The "Strange Fire" conference held by John MacArthur and friends has caused quite a stir in Protestant circles. But what is somebody like me supposed to make of all this? Here it is.
John MacArthur is a cessationist, believing the gifts believed in by the charismatic movement have ceased. I used to be a cessationist. I was a cessationist, mainly, because I attended cessationist churches with cessationist leaders and listened to teachers that were cessationists. The only arguments to the contrary were from continuationists - those who believed that the gifts in question continue to this present day. Their arguments were mostly brought by the cessationists in order to show how they were wrong. So, I had a biased view of the issues.
I'm not a cessationist
I stopped being a cessationist when I stopped listening to cessationist arguments and the proof texts they used. I found that I could not support their arguments from the bible alone. Their arguments were largely logical conclusions that they reached. The foremost is the closure of canon. The gifts of tongues and prophesy were used by God as new revelation because the bible wasn't complete yet. The New Testament was still a work in progress. Once the bible was complete, God stopped bringing new revelation because the bible is our final authority. With the bible complete, we no longer need revelation.
But where does the bible say that all use of tongues and prophesy necessarily introduces new revelation not previously available to God's people? If prophesy is declaring the word of the Lord, it certainly can include declaring an already existing part of scripture but simply applying it to a given situation. Same with tongues. Tongues were speaking to somebody who spoke a different language, but the hearer heard your words in his language. Why does that necessarily mean new revelation? In Acts, on the day of Pentecost, those who were speaking in tongues were simply "speaking the mighty deeds of God." Acts 2:11. Additionally, Paul says in Corinthians that tongues shall cease. But he doesn't say when. So, I don't buy the arguments for a cessationist viewpoint.
I'm not a continuationist
But neither am I a continuationist. By that I mean that I don't believe that these gifts are a normative thing for all believers in all ages. I reject the idea that all true believers must speak in tongues or prophesy, and I also reject the idea that tongues are a second blessing that come at a later time than conversion. One is baptised at conversion, then a second "baptism in the Holy Spirit" gives one extra gifts. I don't believe this, and the arguments of the continuationists are the same as the arguments of the cessationists; logical conclusions based on their own interpretations.
I'm neither a cessationist nor a continuationist. I hear of Acts-like conversion stories for Muslim converts in the Middle East. I've heard of people claiming to speak in tongues. But for me, experientially, I've never heard anybody speak in tongues, and I've never had anybody directly tell me they speak in tongues. And I attended a Pentecostal church for two and a half years! I'm open to God being God and using what He wants when He wills. I don't have these gifts, but what if others legitimately do? I can't prove they don't, and I can't prove they do.
But I can question the extremes on both ends, legitimately.