The 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.”
The 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.
I 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.”
“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.
Furthermore, 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.
Also, 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.
So 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.