Question: In John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference, the speakers make a big deal of what superb interpreters of the Scriptures John Calvin and others who followed his teachings were. How does that fit with the fact that many of the Reformers continued to hold some Roman Catholic beliefs and practices?
Response: It doesn’t. Every believer is accountable for the way in which he understands the Bible. No system of man, whether Calvinist or otherwise, gives anyone special insights. It comes down to exegesis or eisegesis, the former having to do with objectively discerning from the text what God is communicating. The latter is when a person subjectively imposes his own ideas upon the text of Scripture without regard to its context or other rules of hermeneutics.
I noted in this month’s article that men such as Augustine and Calvin used Luke:14:23 to justify their use of coercion, punishment, and even death in dealing with those whom they believed to be heretics. Augustine reasoned, “Why therefore should not the Church use force in compelling her lost sons to return?... The Lord Himself said, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in....’ Wherefore is the power which the Church has received...through the religious character and faith of kings...the instrument by which those who are found in the highways and hedges—that is, in heresies and schisms—are compelled to come in, and let them not find fault with being compelled.” (E. H. Broadbent, The Pilgrim Church [Port Colborne, ON: Gospel Folio Press, reprint 1999], 49.)
That is a clear case of eisegesis as Augustine imposed his view on Scripture with complete disregard to its context. John MacArthur does the same in his interpretation of the “widow’s mite” in Luke 21: “I don’t know what you have been taught about that story of the widow giving her last two cents—that was not an example of Christian giving. God doesn’t expect you to give your last two cents and go home and die. That’s what happens to a widow who is succored by a religion of works. She was trying to buy with her last two cents her way into the Kingdom because that’s what she had been taught. And Jesus says, ‘Any system that sucks people down to the place where they have nothing left in a false hope is coming down.’ And it did.” (www.gty.org/resources/sermons/TM13-6/testing-the-spirits-john-macarthur)
Then there’s the confusion of Calvinists being consistent with 5-point Calvinism, and especially the denial of free will and predestination. John MacArthur is lauded at the Strange Fire Conference as one of “a host of gifted [Calvinist] teachers,” and one of the influential Reformed “standard bearers” of this generation. Nevertheless, he declares that choice is involved: “Anyone who will not confess Jesus as Lord cannot be saved. But the shock is, there are people who will confess Jesus as Lord who are not saved. They will profess Jesus as Lord loudly and repeatedly on their way to hell. This invitation at the end of the Sermon on the Mount forces anyone and everyone who reads to choose. It’s a very sharply defined contrast between false faith and true faith; non-saving faith and saving faith. Two paths, two ways and it’s still the choice.” (emphasis added)