What is a Reformed Charismatic?

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I would like to think that I am a Reformed Charismatic but I wonder what that means. So, here’s one attempt to clarify the convictions of a Christ-follower who believes that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and that John Calvin had a pretty good understanding of the apostle Paul.

What is a Reformed Charismatic? First and foremost, a Reformed Charismatic is that person who seeks to harmonize the dominant convictions of the Reformed faith, as articulated by people like John Calvin, with those of Pentecostals like the outstanding New Testament scholar Gordon Fee. In particular, the Reformed Charismatic affirms the conviction of the Pentecostal tradition that the Holy Spirit may choose and often does work today as the Spirit worked in the first century. He or she also affirms several convictions of the Calvinist tradition, including the belief that regeneration precedes faith, that when a person receives the Spirit he or she receives all of the Spirit (there is no second baptism of the Holy Spirit), and that, while Christians have been born again, they remain sinners.

With that in mind, here’s one attempt to describe a Reformed Charismatic.

  1. As a Reformed Christian, I affirm the sovereignty of God the Spirit and believe that the Holy Spirit may work as the Spirit desire and may do so in ways well beyond my comprehension. Hence, I can’t limit the Spirit by putting the Spirit in a box, nor can I develop a full-proof scheme to experience the fullness of the Holy Spirit.
     
  2. As Reformed Charismatic, I acknowledge that I am a sinning saint who, as a sinner, loves to control the way God works. For that reasons I tend to limit the work of the Holy Spirit to ways that fit within my scheme. Hence, I admit that the Holy Spirit I worship is often an idol that I have shaped with my own hands, heart, and mind.
     
  3. As a Reformed Charismatic, I believe that regeneration precedes faith and that when we receive the Holy Spirit we receive all of the Spirit. Still, I acknowledge that there is an ebb and flow to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life. At times I hinder the Spirit; at times I long to be filled with the Spirit; at times I experience that filling.
     
  4. As a Reformed Charismatic, I believe that the ministry of the Holy Spirit in my life represents God’s grace and, hence, I relish the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. Without the Spirit, I am helpless in my attempts to follow the Lord. Without the Spirit, I can’t even hold on to my faith. For those reasons and more, I long to experience the fullness of the Spirit in both my life and in that of my congregation.
     
  5. And here is perhaps the most distinctive conviction I hold as a Reformed Charismatic: I am a sinning saint who still wrestles with sin. Hence, I don’t trust the voice within me. o here’s my dilemma. I hear many Christians say things like “Last night, while I was out for a walk, the Lord spoke to me and told me I should ....” My response to that is “How do you know it was the Lord speaking to you?” How can you be so convinced that it was NOT your pride speaking to you? How do you know that you are not simply telling yourself what you want to hear?

Now, I believe the Holy Spirit can work however the Spirit desires and can speak to individual Christ-followers in ways beyond my comprehension. Having said that, I prefer that the Spirit speak to me from outside of me. I am more confident that I have received a “Word from the Lord” when that word comes through, first and foremost, the Scriptures, and then, as long as the following are consistent with the Scriptures, through a sermon, through the word of a mentor, through the word of the prophet, through an elder, through any other means except the voice within me.

Perhaps there are others like me who would like the best of both Calvinism and Pentecostalism. Does this make sense? What am I missing here?  

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Hi Sam,  I greatly appreciate your posting.  For more than 36 years I've been a "Reformed Charismatic" as you describe.  Just finished a year-long preaching series on I Corinthians and, yes, Gordon D. Fee is one of my "go to" theologians.  I especially appreciate his strong and balanced affirmation of all the gifts of the Sprit coupled with his biblically supported clear rejection of "subsequentalism" (i.e., Fee's term for the classic Pentecostal doctrine of a two-phased initiation into the life and ministry of the Holy Spirit.  This is something often lacking in certain renewal groups that go under the Banner of Reformed.  I whole-heartedly affirm God's sovereignty and His freedom to reveal his will/leading in ways often incomprehensible but not thereby irrational or unreliable.  I have written a brief guildeline on" How to Hear God without Getting Goofy" on my journal website:  http://www.christianstraininglog.com.  Ignore the merchandise and click on articles.  Friends have affirmed the article has been very helpful to them.  http://www.christianstraininglog.com/resources/guidance.html  Sincerely in the Savior,  Neil Culbertson, Pastor

Contributor

Thanks for your kind words and for the reference.  I checked it out. Good stuff.    And I affirm your appreciation for Gordon Fee.  I don't know of a better NT theologian in the Pentecostal tradition.  I will have to go back to his work and read up on "subsequentalism."

I don't know if you are familiar with Sovereign Grace Ministries, but their 'claim to fame' is being 5-point Charismatic Calvinists.  They are a loose federation of 70 -80 churches, mostly along the east coast, who claim C.J. Mahanay as their organizing founder.  I only know about this because my daughter became involved in one of their churches in North Carolina a few years ago.  We've worshipped there on occasion and had a meaningful, inspirational time with these thoroughly Reformed brothers and sisters in Christ.  They do about 50 minutes of energetic worship and praise, with some words of prophesy and knowledge springled in.  Then they move into a 50 minute expository sermon.  In addition, they are missional -- focusing on reaching the lost by planting churches.  What a wonderful combination!

 

Contributor

With you, I appreciate the ministry of Sovereign Grace Ministries and its founder C.J. Mahanay.  They do some good work and also produce some pretty good music for congregational worship.  Now sure I could handle fifty minutes of singing, followed by 50 minute sermon, but it would be fun to try! 

If for no other reason than that I came out of the charismatic renewal movement of the 70s, I do wonder what Sam means by "charismatic." Is this only a matter of worship style, say? Are there other distinctive behaviors? In the 70s the charismatic emphasis, for instance, became one of the levers used on the women in office struggles, viz. that gifts are freely given and so must be honored. So what is meant by "Charismatic?"

Thanks for this piece, Sam!  On your last point about the Spirit and Scripture, I'll never forget how Henry Stob put it years ago when he was sitting in the seminary coffee shop with a group of us students.  Between puffs on his Salem menthol, he declared, "The Spirit always rides the back of Scripture."

Contributor

Great to "hear" from you, Duane. Love the quote from Henry Stob.  As a Reformed Christian, I am most comfortable when the Spirit speaks to me through Scripture. It is then that I know, without a doubt, that God is speaking to me (and that I am not just hearing what I want to hear.) Of course, the Scripture can come in several forms, including sermon, song and a variety of art forms. But here is my dilemma: in my lifetime God has spoken to me outside of the written Word or Scriptures: through a dream, through a prophet, through the exhortation of a friend, even through a stranger who once said "I have a word from the Lord for you."  Looking back, in each of those instances the word I received was consistent with the Scriptures, which is to say that they were Scriptural.  (Kind of like a sermon?)  So,  I would like to believe as a Reformed Charismatic that we can expect the Spirit to speak to us through meditation on the Scriptures, through a sermon, through the word of a prophet, through the inner voice, through whatever means the Spirit chooses. Then I would like to think that as Reformed Christians, ever conscious of our limitations, we would test the word to make sure it aligns with Scripture?  That it is Scriptural? Does this make sense?   

I was directed here by my colleague, Kathy Smith.  I'm glad to learn of another member of the "Reformed charismatic" tribe!  I would describe myself the same way.  Indeed, I sometimes tell friends that, in some sense, the CRC has been at least "officially" charismatic since the 1970s when Synod resisted cessationism and affirmed that all the gifts remain operative.  

I think one can imagine something like a "charismatic worldview" or a "pentecostal worldview" (small-p) which is not only entirely consistent with Reformed theology, but in fact an expression of fundamentally Reformed convictions.  This was something I tried to argue in a Christianity Today article a few years back, "Teaching a Calvinist to Dance."

I have also tried to articulate the resonance between Reformed and charismatic worldviews in my book, Thinking in Tongues: Pentecostal Contributions to Christian Philosophy (Eerdmans, 2010)--sort of Alvin Plantinga meets Gordon Fee.  There I try to unpack what I think are some of the basic, ecumenical elements of a charismatic worldview, along the lines that Sam has suggested here.  It's not just about tongues or healing or miracles--there's much more to it than that.

I think it is especially important for us to be having this conversation precisely because the explosion of Christianity in the majority world is charismatic Christianity.  Indeed, many of our global brothers and sisters in the Reformed churches would look quite "pentecostal" to those of us in staid, buttoned-down North America!.

May the tribe increase!

Contributor

James, so good to "hear" from you.  I read and appreciate your article "Teaching a Calvinist to Dance," and will order your "Thinking Tongues."   Fee meets Plantinga sounds like fun. 

Your post speaks to a reason why I am wrestling with this subject: I am part of an effort to plant a Reformed, charismatic and multi-ethnic or multi-cultural church. We hope to be a 21st century church for all tribes and nations.  We have been at it for over three years and have begun to experience what I call a "little bit of heaven on earth" as individuals from several tribes and nations gather weekly as a congregation. But, in the process of planting this congregation, we have learned that the glue that holds a diverse congregation together is the Holy Spirit. The shared experience of the gifts, fruit, work, and presence of the Spirit in our midst seems to trump other forms of congregational unity, such as doctrine, ethnicity and culture. Perhaps this explains why each of the multi-ethnic congregations in my geographical neck of the woods are either Pentecostal or Chariasmatic.

And, yes, may the tribe increase. 

Hey James KA Smith... I remember reading your article in 2008 or 2009 and contacting you back then, because the few "reformed charismatics" seemed to be fairly isolated, and so was thankful that i wasn't the only one, or so it seemed... 

just curious what you have experienced in the last 3 years since you wrote that article, but maybe I'll just have to get a copy of the thinking in tongues book.

One of the things that's on my heart, that when i re-read the dancing article, i was reminded of, is "high praise".   For some reason, which I have yet to discover the why of it, the niv omitted the adjective "high" which I understand was a very specific Hebrew word "rowmemah" in Ps. 149:6.   There are a few other instances where it seems the intensity was decreased in this translation, ie.  Jude 3 contend for the faith, vs. earnestly contend found in the NKJV... 

As someone pointed out, I think it was in one of these replies, we have been practically "binitarian' therefore minimizing"/quenching the Spirit.  I hope that finally, after 40  years of not embracing the Holy Spirit, even though we had confessionally refuted cessationism in 1973 (Thank God! we did at least do that), I hope and pray that  "now is the time of God's favor..."

Amen!!!  I did my independent research project while at Dordt College (1978/9) in an effort to develop a Biblically Reformed view of tongues speaking:  "Glossalalia: Between Laughter & Language,"   in which I apllied biblical exegetical work and used the analysis of Herman Dooyeweerd's modalities structures analysis.  It was not really taken too seriously at the time because skepticism of this phenomenon was still very high but it was tolerated.  I hope for this tribe to increase and am glad to hear ongoing evidence of it in the CRC.  I personally rejoiced when the CRCNA dropped the theology of cessationism.   

Sam, I really enjoyed your blog on being a Reformed Charismatic and I identify with your description. Since my conversion many years ago the Holy Spirit became such a reality for me. When Jesus promised to sent the "Paracleet" in Matt 16 he knew that with his assention the time for the Holy Spirit would commence. We live in the time of the Holy Spirit till Jesus return to fetch His bride. The Church as body of Christ should live within the grace of the "Charismata" of the Holy Spirit till that time.

Coming from South Africa I was somewhat shocked to see how little the people in CRC know about the work and the Person of the Holy Spirit. The Christology and the doctrine of God are well develop but the Pneumatology is almost non existend. In teaching the material of the Dunamis Project someone said the Holy Spirit is a bit "Spooky".

I am glad to hear that Synod in the 70's affirmed the existence of the
Charismata today.

Contributor

Your comments remind me of something Gordon Fee said during a lecture at Wheaton College a few years ago.  Standing before a large group of which the vast majority were self-identified Evangelicals, Fee boldly claimed that most Evangelicals are "Binitarians" not Trinitarians.  He then proved his point by identifying specific passages in the NIV Bible where the translators chose the translation "spiritual" over "Holy Spirit."   (I am thinking, for example, of the coming together for "psalms, hymns, and Holy Spirit songs.")

His lecture convicted me. As a Reformed Christian I am big on the sovereignty of God and the centrality of Christ - and so are our Reformed confessions.  But I asked myself, "Do I really expect the Holy Spirit to work in the church, in the world, in my life as the Spirit worked in the first century?  If not, why not?

So, makes me wonder what is in American culture that hinders American Christians from embracing the fullness of the Holy Spirit? Maybe it is time to ask brothers and sisters in other parts of the world to help us?.

Sam, I would like to know of these scriptures... do you have a link or document or something as a resource on this?  Thx. 

Hi Sam and all,

 

I, too, am thankful for your initiative in starting off this discussion.  I also appreciate the thoughtful responses, from others who are interacting in this conversation.  The give-and-take respectful tone of this discussion and the ringing affirmation of the controls of Scripture and the firm commitment to the central doctrines of biblical and Reformed teaching is testament to how far our denomination has grown in this area.  I, too, would indentify with your affirmations of the reality of the Holy Spirit's working in the church, the spiritual birthright of all Christians to, in keeping with their particular gifting , to "hear" God, i.e., in a range of Scripturally illustrated means to recognize God's leading and be led by the Spirit.  I fully expect to read some of the books referenced above.

Cordially in Christ,

 

Neil Culbertson, Pastor

Tacoma Christian Reformed Community Church

Sam,  Thanks for the great post!  I have to admit, I cringed just a wee bit when I read #5, and the last sentence about trusting a wide variety of sources "except the voice within me".  I understand the need for caution and absolutely agree that we should look for/expect affirmation and confirmation that comes from the Spirit in many ways.  However, I also know that we can learn to recognize God's voice in our lives, and grow in our discernment of his voice, among the others in our lives.  Even prophets, elders, mentors and sermons can be sinful, or off the mark.  Life in the Spirit is deep and mysterious, and I wouldn't want to put any box around how the Spirit moves, including saying "never through the voice in myself".  The evidence of a Spirit-filled life is always in the fruit.

There is a communal check-and-balance in a charismatic, Spirit-filled community: "The spirit of the prophets are subject to the prophets" (1 Cor. 14:32).  This is nicely capture in Thomas Gillespie's book, The First Theologians: A Study in Early Christian Prophecy (Eerdmans).  

This is one thing I struggle with, that there is no place/table, if you will, in the crc structure for the gift of prophecy to be tested/shared in a safe way.  I call this cessationist residue.   The council might be a place, but if you are a woman, and there are no women on the council, we are potentially missing 1/2 of the prophetic gifting available to the church.  This is totally separate from women in office.  It is about the prophetic gifting.

Contributor

Melissa, I sure appreciate your response. And as I re-read my blog I cringed a wee bit as well.

I am thinking, so as not to limit the work of the Holy Spirit in my own life, I need to find a way to get beyond the suspicion of the voice within me.  On one hand, I don't want to eliminate the suspicion. I find it healthy to ask myself "Is this hunch coming from the Lord or from something other than the Lord?" Perhaps the answer is through life in community? It is there that I can "test" the voice. It is there that I can share what I have heard with others so that they can confirm or challenge the message I have received. 

Thanks again!    

Contributor

Following on the last few points, I am thinking I could add a #6 to my original blog!  As a Reformed Charismatic, I believe that both the invidual Christian (I Cor 6:19) and the local body of believers (I Cor 3:16) are temples of the Holy Spirit.  And since it is the same Spirit who works in both, there will be harmony between the work of the Spirit in the individual and the work of the Spirit in community. The Spirit-filled church, then, may play an essential role in the life of the Spirit-filled individual. Or, as James just noted, there is a "check-and balance in a charismatic, Spirit-filled community."

As I write I am reminded that, on several occasions during my pastoral ministy individual members of my congregations have come to me seeking an explanation to their initial experience of speaking in tongues, an experience that came upon each one while praying privately to the Lord.  On each occasion, the person called nervous and confused, seeking a meeting with me sooner than later. On each occasion, I had the opportunity to discuss this particular spiritual gift with the one who had received it.

Looking back over those conversations within the context of this one, I find that they illustrate one way in which the Spirit-filled individual may test the Spirit within the context of community.

And, I have to say, that those conversations (or "divine appointments" as my Pentecostal friends would say) are some of my most treasured memories as a pastor to God's people.   

You could expand this point, or add another: the Spirit who inspires Scripture is the same Spirit who continues to speak today.  So the canon of Scripture is a "canon" (measuring stick) for the Spirit's further guiding us into all truth.  

Thanks for your thoughtful post, Sam.

I personally was never convinced of theological cessationism. However, I had a practical cessationism, in that I didn't opperate much in dependence on God working through me. Instead I thought it was my job to work for Him.

Didn't work and I got quite depressed.

Along the way, the Spirit made a massive appearance in my life at a revival event in Toronto (TACF - now Catch the Fire). It was totally unexpected, but had a wonderful transformation to my spiritual life, and my ministry.

After that event, I spent 3 months wondering if I could still, in good conscience, remain in the CRC. I studied the 1973 report (on neo-pentecostaliosm) again, along with everything that's said about the Holy Spirit in our confessions. I spoke with colleagues and friends and came to the conclusion that there was no need to leave the CRC at all, and that what had happened to me had been embraced by the CRC, with some caution, in that 73 report.

Several months later, in speaking with a Presbyterian friend, I learned about PRMI (Presbyterian Reformed Ministries International - prmi.org). This is an organization that is quite intentional about bringing together Reformed theology with an active Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered life. They have been very helpful to me theologically, and practically. You may have heard of them through one of their Dunamis events they sponsor across the US and Canada.

One very, very helpful distinction they make is between the Spirit within and the Spirit upon. It's helpful because it cuts through much of the confusion. The Spirit within is the indwelling Spirit who always remains and is at work on my sanctification and in producing the fruit of the Spirit in my life. The Spirit upon is the Spirit who empowers for ministry, unleashes His gifts, releases healing, etc. As we read through the Scriptures (particularly the gospels and Acts) the Spirit upon seems to come and, when the ministry is finished to 'lift.'

This distinction is helpful because it so closely parallels my personal experience, and probably yours. Sometimes, in ministry, we just seem to be 'in flow' with the Spirit. Words come out of our mouths and we're just a bit surprised at how smart we are -- exept we realize we are speaking out of our own league. God's Spirit is at work. This has happened to me in personal conversations, in counseling and in the pulpit. There is a powerful moment, and then it seems to pass. We can't repeat it, even if we try. The Spirit seems to have lifted.

Regarding hearing God speak to us, I think we, in the Reformed tradition have always believed that He does, not only through the Bible, and that second book of revelation, but also into the hearts of believers and into entire congregations. That's how our entire system and theology of 'calling' works.

As a Reformed Charismatic I cannot be a non-cessationist about all the gifts, except the gift of prophecy (and words of knowledge/wisdom, etc.). It's simiply theologically untennable, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us. In other words, we can't let our fear, nor misuse of the gift, disqualify the gift. In so doing we are taking authority over both the Scriptures that teach this gift and the Spirit who dispenses it. To do so would be even more outrageous than the misuses of the gift we have heard charicatured.

I understand the gift of prophecy in terms of 1Cor 14, where it is most fully explained. First, it is a gift, not an office (the office mentioned in Eph.4 is another matter entirely, IMHO), and as a gift comes to serve, not to exert authority. So no prophetic word uttered within this gift, should ever be taken as authoritative. Paul didn't think so, since he believed the whole church should discern whether what was said was really from God or not. The authority doesn't rest with the gift (nor with any gift). I teach folks to say "I hear the Lord say..." or "I think the Lord might be saying..." or "I just had this thought come to mind, and I wonder if it's the Lord..."  In other words, the gift of prophecy, as with all the gifts must be exercised in the context of humility and submission to the authority of the body and its officers.

Thanks for bringing up this topic. It's one that's very important to me.

Contributor

Thanks for the testimony, Richard.  Also, thanks for your distinction between the Spirit who works within us and the Spirit who works upon us. It sure seems to describe my experience.   

Contributor

Wow, a lively discussion!  As Jamie Smith pointed out many of those in officially Reformed or Presbyterian denominations overseas look quite charismatic to North American Reformed folk.  In addition, many of those who are in officially Pentecostal denominations are very open to the Reformed culture-shaping emphasis.  I got back on Thursday from a trip to Nicaragua where 30% of the population is Protestant and 80-90% of them are Pentecostal or Charismatic.  The Nicaraguan staff of the Nehemiah Center are actively engaging churches across this spectrum with the goal of discovering, encouraging, connecting and resourcing local leaders for community transformation.  It's an exciting ministry, sort of Gordon Fee meets Abraham Kuyper. 

Contributor

Sounds like Nicaragua is a great place to visit and worship and serve!

I agree!  These last few posts have been superb and very illuminating.  I find that the "in" compared with "upon" distinction rings true not only with my experience individually, but also have seen the same happen corporately when the church has been gathered on occasion.  No amount of effort can manipulate this, but there have been times when pronouncing the benediction such a tangible sense of God's presence descended upon the congregation that we just sat in reverent silence and sort of "soaked" in the moment.  I even had at one point to just acknowledge and give words to what we were all sensing.  And then we concluded and fellowshipped around coffee and cookies in the lobby.   

Contributor

Thanks to a steady stream of comments, here's what I have learned in the past few days:

First, I have discovered some new friends as well as great resources for continued study.

Second, I have been reminded that I am a Euro-American Reformed Charismatic which means I am a white guy who has a lot to learn about the Holy Spirit from Reformed Charismatics throughout the world and from Charismatics and Pentecostals in America.

Third, in my initial blog I neglectedg the communal aspect of the Holy Spirit's work in our lives (so typically American!). Hence, I needed to add a point, one which affirms the role of the Spirit-filled church in the life of the Spirit-filled individual. 

Fourth, I still don't trust my spiritual ears for I fear I will hear what I want to hear. So, I still think it good to exercise a "holy self-suspicion" when "hearing" the word of the Lord. This exercise prompts me to test the voice within against the voice of the Scriptures for, as noted above, the Spirit who inspires the Scriptures is the same Spirit who speaks today. It also encourages me to test the voice within against the context of the Christian community (The same Spirit who speaks to me speaks to you; the same Spirit who speaks to me speaks to us).  

Fifth, since the Holy Spirit works in ways beyond my comprehension, I am sure I am not done learning about the Holy Spirit or experiencing the Spirit's blessing in my life, in the church, and in the world.   

Sam,

I don't understand why Reformed Christians can't embrace their emotions as they express their faith. There are times I come to tears when partaking in the Lord's Supper or when singing His praises in worship. What I sense you doing is apologizing for what has been preceived as a lack of the "burning heart" in reformed Christians that Jesus' desciples experienced after they walked with Him on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24: "Were not our hearts burning within us while He was speaking to us on the road...?” We 24        ddddhy were their hearts burning? Because, "...He was explaining the Scriptures to us?”

 Jesus explained the problem quite clearly, "O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! " Perhaps we need to do just that, "believe in all that the prophets have spoken"  and stop picking and choosing what we wish to believe or what suits us. Perhaps the loss of belief in the innerrancy of the Scriptures is the problem! Perhaps the CRC should return to belonging to NAPARC (the National Association of Protestant and Reformed Congregations) and stop drifting towards Pentecostalism.

(Quick intro: I'm from an Anglican background, with early conservative evangelical roots (almost Calvinistic in some respects), later broadening both towards the charismatic side of things (although never having spoken in tongues) and the "high" Anglo-Catholic respect for corporate liturgy.  Quite a mongrel mixture.)

A couple of points which might assist thinking:

1) Evangelical traditions can lead us to an implicit individualism.  (Emphasis on "me and my individual salvation".  "You (singular) must use your (singular) gifts".  Both OK, but both only show part of the whole.)  We often lose sight that it is the church, corporate, which is the bride of Christ.  While the gospels are full of individual encounters, there is also a strong strand of the community of faith being built up, leading to the Upper Room (corporate), Gethsemane (still corporate), the crucifixion ("woman, behold your son"), and various resurrection appearances.  And Paul's letters to the churches are packed full of the corporate.  (As, of course is the brilliant book of James (I disagree with Luther's "book of straw" slur!) and the letters to the seven churches of Revelation.)

2) Denominations such as Anglicanism have a touchstone of "scripture, tradition and reason".  Scripture: already discussed above.  Tradition: the received wisdom of the church down the centuries, and so a useful long timebase guard against being blown too far off course by today's possibly fleeting fads and fancies.  (Also, for instance, while the doctrine of the Trinity is not "up front obvious" from scripture, nevertheless our combined Orthodox/Catholic/Protestant "tradition" has developed and accepted it.)  Reason: the recognition that our capacity to think and interpret is a valid part of our discipleship.  (St. Paul was no slouch in academic fields!)  And it also appears to me that all three (scripture, tradition, reason) bear the hallmarks of individuals working in community.

Trusting everything "except the voice within me" (your "holy self-suspicion") actually sounds reassuring to me!  On the one hand, we are open to the possibility of God speaking to us directly because of his grace (undeserved gift, etc.).  On the other hand we are aware of the weakness of our own human nature: "The heart is deceitful above all things", etc.  (Here comes the "scripture, tradition, reason".)  We test it against scripture; we measure it up against the long-term received wisdom of our tradition (denomination, etc.); we employ the gift of thinking about all this (reason) as we try to work it out.  (Here comes the community.)  Additionally we recognise that although the experience might be personal, we are still part of the wider community, the church, and the church helps us explore the charismatic gifts and experiences through their discernment of scripture, tradition and reason.

We trust, through the baptismal convenant into his church, that God is at work "within" us always (we are still in our state of sin, yet simultaneously in the saving grace of the Son through the Spirit).  We can also trust that he can, from time to time, be "upon" us.  And we can be sure that, because he gives us each very different gifts, that our own experiences of the "upon-ness", which he gives to us, will be very different from each other, yet this all works together for the good of the church, and of the church's mission into the world around us...

(Quick intro: I'm from an Anglican background, with early conservative evangelical roots (almost Calvinistic in some respects), later broadening both towards the charismatic side of things (although never having spoken in tongues) and the "high" Anglo-Catholic respect for corporate liturgy.  Quite a mongrel mixture.)

A couple of points which might assist thinking:

1) Evangelical traditions can lead us to an implicit individualism.  (Emphasis on "me and my individual salvation".  "You (singular) must use your (singular) gifts".  Both OK, but both only show part of the whole.)  We often lose sight that it is the church, corporate, which is the bride of Christ.  While the gospels are full of individual encounters, there is also a strong strand of the community of faith being built up, leading to the Upper Room (corporate), Gethsemane (still corporate), the crucifixion ("woman, behold your son"), and various resurrection appearances.  And Paul's letters to the churches are packed full of the corporate.  (As, of course is the brilliant book of James (I disagree with Luther's "book of straw" slur!) and the letters to the seven churches of Revelation.)

2) Denominations such as Anglicanism have a touchstone of "scripture, tradition and reason".  Scripture: already discussed above.  Tradition: the received wisdom of the church down the centuries, and so a useful long timebase guard against being blown too far off course by today's possibly fleeting fads and fancies.  (Also, for instance, while the doctrine of the Trinity is not "up front obvious" from scripture, nevertheless our combined Orthodox/Catholic/Protestant "tradition" has developed and accepted it.)  Reason: the recognition that our capacity to think and interpret is a valid part of our discipleship.  (St. Paul was no slouch in academic fields!)  And it also appears to me that all three (scripture, tradition, reason) bear the hallmarks of individuals working in community.

Trusting everything "except the voice within me" (your "holy self-suspicion") actually sounds reassuring to me!  On the one hand, we are open to the possibility of God speaking to us directly because of his grace (undeserved gift, etc.).  On the other hand we are aware of the weakness of our own human nature: "The heart is deceitful above all things", etc.  (Here comes the "scripture, tradition, reason".)  We test it against scripture; we measure it up against the long-term received wisdom of our tradition (denomination, etc.); we employ the gift of thinking about all this (reason) as we try to work it out.  (Here comes the community.)  Additionally we recognise that although the experience might be personal, we are still part of the wider community, the church, and the church helps us explore the charismatic gifts and experiences through their discernment of scripture, tradition and reason.

We trust, through the baptismal convenant into his church, that God is at work "within" us always (we are still in our state of sin, yet simultaneously in the saving grace of the Son through the Spirit).  We can also trust that he can, from time to time, be "upon" us.  And we can be sure that, because he gives us each very different gifts, that our own experiences of the "upon-ness", which he gives to us, will be very different from each other, yet this all works together for the good of the church, and of the church's mission into the world around us...

Contributor

Thank you, David. I resonate with your concern with American Evangelicalism's strong tendency towards individualism and the need to balance it against Scripture's testimony to the communal nature of our faith. I also appreciate the Anglican touchstone of Scripture, reason and tradition as a tool towards achieving that balance (and as a tool to check the voice within). As you note, "the long-term received wisdom of our tradition" plays an especially important role in keeping individualism in check.  

Your commment, however, reminded me of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral which adds experience to Scripture, reason, and tradition. It seems to me that finding a way to factor experience (both personal and corporate, of Christians like us and Christians unlike us) into the equation is essential to a conversation among Reformed folk about the Holy Spirit. And to have this conversation with the additional help of Scripture, reason and tradition seems like a good way to go.

I was overwhelmed by so many comments in favor of a so-called "Reformed Charismatic" label. For me, as a convert to Reformed Christianity, who flirted with Charismatic Evangelicalism for a while, I cannot disagree more with such stream. I apologize for being so blunt by I think we are being too naïve about the Charismatic movement and its benefits for our tradition. Yes, we need to change. But, that's what we have been trying to do since the Reformation (ecclesia reformata semper reformada…) and even before that.

The amount of heresy, arbitrary interpretations, lack of accountability, moral failures, prosperity gospel, abuse of power, apostles and prophets, latter-rain superiority, plain money-making schemes, and many other evils are more patent in the Charismatic movement than in any other segment of the Church. I can boldly say this because many, many years ago I had the "privilege" of working in a Charismatic television station, and had the chance to see first hand the lives of people who claim to be superior to other Christians who lack the fullness of the Spirit and its supernatural gifts. I've seen people who would make Bishop Earl Paulk look like a kindergartener as far as moral failures. I could go on and on, but for the sake of sanity, I am done. Please, take another look at things before jumping into a bandwagon that might look like one of those cinnamon rolls at the pastry shop, so delicious, so enticing, so sweet, so jummy, and so bad for your health.

I certainly agree that there are abuses within the Pentecostal/Charismatic movement that take full advantage of the ecclesiastical weaknesses present in the movement. Some of these abuses seem so outrageous as to be caricatures of themselves!

Sadly, I've known church leaders within our own movement who have been grossly immoral as well, using whatever means the could of hiding their sin and remaining in it. I’ve seen it in North America and on the mission field in Latin America. In fact I’m not aware of any movement not susceptible to abuse of power, greed, pride, and whatever other sin one might imagine (and worse!).

However, I’ve also known fine, upstanding, humble, generous and thoroughly Christ centered Pentecostal leaders as well. Some of them are quite envious of both our Reformed polity and ecclesiology.

I would submit, along with my brother Neil, that Reformed theology along with the CRC’s polity and ecclesiology is the best environment in which to exercise all the gifts of the Spirit found in the Scriptures. Further, rejecting the teaching of a portion of Scripture is simply and totally outside of Reformed hermeneutics and commitment to the authority of Scripture over us.

I would also submit that PRMI’s helpful distinction between the Spirit ‘within’ and the Spirit ‘upon’ is helpful here. Just as Samson had the Spirit upon him from time to time, his moral failures display a lack of the Spirit within him, sanctifying his character. To me, he exposes the lie of assuming that when God blesses a ministry, He approves of the minister's life-style. But a right emphasis on the Spirit within (so strongly represented in the Reformed tradition that Calvin was called the theologian of the Holy Spirit), along with a readiness to cooperate with the Spirit upon us, is just what we need to be faithful to the Bible’s full counsel in the area of spiritual gifts and empowerment.

I think we are all well aware of these lamentable aberrations and definitely have no intention of going down the prosperity gospel road. I, like you, Allejandro, am deeply grieved by and  reject the implicit "superiority" that comes from that bad and unbiblical theology of subsequentalism which is often called the second blessing theology characteristic of classic pentecostal theology. If one follows the internet discussions, it is interesting to find that the most sustained critics of Word Faith cults, prosperity gospelers, latter rain folks, the Toxic Broadcasting Network (TBN) etc., are the classic Pentecostals.

For 36 years, since "coming out" of pentecostalism and embracing the Reformed faith, I have found the Reformed faith, its theological integrity, its ecclesiology that eschews "annointed leader" syndrome and power abuses in the church is far and away the most capable for embracing the positive features of charismatic pneumatology without giving way to its imbalances, excesses and errors.  So, why would we deny the one the benefit of the other?  For 27 years I saw people burned out on Pentecostal excesses join our church precisely because our theology provided theological integrity and ecclesial saftey without requiring them to deny spritual giftings the knew from Scripture and practice were legitimate.  

The mere fact of imablances and unsavory character says nothing about the legitimacy of gifts, the many ways of the Spirit's leading, etc.  

I don't claim to be enamored of taking a "Reformed Charismatic" label to distinguish myself from any regenerated Christian who has by Scripture's teaching the fulness of the Spirit and the capacity to be used in any way the Spirit in His sovereignty deems proper.  I believe every regenerated Christian (the only kind there is) is "charismatic" to the degree that charis means grace.  The Reformed emphasis on sovereignty and grace as opposed to man-centered and Arminian teachings is the greatest antidote to abuses of spiritual gifts.  So, good enough, let's forgo the label and avoid any hint of occasioning division or elitism, but let's be done with ignoring legitmate, biblically supported giftings and biblically illustrated ways in which the Spirit leads not just individuals but the church corporately in exercising all the charimata as the Sovereign apportions them for the common good.  Does this suggestion help allay fears and promote confidence that the Reformed theological tradition is equal to the task of incorporation, evaluation, balance and providing proper accountability?

SIncerely in his grace & peace, Neil

Thanks, everyone, for such a respectful and lively discussion.  Since I started working for both the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America,  I have been actively trying to clarify my understanding of the "Reformed Charismatic" perspective.  I know it is dangerous to get too preoccupied with labels.  But the label helps me to articulate and clarify the concept.   Since relocating from the Philippines to West Michigan ten years ago,  I have bemoaned the loss of a worship style and ministry that fully embraced both the "Sprit Within" and "Spirit Upon"  qualities.  This dialogue has helped me greatly by putting into words the things I have been struggling with inside.  Blessings to all!   Amy

Thanks Sam for the article.  It has helped me in my discussions with area pastors as we together try to work out our faith with fear and trembling.  I love the gifts of the Spirit and seek to experience all I can in God.  

Grace and Peace.

Rich, rich, rich discussions... somehow missed this one last month =), but that 's ok... It was immensely encouraging to read it now!   Wonderful stuff!! 

one comment on hearing the "Voice" within.  a year or so ago, I was driving out in the county, and passed a farm, that I knew the family that lived there like 25-30 years ago.  As i drove past, i thought about them, but then I kept thinking about them, which made me think, "LORD, do you want me to pray for them?"  Well, I thought, if it's the LORD, or if it's me, it doesn't matter, because prayer is almost always a good thing, and definitely lines up with scripture, and in this situation it definitely won't hurt.  So I spent a few minutes praying for that family, it was very vague because i hadn't seen them in over 20 years.  and then forgot about it when I got to my destination.

The very next day, I ran into one of the daughters that I had gone to school with.  and then had the opportunity to pray with her.   Hmmm... somehow God was preparing me to meet her the very next day...  haven't seen any of the family since.

Love the additional insight of "listening" with other believers...  That is so what we're missing... because we haven't been "taught" how to hear, how to discern, how to test and how to confirm.

Love the addition of experience.  I often share with people, that the Holy Spirit is an experience. 

Love the comment about our emotions.  King David was the most emotional guy there was, and the only person in the Bible called a man "after God's heart"!   brings up our fear of "emotionalism" which is something we need to better understand the difference between experienceing our emotions and "emotionalism.  Fervency is ok in at sporting events and concerts, but not in worship =( 

Looking forward to and praying for the day, when we are more enthusiastic about worshipping the Sovereign, the Almighty, the  LORD of Hosts, and our high praises ring out, and the sound will be "heard a long way off" (Ezra 3:13)

 

 

 

 

 

I feel as though I am a fish out of water. Recently, learned about TULIP and so far, after only studying up to the "L", I am convinced I am where God would have me. No one seems to see the Scriptures as I do. I live in Western New York. Any suggestions?

Hi Jan,

As you may already know, TULIP is associated with Reformed theology. If you would like to find a church with those beliefs, here are a couple of links that can help:

Find a Christian Reformed Church (CRC)

Find a Reformed Church in America (RCA) Church

..or you can also look for churches in the "Presbyterian" tradition. If you want to read a bit more about a Reformed worldview, you can see this section on the CRC's 'Reformed accent'.

I hope these links help you find a church home. In fact, many will have Thanksgiving services tomorrow. Maybe call ahead or check their website for times, and then join other Christians in worship tomorrow morning!

Hi Jan,

 

I hope you know that one can be reformed without espousing all the letters of TULIP. In fact, Calvin did not know abut TULIP. If came about after his death. Peace. and the "L" is the most problematic of all of them.

 

Pastor Nixon

Contributor

Another sizeable denomination that emphasizes historic Reformed theology is the Presbyterian Church in America.  You can find their churches using this link

Hi Sam,

I too come from this "tribe" as K A Smith calls it in this thread.  I am also a Church planter for the CRC and am in the first few months of our church plant.  My ordination in the CRC was approved two years ago.  Prior to that I was in the Vineyard for 15 yrs., where I planted a Vineyard church which I pastored for almost 8 years.  Prior to my Vineyard years I was a minister in the PC(USA), where I was originally ordained (1986).  My MDiv was earned at Gordon-Conwell where Dr. G. Fee was one of my professors, and in fact became somewhat more, as a friend, since we met in his home for small group meetings and we both attended a new church plant in Beverly MA.  We also have a Sovereign Grace church in our area.  I know the pastor quite well and love the work he and his church are doing.

Now, all this being said.  I do have a couple challenges for you . . .

1.  Sovereign grace ministries is reformed "in part."  I would not give them the unmitigated affirmation you gave them.  They lack a great deal theologically particularly in the area of Covenant theology.  Therefore they are baptists in practice and only practice "believer's baptism."  I think because of their lack of understanding God working through covenant with entire families/people groups etc., they have a very individual understanding of God's grace and do not affirm paedo baptism in any way.

2.  Given Christ's own affirmation in John 10, that his sheep do hear his voice, and follow him, I believe that we should not be skittish about claiming to hear the voice of Christ.  But we should learn how to hear well, and teach others the same.  I am very comfortable saying God spoke to me . . .  I belive this is "normative" Christianity (as Fee would call it).  For a Christian to be hesitant about affirming God speaking to him/her is what I would find to be at odds with the Scirptures, and unnatural to Christianity, not the other way around.  It is my experience, that we might tend to be hesitant about hearing God speak to us, because of at least two reasons:  1) The way we've been taught in traditional Reformed and Presbyterian churches.  We've been taught that either God does NOT speak directly to us anymore, or at least we should be very cautious and avoid that if we can.  2)  We have not done a good job of teaching people how to hear their Good Shepherd's voice.  When I was young I was taught how to listen and hear God speak to me.  It has always been a regular part of my Christian life (38 years now).  The main issue, at stake, which I believe you rightly identified, is the agreement with the written revelation God has already given us as the Bible.  Now here is my proviso: It is my position that God speaks to me perfectly, by my hearing (and understanding) is not always so good!      Finally, on this point I would suggest something I belive we Reformed people have long since agreed upon, and as far as I know, it is a pretty unanimous agreement, viz., God communicates to his people.  The entire Bible affirms this truth.  And in Reformed circles (and most other "tribes" of Christianity for that matter), we have made much of this truth, declaring very loudly and consistently, that the God of the Bible has never demonstrated even a slight proclivity to leave his people in a state of agnosticism.  I say all this to affirm my conviction and experience that -- God speaking to his people throughout human history, from Adam onwards, is the norm, not the exception.  (Notwithstanding, there is at least one occassion we are told that "the word of the Lord was rare in those days" (1 Sam. 3:1).  However, it is virtually impossible to get through one page of Scripture without "a word from the Lord" being divinly imparted to a human!  I agree with the Reformed tradition that this matter of God speaking, communicating to his people is the norm. And I see nowhere is Scripture where that historically consistent pattern of God is ever indicated to cease.  I believe our struggle in Reformed churches is not our affirmation of this "norm," but rather our "application" of it.  John Wimber (Vineyard) was marvelous at creating and opening doors to allow "applications" of our doctrines to develop.  I still appreciate that "experimental" risk taking approach.  For "where there is no ox, the stable is clean, but much strength comes from the ox" (prov. 14:4).  In other words, we can all keep a nice clean controlled church, if we do not encourage and allow people to try applying their faith.  But when we do encourage people to "go for it," they WILL make some mistakes along the way, and there will be some clean up to do after them.  But in the long run, I am very happy to be on the clean up crew if people learn and grow and the church makes real advance.

I hope this adds some value to the conversation.

By the way, I came into the CRC (of course by the providence of God), but for my part, based on the need for a theology to explain what the Spirit was doing in our churches (a weak point in the Vineyard).  Good theology does not resist the presence and work of the Holy Spirit in our lives or churches.  Rather it, helps us understand His presence and work, and what our response, if any, should be.

Peace to all,

Randy Simon

Contributor

Thank you, Randy.  With you I affirm the practice of our loving God speaking specifically and individually to his children. This has been the testimony of countless brothers and sisters in Christ.  With you I affirm that it is cleaner and more orderly to minimize this practice and/or marginalize those who share such an experience.  Finally, with you I affirm that our ears don't always hear correctly.  I would like to add that one of the best ways to affirm our disability is to insist that the received word be tested within community. We must insist on this. he witness of the Christian church has been harmed and scarred by too many individuals claiming private yet untested revelation from the Lord.

As far as my endorsement of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM), I recognize that the ministry doesn't neatly fit into the form of Reformed theology embraced by many in the the CRCNA. But, as you probably know, and as George Mardsen noted several years ago, America has been blessed by several schools of Reformation theology, each of which affirms Calvin's soteriology while differing on other aspects of his thought. Personally, while SGM may not be a perfect fit in the CRCNA, I affirm any group that accents the sovereign grace of our Triune God, especially as it pertains to salvation.

Having said all that, I am grateful for your presence and ministry in the CRCNA.  Great to "meet" another member of the tribe.  And, with you, I affirm that good theology doesn't resist the Holy Spirit but seeks to understanding the mystery of the Spirit's presence and work among us and throughout the world. 

I attended the Ligonier conference in Orlando, FL this past weekend.  After hearing Ravi Zacharias speak for years on the radio and online, this was my first opportunity to see him in person.  He was the last speaker on Friday evening, between 8 and 9 pm and had a great message; yet, throughout the meetings, I longed for one thing even more than to hear Ravi personally -- concentrated worship in an effort to draw the presence of God.  We are not meant to worship the letter, but Jesus.  Where was that being directed?  What if the Lord wanted to interrupt man's plans, especially where 5000 Christian believers have Him in their midst?  Instead, for me, it was merely academic.  As sound as the messages were, God's presence was missing.

Hey David... first welcome to the network...  and next... your post here and your info on your personal page are fascinating to me, as one of the things on my heart is this dance between the charismatics and the more traditional streams... as we dance in step with the Holy Spirit... thx. for sharing  your thoughts and experience...

Contributor

David, thanks for your thoughts. Having attended a few Ligonier conferences over the years, I imagine that the event included some outstanding presentations, most-notably that of Ravi Zacharias.

First, I was not at the event in Orlando, but I am wondering if I could push back a little. Do we want to conclude that God's presence was missing from the event? Or, could would we say that the Lord was present but not always acknowledged, particularly as a source of inspiration and the reason for our worship? Or, perhaps, we could say that the event lacked opportunities for the kind of dynamic worship which naturally flows from serious reflection about the Lord? Or, perhaps the event was so structured as to leave one with the impression that the Christ-follower can disengage the heart from the heart?  Or so structured as to leave little room for the Holy Spirit to have its way? Granted, my questions reflect my own experience in conferences much like the one you attended. They also lead me to affirm your suggestion that the study of the Written Word always lead us to the worship of the Incarnate Word. 

 

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