Reformed and charismatic belong together

Reformed and charismatic belong together December 20, 2023

The Reformation itself is believed to be have been predicted by prophecy one hundred years before it began. Huss is reported to have said to his executioner,

“You are now going to burn a goose, but in a century you will have a swan whom you can neither roast nor boil.”

Remarkably, the name “Huss” means “goose” and Luther had a swan as his coat of arms. If most evangelicals can accept the idea that Huss prophesied the coming of Luther then why shouldn’t we accept that others can prophesy too?

This Huss prediction of Luther prohecy is widely recounted. See, for example, Mark Water, The New Encyclopedia of Christian Martyrs (Alresford, Hampshire: John Hunt, 2001), 631; C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 47 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1901), 343; and Mark Thompson, “Review of Martin Luther as Prophet, Teacher and Hero: Images of the Reformer, 1520-1620, by Robert Kolb,” Themelios 2.27 (Spring 2002): 77.

The widespread acceptance of this story, and the contentment to use the word prophecy to describe it, makes my point even though some doubt whether it really happened. See, for example, Philip Schaff and David Schley Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 6 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1910), 386.

Other leading Reformed Christians had similar experiences; for example, when Spurgeon was a young boy it was prophesied he would preach to vast crowds. Spurgron recounts the story himself:

Then, in the presence of them all, Mr. Knill took me on his knee, and said, “This child will one day preach the gospel, and he will preach it to great multitudes. I am persuaded that he will preach in the chapel of Rowland Hill, where (I think he said) I am now the minister.”

C. H. Spurgeon, Memories of Stambourne(Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2009), 101.

Many Christians do not want to call these experiences prophecy or other spiritual gifts and were theologically cessationist. However, many of the great leaders of the past seem to have been functionally charismatic. Why should it be surprising that some of the heirs of the Reformers would still be open to such phenomena?

At the heart of the Reformation was the call to go back to the Bible as our sole authority. The Bible contains clear commands to pursue spiritual gifts that were never replaced. We have never been told we can ignore such commands.

The charismatics are therefore the group in the modern church who are most consistent with Reformed principles as they have allowed the Bible to lead them in this area. We have recovered spiritual gifts rather than following  the traditional teachings of the church on this subject.

The idea that prophecy and other gifts have ceased simply cannot be argued from Scripture, and so this cannot be true.

Some say we should  call prophecy by another name, but without using biblical terms for these phenomena we won’t use biblical criteria to manage them appropriately.

Call us simple-minded, but we Reformed charismatics want to call these phenomena by biblical names. We feel as obligated to obey the following New Testament instructions as we are to follow all the others:

  • Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy. (1 Cor. 14:1)
  • Now I want you all to speak in tongues, but even more to prophesy. (1 Cor. 14:5)
  • But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all. (1 Cor. 14:24)
  • For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.(1 Cor. 14:31)
  • So, my brothers, earnestly desire to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. (1 Cor. 14:39)
  • Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. (1 Thess. 5:19-21)

I cannot think of any other set of New Testament verses so flagrantly and deliberately disobeyed today by so many believers.

In these verses the spiritual gifts are not “sign gifts” to confirm the identity of the apostles, who are not even addressed. Nor is it implied that prophecies must be written down and included in the Bible.

Congregational prophecy described here is neither inerrant nor equivalent to Scripture. On the contrary, we are told to “test” prophecy. Proper discernment, based on the Bible, is crucial to the responsible use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit today. Nowhere are we told to test the Bible, therefore prophecy cannot be the same thing as Scripture.

The Bible also gives us clear indications as to the time period during which we are to expect to receive spiritual gifts. In Acts 2, we learn from the Apostle Peter, citing the prophet Joel, that the outpouring of the Spirit takes place in the “last days” (v. 17). If this outpouring has ceased, this means we live in days after the “last days,” which makes no sense.

We are also told that the Spirit is to be poured out on “all flesh . . . sons and daughters . . . young men . . . old men . . . male servants and female servants, and they shall prophesy” (vv. 17-18).

In case the all-inclusiveness of this promise has still escaped us, the Apostle Peter goes on to offer this gift of the Holy Spirit to his hearers, their children, and for “all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (v. 39, italics added). If the second half of this verse is a deathblow to any teaching that would deny God’s sovereignty in salvation, surely the first half deals a similar blow to teaching that denies the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit, including prophecy.

Paul says the gifts will stop “when the perfect comes” (1 Cor. 13:10), when he will see “face to face” and “know fully even as I am fully known” (v. 12). This must be referring to the coming of Jesus rather than the coming of Scripture. To think otherwise is to break Luther’s instruction to “stay with the simple understanding” (Trinity Journal 12:1 (1991): 7) and is eisegesis (reading foreign ideas into the text) of the gravest kind.

Paul also describes his readers as “not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:7), not the coming of the Bible.

The outpouring of the Spirit in some measure reversed the Fall. We are now offered a genuine relationship with God. This is a foretaste or deposit of what is to come (Eph. 1:13-14). Due to our frailty, our relationship with God is imperfect, and we cannot reliably interpret all the activity of the Holy Spirit. But God wants us to relate to him in a deep and personal way through the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

Many Christians have reported deep experiences of a relationship with Jesus. I have chronicled some historical examples of this in a free chapter from my first book.

Charismatics believe Jesus meant what he said when he promised the Spirit would be with us forever (John 14:16).

We sometimes “sense” God may want to say something to us. However, we understand that we may mistake our own desires for God’s. We refuse to allow impressions the same weight as Scripture. God will never say anything truly “new” or that contradicts the Bible.

At this point some would say, “Stop! Don’t you realize how much these things are abused?” I would simply reply, “Irrelevant.” Abuse of something does not negate its proper use. Counterfeit money does not lead us to give up real money. If we want to follow the Bible, there are no grounds to reject what God himself has given and has never taken away.

Sadly, many on both sides of this great debate have fallen into the trap of grieving the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:30). Brothers and sisters, we should instead welcome his activity, and yet test carefully our experiences by the Bible.

I accept that many do not want to refer to their experiences of God by the language of spiritual gifts. However, perhaps we can all agree on the need to pursue a relationship with the living God.

I have probably not changed your opinion on this issue in this brief article any more than I would have if we had spoken about other contentious issues such as baptism, church government, or eschatology. But I trust I may have prompted you to better appreciate where charismatics are coming from. May we learn to love and honor one another as those who love God and love the Bible despite our differences.


How Charismatic are YOU? A Spectrum of belief and practice

What the Corinthian letters have to say about the charismatic gifts

What do Acts and Romans say about the charismatic discussion?

The Charismatic gifts debate: verses from the Gospels

Why I am a charismatic: The OT Bible verses

John Stott on non-authoritative NT prophecy

Premier’s Unbelievable? with Adrian Warnock and Doug Wilson on Strange Fire

Strange Fire – A Charismatic Response to John MacArthur

This article was based on a piece I was invited to write for Modern Reformation.

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