Modern evangelicals often assume that the line between post-canonical and canonical life is blurry or non-existent. It is widely assumed that we are in the exact same place in history as the prophets and apostles and that we can, if we have enough faith, replicate the same phenomena that occurred in redemptive history. In other words, for many evangelicals, we live in “redemptive history.” Anyone who challenges this biblicist paradigm is said to be “spiritually dead” or “unregenerate” or “dead orthodox.”
Confessional Reformed piety has not been been able to satisfy the pietists or the Anabaptists before them. Thomas Muntzer accused the confessional Protestants of dead orthodoxy in the 16th century. The dividing line was the question whether there is a bright line between canonical history and post-canonical history.
Reformed folk have tended to respect that bright line. None of us has been taken up into the Third Heaven (2 Cor. 12:2). We haven’t seen the risen Christ (Acts 26:13). We don’t receive direct revelations from Christ (1 Cor. 14:30). We generally don’t have healing services (Acts 5:15-16; 8:7) or raise the dead (Acts 9:40-41; 20:11) literally nor do we put people to death (see Acts 5) nor do we teleport about (Acts 8:39).
Respect for the bright line between canonical and post-canonical history does not mean that we believe that the Spirit is no longer active. He most certainly is. Whether what he has promised to do and does interests anyone is another question (see part 4 of this series), but we certainly understand him to be active. We understand him to operate through the preaching of the Word (Rom. 10) and we understand him to operate through the holy sacraments (Matt. 28:20; 1 Cor. 11; Luke 22; Eph. 5:26; Titus 3:5).
One great difference between Reformed and modern evangelical piety is the word “mediated.” We understand God’s presence and operation in the church to be “mediated” through the Word and sacraments. Like the 16th-century Anabaptists the modern evangelicals reject or are suspicious of the idea of mediated presence or mediated revelation.
Since the early part of the 18th century Americans have been deeply suspicious of all forms of authority. It wasn’t long ago that US Senators were elected by state representatives. Gradually what was once a representative republic is turning into a giant town meeting. That’s because we are a revolutionary, egalitarian people. Whatever social benefits there may be to this way of thinking, it is not the way of the kingdom of God. This is another very good reason to distinguish between the civil and spiritual spheres. The culture outside the church is one thing, and the culture of the church is another. The confusion of the two, particularly to baptize the prevailing anti-authority, autonomous spirit of modernity, threatens to do great damage to the church of Christ.
The prevailing American cultural resistance to mediation means that we want to know for ourselves, directly. We don’t want anyone to tell us. This is one reason why Pentecostalism and charismatic and other forms of pietist mysticism have flourished in the modern period in the USA. Who needs a preacher when the Spirit is giving everyone apostolic power and revelation? It feeds our cultural prejudices and it leaves unchallenged many cultural assumptions. Those traditions (revivalism, pietism, fundamentalism, Pentecostalism) that stress the immediate encounter with the risen Christ flourish here because they are most like the prevailing culture.