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John MacArthur’s Strange Fire, reviewed by Dennis Balcombe

Back during the time of the Vietnam War, we baptized some American sailors visiting Hong Kong on R&R for a few days in our church. They came out of the water speaking in tongues, one in Cantonese and one in Shanghainese (recognized by a sister from Shanghai in our church). Both gave a short message stating that Jesus would return soon, and we were all to preach the Gospel to the lost.

At a recent Revival Chinese Training Conference in Hong Kong in which we hosted over 2,000 mainland Christians, an American missionary living in Shanghai who speaks fluent Putonghua heard a Chinese behind him praying in fluent English. He inquired where he learned such good English, and the brother who was from a rural village in Henan Province responded saying he did not know one single phrase in English, and this was his first time to leave China and come to any place where people did not speak only Chinese.

To try to prove his point, on page four MacArthur quotes an story of a “Spirit-filled” woman in Africa who falls down and knocks over a boy speaking in tongues, and he gets up with a bloody lip and says, “Oh why?” in his native language. He questions why the “tongue-speaking spirit should, in a split second, leave the bleeding lips and speak in native dialect.” This shows his total ignorance of what speaking in tongues is about. Speaking in tongues is a gift as the other gifts, and the person with this gift can use it at will, and can in a second stop, speak in his native language, speak loud or soft, or speak quickly or slowly. He is not under the control of a “tongue-speaking spirit.”

The whole book shows the unscholarly and biased method MacArthur uses. He basically doesn’t have the slightly clue about the true nature of Pentecostal doctrine and experience. He has documented a lot of what he perceives as being moral failures, false prophecies or doctrinal error on the part of leading Pentecostal leaders. He goes all the way back to one of the founders of the movement in 1906, Charles Parham with Agnes Ozman. He has to report that he was arrested on charges of sodomy, though he was released and claimed to be innocent. He mocks the claim of Parham that missionaries with the gift of tongues would not have to learn foreign languages.

This of course did not happen as there is no Scriptural or historical basis for people being given languages to use daily in foreign mission work. The Scriptures reveal that on the day of the Pentecost the one hundred twenty who spoke in tongues were “speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (worship and praise), and it was Peter who preached to the crowd using his native language, not tongues.

However what MacArthur does not point out is the fact that Spirit-filled missionaries often learn the languages of the nations they are called to quicker and better than non-Charismatic missionaries. In Hong Kong, both I and the well-known Heidi Baker were able to preach in Cantonese within months of our arrival, and this is considered one of the most difficult languages for a Westerner to learn. Heidi later went to Mozambique where she can preach in both Portuguese and the native African dialects. I and my whole family can speak Cantonese without the slightest accent, something that I attribute to the work of the Holy Spirit.

I personally have seen many thousands; perhaps tens of thousands of Chinese baptized in the Holy Spirit, and witnessed this great miracle. Nobody taught them to speak in tongues, they did not imitate anyone, and it certainly was not the result of mass hysteria or some emotional outburst. One by one I would see them change from praying in the native Chinese dialects to another fluent language. If you are standing close, you can see the instant it happens, and more often than not, you will see them weep for they realized they met God. But the proof is not even the tongues you hear, but the power that comes on them to preach the Gospel and share their faith, pray for and heal the sick, and perform miracles.

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Category: Spirit, Spring 2014

About the Author: Dennis Balcombe knew he was called to be a missionary to China while he was a teenager, and was one of the first to enter the mainland when it opened to the West in the 1970s. He founded Revival Christian Church in Hong Kong in 1969 and continues to plant churches, travelling and ministering in China and internationally. He shares his story in One Journey, One Nation: Autobiography of Dennis Balcombe, Missionary to China (2011) and he is the author of China's Opening Door: Incredible Stories of the Holy Spirit at Work in One of the Greatest Revivals in Christianity (Charisma House, 2014). Revival Chinese Ministries International

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