Our friends at DGM have done it again. This time it’s a lecture by Tope Koleoso that has folks discussing the question of the relations between the charismatic movement(s) and Reformed theology, piety, and practice.
This topic was covered on the HB in 2008 in response to an essay by Calvin College prof Jamie Smith and in 2009 in response to a query from HB reader Nick. There’s no need to repeat those posts here but I want to say a couple of things:
There is an objective definition of the adjective “Reformed.” Words mean things and the adjective “Reformed” signifies “that theology, piety, and practice derived from Scripture and confessed by the Reformed churches in their ecclesiastical catechisms and confessions.”
Objection: But the meaning of words change. The word “nice” used to mean “stupid” but that’s not how we used it any more.
Answer: I understand that the meanings of words change but there is a difference between the natural evolution of the meaning of a word and theft. When a word has been in continuous usage by an identifiable society of people, and when the meaning and intention behind the word has remained constant, the sense of the word cannot suddenly be said to have “changed” when another group simply lays hold of the word by force and re-defines it.
It is a natural process for grass to go dormant when the temperature gets colder. There’s not much to be done about it. It’s the way of things in the providence of God. If, however, one’s neighbor sprays poison across one’s yard, that’s not the same thing as the grass going dormant. That’s vandalism. That’s a crime.
The usage of the word “Reformed” has not gone dormant, as it were. It’s not as if the Reformed churches have left the word lying about for a century or two so that they no longer have any reasonable claim on the word or its original signification. The Reformed churches confess the same faith they did in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. There are about 500,000 of us in North America, a million in Nigeria, 50,000 in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, millions in South Korea, and untold (but large) numbers in other Asia locations which should not be specified for their sake. Reformed confession, however is not moribund world-wide, even if it languishes somewhat amidst the revived Anabaptists (see below) in North America.
Now, we are frequently and unhappily inconsistent with our confession so, in some respects, it is understandable that our evangelical friends, who, relative to the great traditions of the Western Church, practically homeless, should want to move into our nice house but, like it or not, we’re still living here so they shall have to go somewhere else.
As I’ve argued in an essay in Always Reformed in the 19th century, American evangelical Christianity morphed into a reproduction of the Anabaptist movement of the 1520s. You might not remember overhead projectors but if placed an image of the first-generation Anabaptists on the projector and then lay an image of 19th-century American evangelical religion on top of it, they would match quite nicely.
Simply because an organization or movement begins calling itself “Reformed” doesn’t make it so. If confessionally Reformed congregations began calling their congregations, “Such and Such Baptist” church, on the premise that they do practice the baptism of hitherto unbaptized adult converts, our Baptist friends would be justifiably outraged—even if it might lead to marked growth in attendance to Reformed congregations! DGM has sympathies with certain aspects of the Reformed confession but it is the product of American revivalism of the so-called First Great Awakening, which if scholars of the period are to be believed, was not actually all that great (see Recovering the Reformed Confession for more on this) and, in certain respects, the Second Great Awakening. To that they have added a dash of predestinarian theology and a recent recovery of the doctrine of justification. We’re all thankful for the good things that come out of DGM but this episode fits their pattern of attempting to include Rick Warren and the leader of the dangerous and rejected Federal Vision movement under the Reformed umbrella. Consider this: multiple Reformed denominations publicly and deliberately rejected the FV theology and practice and named the person whom DGM has invited to speak twice to their gatherings. When challenged, the leader of DGM asserted that he knows better than the Reformed churches what they ought to confess. Check Heidelcast episodes 2 and 3 on this where I documented these claims.
Reformed ministers do rely on the sovereign Holy Spirit to do signs wonders but not of the sort Pastor Koleoso imagines. We rely upon him and beg him earnestly to use the decent and orderly preaching of the Word to bring his elect from death to life and we rely upon him to use the holy sacraments to confirm his promises and strengthen our faith and union and communion with the risen Christ.
Those things are rather less visible and spectacular than the sorts of things that our Charismatic and Pentecostal friends claim but there you have it. The Reformed are not Pentecostal or Charismatic. We had this debate with the Anabaptists in the 16th century. They weren’t satisfied with the sufficiency of God’s Holy Word, the Holy sacraments as instituted by Christ, and the decent and orderly piety as instituted by the apostles. See the section in Recovering that discusses the Reformed response to Munzter on exactly these points. The modern renewal of the early Anabaptists, the Charismatic and Pentecostal movements, seek to reproduce apostolic phenomena. They can’t do it but bless their souls they keep trying.
As they say back home, you can put lipstick on a pig but he’s still a pig. Thomas Muntzer wasn’t Reformed in the 16th century and he’s still not Reformed.