Note from the author
It is of the utmost importance to clarify the nature of this article, and the fashion by which this website shall deal with theological matters from here onwards. Please note that almost every author currently published here belongs to their own religious sect, and that religious pieces, unless published by our joint editorial board, are exclusively the opinion of their author. The New Conservatives Blog takes no particular position on cessationism, charismatic Christianity, Pentecostalism, predestination, the Protestant solas, or Calvinism in general, and that the writing which follows represents exclusively my views at the time of publication. With that being said, we hope that you enjoy our first annual Thanksgiving piece.
For the past several decades, the Protestant world, and specifically the evangelical community has been undergoing a rapid transformation. A wave of charismatic, often non-denominational and fiery evangelicalism has been spreading throughout the world, with hotspots in Latin America, Africa and Southeast Asia. Demographers and established religious leaders have watched with shock as once overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nations like Guatemala, Honduras and Brazil became increasingly religiously mixed during the past two decades, to the point where it is now expected that the former two nations will be majority Protestant by 2030. The effects of this rapid shift have been felt outside of traditionally charismatic churches, however. Inspired by the successes in conversion and church attendance of this revival, preachers in more orthodox, established communities have begun to borrow some of the ideas of 20th century Pentecostal Christianity and 21st century non-denominational Protestantism for use in their own churches. These influences are visible in almost every sect, from the most high-church Lutherans to the most low-church Baptists, but here I will only discuss the charismatic faction within my own theological denomination, Reformed Christianity.
“Young, Restless, and Reformed” (YRR) is not an organized movement- it has no website, no spokesperson and no definitive declaration of theology. Also known as “New Calvinism” (though it is not the first movement to go by such a name), the pastors who are most commonly associated with it themselves are not exactly theologically identical. John Piper, CJ Mahaney, Al Mohler and Mark Driscoll are all fairly different with regards to preaching style, eschatology and other issues which one might expect them to be discordant about, to the point where it is sometimes difficult to determine what exactly draws them together. Two issues on which they do seem to be united, however, (at least according to Driscoll) are that their “New Calvinism” is far more open to ecumenism than “Old Calvinism” and that they all take a continuationist and broadly charismatic approach to liturgy and the use of spiritual gifts. These seem like perfectly reasonable things, especially a greater emphasis on ecumenism in times when it seems like modernity is becoming increasingly hostile to the fundamental teachings of the Gospel. Alas, it is not quite so. Here I will attempt to explain why cessationism is not only contrary to orthodox Reformed teachings, but also practically extra-Biblical. I shall also explain why there is no use in adopting charismatic liturgical reforms in churches which are not explicitly charismatic to begin with, and how the representation of orthodox Calvinism as being “anti-ecumenical” and “anti-dialogue” is a bizarre misrepresentation and borderline straw-man argument which has not held any merit for at least half a century.
First, I would like to remind readers of the cessationism-continuationism debate, and further explain the several variants of continuationism. Essentially, the argument is over whether or not spiritual gifts such as speaking in tongues, the gift of healing, the gift of prophecy, the ability to interpret tongues, etc… are still present today or if they ceased to be available to believers after the conclusion of the Apostolic Age. Continuationists believe that these gifts are ongoing, and can be split into several groups, open and charismatic. Open Continuationists take a fairly conservative approach to the matter (gifts still exist but they are rare/very unordinary), and are usually found in the camp of Rome, though the position has also been popular with Moravians and Weslyans. Charismatic Continuationists are, as the name suggests, generally Pentecostals or non-denominational Christians who believe that the Holy Spirit routinely impresses gifts upon believers, often in front of the entire congregation. Cessationism is actually a fairly new doctrine in Western Christianity, and dates to the Reformation. There are several variants of cessationism, but the vast majority of its adherents are “classical Cessationists”, meaning that they do not believe one can be given tongues, prophecy or Healing by the Holy Spirit, but that God, being sovereign, can still work actively and supernaturally in our world. It is a rather long dispute with many respectable Biblical scholars on each side, but here is my best argument against both Open and Charismatic Continuationism:
On matters of scripture, there is nothing to suggest that God would send any new prophets or other additions to our worship after what is written in the New Testament, which of course is already pre-described in various portions of the Old Testament, particularly the Book of Isaiah. To put it simply, it is difficult to prove the existence of gifts after the resurrection of Jesus simply because Scripture does not make much mention of it. Moreover, the portions of the New Testament which do discuss existing examples of spiritual gifts in the Apostilic Age indicate that these gifts will end, and that instead believers should focus on the power of love and the saving grace of Christ. For example, in 1 Corinthians, Paul writes that, “Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away with; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know in part and prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away with. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things” (1 Cor 13:8-12 NASB). An even stronger argument against the doctrine of continuationism, and one which I believe will resonate strongly even with the most devout Pentacostals, is that the notion of sola scriptura is incompatible with continuationism. If God really can give men the ability to prophesy and speak in tongues, then would this not be some kind of doctrine? Would this doctrine be not comparable to some degree to the teachings of the great Hebrew Prophets, whose law and stories are written in the Old Testament? The Catholic Church has a long history of using supposed miracles as evidence of the veracity of their teachings, and to suppress any criticism of their practices. What exactly makes the enthusiastic shouting of Pentacostal ministers more authoritative than the reports of Stigmata, moving statues, Marian apparitions, etc…? Even more moderate continuationists from Latin Catholic or Mainline Protestant backgrounds should be concerned about this more extreme variant of their doctrine, which directly conflicts with Church tradition as recorded by fathers like Chrysostom, Augustine and Origen of Alexandria.
This is a blog dedicated to serious intellectual matters, and so I will not dedicate much effort to countering Mark Driscoll’s insinuation that Calvinistic denominations have until extremely recently “was fearful and suspicious of other Christians” and that it “burned bridges”, unlike his New Calvinism, which miraculously did a 180 degree turn and instead “loves Christians and builds bridges between them.” Was Mr. Driscoll born in the 17th century? If by “Old Calvinism” he is referring to Oliver Cromwell, the Salem Witch Trials et al, then his argument might make some sense, but otherwise this caricature of established Reformed churches being violent and raging sectarians has no real basis in reality. A plethora of Reformed/Congregationalist/Presbyterian denominations of all theological flavors have participated in broad ecumenical groups like the World Council of Churches and in more focused organizations depending on their position like the National Association of Evangelicals or the National Council of Churches here in the US. Perhaps Mr. Driscoll is referring to cage-Calvinism, but this modern phenomenon of recently converted zealots (who mostly exist online and not in actual congregations) only began to emerge after the rise of YRR. Curious.
In addition to these questions of theology, it is also worthwhile to think about what sort of image charismatic practices can infer upon those outside of the churches which practice them, and its impact on Church culture overall. There is absolutely no coincidence that some of the worst abuses of our Evangelical movement were associated with these non-denominational and charismatic sects and mega churches. Prosperity theology, an over-reliance on faith healing, cults of personality among televangelists and anti-vaccination theology are all the byproduct of reliance on spiritual gifts and borderline prophetic pastors who inject more of their personal opinions (and sometimes even politics) into sermons as opposed to Biblical doctrine. Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen would not have net worths in excess of $50-100 million if it were not for this perversion of the Gospel, nor would we see the widespread citing of particular verses to deal with issues with which they were never meant to be associated by the Apostles. We also must consider the impacts of these neo-charismatic reforms on non-theological matters. Here it is of course too early to make a definitive judgement, but if I was a gambling man (the reader should be assured that I am not) I would wager a considerable sum of money that a movement which combines borderline fundementalist theology with a borderline postmodern liturgy (and church architecture, amongst other things) might encounter serious issues as it matures.
YRR’s strategy to attract young converts is mildly puzzling as well. When those interested in finding a church are examining Reformed churches which have adopted substantial amounts of charismatic doctrine, is there not a good chance that they will associate it with these kinds of follies and may be dissuaded from joining? For what it’s worth, we might as well ask the somewhat obvious question: why would somebody strongly interested in a charismatic style of worship even bother looking at their local Orthodox Presbyterian or Reformed Baptist church instead of, for example, an Assemblies of God congregation or a non-denom megachurch? What evidence is there that young people in developed nations are particularly drawn to modernistic churches with worship bands and pastors chanting in strange tongues in the first place? Hint: there is none, and in fact there is far more evidence that the opposite is true- Gen Z and Millennial churchgoers prefer reflective, traditional and quiet atmospheres where they can study the Word of their Creator and connect with a religious community which has actual, pre-existing long-term roots. They may not want massive cathedral environments, but the majority do not feel comfortable in sprawling strip malls or auditoriums either. In other words, contrary to what the leaders of the “Young” (some of the aforementioned pastors are old enough to be my grandparents), Restless, and Reformed movement may claim, their target demographic is in all likelihood far closer to being Young, Restful, and Reformed.
This Thanksgiving, we celebrate the voyage, lives and sacrifices of the Pilgrims, who were unique as compared to other early colonists as they ventured to unknown shores not for commercial reasons, but for spiritual ones. It was their explicit mission to separate from the Anglican Church and live their lives by their interpretation of the Bible without shame, accommodation or persecution. We would do well to remember their legacy.