The Litmus Test: A Response to “Strange Fire”

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John MacArthur is currently holding the “Strange Fire” Conference this week. It’s a conference which analyzes and critiques the Charismatic Movement in the church. Basically, it’s a gathering of cessationists (those who believe that the spiritual gifts have ceased, such as prophesy, speaking in tongues, healing, etc), and they are criticizing continuationism (the belief that these spiritual gifts are still just as prevalent today, as they were in the New Testament, and maybe even more so). Of course, this conference is sending the continuationists into a tizzy. However, I’m convinced that this war between the two camps, cessationism vs continuationism, is unnecessary. Scripture offers us (Christians) a reason not to go to war over this controversy, because scripture provides an authentication test. I’ve labeled this Biblical method: The Litmus Test.

Litmus paper is used to test the PH of a solution. When dipped in a solution, the Litmus paper turns color if the solution’s PH is either alkaline or acidic. If the solution is alkaline it will turn blue, if the solution is acidic it will turn red, and if the solution is neutral it will turn purple.

Because a sign or a wonder is so easily faked, it is important to properly decipher whether or not such a happening is real or not. Therefore, we have been given ways to authenticate or test such happenings. Scripture provides a Litmus test for authenticating a sign or wonder.

Examples:

Prophesy Litmus Test:
1) Is the person prophesying a Christian?
2) Did what they prophesy happen exactly as prophesied?
3) Does what was prophesied about go against scripture?

Deuteronomy 13:1-5
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”

Deuteronomy 18:18-22
“I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die. ’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken? ’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.”

Tongues Litmus Test:
1) Was there an interpreter?
2) Was what was said, God glorifying?

1 Corinthians 14
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God; for no one understands him, but he utters mysteries in the Spirit. On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. The one who speaks in a tongue builds up himself, but the one who prophesies builds up the church. Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. The one who prophesies is greater than the one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up. Now, brothers, if I come to you speaking in tongues, how will I benefit you unless I bring you some revelation or knowledge or prophecy or teaching? If even lifeless instruments, such as the flute or the harp, do not give distinct notes, how will anyone know what is played? And if the bugle gives an indistinct sound, who will get ready for battle? So with yourselves, if with your tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is said? For you will be speaking into the air. There are doubtless many different languages in the world, and none is without meaning, but if I do not know the meaning of the language, I will be a foreigner to the speaker and the speaker a foreigner to me. So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church. Therefore, one who speaks in a tongue should pray that he may interpret. For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays but my mind is unfruitful. What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. Otherwise, if you give thanks with your spirit, how can anyone in the position of an outsider say “Amen” to your thanksgiving when he does not know what you are saying? For you may be giving thanks well enough, but the other person is not being built up. I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. Nevertheless, in church I would rather speak five words with my mind in order to instruct others, than ten thousand words in a tongue. Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached? If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized. So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. But all things should be done decently and in order.”

Acts 2:1-21
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them:“Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. ’”

Healing Litmus Test:
1) Was the injury authentic?
2) Were they actually healed?

Acts 9:32-35
“Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints who lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, bedridden for eight years, who was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed.” And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.”

Scripture provides us with a Litmus Test as to how to authenticate what the cessationists claim are no longer happening, and what the continuationists claim are still happening. May we never again be confused. Praise God, for providing a solution to this controversy.

1 John 4:1
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”

Godspeed to the brethren!

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28 thoughts on “The Litmus Test: A Response to “Strange Fire””

  1. Interesting stuff, no doubt. But have you considered what the litmus test is for discerning whether or not the gifts have continued or whether they ceased in the past?

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      1. Right, but the problem is that it can’t determine whether they’ve ceased or not because it relies on future occurrences as well.

        Basically, a legitimate occurrence could happen any time in the future, so the test couldn’t determine whether they’ve ceased or not. It could only determine whether they’ve occurred or not. Is that not the case?

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      2. If the Bible indicates that they’ve ceased, there’s no need to test them now. That would be one practical reason, it would outright eliminate the need for the further litmus tests.

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      3. I don’t see how you could say Scripture is silent on whether or not they’ve ceased when we have an explicit statement regarding their cessation.

        1 Corinthians 13:8 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

        Of course, whether that’s to be taken as something yet future is a point of disagreement. But at the very least, that’s a Scriptural basis to call into question the notion of whether they’ve ceased or not.

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      4. And that’s why God has given authentication tests. Scripture is the final authority, so, we test the spirits by it, as I quoted in the blog. Scripture breaks the tie, therefore controversy is a waste of time. It’s a smokescreen, to turn the brethren’s focus from making disciples, our ONLY call to duty.

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      5. It would help if you clarify those statements as your opinions, for they most certainly can’t be ascertained as facts from the Bible. It’s totally silent on them.

        You’re basically just arbitrarily making up a meaning for them. But that only justifies someone else doing the same and saying they have the gift of Helps, but Helps means that they help collect money for the work of God. Any arbitrary meaning can be inserted.

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    1. We don’t need the litmus test you mentioned though, if we can rightly deduce that the gifts have ceased. That right there would grant us more time to make disciples since we wouldn’t have to spend time deciphering whether a gift is legitimate or not.

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      1. I don’t agree. Scripture isn’t crystal clear. If someone claims a sign or wonder, just apply scripture and show it was false. That’s why Paul and John write of testing such things.

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      2. Well, surely you agree with the logic that IF the gifts have ceased THEN we don’t need the litmus test for them. Correct?

        As to the disagreement, I take it you mean that you think Scripture isn’t clear? See, I can assure you that given the context, it is clear. But I understand that you might have a different opinion that what is necessitated by the context.

        If someone claims a gift, we need go no further than just showing them from Scripture that the gifts have ceased. But as to miraculous things God may do, we can apply the litmus test and see how they accord with Scripture.

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      3. Indeed, the Scriptures, which tell us when the gifts will cease. We deduce from them that they have, thus also why the early Church noted they ceased.

        I realize you likely disagree, but saying Scripture isn’t clear doesn’t help, since it can be shown that Scripture is clear.

        1 Corinthians 13 is clear when it’s understood in light of its context. The context shows us exactly how it’s all to be understood, necessarily so.

        It’s not that it’s unclear, but people don’t want it to be clear.

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      4. What you are not getting is that within the church we still deal with this controversy, when their is no need to debate it. Just test the claims made. Apply the litmus of scripture. And then all will know the truth.

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      5. Nonsense. You’re outright declaring that Scripture isn’t clear on something that it actually is clear on and you’re not even addressing the key issue. That really is the problem. People keep making declarations for the whole church, saying that something in Scripture isn’t clear when it is and they won’t actually address the problem but insist they’re right.

        Then, weaker believers stumble when the heretics use that same method of avoidance because they see it as justified, because believers use the method. If we simply deal with the issues straight, we won’t justify others doing the same.

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      6. But, it’s not edifying to just say, “nope, it didn’t happen” to the one making a sign or wonder claim, and then walk away. Apply the litmus in order to build up the one in error.

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      7. It isn’t edifying to tell believers that something in Scripture isn’t clear when it is. The greatest of all litmus tests is here in the form of Scripture and if we simply apply it, we don’t need to go with prior, inferior tests. Incidentally, that same test deals with signs and wonders as well.

        Matthew 16:4 An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.” So he left them and departed.

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      8. I was speaking of the “perfect” that Paul mentions in 1 Corinthians 13. That “perfect” simply means ‘complete’, according with its definition as well as the contextual contrast between it and the “partial”.

        Your post and responses presuppose that “perfect” to be still future. I’m arguing it is past, the completion of Scripture being that perfection/completion of the revelation of God. That completion was still future to Paul when he wrote.

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      9. His revelation is complete. The purpose of signs and wonders were to authenticate truth prior to scripture being completed. There are stories if signs and wonders taking place today in regions where scripture is not available, but signs and wonders are happening to authenticate the message. But if there are doubts, test them. If it’s real, it will pass. If not, it will fail. Subjectivity is satanic. The tests reveal whether or not such is true.

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      10. Right, I fully agree with the bulk of what you just said. However, we’re not talking about signs and wonders, but spiritual gifts. The litmus test you gave isn’t needed as the gifts have ceased.

        Partly a pointer to that is that your test only deals with certain gifts, not all of them. There is no test for the gift of Knowledge or Helps, for example, for Scripture doesn’t even tell us what they were specifically.

        Signs and wonders are a different issue.

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      11. I accidentally posted this above. WordPress comments aren’t the easiest to navigate.

        But that said, it would help if you clarify those statements as your opinions, for they most certainly can’t be ascertained as facts from the Bible. It’s totally silent on them.

        You’re basically just arbitrarily making up a meaning for them. But that only justifies someone else doing the same and saying they have the gift of Helps, but Helps means that they help collect money for the work of God. Any arbitrary meaning can be inserted.

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