Charismatic and Reformed
I represent a growing segment of charismatics who have embraced reformed theology, but maintain a non-cessationist view regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I have at times felt left out on the fringes of both “camps.” Nevertheless, with strong convictions based upon the Scriptures, I continue to hold fast to both reformed theology and the charismatic gifts, in spite of being regarded as an oddity by some.
Allow me to say from the very beginning, that I am greatly troubled by much of what I have seen over the years within the so-called “charismatic movement.” I have witnessed an emphasis on subjective experiences (dreams, visions, etc.), an unbiblical approach to faith and prosperity, false “prophecies,” the abuse of Scripture, and a variety of “excesses” in the name of the Holy Spirit. I fully understand the reaction of many of my reformed brothers and sisters toward such activity, and find myself sympathetic toward their rejection of the charismata. As a result, I generally shy away from using the term “charismatic” in describing myself, or the church that I pastor. The connotations of that word, in the minds of many Bible-believing Christians, are something I prefer to distance myself from.
I believe that all experiences, prophecies, visions, etc. must be judged by the Scriptures which is the final authority on all matters (II Peter 1:16-21). I believe that much of what passes itself off as “manifestations of the Spirit” are in reality emotionalism and the “flesh.” I am extremely uncomfortable with the “showmanship” I see in many ministries. In addition, I am appalled by the way some have raised money through the exploiting of “signs, wonders and miracles.”
Nevertheless, based upon my study of Scripture, I find that I cannot deny the continuation of the spiritual gifts beyond the apostolic era. This would include speaking in tongues, prophecy, and healing. I find no justification Biblically for the idea that these things ceased when the last apostle died, or the canon of Scripture was completed. On the contrary, I find the Bible affirming just the opposite. I find Luke presenting the empowerment of the Church on the day of Pentecost as a normative experience (Acts 2:39). I find Matthew, and the other Gospel writers, presenting the miracle-working ministry of Jesus as a model for His disciples. I find Paul presenting the gifts of the Spirit as essential for the Church (I Cor. 12:1-31).
Neither do I find evidence in Church history to validate the notion that these gifts came to an end. There has been what might be described as a “waxing and waning” of these gifts throughout the history of the Church, but within virtually every tradition, and every age, there have been testimonials regarding prophecies, healings, and supernatural manifestations. For instance, the early church fathers provide ample evidence that gifts such as prophecy and miracles continued into the second and third centuries, though not to the extent that they were seen in the first century. If the testimonies of godly men and women are to be believed, we find an abundance of stories attesting to the miraculous down through the ages. Let me add that the Reformed faith is certainly not without such witnesses.
John Knox, for example, on several occasions prophesied future events. John Howie in his historical account The Scots Worthies records:
“John Knox was an eminent wrestler with God in prayer . . . He was likewise warm and empathetic in his preaching, in which such prophetical expressions as dropped from him had the most remarkable accomplishment. As an instance of this, when he was confined in the castle of St. Andrews, he foretold both the manner of their surrender, and their deliverance from the French galleys. . .”
This is only one of several such incidents. Mr. Thomas Smeaton, one of Knox’s contemporaries, stated: “I know not if God ever placed a more godly and great spirit in a body so little and frail. I am certain, that there can scarcely be found another in whom more gifts of the Holy Ghost, for the comfort of the Church of Scotland, did shine.”
In recent times there have been a number of theologians and scholars who would be classified as reformed, yet affirm belief in the perpetuity of the spiritual gifts. John Piper and Wayne Grudem are two such men. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, a leading spokesman for reformed theology in the 20th century, held such a view.
My desire is to see the gifts of the Holy Spirit function within the context of sound theology. I have seen the Pentecostal/Charismatic “circuses” and want no part of it. I have also witnessed the “dry, lifelessness” of some reformed churches that are theologically sound, but void of any spiritual dynamic. I believe that when the heat of the charismatics meets with the light of reformed theology, the fire that will be produced will cause an unbelieving world to take notice. It will be a modern reformation.
[ This originally appeared in Modern Reformation magazine - May/June 2002 issue ]