In parts one and two of this series, we examined some of the popular (but incorrect) assumptions continuationists often make on cessationism, particularly as they were preached in the recent Desiring God conference session, “Sovereign Grace, Spiritual Gifts, and the Pastor: How Should a Reformed Pastor Be Charismatic?”
In that sermon, Pastor Tope Koleoso gave a hearty exhortation for pastors to go charismatic, equating it to pastoral faithfulness. The grounds for why Reformed pastors “should” and “must” go charismatic were unhelpful, and, upon examination, actually give more credence to cessationism and reaffirm the necessity of separating “charismatic” from “Reformed.”
Beyond the misconceptions discussed in parts one and two, there are deeper problems with the call to go charismatic. Today’s concluding post will briefly look at them.
First, as discussed yesterday, many continuationists equate belief in the cessation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit with a denial of the importance of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. But let’s consider: What is it that most evidences the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the Reformed pastor? A supposed private prayer language? A dynamic personality? Supposed prophecies and visions and miracles? Biblically speaking, such things are not grounds for the Spirit’s presence, though they are evidences to which even condemned, false prophets appeal in the judgment (Matt 7:22-23).
So then, is the cessationist denying the work of the Holy Spirit and is his life absent of the Spirit’s presence and power? Not at all. Ask the question this way: What chiefly evidences the Spirit’s power and presence in the Reformed pastor’s (or any Christian’s) life?
First is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). Fruit is that which evidences the life and presence and power of something. The list is revealing. The second evidence of the Spirit’s presence and power is the putting to death of the deeds of the flesh (Rom 8:13). More specifically, according to Romans 8:13, the Spirit’s presence looks like his divinely-enabled power to see personal sin, hate personal sin (especially as an offense to God), mortify personal sin, and turn to Jesus Christ with subsequent from-the-heart fruits of the Spirit. Third, the Spirit’s presence is evidenced by a Scripture-saturated heart (Eph. 5:18, Col. 3:16), overflowing into wise teaching, admonishing, singing, and thankfulness. Any other criteria for determining the Spirit’s presence in one’s life is to take a back-seat to these.
So, “must” Reformed pastors be charismatic? Suppose we were back in the foundation-laying days of the Church age. What would one of the Apostles say to such assertions as, “Reformed pastors must be charismatic”?
First, he would say, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills” (1 Cor 12:11). And he might ask, “All or not apostles, are they? … All do not have gifts of healings do they? All do not speak with tongues, do they?” (1 Cor 12:29, 30). In other words, “Guys, be careful of universally mandating spiritual gifts with ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds.’ The body of Christ is diverse because God willed us to be so. Let’s not all try to be the hand, here. God alone decides which gifts he will give and to whom. And don’t elevate one over the other.”
Second, he would say, “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (1 Cor 14:1). In other words, “If we’re going to talk about what the Reformed pastor must be and do, let’s talk more about love and teaching Scripture, because Scripture alone is the Spirit’s words.” Or, as Jonathan Edwards put it in Love More Excellent than the Extraordinary Gifts of the Spirit: “This is what will make the Church more like the Church in heaven, where charity or love hath a perfect reign, than any number or degree of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit…”
Third, he would say, “So also you, since you are zealous of spiritual gifts, seek to abound for the edification of the church” (1 Cor 14:12). In other words, “Again, Reformed pastors, if we’re talking in terms of ultimate ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts,’ let’s govern the whole line of thinking under edification. And edification is not about oneself, but those in the flock among you; the local church. Whatever doesn’t fall under that, whether it’s your subjective experience, an emotional high you had, supposed hunches, or anything like that, let’s set it aside to the category of ‘unnecessary’ at best. In the meantime, give yourself to accurately handling the word of truth so as to minister by the Spirit.”
So at best, “shoulds” and “musts” should and must be set aside in conversations about going charismatic. But perhaps more accurately, charismatic “musts” and “shoulds” necessarily need to be distanced and detached from “Reformed” and replaced with “cessationism,” in keeping with historical and theological integrity.
The bottom line is this: The ground upon which the church is built has long been leveled, the foundation adequately laid, and the house is being built by the Builder (Eph 2:20). The baby was born 2000 years ago, she has been weaned, and raised passed her infancy days. The body is being built up into a mature man (Eph 4:13). We need no longer talk and reason like children. Those days of revelation, miraculous language-speaking abilities, and prophecies were wonderful—that is obvious. But the Church was still learning to walk, needing growth, accompanying validations, and to get her matured legs under her. To mandate continuationism is to build a foundation upon the framing, to put an adult back in her diapers, and to simulate by man’s fallen curiosity what God completed in his good sovereignty.
Pentecost was a wonderful grand opening. The “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12) proclaimed that Israel was judged in that loud statement of impending redemptive globalization (Acts 2:4, 1 Cor 14:21-22). The Church was born. The doors of redemption were booted open wide as the gospel went out “to each in his own language.”
Christ has been faithfully building for a while now. Let’s continue letting him. The days of the miraculous spiritual gifts are over. And these are no less great days in redemptive history. The framing is going up and up and up. Our taking up is imminent. The canon is long complete and available for the feasting and teaching by the Spirit’s presence and power. We can marvel at what the Lord has done in redemptive history and steer away from repeating in man’s strength what was once-and-for-all completed by the Spirit.
As Michael Horton put it:
The interim between Christ’s advents is not an era of writing new chapters in the history of redemption. Rather, it is a period in which the Spirit equips us for the mission between Acts and the Apocalypse—right in the middle of the era of the ordinary ministry with its new covenant canon. Just as the church cannot extend the incarnation or complete Christ’s atoning work, it cannot repeat Pentecost or prolong the extraordinary ministry of the apostles, but must instead receive this same word and Spirit for its ordinary ministry in this time between the times.
Let’s rejoice that the foundation is sufficiently laid. The glory days of Acts were no doubt glorious; and so were those carefree times in mom and dad’s arms. But we’ve been weaned. These recent days of seeing the return to the doctrines of sovereign grace and sound exegesis, are blessed. But our time will have this asterisk by it: that we sought, at least for these past 100 years or so, to rebuild the foundation that is built, to rebirth the Bride who is grown, and to rejudge the ones who have been judged.
I have great respect and love for many of my Reformed brothers in the faith of a continuationist persuasion. Many of them minister with admirable and exemplary love for Christ and the church. But it’s time to let go of our ecclesiastical infancy by laying continuationism to rest. If you’ll permit, allow the Holy Spirit to do what he’s doing. Let’s no longer say in pneumatological practice, “Why is it that the former days were better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that we ask about this. There is a “still more excellent way.”