Reformed Baptist Fellowship

This is why charismatics are simply not Reformed

In Reformed Baptist Fellowship on Friday, October 18, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Charismatics

One way to summarize the doctrine of divine sovereignty is this: It is God who acts, not man.  How will the lost be saved?  God must act.  How will sinful Christians overcome the “old man”?  God must act.  How will the church grow in both holiness and influence?  Again, God must act.  He is the sovereign; He is the great Actor in every aspect of our spiritual life.

This reflection lies at the heart of the Reformed emphasis on the common means of grace.  If nothing good happens without God acting, we rightly ask the question, “Then how will He act?”   In the same way that those who are thirsty go daily to the well, so those who understand our absolute dependence on divine grace go regularly to those places where God has promised to make Himself known.

It is for this reason that Reformed Christianity has always put a great emphasis on the preaching of the Word of God.  God manifests His presence in the sacraments and in prayer, but He especially makes Himself known in the preached Word.  That is why Paul wrote so forcefully about the necessity of preaching in Romans 10:14-15.

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

Paul saw gospel preaching as an indispensable part of God’s plan for the redemption of sinners.  Where there is no preaching, there is no knowledge, no faith, no prayer, and no forgiveness.  This has nothing to do with the power of preachers and everything to do with God’s sovereign will.  He makes His grace known in the manner of His choosing, and the manner He has chosen is preaching.

Reformed Christians have therefore consistently affirmed the importance of the preached Word.  As our own Confession puts it, following Westminster,

The Grace of Faith, whereby the Elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the Ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, Prayer and other Means appointed of God, it is increased and strengthened.  (Second London Confession, xiv:1)

This conviction is a necessary consequence of any consistent adherence to the principle of sovereignty.  If God is truly sovereign over all gracious work in the soul, then He must control the means by which that work progresses, and further, those means will be the ones identified in His Word.

In contrast to the Reformed consensus on the means of grace, charismaticism has always and inevitably engaged in the belittlement of the ministry of the Word.  What has been observed in charismatic churches for decades continues to hold true; no matter what is said of the importance of preaching, the real moment of communion with God comes when there is a prophetic utterance – no matter how banal.  Wherever the church adopts charismatic doctrine, emotions must increase and thoughts decrease.

This is no accident of history; an un-serious approach to Scripture is a necessary pre-condition for charismaticism.  Consider what would happen if the charismatic were to take the Bible seriously.

First, he would discover the nature of biblical miracles, and he would have to acknowledge that nothing like them has happened anywhere in the church in over nineteen hundred years.  So long as he doesn’t look at the Bible too closely he can pretend that modern babblings are “tongues,” or that psychological palliatives are “healings.”  Any serious study of New Testament miracle puts an end to such nonsense.

Second, he would discover the power of the Holy Spirit and realize that no church is capable of suppressing Him.  The new believers in Acts were not searching for power from on high; no one but Simon Magus did that.  Rather, they were carried away by the unstoppable power of the Spirit.  Modern charismaticism depends on the notion that most churches somehow prevent the Holy Spirit from exercising His power, but that cannot be true of the Almighty Spirit found in Scripture.

Third, he would find that the Bible expressly speaks of the end of charismatic gifts, and at that point he would have a template within which to understand the last nineteen hundred years.  He would realize why it is that the miracles of the Apostolic Age no longer occur, and he would understand that it has nothing to do with proud churches somehow getting the better of the Holy Spirit.

Charismatic doctrine cannot survive sound expository preaching; that is why it inserts a new means of grace.  Instead of preaching – by which mind, heart and will are engaged by the Word of God – the charismatic emphasizes “power” – a quintessentially emotional experience divorced from the actual content of the Word.  This is why charismatics are simply not Reformed.  No matter how much a charismatic might speak about the sovereignty of God, he can never affirm the corresponding and necessary doctrine of the means of grace, and thus his understanding of sovereignty can only be truncated and transient.

Which brings us to Tope Koleoso and his already infamous sermon at Desiring God 2013.  Entitled “Sovereign Grace, Spiritual Gifts, and the Pastor; How Should a Reformed Pastor Be Charismatic?”, Pastor Koleoso’s message is a rather standard example of charismatic boilerplate.  It is hard to recognize anything of sovereign grace outside the title, and it was distinctly anti-Reformed in the end.

Some of Pastor Koleoso’s lapses in logic were obvious.  He equated the power of the Holy Spirit with the charismata, as though the Spirit does not demonstrate power in any other way.  He assumed that those who reject the charismata can only do so from fear, from pragmatism, or from pride, as though he never heard of the extensive exegetical arguments for the cessation of gifts.  He absolutized Christ’s words “the things that I do” in John 12:14, but in an arbitrary manner – we must preach, teach, heal, and deliver; thankfully we are not called upon to redeem, propitiate, create, etc.

What I find more instructive, though, are the more subtle tendencies of his message.   As his sermon progressed, Pastor Koleoso seemed increasingly antagonistic toward the ministry of the Word, and at the same time he drove his listeners toward an emotion-centered view of worship.  In his eyes preachers without the charismata are arrogant and self-centered, longing for the dignity of preaching and unwilling to surrender to the movement of the Spirit.  He panned preaching in general as an unhelpful display of pride from men who are not willing to share their platform with God.  Meanwhile, it is important – critical, even! – that men raise their hands in worship and make a great display of their “openness” to the Spirit.

If this sermon is evaluated from an actually Reformed perspective one must conclude that Pastor Koleoso has replaced preaching as the primary means of grace with something ill-defined – a somewhat existential experience of spiritual fire which might just be doused by a man proclaiming the words of the Bible.  And indeed he is right: the words of the Bible reveal such rank emotionalism to be sub-Christian, a remnant of paganism.

Many are sad this week that such a message came out of Desiring God, but the confessional and Reformed Christian ought not be surprised.  Two lessons should be drawn from this mess.

First, no matter how many “New Calvinists” try to prove otherwise, charismaticism is incompatible with Reformed doctrine.  Desiring God has tried to hold the door open to charismatics without jettisoning divine sovereignty, but this cannot work.  Hold that door open, and sooner or later the charismatic disparagement of the means of grace will charge through, and without the doctrine of means, sovereign grace is rendered unintelligible.

Secondly, Desiring God suffers from the non-confessionalism of the entire “New Calvinist” movement.  Where there is no established doctrinal standard beyond a one-page recitation of orthodoxy, there can be no consistency from one generation to the next.  Today’s leaders may espouse a mild charismaticism joined with Reformed literature and ethos, but today’s leaders must retire from the scene, and when they do, who can say what is coming?  This is precisely why Reformed churches have always been confessional.  When pastors are bound by confessional oath to uphold such statements as “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience…” (Second London Confession, i:1) each generation has a solid defense against the encroaching fads of its day.

That “Reformed Charismaticism” should eventually go down this path – dragging the rest of the “New Calvinism” with it – was predictable.  Such a doctrine has no solid confession.  It pays scant attention to the means of grace.  It is not actually Reformed in any meaningful sense.

Tom Chantry, Pastor
Christ Reformed Baptist Church
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  1. Very well put, Tom, as always! I have shared this post with my friends on Facebook, some of whom are of the charismatic persuasion. It will be interesting to see the responses!

  2. Has John Piper ever explained why he isn’t confessional?

  3. Has Piper ever explained why he isn’t confessional?

  4. I haven’t listened to the message from Desiring God, and I do think charismaticism has disturbing logical consequences, and the acceptance that it gets today is troubling. But are folks like Mahaney and Piper really anti-confessional?

    “The Scriptures are the authoritative and normative rule and guide of all Christian life, practice, and doctrine. They are totally sufficient and must not be added to, superseded, or changed by later tradition, extra-biblical revelation, or worldly wisdom. Every doctrinal formulation, whether of creed, confession, or theology must be put to the test of the full counsel of God in Holy Scripture.” http://www.sovereigngraceministries.org/about-us/what-we-believe.aspx#Statement

    “We believe that the Bible is the Word of God, fully inspired and without error in the original manuscripts, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and that it has supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct.” http://www.hopeingod.org/document/congregational-affirmation-faith They have a fuller statement for elders: http://www.hopeingod.org/document/elder-affirmation-faith

    Also, isn’t saying someone like Piper has an “unserious approach to Scripture” like saying someone like David Murray has an “unserious approach to baptism” or someone like John MacArthur has an “unserious approach toward eschatology?”

    Just my 2 cents worth of thoughts.

  5. @ mariep. I think you raise some very good questions. While I disagree with SGM or Dr. Piper on certain things I’m not sure I’m ready to say they are not confessional. Just because a Church doesn’t hold to the Westminster or the 1689 doesn’t mean they are not confessional. We have to avoid the trap of no confession but mine. We may believe ours confession is better but a SBC that is 100% committed to the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000 is very much confessional wether they admit it or not. With all that being said I myself believe the 1689 is the most consistent confession of faith and I pray more Churches would adopt it.

  6. I hesitate to comment, Pastor Chantry, because I just commented on your blog on the History of Reformed Baptists. At the risk of sounding like a groupie, this also, has been very helpful! It has dovetailed with a sermon I heard this week on God’s dominion (preaching that made me want to raise my hands and sway a little, I confess). This is pertinent to me, personally, as I have just been in conversation with a man who said that God told him to hold a healing service for my husband. I saw evidence of every point you made here.

  7. Hi Tom, I don’t know if you remember me, but we met several years ago at a Banner of Truth Conference. (I am the large Presbyterian who sat next to you for a couple sessions. :)) Your words on this are timely and spot on. Thanks, Chip

  8. I’m confused by the reference you make “Christ’s words “the things that I do” in John 12:14″ – that verse must be incorrect; it’s about Jesus sitting on a donkey! Could be you meant John 14:13. But one passage they seem to like also is in Matthew 10, where Jesus is sending out His disciples and instructs them with, “As you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons.” (7-8). There is actually a group that promotes dead-raising – literally, claiming that Jesus instructed us to do so and we are to be raising the dead in obedience to Him. However, I’ve noticed they seem to ignore the words of Jesus just before this, where He tells them, “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” So my question to them is, are they being obedient and following Jesus’ instructions by only witnessing to, teaching, and healing Jews but not Gentiles? I think not.

  9. Oh- yes, you definitely meant John 14:12 – not 12:14. Ligonier just posted this, referencing the same verse: http://www.ligonier.org/blog/greater-works/ .

  10. @Tyrese…The whole Driscoll deal was real sad. Personally, I found his actions lacking in poor taste. I say this as someone who appreciates his unwavering stance on issues like the authority-inerrancy of scripture, church discipline, and complementarian view of male headship in the church. There are few young preachers today who take similar positions as Driscoll. The only other names that I can think of are Kevin DeYoung, Russell Moore, and James Hamilton.

  11. I meant dripping in poor taste.

  12. I am going to speak expressly to the comment made “First, he would discover the nature of biblical miracles, and he would have to acknowledge that nothing like them has happened anywhere in the church in over nineteen hundred years.” I would have to disagree with that statement completely. James 5:13-16, gives us the hope that if any of Gods children have sickness, they are to ask the elders of the church to pray and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. God is sovereign, His Will, will be done. God may allow the sick to die, he may allow them to be healed through conventional medicine or He may chose to heal miraculously, God knows best. I have seen, and heard numerous accounts of all the above. I cant believe this to be “charismatic”, according to James 5:13-16 its scriptural. We simply pray and anoint, our Sovereign Lord decides the out come. If one never believes that God is able to heal if He chooses to do so, then one will never pray for healing and the sick will not be anointed, then no one is ever healed. Our duty is to pray and anoint, then Gods Will is always done. If one does not believe Gods word, than most likely they will not see a miracle of healing take place. Thus the cycle continues, miracles do not happen today, that was only for New Testament times.

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