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Reformed and Charismatic?

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Thanks for the healthy debate and interaction on the previous post. Obviously, those who believe that miraculous prophecy continues after the apostolic age should not be lumped together with radical movements like the New Apostolic Reformation.  Nevertheless, it does provide an occasion to think carefully about the compatibility of Reformation theology with Charismatic emphases.  This is especially the case when there have been renewed calls for a "Reformed Charismatic" synthesis in our own circles.

I’ve never been willing to die on the hill of cessationism: that is, the belief that the miraculous gifts such as prophecy, healing, and tongues have ceased.  I’m still not.  Nevertheless, I am convinced that non-cessationism is neither exegetically sound nor historically compatible with Reformed theology. Furthermore, the surprisingly widespread popularity of more radical views of ongoing sign-gifts, coupled with political ambition, pushes me into the unpleasant position of challenging the views even of far sounder brothers with whom I agree on so many important points.

As a Charismatic Calvinist, Wayne Grudem has been used by God to bring the doctrines of grace to many who would likely not have encountered these truths otherwise.  I have immense respect for his clear defense of many cardinal doctrines of Christianity.  At the same time, the Calvinism-Charismatic bridge goes in both directions and his view of continuing prophecy has contributed to a curious hybrid that in my view cannot survive in the long run.  Reformed theology is a system—not one imposed on Scripture, but one that arises from the self-consistent Word of God.

Mark Driscoll, a student of Grudem’s, has recently claimed to have regular visions of the sinful—usually sexual—behavior of people he encounters. “I see things,” he says, although the gift he describes is nowhere exhibited even in the apostolic era.  Also posted on his Mars Hill website is a critique of cessationism as “modernistic worldliness,” lumping this view with deism and atheism.  “Functional cessationism is really about the mind, but functional charismatic theology is really about the heart.”  He concludes with a plea: “…you Reformed guys, especially you who are more Presbyterian, you tend to ignore the Holy Spirit and attribute everything the Spirit does to the gospel.” Sovereign Grace Ministries, led until recently by C. J. Mahaney, has also followed Grudem’s path toward a synthesis of Calvinistic and Charismatic emphases.

There is much to admire in these men and their labors.  I am not targeting these friends and brothers, but pleading with them—and with all of us—to rediscover the ordinary means of grace, ordinary ministry, ordinary offices, and to long for a genuine revival: that is, a surprising blessing of God on his ordinary ministry in our day. The false choice between head and heart, the Spirit and the Word, has been a perennial polemic of the radical wing of Protestantism.  Mark Driscoll’s plea above reveals that dangerous separation of the Spirit from his Word.  Only by assuming such a cleavage can one argue that Reformed theology ignores the Holy Spirit.

We have had enough “apostles,” “prophets,” and “Moses-model” leaders who build ministries around their own gifts.  We need to recover the beauty of Christ alone upon his throne as the Priest-King of his church, exercising his ministry by his Spirit through preaching, sacrament, and discipline in mutually accountable communion with the wider body of Christ.  Reformed theology is not just the “five points” and “sovereign grace,” but a rich, full, and systematic confession.  It’s a human and therefore fallible attempt to wrestle with the whole counsel of God—in both doctrine and practice, soteriology and ecclesiology.  Until we rediscover this richness, “Reformed” will mean “whatever my leader or circle believes.”

Of course, the biblical case that must be made cannot be made well in this brief space.  However, I’ll focus on the question of whether the gifts of prophet and apostle have ceased.  In Ephesians 4:7-16, the apostle says that offices prophets and apostles as well as pastors, teachers, and evangelists are gifts of his heavenly ascension.

Against both Rome and the radical Anabaptists, the Reformers argued that prophet and apostle are extraordinary offices, for a foundation-laying era.  They are sent at key moments in redemptive history, and their writings are added to the canon of Scripture.  Like the distinction between a nation’s constitution and its courts, the biblical canon is qualitatively distinct from ecclesiastical interpretation.  The former is magisterial (normative), while the latter is ministerial (interpretive).

Particularly in the wake of the Pentecostal and charismatic movements, this question has divided Christians into two camps: cessationists (believing that the gifts of healing, prophecy, and tongues have ceased) and non-cessationists.  Non-cessationists find no exegetical reason to distinguish some of these gifts and offices from others in terms of their perpetuity.  However, cessationists hold that the New Testament itself makes a distinction between the foundation-laying era of the apostles and the era of building the church on their completed foundation (1 Cor 3:10-11).  Although the New Testament establishes the offices of pastors/teachers, elders, and deacons, it does not establish perpetual prophetic or apostolic offices with their attendant sign-gifts.  With this in mind, we must examine each gift in question.

Paul treats prophecy (prophēteia) as preaching, which although illumined by the Spirit is (unlike the scriptures) un-inspired and therefore must be tested (1 Cor 12:29; 1 Thes 5:19-21).  At Pentecost, the gift of tongues was a Spirit-given ability to proclaim the gospel in languages that one had not been taught.  The diverse crowd of visitors to Jerusalem for the feast asked, “And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?” (Ac 2:8).  We should therefore understand “tongues” as synonymous with natural languages, which some were miraculously gifted to speak and others to interpret.  This served not only as a sign that Christ’s universal kingdom has dawned but as a practical way of disseminating the gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.  None of these gifts was given for the personal edification of believers alone, but for the spread of the gospel and the maturity of the saints in that Word.

Similarly, the gift of healing was a sign that Christ’s kingdom had arrived, bringing a preview of the consummation in all of its fullness at the end of the age.  Yet signs always cluster in the Bible around significant turning-points in redemptive history.  Like the temporary prophesying of the elders in Moses’ day, the extraordinary gifts of signs and wonders are given to validate the sacred ministry of human ambassadors.  Once that ministry is validated, it no longer requires further confirmation.  (For an excellent treatment of this topic, see Richard B. Gaffin, Jr., Perspectives on Pentecost  (P & R, 1979), especially 94-95, in relation to Wayne Grudem’s contention that “prophets and apostles” in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 refer to the same group.) It would seem, then, that the gift of prophets and apostles (along with the gifts of miracles, prophecy, and tongues) was given but fulfilled its foundation-laying function.  Just as Paul’s understudy Timothy is an ordinary minister, we find no evidence that his ministry was attended by extraordinary signs and wonders.

Some theologians, such as Wayne Grudem, recognize that the office of apostle has ceased, but are “unsure if this question” of the cessation of spiritual gifts “can be decided from Scripture.” [This and following Gruden quotes from his Systematic Theology, 906-912, 1031; cf. Wayne Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament Today (Westchester, IL: Crossway, 1988), 226-252.]

With Grudem I agree that 1 Corinthians 13:8-13, which speaks of prophecies and tongues passing away “when the perfect comes,” is inconclusive.  Paul is most likely referring to the consummation, when there will be no need for faith and hope and all that will endure into eternity is love (v 13).

However, I do not find Grudem’s case for continuing prophecy persuasive.  He clearly distinguishes prophecy today from the prophecy that delivered the sacred oracles of Holy Scripture.  This is both the strength and the weakness of his position.  Grudem believes that the kind of prophecy that is ongoing in the church is distinguished from preaching and teaching by being “a spontaneous ‘revelation’ from God….” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1058)
So the distinction is quite clear: if a message is the result of conscious reflection on the text of Scripture, containing interpretation of the text and application to life, then it is (in New Testament terms) a teaching.  But if a message is the report of something God brings suddenly to mind, then it is a prophecy. (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 1058)

In my view, this interpretation introduces a definition of prophecy that is not consistent with its practice in the apostolic church.  Nowhere is prophecy distinguished by its spontaneous quality.  Furthermore, in spite of his salutary caution against raising such prophecies to the level of Scripture, this interpretation still raises the question as to whether the Spirit issues new revelations that are not already communicated in Scripture.  If prophecy is defined simply as Spirit-given insight into Scripture, then is this not synonymous with preaching?

Today, the Spirit validates this ordinary ministry of the gospel through preaching and sacrament: the signs and wonders that Christ instituted to confirm his Word.  If it is true that the apostles understood their work to be an extraordinary ministry of foundation-laying and their miraculous signs as its validation, then “no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ….If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward” (1 Cor 3:11, 14, emphasis added).

While living stones are continually being added to the temple, the edifice itself is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone” (Eph 2:20).  As the person and work of the head is distinct from that of its members, the foundation-laying ministry of the apostles is different from the “up-building” ministry of their successors.

Where apostolic preaching became Scripture, our proclamation, faith, and practice stand in continuity with the apostles to the extent that they conform to that rule. To understand Scripture as canon, within its Ancient Near Eastern treaty background, is to recognize that, like the redemptive work to which it testifies, it cannot be revised by addition or subtraction (Dt 4:2; Rev 22:18-19).  While interpretations are always subject to change, the constitution has been given once and for all.

Similarly, the canon that witnesses to Jesus is the covenant that he ratified in his self-sacrifice.  In its appeal to this canon and its practice of its stipulated rites, the church participates in the heavenly reality as servant rather than Lord of the covenant.  Just as Jesus-history is qualitatively distinct from our own, the apostolic canon is qualitatively distinct from the subsequent tradition (or preaching) that interprets it.  One is magisterial, the other ministerial.  Just as the church does not extend or complete the work of redemption but receives, interprets, and proclaims it, the church does not extent or complete revelation.  The interim between Christ’s advents is not an era of writing new chapters in the history of redemption.  Rather, it is a period in which the Spirit equips us for the mission between Acts and the Apocalypse—right in the middle of the era of the ordinary ministry with its new covenant canon.  Just as the church cannot extend the incarnation or complete Christ’s atoning work, it cannot repeat Pentecost or prolong the extraordinary ministry of the apostles, but must instead receive this same word and Spirit for its ordinary ministry in this time between the times.
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  • Sean,

    In the main, I agree biblically and exegetically with you, and it appears Jonathan Edwards; and that would be St. Paul also! :) And as I have said, we who believe in cessation, by a biblical degree, surely too believe in God's "charisma", which is in "Spirit and truth", in the Logos and Rhema of God. I think here too it would be a good place to insert the truth and reality of Christ incarnate still somehow in His visible & historical Church. But this Church is always a pilgrim body on earth and in this life. Again, this is part of St. Paul's stewardship of the Mystery, as we see in Ephesians chapters 2 & 3, etc.

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  • Guest - Alisdair Smith

    Sean, are you not being inconsistant with the way you're arguing there?

    Surely you can't dismiss "when the perfect comes" being a reference to Christ because knowledge won't cease when Christ returns and then, in the same breath, turn around and argue that "when the perfect comes" refers to the closing of the canon? Doesn't your own logic blows up your own position? After all, using your same logic, knowledge clearly did not cease when the canon was closed either. :-)

    If you're going to use that argument against a non-cessasionist position, then it's got to be logically consistant with your alternative yet it doesn't support your view either. As we all know, "inconsistency is the sign of a failed argument." :-)

    The "knowledge" that's being talked about in 1 Cor 13:8 is clearly referring to the "knowledge" that's being described back in the previous chapter at 1 Cor 12:8. I don't think what it's talking about there is general knowledge (in terms of intelligence, etc) I think it's more helpful to understand it in terms of knowledge of God (i.e. in terms of certainty of his existence that we come to experience after being born again.) Before Christ returns, we only have partial knowledge of God which is revealed to us in different amounts at the grace of God (v9 "For we know in part.."). However when Christ does return, that partial knowledge passes away as we will all have fuller knowledge as His glory is revealed to all.

    But then again, what do I know, I'm just a mere pup in Christian terms.

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  • @Alisdair I don't see how I'm being inconsistent, but I think you're right in referencing 1 Cor. 12:8 because I think that is how we should understand the use of the word "gnosis" in 13:8. Knowledge in this sense is a "message of knowledge" revealed by the Spirit. Such revelatory knowledge will cease when the perfect thing or completed thing comes; i.e., the complete and closed canon. It doesn't follow that new revelatory knowledge won't resume when Christ returns at the Parousia, which is why that interpretation fails. God has spoken and has revealed his mind to us in Scripture which is now closed and has been with the passing of the last Apostle. Which is why Jesus warns us in Matthew 24:

    "Then if anyone says to you, 'Behold, here is the Christ,' 'There He is,' do not believe him. For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance."

    Constantly Charismatics claim to speak new words of God which they claim was given to them by the Holy Spirit, but Jesus tells us not to believe them. So who do you want to believe, Jesus or Mark Discoll?

    Also, let me ask, do you believe that the canon is closed? If yes, then if God continues to reveal himself in messages of knowledge revealed by the Spirit to men today then wouldn't it be more accurate to say that canon is not closed?

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  • Guest - John

    Hi Sean,
    So, to take your approach, you're saying knowledge already ceased with the close of the canon? Right? Did it? It certainly makes more sense to say that "knowledge" and talking will cease with Christ than it would be to say they ceased with the canon, as would be necessary if you applied your reasoning to your own argument. You'll find that the absurdity of your reasoning arises from the untenability of your position. If you restricted yourself to doctrines actually taught in the Bible, you won't find yourself making such ludicrous statements. And you wouldn't be arguing for cessationism.

    "The perfect" is someone we see "face to face", how do we see the canon face to face? Also, the perfect is someone who will "fully" know us (1 Cor. 13:8ff). How can the canon fully know us? Also, when the perfect comes, then we will fully know? If we fully knew now, we wouldn't be having this disagreement. The argument from the gender of the word only works on people who don't know Greek. "Parousia" is a feminine word. So who is it referring to? Mary?

    The Lord Jesus did not tell us not to believe any prophetic message. He told us not to believe false ones. The very fact that He didn't issue a blanket statement warning against all prophetic gifts suggests that some kind of prophetic gift continues.

    As for Edwards, he was a defender of experiences with the Spirit. The Puritans before him believed in the possibility of visions from God.

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  • Indeed, the essence of "knowledge" in the text of 1 Cor. 13:8, is that this kind of "knowledge" will come to an end! I agree with Sean. And the "perfect" is "when completion" comes. It seems to be some kind of contrast of childlike or childhood and adulthood, with verses 11 and 12. But too we should note in 2 Cor. 3:17-18, that there is full freedom, and yet still we are "being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, which is from the Lord, who is the Spirit." This whole reality here is the Lord and the Spirit. And for us now, it is the fulness of the NT text and revelation! There can really be no other!

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  • Even if there are sign-gifts still, and other so-called miracles, of which we can but give supposition generally, the ascendancy is both Christ above, and the Spirit here with and in us now, but through the Canon of the whole of the Holy and Sacred Scripture! And we must not forget the historic yet pilgrim Church. We are always turned toward the Lordship of Christ! We must not get lost looking at the trees rather than the forest. The bigger picture is always Christ, the Spirit.. and the Church!

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  • Guest - John

    Hi, Actually there's no category in scripture of "sign gifts". That's a category foisted onto the list of the gifts of the Spirit (likely be cessationists) to isolate the ones they arbitrarily have decided have ceased.
    But, I agree, "The bigger picture is always Christ, the Spirit.. and the Church!" And Christ has given us His Word (the Prophets and Apostles) who tell us of the gifts of the Spirit, which He's given to build up the church. The Word tells us to encourage the on-going use of all the gifts, especially those that build up the church.

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  • First, if my position is as untenable as you claim then it should be easy to demonstrate instead of merely asserting that it is. Second, you ask “How can the canon fully know us?” Paul is using figures of speech. James uses similar image of Scripture as a mirror in James 1:23,24; “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.” Paul is talking about seeing us fully in the light of Scripture and not just in light of portions of Scripture which is all Paul’s audience had since the canon had still not been completed at the time of his writing.

    You claim the Lord “tell us not to believe any prophetic message. He told us not to believe false ones.” Actually, that's not what the passage says. But, and for the sake of argument, how do you know true prophetic messages from false ones?

    Charismatics generally claim that all prophecies are to be tested by the Word. The problem with this is that there are many so-called "prophetic" words that cannot be tested, in the sense that they don't necessarily contradict Scripture. For example, not long ago I heard a preacher who is frequently on TBN claim that the Holy Spirit told him that in order for people to get the "full blessing" (whatever that is) they needed to give $759.65 to his ministry (I don't recall if that was the exact amount, but it was exact to the penny and it was in the hundreds of dollars). Of course, he assured his listeners that if people give something less they would get a "partial blessing" Now, did the Spirit really tell this man this? What if people gave the full amount (I tried to call but the lines were busy so I’m assuming some were in fact giving) and did claim to have received the “full blessing”? Or, if they gave less, claimed to be be blessed nonetheless? Was the preacher telling the truth when he claimed the HS told him to ask people for $759.65? Do we really need to be agnostic about such things?

    But what about Driscoll saying he "sees things" and then goes on to describe early sexual abuse in someone he is counseling that turns out to be correct. He even tells of seeing an adulteress' sex partner, right down to the color of the guy's hair, height, and the sex act they performed. Of course none of this can be tested against Scripture. Does the fact that it turned out to be correct mean it was the Holy Spirit that revealed these things to Driscoll? Why couldn't it have been one of those demons he's on speaking terms with? How is Driscoll in his counseling sessions any different from the TBN preacher who claims to have been told to request a specific dollar amount in order for people to receive their "full blessing"?

    The only test I can think of is that Driscoll is stretching the meaning biblical discernment. IMO what he represents is quite the reverse. How do Charismatics propose we're to test these? Do they say if Driscoll turns out to be in error, even once, that he should be killed per Deu 18:20? In my experience they just shrug it off as if he one speaking in the name of God had just made small error, *even though they claimed to be speaking the word of the Holy Spirit.*

    So, my question is what is the test in these kinds of situations? Why believe Driscoll and not Mr. TBN? Or, do you just believe both and write a check?

    As for Edwards, indeed he did think the awakening was, at least initially, a work of the Spirit until later on when he started to question some of these “conversions” and decided to gate the Supper. He then found himself kicked out of his own church by these so-called new “converts.” He came to see that the “state of religion” in New England was worse after the so-called “awakening” than it was before it. So, Edwards is not the champion of your cause as you suppose.

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  • Sean, so when John says that when we see Him we will be like HIm, he is using a metaphor? There are too many Scriptures about seeing God face to face to support your metaphor conclusion.

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  • @Scott. What passage in John are you referring to? There is no "Him" in the Corinthians passage. There is, however, and as previously mentioned, an it.

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