Confessions Of A Former Charismatic

Dr. Clark,

A few weeks ago you posted a warning against the desire for ongoing prophecy. [See also this—Ed.] In it you told a story of what happens when people look to words from God beyond Scripture. I wanted to stand as a witness to the dangers you highlighted.

I am not doing this to call out any group in particular. The idea that we can be Reformed and charismatic is too pervasive to attach it to any one association. So I will speak of the ideas behind it. My particular experience is representative of what it is like to be in that world of doctrine and practice.


I came to faith in college. My earliest years as a Christian were in a vibrant and intense campus ministry. Fellowship on the campus was a 24/7 thing. We ate meals, walked to classes, prayed, and roomed together. I cannot begin to count the hours of spiritual conversation we had. Spiritual hunger marked my life.

There was a mix of Christians on campus. CRU was there. Some pretty wild Pentecostals were there. God brought dispensational Calvinists into my life. I got hooked on prophetic charts, Spurgeon, and later on John Piper. I also drank often from the more Reformed well. The authors that drew me had a sense of a great God, the evil of sin, the complete work of Christ, and the call to holiness. I could not get enough of their theology.

Outside of my reading, my Christian life was not remarkable. After the first wave of conversion change, I settled into the routine of battling the flesh. My particular sins were those of a young adult – self-indulgence, laziness, being opinionated, not honoring my parents, and sexual sin. My sins grieved me. I looked for help for this inner war. I wanted to be free from sin. Once again, it was the Reformed tradition that gave me hope and sanity.

My experience of church was a different cat. It seemed limp and without energy. The contrast between the church and my experience of fellowship on campus left me perplexed and critical. I began to read about revivals and to pray with others for the same. All I knew is that church was not what it was supposed to be.


To my surprise God called me to ministry My elders confirmed my calling. I was trained. I entered pastoral work. I began to imagine that I would be the solution to the low state of things in the church. My preaching would be what God used to send an awakening. Revival did not happen. Calls to special prayer were met with a yawn. And when we did pray it was always for people’s hangnails. I was more aware than ever of the poor state of spiritual vitality in the church.

My thirst for more drove me on. I began to explore the doctrine of the Spirit. Raised as a cessationist, I believed that the Holy Spirit comes to each believer at conversion, after that there is nothing more to it. I was told that expecting more was dangerous. Then I preached Romans. When I came to chapter 8, Lloyd-Jones’ treatment of the Puritan view of the work of the Spirit post-conversion grabbed my attention. Here was an historically grounded pneumatology that bred anything but low expectations. I wanted more than ever to see God awaken the church, to speak freshly into the lives of his people, to anoint my ministry with such power.

I began to look for a new context for ministry—one where there was a greater openness to the Spirit. This was during the era where there seemed to be two options: dead orthodoxy or seeker-friendly pragmatism. Neither was an option for me.

The Third Wave

About this time, the Vineyard churches came along, with their distinct emphasis on prophecy. Some of my friends were swept up into this third wave. Their experiences and testimony drew me in. What they described and how they prayed for me answered my thirst for more. I found in them a sense of the immediacy of the Spirit’s work in any given situation, and a boldness to speak into people’s hearts and lives.

I was careful in my thinking. I wanted an argument, not just an experience. I listened to sermons by leading evangelicals as they considered God’s work and the Spirit’s activity in the church. I read critics and defenders of the leaders of the Vineyard. I began to track with new churches who identified themselves as Calvinist and Charismatic. I became “open but cautious” about the ongoing work of the Spirit in the church.

Then someone gave me a theological defense of continuing prophecy. Unlike most books by charismatics, this was the first treatment of prophecy that seemed grounded in careful exegesis and theological reasoning. The author argued from Scripture that there was an ongoing work of the Spirit in the church, what some called small “p” prophecy, in which God spoke with immediacy to a given situation or person, but the word given was not authoritative. Unlike Scripture, it was polluted by the person who delivered it. This was God giving a less than authoritative but genuinely prophetic word to people and churches today.

I began to attend gatherings where this was practiced. Friends prayed over me, sometimes with surprising insight. I concluded that this was a viable position. It presented the possibility of a robust pneumatology in my life and the church while upholding the uniqueness of Scripture. The canon was closed but it allowed some dynamic for “present” communication from God.

I became part of a church that practiced the prophetic gift. Their watchword was “desire spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophecy.” To be among people who expected God to speak, who tested the “words” from God, who were filled with faith and boldness in speaking those words to each other – this was immensely refreshing. There were times, in prayer, when someone with the “gift of prophecy” would get an impression. They would pause the prayer time and speak it to the person it was for. These words were very personal. They often resulted in tears of joy. People spoke such words over me.

There were also times when such a word would be shared during Sunday worship. They were also delivered and received with high hopes. Usually those words were more generalized (to whom it may concern) than personal (to person with this name). However, people would often comment afterwards that the “word” shared had their name on it.

Questions And Dissatisfaction

But the longer I was in this context, the more questions I developed. What was going on did not match our press releases about what we thought was going on. I had friends who would visit. They heard our vaunted words of prophecy, and came away unimpressed. “They’re just quoting Scripture,” they would say. “They were just describing an image,” they noted. ‘How do they know what it means?,” they asked. “That was so generic, it was like reading a horoscope,” they quipped.

I found people were distracted as well. The elders were busy waiting to see if God had a word of prophecy for the day. The worship leader was told that he needed to be ready for God to speak in a way that we had not planned. There were members of the congregation that measured the Sunday worship by whether or not we had any prophetic activity. Generally, spontaneity was better than planned liturgy.

One day the pastor gave a particularly clear and encouraging sermon. As he finished someone said they had a prophetic word to share. The elders evaluated and allowed them to speak. By the time they finished, the preaching had been undermined, turned on its head. But people were excited that God had spoken through prophecy, not that God’s word had been preached faithfully. When I questioned what happened, I was told I was not in touch with the Spirit.

Over the time I was in this church, there were a number of moments when the elders would pray for me. On a number of occasions one of them would have a prophetic word. As I listened to them tell me what God wanted to say to me, I would often be thinking, “This is so general as to be useless. If you want to encourage me with Scripture, just talk to me.” Occasionally, the words given would be more specific. But I can assure you that not one of those ever came to pass. And according to Scripture, true prophecy always comes to pass.

You can imagine how disillusioning this was. But more so was the complete lack of thoughtful help I received. Rather than think things out from Scripture, I was told that I did not understand the Spirit or know his work. They, obviously, did.

I can still remember the day it all hit me like a ton of bricks. These elders were saying they had access to insight that I could not have or had not been given. They had a special lens for seeing and I did not. And that I knew was an evil error. Unaccountable knowledge based on special intuition placed my leaders above the Scriptures not under them. They denied it in theory, but it was clearly what they practiced.

Sola Scriptura

I am no longer part of that group of churches. From my way of thinking, this error was dangerous to the well-being of the church. And I could no longer be associated with it. I have since had time to reflect on the belief and practice of ongoing prophecy. Here is what I would say to someone wrestling with this position.

First, we believe God has revealed himself and recorded that revelation without error in Scripture. We also believe that when a minister of the Word preaches the Scriptures faithfully, it is the voice of God speaking the word to us. God’s Spirit also speaks in a living way when we read the Scriptures or converse about the Scriptures. But the preaching and reading and conversing about the Scriptures are subject to the Scriptures’ judgment. This doctrine proposes a third alternative. Prophecy is not Scripture, but is more than preaching. It is true revelation, though it is corrupted by the messenger in a way that Scripture is not. By necessity, this means that “prophetic words” are greater than preaching. I would even say that they become more essential to the well-being of the church as preaching.

This is what I found: there were many conversations among the church leaders, or with “discerning members,” who were concerned that there was a diminishing of the prophetic on Sunday or in prayer gatherings. The absence of such words was a sign of sickness. Rather than being glad at the faithful ministry of the Word in preaching, we were concerned with the absence of the prophetic. Though denied on paper, in practice, such words were given more weight than preaching — but not as much weight as Scripture.

Second, when you define the prophetic as true revelation but revelation polluted by the receiver and his speaking, you actually create something for which there can be no accountability. Because prophetic words were defined as revelation, they were received with joy. If they struck home as true, they were deemed authentic. But, if they were not verified or verifiable, they were simply dismissed as being flawed, polluted by the speaker. In short they were above judgment and censure.

I can tell you that in all my experience, though elders often did not allow a word to be spoken because they discerned it was not from God, in no case was the word judged as false. Even if it was approved and delivered and then proved to be erroneous, there was no re-evaluation. Those with the gift of prophecy could say what they thought God gave them, receive affirmation for what was helpful, but never be judged if the words were not true. If they said it with passion and tears, it was simply believed to be from God.

This again is troubling. It takes me back to the problem of special Spirit-given intuition as the grounds for judgment. For the elder, or the prophetically gifted, simply to “know” what was true or false placed them beyond the ways of the prophets, the apostles, and even Jesus.

Third, this led to what I would call schizophrenia. Prophetic words were esteemed but possible wrong, celebrated but not to be judged. They were not Scripture. They were serious but not so serious that if they were false it meant anything. And, worst of all, if we did not desire them or take them seriously, we lacked faith and were quenching the Spirit.

The burden shifted to the listener — and it was a burden. The people who used the presence of the prophetic as a mark of true spiritual activity often judged the church and its elders by that criterion.

Finally, it meant people became impatient with the ordinary and faithful ministry of the preached word. The Word of God was not central to worship – the prophetic word was. Immediacy of communication through prophecy displaced immediacy of communication through the living word of God preached.

But I must conclude with what I learned from my brothers who hold to this position. In short, I have learned to have expectation and boldness to love. What do I mean by expectation? I mean confidence that God will speak through the faithful preaching and reading of the Scriptures. He has promised to do so. I do not need something more to have a more immediate word from God. Why do I need to look for prophetic words to have a high expectation of the work of the Spirit through the reading and preaching of the Scriptures? It was when Jesus opened the Scriptures, not when he had a prophetic word, that the disciple’s hearts were strangely warmed.

What do I mean by boldness to love? I mean the courage to move beyond superficial conversation to conversation about the heart, and how that relates to the person in front of me in their circumstances. Why do I need some sense of special revelation to push me into addressing the hearts of my brothers and sisters in the church when they are under the weight of suffering? I do not need to know that God has given me some special word for them, I need to believe he already has in Scripture, and that I may, in love, with grace and patience, speak words from Scripture to strengthen them.


A former charismatic hearing from God under the ordinary preaching of Scripture.

Editor’s Note
This post is written anonymously to enable the author to focus on issues rather than persons.


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  1. Been there-done that!!

    Another former charismatic hearing God under the ordinary preaching of Scripture.

  2. Dr. Scott – what do you consider to be the most robust exegetical defense of the cessationist position? Not a work that assumes it, but one that clearly lays out the issue and then takes up a position of cessation.

    Thank you

    • Steve,

      Probably Gaffin, Perspectives on Pentecost or perhaps O. Palmer Robertson, The Final Word (which I have only skimmed). I came to my conclusions through my own work in the Scriptures, however, and in light of some broader biblical-theological and historical consideration (and some practical considerations too). You can get a sense of some of those here.

  3. Genuinely curious. Scripture is revelation but is scripture considered other than prophecy? If prophecy can be polluted by the listener, why cant those who wrote scripture inspired by God be polluted too?

    • Scripture is inspired, inerrant revelation containing a variety of genres.

      The claim by some neo-Pentecostalists is that there is an inspired, fallible revelation that may be true or it may not.

      Scripture, on the other hand, is never fallible.

  4. Very sobering piece. I have had experiences of times when the Lord has spoken to me – or at least, it seemed so, and I profited from considering the message. And sometimes he “spoke” to me about someone else – but I never went to that person to say “God has a message for you.” Instead, I would talk to the person and ask if they might consider an idea. The response to that was usually helpful.
    I have been in worship gatherings where there were “words of prophecy,” and they were exactly as the author describes – either as vague as a newspaper horoscope reading, or excited, cheerleading style delivery of a concrete message that never came to pass. Such matters are of no use to me, and usually interfere with worship, detracting from the liturgy.

    God’s Word never fails. It is not always exciting, but it is always profitable.

  5. I am one of those charismatic believers who believes God speaks to me personally, through Scripture and also through words in my head or heart or wherever. A scripture that changed my life is Matt. 4:4, “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word (rhema) that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” So I began to expect God to speak to me personally. I ask Him for direction, for insight, for clarification, about so many situations, and He is faithful to communicate to his child.

    Something that always surprises me is the belief that a pastor preaching a sermon is delivering God’s word to the congregation. How is that different than other types of speakings in the church? The Scripture read is indeed God’s Holy Word, but the pastor’s comments, quotes, summations, etc., are his own (or someone else’s that he is quoting) and I don’t accept them as Holy Scripture from the mouth of God. I weigh what I hear. I test the spirits, as I’m instructed. I expect the Holy Spirit to write it on my own heart and establish it in my own mind. These are just some thoughts from a person whose life has been changed by having my theological box widened. God is so much bigger than we will ever be able to understand or contain and that keeps me hungry and excited.

  6. My initial response is, “no, I would not be willing nor able to be talked out of what I have experienced and what has changed my life, what I have seen and tested and, yes, even felt,” But I am willing to read. Not to argue, but to understand.

    • Hi Linda,

      The question is not what you have experienced but the framework within which and the categories by which you interpret your experience. It is those categories and that framework (a series of assumptions) that I hope you will reconsider.

  7. I think this new Montanism is just as evil and heretical as the old. It is disgusting and we must not humor the Grudem’s, Piper’s et al but rebuke them for their false teaching. It has wormed its way deep, deep into the reformed word and no one will mention the boogey men who brought it.

  8. 2 Peter 1:19-21 (ESV)
    19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

    We ‘have’, The ‘source’; ‘Inerrancy’.

    Preaching is to be the communication of God’s Word of exhortation from an exegetical and expositionally well studied framework. — This is the Word preached.

    Mere ‘sermonizing’ is merely that. Also, ‘sermonizing’ may not be preaching the very Word of God that it purports to; and that may be done with many verses of Scripture through out its content; usually out of context, but ‘sounds’ good to its hearers. (Maybe even lots of ‘amens’, ‘hallelujahs’ or ‘claps’.

    All prophecy, experience and practice is to be in accordance with and under the authority of the ‘made more certain’ prophetic Word of Scripture. — Any (so-called) prophecy is prophecy only insofar as it subscribes to the superior revelation of God’s prophetically given and inscripturated Word; the 66 books of the canon of our Bible. It must also be 100% accurate, 100% of the time. Otherwise it is to be rejected, even if it ‘got a little bit right’.

    I am a reformed, but pentecostal believer who knows that only the Bible has the mark of being both inerrant and trustworthy always. It is our truest lens by which we see into the world, live here for eternity’s sake, and beyond. It is the judge of all things for life and godliness based upon our True knowledge of God which is contained within its pages.

    Though I speak in tongues in my prayer and private times of worship, and hold to the veracity of their validity, I have yet to hear a ‘beneficial’ ‘tongues and interpretation’ that did anything but speak either in accordance with Scriptures, (for which we have already been given them, so it was not necessary to have practiced that gift at that time), generalities, or merely ‘impressions’ of one’s own mind/heart/wishful thinking. (I am not attempting to label anyone as having been disingenuous, even though I have thought so on several occasions. — Just being honest here.)

    The article seems to be doing what a good, strong and Scriptural position regarding the work and Person of the Holy Spirit would be expected to do; and that is to dismantle any framework for finding the acceptability of ‘errant’ words supposedly from the Lord in prophecy. To this end, I give a hearty, ‘Amen!’.

    I have not left penetcost as such, but while many refomeds reject my pentecostalism, most pentecostals reject my very high view of Scripture. Some have gone so far as to say that I deny the Holy Spirit, not merely quench Him.

    Hidden, secret, esoteric knowledge or information has and holds no real place in the Christian life or church. Leaders of that ilk must be pointed out and the sheep be ‘specifically’ warned to flee from the wolf.

    The secret things of the Lord, are just that; secrets. He will keep them secret, and they will stay secret, until or unless He deems to reveal them…but that’s not likely to happen in only one church or to one individual, even if it happens at all. We may never know those things. We don’t know, but we trust that He has given us sufficient in His ‘revealed’ Word.

    I would like to know if the author has ‘totally’ left all of the ‘pentecotsal/charimatic’ behind.

    Would enjoy talking.


    • David,

      Mere sermonizing is explicitly authorized and commanded by God. Ongoing revelation, not so much. That is one of the many reasons why the Reformed confessed sola Scriptura.

      Ongoing prophecy necessarily makes the Scriptures insufficient. If the Scriptures are sufficient for Christian faith and life (and they are), we have no need of ongoing revelation. It is necessarily superfluous. One cannot have the sufficiency of Scripture and ongoing special revelation. They are mutually exclusive.

  9. R. Scott,

    My comment on ‘mere’ sermonizing is due to the fact that there are a great many ‘sermons’ that are not preaching the Word of God and pontificating what’s in men’s heads, even with scattering of many verses of Scripture, but in some broken form of ‘cut and paste’.

    I don’t really wish to parse your response, so I won’t, but I think that I may not have been clear enough for you to see that I am not a supporter of ‘ongoing’ revelation; for the Scriptures are sufficient, and they are the prophetic word that we are to receive, believe and do.

    Thanks for actually reading my comments, anyway. (I am persuaded that quite a few sites don’t even read comments, let alone moderate them.)

    Is there any chance you can get the author to contact me for some chat concerning our commonalities???


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