Why I Am Not Reformed (5): Charismatic Openness

Just over two years ago, an extremely popular Reformed blog sounded an important warning: charismatic practices (e.g., speaking in tongues, gifts of prophecy and healing) would start to play a more significant role in Reformed churches.[1] In that author’s reviews of books that encourage charismatic practice, he is polite but clear that he is a cessationist – that is, he believes those charismatic gifts have ceased from the life of the Church. Evidently then, being Reformed certainly doesn’t necessitate a continuationist viewpoint.[2] The problem is that prominent voices in the modern Reformed tradition do advocate an openness to the practice of these gifts.[3] And it is not a long journey from an “open but cautious” approach to seeking, encouraging, and attempting to practice these charismatic gifts. So, while disappointing, it is not surprising that in 2017, when a book was published explaining how to practice these gifts in the life of the Church today, it was promoted as one of the top books of the year.[4] The foreword was contributed by a popular Reformed pastor with the words, “I have been waiting for this book for close to fifteen years.”[5] The openness to charismatic practices is my fourth area of concern in regard to Reformed teachers.

The Tradition of the Reformers

Admittedly, this point of concern is distinct from the previous three. Earlier articles addressed Reformed theology’s conflating the Church with Israel, their confusion of Law and grace in the gospel, and the excesses of Calvinistic soteriology. All of those teachings naturally go hand in hand with being Reformed; this one does not. To be “Reformed” is to champion your links to the 16th century Reformers – Zwingli, Calvin, Luther, etc. In fact, today’s Reformed teachers tend to put more emphasis on church tradition than many of us are accustomed to hearing. It is common for them to refer to what Luther or Calvin taught as a method of strengthening an argument. While we should not be enslaved to the thinking of history, there is much to learn from what has been taught down through the centuries of the Church. On the issue of charismatic practices in local churches, I wish the modern day Reformed movement adhered to their Reformation heritage more closely – you will not find the writings of the early Reformers advocating the need for tongues, gifts of healing, or prophecies beyond the canon of Scripture. For centuries, the Church has wisely been content to hear the Spirit’s voice in the Scriptures, and to cherish His command through Paul’s closing counsel to Timothy: “Preach the Word” (2Ti 4:2). The rise of charismatic practice is a modern phenomenon, and had I been writing these articles one hundred years ago, this particular issue would not have been on the radar. But it is what the modern Reformed movement is embracing.

Granted, as with almost any theological label, there are differences of beliefs among believers who espouse Reformed teaching as there are among those who espouse Dispensationalism. I do not adhere to everything that everyone propagates under the banner of Dispensationalism. And clearly not all who are Reformed promote what I oppose in this article – for this I am thankful. If you meet someone who is Reformed, you should not assume they are charismatic.

But it is concerning that prominent leaders in today’s Reformed movement welcome practices that can only be imitations of spiritual gifts that were only legitimate in the early period of the Church’s history.

Charismatic Gifts in the New Testament

Obviously, I believe the attitude of openness to charismatic practices is unwise and unbiblical. To seek these gifts, and attempt to practice them, will be confusing and harmful to the Body of Christ. What is advertised as Spirit-empowered gifts today is not akin to the miraculous Spirit-given gifts of the New Testament era. Those gifts were to legitimize the message of the new covenant and the authority of the apostles and prophets, and once those men laid the foundation for the church with their teaching, those gifts ceased (e.g., Eph 2:20; Heb 2:3-4).[6] While God still works miracles today (e.g., there is no greater miracle than the new birth), the gifts are like the apostles – they have been taken away because they are no longer necessary. This has been the common view through the history of the church, including within the Reformed tradition. But now, concerningly, that is changing and forms another reason not to swallow everything that is presented by today’s Reformed leaders.

Grace and Truth

Don’t interpret this article as saying anyone who embraces modern-day charismatic practices is not saved. As mentioned in the first article in this series, believers within the Reformed movement have done much for the Christian faith, including brothers who, sadly, are now embracing this wrong teaching. But “bearing with one another in love” (Eph 4:2) does not require us to allow false doctrine to infiltrate local churches. “Speaking the truth in love” (Eph 4:15) includes both love and … speaking the truth! Don’t be ashamed, then, to hold to the truth amidst increasing charismatic acceptance and confusion. Be discerning in your listening and reading – just because someone is perceived by many to be a leader doesn’t mean everything they teach is right. “Test everything; hold fast what is good” (1Th 5:21).


[1] challies.com/articles/themes-or-challenges-for-reformed-christians-in-2018/

[2] E.g., Sinclair Ferguson and Thomas Schreiner have both written against the ongoing attempted practice of charismatic gifts, though they are clearly Reformed in their soteriology.

[3] E.g., D.A. Carson in Showing the Spirit (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1987). Carson is president of The Gospel Coalition.

[4] At DesiringGod.org. The book is Practicing the Power by Sam Storms. Storms is a Council member of The Gospel Coalition and is on the Board of Directors at Desiring God, a ministry founded by John Piper. Piper himself is on record recently saying he still asks God to be able to speak in tongues.

[5] Matt Chandler, who is happily identified as a “Reformed Charismatic.”

[6] This is precisely the approach taken in Reformed theologian Thomas Schreiner’s book, Spiritual Gifts: What They Are & Why They Matter.