February 19, 2013

Why Reformed Pastors Need Not Be Charismatic – Part 1

by Eric Davis

piperThe recent Desiring God pastor’s conference was Piper’s first since stepping down from Bethlehem Baptist. It was a helpful event, but it had one note of concern running through it.

My concern was most succinctly captured by one particular session with an ominously titled, “Sovereign Grace, Spiritual Gifts, and the Pastor: How Should a Reformed Pastor Be Charismatic?” The preacher was Tope Koleoso, pastor of Jubilee Church in London.

It was also a curious title as the sermon had little to do with sovereign grace or being reformed. Perhaps a more accurate title would have been, “Why Faithful Pastors Must be Charismatic and Not Cessationist.”

At the outset, I will say that I do not doubt Koleoso’s love for the Lord. That seemed apparent in the sermon. And he had some helpful and convicting words for the pastor and prayer. However, equating pastoral “musts” with the ongoing practice of the miraculous gifts goes too far.

Koleoso opened his message by saying that being a reformed charismatic pastor “can be done… It should be done… In fact, it must be done… If we’re going to talk about the gospel in its full-orbed beauty and power, then these [gifts] are not optional. These are necessary and vital.”

koleosoThe implied reasons for why faithful pastors should be charismatic were mostly aimed in some way at supposed deficiencies of cessationism. For the most part, Koleoso implies that cessationism is an insufficient position for pastors to hold because it: fears the work of the Holy Spirit, preaches a deficient gospel, is pragmatic, does not rely on or believe in the Holy Spirit, and cannot rightly do battle against Satan and demonic forces. Other points were insinuated, but these were his main arguments.

Because these misconceptions are not isolated to Koleoso, but widely held among continuationists, they need to be addressed (Also see the helpful series from Nate Busenitz on cessationism, including, “What Cessationism is Not”). In doing so, it’s clear that these are less than compelling reasons to go charismatic. In fact, they are compelling reasons that reformed and charismatic ought not go together.

Misconception #1. “Cessationists fear (or are hesitant about) the work of the Holy Spirit.”

Koleoso asks, “Why would anyone who is Bible-believing, Christ-centered, theology-loving be cautious and hesitant about the Holy Spirit? … It comes down to a number of things… but basically its fear.”

Obviously his answer is false. I am a cessationist, and it has nothing to do with fear of what the Holy Spirit just might do, if only I would back off and let him. Cessationism embraces the idea that the miraculous gifts were for the infancy of the church, and were used by God to transition from Apostles to elders, and from the Apostle’s teaching to the New Testament. Koleoso and other charismatics treat the church today as if we were back in the first centrury, huddled in a room, arguing about if Gentiles should be circumcised.

Further, the mantra that the Holy Spirit would love to do more work, if only I would quit suppressing his ministry because of my fear, shows a radically insufficient (and dare I say “non-reformed”?) view of the power of God. The idea that cessationists’ hidden fears about pneumatological what-ifs equates to heavy-handed suppression of the Spirit’s work also doesn’t square with Acts. Are you telling me the early Apostles were not afraid of what the Spirit would do in their midst?

Regardless, you’ll be hard pressed to find a cessationist with his fingers crossed, hoping that the Spirit will not do anything scary. We are not scared of the Spirit. We fear and respect him, but we are not attempting to re-seat him at a back table where he won’t embarrass us. Even if the Church was in her ecclesiastical infancy, we could not suppress the sovereign work of the Spirit any more than we could direct the wind.

Cessationists love to see and pray for the New Covenant ministry of the Holy Spirit in full effect: drawing, regenerating, sanctifying, illuminating, sealing, assuring, convicting, comforting, confirming, filling, gifting and enabling. The irony of the Desiring God presentation was that these works are often what separates a Reformed view of salvation from a man-centered one. But in an appeal for Reformed pastors to better understand the Spirit, they get eclipsed by other gifts that he would do, if only people weren’t so afraid.

adult in cribI would counter Koleoso’s argument by saying that cessationists are actually liberating the Spirit more than our charismatic brethren, because we are not trying to keep him in his proverbial first-century diapers and crib. We follow his glorious and powerful working as it corresponds with the maturation process of the Lord building his church (Matt 16:18).

So then, reformed pastors need not be charismatic, since cessationism does not fear the Spirit, but allows him to do all that he does in our ecclesiastical era.

Misconception #2: “Inherent to cessationism is a deficient gospel.”

Koleoso said:

“If we don’t pursue the things of the Spirit in the way that they [the early Church] did, there are consequences … We will end up preaching an anemic gospel…having a diluted gospel … having a deficient gospel … even a destructive gospel. Diluted because its so easy to take everything of the Spirit and make it thinned out. Too diluted: many churches in the West … it has become so diluted that almost anyone could do that stuff, and lead that thing because its just pragmatic all the way into the ground; we have become so natural thinking. Then we have theological constructions that make it [cessationism] OK. It’s not OK…”

This point is harder to track with, but I think Koleoso is blaming cessationism for the fact that pragmatic churches are corrupting evangelicalism. But why he blames cessationism is sort of a mystery to me.

First, his point assumes that cessationist theology inherently breeds an anemic, diluted, and deficient gospel. But this is a bogus connection. How does the belief that the gift of interpreting languages that you have never studied ceased lead to a deficient gospel?

If anything, cessationism ensures a stronger, clearer, and more Spirit-dependent gospel message. Cessationism drives no wedge between the Spirit and the word (a common error in continuationism). It does not take the hazardous step of, “Let’s minister the word on one hand, but the Spirit when something more potent is needed.” The word is the Spirit’s sword. Therefore, the Spirit is made central in cessationism because the word is made central (Eph 5:18, Col 3:16). As the word is accurately made central, the Spirit speaks as clear as possible. So when the word is accurately ministered, the gospel is as clear as it could be and the Spirit’s words as clear as they could be, and therefore the power of the Spirit as crisp as it could be. Since the word of the cross is the power of God (1 Cor 1:18), cessationism is positioned just right for the demonstration of the Spirit and power (1 Cor 2:4), avoiding any such thing as an anemic or deficient gospel.

Owen the TitanFurthermore, the titans who historically stood for, defended, and articulated the most crisp and biblical gospel were predominantly cessationists (i.e. Luther, Calvin, Owen, and Edwards, to name a few). One would be hard-pressed to assert that these stalwarts were preaching an “anemic” and “diluted gospel.”

We would have to conclude, then, that reformed pastors need not be charismatic, since cessationism biblically and historically ensures a pure gospel, and consequently, the most powerful working of the Spirit.

Misconception #3: “Cessationism is pragmatic by default.”

In addition to what was said in #2, Koleoso went on to say, “If you don’t learn to do ministry by the Spirit, you’ll end up doing ministry by pragmatics. It’s a natural default.”

This assumption highlights the long-standing, and severely misguided error in charismatic thought that cessationism is against life “by the Spirit” (see also #4 in tomorrow’s post). But cessationism whole-heartedly embraces doing life and ministry “by the Spirit.”

Charismatic thinking has overplayed this unplayable card. As mentioned above, the Spirit is made central as the word is made central. The word of the cross is the power of God. Cessationism, then, is only about doing ministry by the Spirit.

played out cardAlso, cessationists share his discouragement with pragmatic and natural ministry. But not for the same reasons. The conclusion is flawed, both on the meaning of pragmatism and the nature of cessationism. Pragmatism has the idea of a practical approach to ministry; that truth is tested and determined by the practical consequences. But consider how often continuationists defended their position with, “I experienced/saw/heard ___, therefore ____”? Or started with the experience as the premise for truth and eisegeted Scripture accordingly?

Also, while Koleoso eagerly calls for reformed pastors to go charismatic, he says on one occasion in a church service, “People responded to the gospel. One of the chief ways that people [respond]: people crying.” To justify the working of the Spirit and biblical integrity of ministry chiefly by people crying is relying upon practical consequences, and therefore, a pragmatic approach. Later, he exhorts pastors to, “Bring them [the congregation] to the presence of God. Let them see you in the front row with your hands up in the air intoxicated and hungry for God. That is more than your jolly sermon that you’re going to preach.” Once again, the assumption is that a certain body posture and movement brings the congregation into God’s presence, demonstrates one’s passion for God, and accomplishes more than preaching. I do not doubt brother Koleoso’s sincere love for the Lord. But this type of reasoning, too, is pragmatic.

Even worse, it removes preaching as its biblically-mandated centerpiece of the gathering and replaces it with subjectivity. Again, this is pragmatic. But doing ministry by the Spirit consists chiefly in equipping the saints through the ministry of the word over an emotional high solicited by their leadership.

kettleSo it’s the pot calling the kettle black. Doing ministry in a way that drives wedges between the Spirit’s work and the ministry of the word is the seedbed of pragmatism. Cessationism is the position farthest from pragmatism since it is exegetically, and not experientially, founded. Regardless of a minister’s posture during music or a congregant’s tears after a sermon, what determines what is best for God’s people is a pastor who loves God and people by faithfully feeding them the word.

Doing ministry “by the Spirit” has nothing to do with being charismatic and everything to do with a minister called and indwelt by the Spirit guided by what the Spirit has spoken in Scripture. Scripture keeps us from the perils of pragmatism. The Spirit has spoken loudly; objectively inspiring and illuminating his people to ascertain his word and thereby navigate the alluring temptations of pragmatism. To do ministry “in the Spirit” means ministering most in line with the Spirit-breathed word.

We would have to conclude, then, that reformed pastors need not be charismatic, because to do so would steer farther away from ministering by the Spirit.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the rest of his message, and examine what I think was Koleoso’s deeper point.

Eric Davis

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Eric is the pastor of Cornerstone Church in Jackson Hole, WY. He and his team planted the church in 2008. Leslie is his wife of 14 years and mother of their 3 children.
  • Is it just me or does the guy in the crib look like Jesse Johnson? Very helpful post Eric thanks.

    • Wait a minute….

    • Hahaha. Jordan wins.

    • Eric Davis

      Though Jesse is highly competent w/ the pen, he also likes to get his theological point across through prophetic revelatory theatrics.

  • Good insights and well-articulated brother.

    Koleoso said “Bring them [the congregation] to the presence of God. Let them see you in the front row with your hands up in the air intoxicated and hungry for God. That is more than your jolly sermon that you’re going to preach.”

    I liked your response that this is a misunderstanding of what should be generating our emotions (truth, not posture should drive our hunger for God), but I would also point out to Koleoso that physical expression, body posture, and hunger for God in musical worship is not at all related to the Charismatics’ theology. Being vibrant and mobile in worship has nothing to do with the view that the Holy Spirit still giving revelation today. I’m a cessationist who has been known to lift his hands in worship. I never felt a dissonance with my pneumatology!

    • Eric Davis

      Thanks for that point, Clint. And agreed. Lifting one’s hands does not automatically mean one ascribes to charismatic theology anymore than being a terrible skier means he is from South Africa.

    • Pastor Don

      I once had congregants that asked if it was O.K. to lift their hands and look up during song and/or prayer. I said, “yes, that is in the Bible” They then suggested that if I would do it up front then others would see that it is acceptable. My reply was this – “I am more quiet and contemplative, if I were to raise my hands and look up, for me, that would be pretentious, not worship.” I went on to ask, “why is no one moved to lay prostrate before the Lord, nose to the floor? That is also a proper position for worship.” We must worship in Spirit and in Truth.

    • John_D_11

      in high school I once stumbled across my youth pastor (mid-40’s) standing in his PRIVATE home study, which was in his cold garage, at around 6am, with both hands raised singing worship to the Lord. He was ALL ALONE. No one to see his posture but God. Now that was moving! I don’t recall ever seeing him take this posture in public.

      As for this fellow, Koleoso, yes, I think the word “intoxicated” was a great word choice; intoxicated is certainly how I feel when I see someone take this posture for public show.

  • Riaan

    Very good post, thank you Eric! Pardon me if I’m digressing a bit. I’m a cessationist, which means, I do not think the miraculous gifts which were signs of an Apostle, are still given today. These gifts were intended for and limited to the Apostles in the first century. My cessationism is built largely on the fact that the miraculous (sign) gifts were connected to the Apostles (2 Cor. 12:12). So here comes my problem, I’ve never really been convinced that 1 Cor. 13:8-13, particular the interpretation that the “perfect” refers to the cannon, is grounds for cessationism. Can one be a cessationist without having to accept 1 Cor. 13:8-13 as referring to the closing of the cannon?

    • Phil

      I’m also a cessationist who has never found the arguments for cessation from 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 convincing.

      • Perhaps you could both list out four or five of the main sources you’ve read making the argument exegetically and at length, which you found unconvincing?

        • Philip

          Dan, I wrote a seminary paper on tongues last year and read a number of different perspectives on the passage. While I’m still very much an amateur in all of this, it just seemed to me that most of those who argued for cessation from 1 Corinthians 13:8-13 were stretching to use the passage to make their arguments. I doubt I’ll have time today to go back and dig up the specific resources that I read, but I will try to go back through and examine the passage again.

          • That’s kind of you, truly; I’m sure you’re busy, and I wasn’t meaning to make a research assignment for you.

            I’ve just found that most people who say what you said aren’t really that familiar with the case for bringing in 1 Cor. 13:8-13 here — a case which I think is right next-door to air-tight.

          • Philip

            If you happen to come back to this, I guess I should specify that what I find unconvincing is the attempts to tie cessation to the closing of the canon or the end of the Apostolic age.

      • lewr2

        My post got deleted, but here’s my response.

        Piper thinks Warren is perfectly orthodox, yet Warren is hanging with
        Olsteen, Furtick and Jakes. Jakes is hanging with McDonald, who thinks
        Jakes is great. Has Mr. Piper ever repudiated Mr. Warren? What about Piper and Andy Stanley who believes Obama should be pastor in chief?

        I understand it hurts when people you admire do these things, but
        they do them. I also understand we don’t want guilty by association,
        but that’s not what this is.

        Here’s a perfect post from the perfectly orthodox Warren to the perfectly orthodox TD Jakes.


        The list of stuff is endless unfortunately. Delete it again if you choose.

    • elainebitt

      Hi Riaan and Phil. I thought you would find the article linked below helpful (especially point #2):

      “What Cessationism Is Not”, by Nathan Busenitz.

      You can also do a search in this blog for all the posts by Nathan Busenitz, he has written a lot about the charismatic gifts.

      • Riaan

        Thanks Elaine, it was helpful.

    • Eric Davis

      Riaan- Thanks for the good question. I would’ve also pointed you to Nate B.’s helpful article which is referenced in this post above. While 1 Cor 13 is one of the arguments for the validity of cessationism, its not the only one.

  • Good; I am so glad you’re Biblically analyzing this absolute train-wreck of a talk. Now I shouldn’t have to. It is so disastrous on so many levels, if one simply grabs his Bible and starts to think.

    Which makes Piper giving him this grand platform, and all the laughter and applause, all the more discouraging and concerning.

    • lewr2

      Just look at whom they hang with. I’m sorry, but it’s not far from Warren, TD Jakes, Sov. Grace, Harvest, ER2, etc…

      • Phil

        When did Piper hang with TD Jakes, ER2 ?

    • Eric Davis

      Dan – Agreed. It’s definitely concerning. I’ve also heard concern, along the same lines, regarding the sermon preached at BB last Sunday.

    • Dan, I’m glad you read this. I was reading Eric’s post, I couldn’t help but think he was channeling his inner Dan Phillips.

  • Michael Coughlin

    Thanks for speaking out on this. I guess what I don’t get is this -> What if cessationists are actually hearing from the Holy Spirit and that is what we are writing when we speak against the charismatic goofiness of today?

    And before anyone tells me my question is self-refuting because by the nature of cessationism a cessationist must deny hearing from the Spirit.

    Remember who WROTE the Bible I get my cessationism from.

    • elainebitt

      The Bible is objective, “hearing” from the Holy Spirit is not. How can one prove what they are “hearing: (and writing) comes from the Holy Spirit?

      Yes, your question is self-refuting. We believe in an objective truth. Anything apart from that it’s a free-for-all theology.

      • Michael Coughlin

        Yes, Elaine. I apologize you may have misunderstood my ‘ruse.’

        My point was that I am a cessationist because I HAVE HEARD from the Holy Spirit – IN HIS WORD.

        We are in agreement, sister.

        • elainebitt

          Sorry if I misunderstood you. Thank you for clarifying.

          • Michael Coughlin

            No problem at all, and no apology necessary.

            I’m proud of you and appreciative that you are standing up for the faith and the TRUE work of the Holy Spirit.

            God bless you.

    • Eric Davis

      Indeed, Michael. Thanks for the helpful point.

  • A fine examination Sir, and thank you. I appreciate that you and your gate mates post without having to resort to snarkomainiac-ism along the way, the posts being respectful and thoughtful. I wonder though, as a minor point, why you felt it necessary to mention not just once but twice that you had no doubt Passtor Koleoso’ love for the Lord. The entire post was much more loving and respectful than 99.9% of us could pen, considering the incredible number of fallacies in the charismatic movement, let alone the subject of your examination. Even Mormon’s and others we would immediately recognize as not loving the Lord, say they love the Lord. I dare say if someone says being charismatic isn’t “optional”, I may indeed, along with his other statements, have to question whether we are even talking about the same Lord. Forgive my impertinence and lack of articulation, but isn’t the “loves the Lord” sort of like throwing a bone to a rabid dog?

    • Eric Davis


      Great question. This is one of the most charged issues in our day and one that often sets people on edge, in my experience. At this point, I’m not at a place where I can deny that individuals like Koleoso are saved, and therefore, have a love Christ. While I believe that there are things in charismatic theology that lead many astray, and, therefore, result in false professions of faith, from what I know about Koeloso, that doesn’t seem to be the case. So I want to be cautious how I engage people in this very important issue. As I do, I want to begin by believing the best from the information I know about them, while not avoiding addressing the serious theological issues head on. That may not be a satisfactory answer. I still wrestle with how to engage in this volatile discussion. Thanks for the question and encouragement, Michael.

  • Matt mumma

    Thank you for this helpful post. With so much confusion in this topic, I’m thankful for a clear, biblical understanding of cessationism.

  • Suzanne

    I’ve been wondering if and when a voice of sound, biblical reason was going to speak to this..message. Thank you so much for addressing it here.

  • Harry

    Eric, perhaps you need to define what you think “being charismatic” means?

    • Eric Davis


      Great question. Thanks for asking. I would point you here (http://thecripplegate.com/why-im-not-a-charismatic/) for a brief, but fairly accurate definition. I understand that there is variance within, but I think this covers some of the essentials.

  • hal

    Goodbye John Piper

  • Aaron Wragg

    Very helpful eric.

  • I went through and deleted a few comments I didn’t think were helpful. No offense meant at all. They weren’t so much inappropriate, as not helpful to the point of the post or the conversations in the comment thread. (somehow I left Jordon’s though…).
    Anyway, Carry on.

    • lewr2

      Jesse and Phil,
      Yes you did delete them, but I’m not sure why a post about people too close to those who make or have bad theology isn’t important Jesse.

      Piper thinks Warren is perfectly orthodox, yet Warren is hanging with Olsteen, Furtick and Jakes. Jakes is hanging with McDonald, who thinks Jakes is great.
      Has Mr. Piper ever repudiated Mr. Warren? What about Piper and Andy Stanley who believes Obama should be pastor in chief?

      I understand it hurts when people you admire do these things, but they do them. I also understand we don’t want guilty by association, but that’s not what this is.

      Here’s a perfect post from the perfectly orthodox Warren to the perfectly orthodox TD Jakes.


      The list of stuff is endless unfortunately. Delete it again if you choose.

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  • Chuck

    Great article. Came here through Dan Phillips and realized you pastor near where some friends of mine from church are moving to next summer to work among Mormons and start an SBC church. Small world, huh?

  • Jim Dowdy


    Thanks for this post. Right on (biblical) target.


    Jim Dowdy, Missionary-Professor
    Word of Grace Seminary
    Mexico City

    • Eric Davis


      Thanks for the encouragement. You guys are doing a great work down there. Thankful for that.

  • melanie dalton

    Thank you for your honesty and boldness Eric. For many years I struggled in my faith, having been saved and fed in what I thought was a healthy Charismatic church, but I became so weak and anemic in my faith, then after many years of thinking I had the full gospel and wondering why I couldn’t line up so many verses in the bible with what I believed and was taught, I found out the truth of Gods word and how it should be “rightly divided”, Its changed my life! I feel like I am and always will be standing on Solid ground from now and I praise Jesus for the truth of his beautiful Word (that my eyes are finally being opened to fully understand) and his saving work on the Cross and believe me I FEEL and AM more free in my walk now than I ever was in Carismania. Thanks again Melanie Dalton

    • Eric Davis


      Thanks for sharing the great things God has done in your life. You’re a huge encouragement. May he continue to do more in others’ lives.

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  • Ranthony

    Here in France the charismatic movement bulldozes everything from its path by these same claims. But so much of it comes down to a lack of serious study of Scripture. What actually happened at Pentecost? A small group of men began telling the wonders of God in the mother language of those gathered for Pentecost. Peter preached the Gospel and a multitude, most of whom were present at the crucifixion, believed. There were no headings, no demons cast out, but a clear presentation of the Gospel. Even Paul in his missionary endeavors did not engage in a Signs & Wonders ministry. Acts records very few miracles and a number of churches were planted without any miracles mentioned (i.e. Thessalonica). So much is based on the writings in 1 Corinthians which is seen as the example to follow. However, if one studies the book from its beginning, he realizes quickly that 1 Corinthians is a warning to avoid, not an example to follow. The church had all the gifts, but was a train wreck.

    • Eric Davis


      Great point. Understanding the what and why of redemptive history, esp as far as what’s happening at Pentecost and immediately thereafter, is key. And as you pointed out, 1 Cor is corrective; warning against the thing that continuationists are trying to promote.

      I pray that God gives you great strength and fruit in a difficult part of the world. I’m encouraged by your ministry there.

  • BTW, is this Piper’s effort to counter MacArthur’s “Strange Fire” conference with Lawson and Sproul?

    • Eric Davis


      I suppose that’s the question, right? It could just be me, but the sermon title sounded a tad ominous. Good to hear from you. Hope you’re doing well in the Lord, brother.

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  • Chapa

    I wonder why all the scriptures you have mentioned to contradict Tope do not include Mark 16:17-18 (And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.)

    All this denial of the unexplained makes the reformed preacher very dead, dull and totally hypocritical. I know many reformed pastors who are actually not living lives that generate glory for the Lord Jesus Christ due to sexual impurity, love of money, praise of men, secretly adulterous lives, insensitive attitude to those who believe to the contrary, and the list goes on.

    I am a reformed charismatic who does find problems with the way the gifts are interpreted and used within the Church today but I find it hard to completely dismiss their existence in the light of the New testament lives of the early Church believers.

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