Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tolerance of Charismatic Gifts

2) Tolerance of Charismatic Gifts

This is the second part of a 5-part essay on why I will not be (and you should not be either) joining the Evangelical Presbyterian Church any time soon.

Now this critique certainly places me in a precarious theological position with my more evangelical colleagues. I find myself becoming more and more "Orthodox" in my Reformed theology and have come to be in full agreement with the early Church fathers: John Chrysostom, Augustine of Hippo, Origen (even if our Roman Catholic friends think he is a heretic), and Justin Martyr as well as the Princeton School of Theologians including Charles Hodge, B.B. Warfield, and J. Gresham Machen among others who claim that the miraculous works of the Spirit have ceased. In other words I believe that Scripture testifies that the works of the Spirit including prophecy, healing and speaking in tongues ceased with the Apostles and the finishing of the canon of Scripture. I am certainly not saying that miraculous events cannot happen (I would never handcuff the Sovereignty of the Father) but that these gifts of the Holy Spirit no longer manifest themselves outside of the Apostolic Age (cf: Eph. 2:20; 1 Cor 13:8-10; Hebr. 2:3-4; Gal 1:8; Rev. 22:19).

In the Reformed confessions (especially Westminster since it is the only Confession of the EPC) there is not to be found one mention of the continuation of the Spiritual gifts listed above. The confessions fail at one spot to give any credence to the idea that the gifts of the Holy Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12 for example are to be continued to this day. In fact when mentioning the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church neither the Scots, the Second Helvetic, Heidelberg, or Westminster mention any of the aforementioned gifts to be normative or even available to the believer.

The EPC's official position seems to be seeking some type of middle ground between the Orthodox Reformed view laid out above and those of Pentecostals and Charismatics. The EPC says:

Some would require that Christians manifest a particular gift, such as speaking in tongues, as evidence of a deeper work of the Spirit within. Others would have us believe such a gift is no longer available or acceptable. As a Reformed denomination, we adhere strongly to our belief in the sovereignty of God, a belief that does not allow us either to require a certain gift or to restrict the Spirit in how He will work. Rather, we call upon all Christians to open their lives unto God’s Spirit to fill, empower, and “gift” as He sees fit.

While the EPC claims to not "require the manifestation of a particular gift" the paragraph prior to the quote above seems to do just that when it says, "Regardless of what term is used, we recognize this deepening work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer as being both valid and necessary, producing evidences of His presence in the process." The official position lists as "examples of these gifts" the gifts of healing, speaking in tongues and prophecy (as spoken in I Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and I Peter 4.) which the Reformed and Ante-Nicene flatly deny as being works outside the Apostolic tradition.

This tolerance of Charismatic gifts in light of Scripture and the Reformed confessional witness I believe is outside the bounds of Reformed Orthodoxy. Though the EPC's claim to be "reformed" will be examined in another article I can honestly say the broadness of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church's views on the Charismatic gifts is out-of-step with Westminster and the rest of the Reformed faith.

See here for the full text of the EPC's position paper on the Charismata


David Fischler said...

Benjamin, I hate to say it--you and I agree on a great deal--but this is way off base.

Let's begin with this: I have no problem with cessationism. It's a perfectly legitimate Reformed position. We even have one on our staff. :-) But to jump from there to the claim that the EPC is "outside the bounds of Reformed Orthodoxy" is a stretch.

Let's start with Scripture. I'm not sure what Ephesians 2:20 has to do with the subject--maybe you can explain. Galatians 1:8 has to do with the perversion of the gospel--I doubt that any spiritual gifts that are exercised in that way are given any credence these days, but just because Simon Magus misused the miraculous gifts didn't mean that they were therefore all invalidated, no matter who used them or how. Hebrews 2 mentions "signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will" that attested to the truth of the gospel. Are you suggesting that all of have ceased, or just those that attest to that truth? As for Revelation, my comment on Galatians 1 applies--no one in the EPC is suggesting that charismatic gifts may in any way add to, subtract from, change or even redefine anything in Scripture. And as to 1 Corinthians, it is certainly a matter of dispute as to when the gifts in question would cease, and a very good argument can be made that this is not speaking of a time when Scripture has been completed, but is rather eschatological in perspective.

Let's move next to the Westminster Confession. You say, "there is not to be found one mention of the continuation of the Spiritual gifts listed above." I'm sure you know that the argument from silence ("Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so it must be OK") is a very weak one. The Confession, as well as other Reformed documents of the time, don't mention spiritual gifts at all. Are you suggesting that non-miraculous gifts such as teaching, administration, giving, and so on have also been withdrawn, since the Confessions don't mention them?

You mention John Chrysostom and Augustine. I read the items you linked to, and must have missed something. Where do either say that spiritual gifts have ceased?

Regarding the EPC's stance, I think you're being obtuse regarding our position. Let's back up a bit in the position paper you cite:

"Since Christians are called to “…be filled with the Spirit…” (Ephesians 5:18) all believers in
Christ having been baptized into His body by the Holy Spirit should seek to experience the
fulfillment of this command. We believe that Christians are called upon to proclaim a grace that reaches out to forgive, to redeem and to give new spiritual power to life through Jesus Christ and the infilling of the Holy Spirit.” (Book of Worship, 1-3)

"Regardless of what term is used, we recognize this deepening work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer as being both valid and necessary, producing evidences of His presence in the process. What do we believe to be these evidences of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer?"

What is required of all Christians is not "the manifestation of a particular gift," but that we seek the filling of the Holy Spirit and then go on to manifest that filling in a wide variety of ways (the document also says "We also affirm the priority of the fruit of the Spirit over the gifts in the Christian life"). Contending that our position "require[s] the manifestation of a particular gift" is just plain wrong.

Before you proceed with your series, I can't help but ask this question: given the PCUSA's slide into heterodoxy or worse, why have you taken the first steps on the road to ordination (regardless of whether you get to the end of the road or not)? Are you seriously contending that EPC's position on charismatic gifts (which the PCUSA also permits) or any other particular makes it a more theologically compromised place to serve than the PCUSA?

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

Let me clarify myself slightly as to the purpose of this exercise before I answer your critiques (which I welcome wholeheartedly as partly I seek to understand more about the EPC). Firstly this is not designed to be a polemic against the EPC. Secondly this is more a critique of churches leaving the PC(USA) who claim they are doing so because they are going to a more "Orthodox and Reformed body" so it is correct that you point out the fallacies of such an argument by pointing to the existing of the exact same beliefs in the PC(USA) (which I do not agree with here either). I have to run for this evening but I promise to answer you in more depth later tonight.

David Fischler said...

Thanks, Benjamin. I appreciate your diligence.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

So as to not make these comments too hard to read I will cut them up in sections. First I will answer the early church question.

John Chrysostom in the first sentence of his homily on 1 Cor. 12:1 shows his belief in the cessation of miracles when he says: This whole place is very obscure: but the obscurity is produced by our ignorance of the facts referred to and by their cessation, being such as they used to occur but now no longer take place. He consistently refers to the gifts of the Spirit (tongues etc..) in the past tense. Also later in the homily he says this, Therefore, you see, they had power either to speak or to refrain from speaking. For they were not bound by necessity, but were honored with a privilege. referring to the fact, like the OT prophets the apostles had the "power" of prophecy but it was only given to the apostles for the teaching of truth to distinguish themselves from the false prophets roaming around Greek world.

Augustine in his Homily 6 section 10 syas, 10. In the earliest times, "the Holy Ghost fell upon them that believed: and they spoke with tongues," which they had not learned, "as the Spirit gave them utterance." Acts 2:4 These were signs adapted to the time...That thing was done for a betokening, and it passed away. In the laying on of hands now, that persons may receive the Holy Ghost, do we look that they should speak with tongues? Or when we laid the hand on these infants, did each one of you look to see whether they would speak with tongues, and, when he saw that they did not speak with tongues, was any of you so wrong-minded as to say, These have not received the Holy Ghost; for, had they received, they would speak with tongues as was the case in those times? If then the witness of the presence of the Holy Ghost be not now given through these miracles, by what is it given, by what does one get to know that he has received the Holy Ghost?

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

I agree arguments from silence are weak and that is why the silence from Westminster (and other texts) were not a cornerstone of my argument. But I disagree that they do not mention other spiritual gifts. The Second Helvetic Confession for example refers to the Gift of preaching and teaching as being the Word of God itself. (Ch. 1). That the inward illumination of the Spirit is required for understanding and teaching of the Word. Also the Nicene Creed itself refers to the end of the Gift of Prophecy when it refers to the fact that the Holy Spirit only speaks through the prophets. I checked again all of the Reformed Confessions I own and the only gifts mentioned as being from the Holy Spirit were the Gift of Preaching/Teaching. However I concede they nowhere denounce the Gift of healing.

I'll finish tomorrow as I have to study for my Greek mid-term.

Benjamin P. Glaser said...

The last comment should add on the last sentence, "or others but neither do they support them either." @ said...


The original form of Presbyterian Church Government in the Westminster Standards predicated the existence of the office of ruling elder on Romans 12 and 1 Cor 12 where they spoke of gifts of administration indicating the operation of these charismata were recognized. (The pastorals in that document assume 1 Tim 3 relates only to the minister not the ruling elder.)

Likewise the gift of prophecy was recognized as continuing in the form of the preached word through the office of the bishop or minister.

There are instances from Scottish Presbyterian history however where the gift of prophecy was manifest in the supernatural discernment of which visitors to a town carried the deadly disease. They were sent to the next town even though they had no sign of carrying it and that town suffered greatly.

So I think the reformed tradition accepts the spiritual gifts it likes!

Gifts and miracles do occur only at specific crucial junctures in history.

I have had missionaries we support from India through PFF tell me (only when asked) about healings and even one man coming back from the dead though they did not "traffic" in these tales to get more donations. These stories had to be dragged out of them!

Nevius, the Presbyterian Missiologist, in his work on demonology documented many exorcisms. Many in his day in the Christian West assumed demon possession never occurred because they hadn't seen it.

I think the EPC is right to consider non-revelatory charismata adiaphora ... I'd rather work with a charismatic who loves the Word than a "progressive" who doesn't.

David Fischler said...

Thanks for the citation from Chrysostom--I misread that the first time. I notice that he goes on to say:

"And why do they not happen now? Why look now, the cause too of the obscurity hath produced us again another question: namely, why did they then happen, and now do so no more?

Hope your exam went well.
This however let us defer to another time, but for the present let us state what things were occurring then."

So he doesn't deal with either the question of why they had ceased, or for that matter why they were given to begin with. The point is that this really doesn't get to the issue of whether they are presently given by God, even if after a season (even a very long season) when they weren't.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...


I am coming late to this party, but whoa, what a post!

You are pointing out what may become a pretty big issue for many of the churches from the mainline PCUSA considering the EPC may have to think about.

For though there are indeed charismatics in the PCUSA, we have so sidelined them that most of our loyal members have no idea that there are any of them in our midst.

Talk about culture shock, when our members see some churches in the EPC looking like what they consider only the Pentecostals to be doing!

For myself, I fully agree with a moderate cessationist stance, in regards to many of the apostolic gifts of the spirit--like other tongues, prophecy, healing and raising the dead. I just don't see them today and I have yet to see any real evidence of them. Demons are another issue entirely, as demonic forces seem to be still at work in unbelievers at times.

The other spiritual gifts are clearly still within the church and we should seek them. But I'm not going to go out and ask God to give me the power to raise the dead or speak Swahili for 10 minutes....


There are many faithful brothers and sisters who DO believe, with all of their heart, that these gifts do still exist. These brethren read the same Bible, hold to the same confession and essentials and want to work with us for the furthering of the Kingdom.

Are we going to turn them away and stick with modernist apostates instead? What would Paul advise? I think we know:

Mutual forebearance on this issue.

This does not mean that we cannot continue teaching and preaching a cessationist view, as being the most clear reading of Scripture and the position closest to that of the Reformed tradition.

So, I guess I'm saying that I'm a moderate cessationist who is prefectly willing to work alongside our continuationist brethren who will not force me to adhere their practices while I grant them the same courtesy.

Far better to have a respectful, well-defined alliance with charismatics than a forced, oppressive enslavement to heresy and schism from the biblical faith.

Thanks for raising this issue in such a thoughtful post!

Bayou Christian said...

Cessationalism and Liberalism are two sides of the same coin:

"because I no longer see these miracles occuring - they are no longer present or they never happened."
experiential theology cuts both ways.

That is one of the most astounding realizations I've ever had in my theological thought and study - and I even think it might be my own!

Next point - PCUSA has the same acknowledgement of gifts in the directory for worship.

Next point - where in the bible does it say that the gifts "ceased" it would be important to tell us so.

Charismatics are a minority within the EPC they just aren't treated like wierd relatives to keep hidden from company.

My wife prays in tongues - I do not. I have recieved visions, dreams, prophetic words, I have prayed for and seen people healed.

These are experiences but they are incredibly biblical experiences - they exist in both the Old and New Testament.

Are they necesarry for the church to exist? Not exactly - although some should be present, not all are necessary for any one place.

I recommend the Collapse of the Brass Heaven by Brad Long it can be purchased from PRMI.

I don't want to be held by the words of men but by the Word of God and you have failed to produce one scripture that supports your stance.

I want to be careful here at this point - I love that you posted this, and that you delineated your views so well - I have studied this matter as well (years ago) keep your mind open to God's word.

What we need is to be truly Reformed - to the word of God not Calvin, Augustine, Beza or any other human being but the eternal Word of God.