true
believers, according to verse 24.
In John, chapter 6, verse 2, the record says that, "A great multitude was
following Him, because they were seeing the signs which He was performing on
those who were sick." And yet, in verse 66, when He began to teach them, and
He began to speak about the spiritual issues that confronted them, it says,
many of the same crowd "withdrew, and were not walking with Him any more."
So there are times when, whatever kind of believing they did, was not
believing unto salvation. In John, chapter 11, Jesus raised Lazarus from the
dead, a monumental miracle. Absolutely monumental! Even His enemies
couldn't deny it, according to John 11:47. But far from believing in Jesus,
that simply accelerated their desire to plot His death.
Things really weren't much different than that in the Book of Acts, in the
early Church. In Acts 3, Peter and John healed a man who had been lame from
birth and again the Jewish religious leaders didn't deny the miracle had
occurred, according to Acts 4:16. They couldn't deny it, but their response
was far from saving faith. They ordered the Apostles to stop speaking in the
name of Jesus. Go back into the Old Testament and you can examine the record
of Old Testament signs and wonders, they didn't produce saving faith either.
Pharaoh's heart was hardened despite the powerful signs and wonders God did
through Moses. The entire generation of Israelites who witnessed those same
miracles, died in unbelief in the wilderness. It didn't seem to lead them to
any great spiritual level of devotion.
Despite all the miracles performed during the time of Elijah and Elisha, and
those times when God acted miraculously at other seasons, both Israel and
Judah failed to repent and were ultimately carried away into captivity. In
fact, the very account that John Wimber cites as Biblical justification for
power encounters, Elijah's confrontation with the prophets of Baal, is an
example. The revival produced out of that amazing act by which God sent fire
from heaven and burned up stones and water, the amazing, amazing miracle
produced a very short lived response, and within a few days Elijah was hiding
for fear of his life, and Baal worship continued until God finally judged
Now, that is not to say that signs and wonders were not important when God
used them. It is not to say that they never were used by God to be a part of
the production of faith. But that was not the normal result. They often
attracted people's attention so the gospel message could be [preached], and
people hearing that message were saved. But, miracles and signs and wonders,
in themselves, do not produce saving faith. And so when they say they
promise "signs and wonders" it's questionable whether the "signs and wonders"
are really legitimate, and it's questionable whether the "signs and wonders"
are necessary for producing saving faith, since that is not their purpose in
the Scripture generally.
Secondly, they make the promise of "Powerful Evangelism," "Power Evangelism."
What they are really doing (and this follows the first point) is being
powerful in terms of turning people to God. My conviction on this, however,
is that what they say is "Powerful Evangelism" lacks, very often, the very
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