Divine “Hunches” and the Sufficiency of Scripture

Why are Reformed Christians not charismatic or pentecostal?  How does a Reformed view of Scripture lead away from believing in continuing revelation from God?  Why don’t Reformed preachers and teachers say things like “Last night God told me….”?  Paul Woolley answered these questions well in his 1946 essay called “The Relevancy of Scripture”:

“…Scripture contains all the information which a man needs in order to set forth the way of salvation.  Further, the Bible contains all the guidance which is needed for the continuous living of the Christian life.  It is completely sufficient at this point.  If there are absolute rules which must be followed, the Bible states them.  In the absence of such rules the Christian is at liberty to follow a course or courses which accord with the general principles presented in Scripture.”

“There is one very important consequence of this fact [of the sufficiency of Scripture].  God does not today guide people directly without using the Scriptures.  There are no divinely given ‘hunches.’  God does not give people direct mental impressions to do this or that.  People do not hear God’s voice speaking within them.  There is no immediate and direct unwritten communication between God and the individual human being.  If the Scriptures are actually sufficient, such communication is unnecessary.  On the other hand, if such communications were actually being made, every Christian would be a potential author of Scripture.  We would only need to write down accurately what God said to us, and we would legitimately be adding to the Bible, for such writings would be the Word of God.  Many people have thought they were writing new Bibles.  Many more people have thought that God spoke to them directly.  But when these supposed revelations are examined, what a strange mass of nonsense, contradiction, and trviality this so-called Word of God proves to be.  Many of my readers could construct a pot-pourri of such supposed revelations from the accounts which they have heard themselves – and what a sorry mess they would make!”

Paul Woolley, “The Relevancy of Scripture” in The Infallible Word, p. 191-192.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

 

Sam Storms on Spiritual (Charismatic) Gifts

The Beginner's Guide to Spiritual Gifts by Dr. Sam Storms, http://www ... I’ve not read many books about spiritual gifts from a charismatic perspective.  Therefore, I recently worked through Sam Storm’s book, The Beginner’s Guide to Spiritual Gifts, to learn more about charismatic theology/practice.  As a Reformed Christian, I’m not charismatic, but I do want a proper understanding of this movement.  Below is a brief review of this book.

There are ten chapters in this book: 1) When Power Comes to Church (an introduction), 2) Right? Wrong? (10 myths about charismatic/spiritual gifts), 3) Words of Wisdom and Knowledge (prophecy and utterances), 4) Faith and Healing, 5) It’s a Miracle (miracles in the church), 6) Prophecy and Distinguishing of Spirits, 7) Who Said God Said? (knowing the Bible in order to test prophesies), 8) What is the Gift of Tongues, 9) Tongues and Interpretation, 10) Letting Your Gift Find You.  There’s also an appendix on how to pray for healing and one on “when a gifted person falls.”

Storms does give several charismatic stories in attempt to prove his points.  One worth mentioning is his account of a prophet telling a friend that God was going to send a comet to prove that the church should have a 21 day period of prayer and fasting.  The comet came.  This man also said God spoke to him in a dream telling him about a drought and famine, and the next summer was dry (see chapter five).  There are other similar stories of dreams, healings, and revelations.

This book was a reminder to me of why I am not a charismatic. The way Storms explains the passages of Scripture in view (such as 1 Cor. 12) were unconvincing, subjective at times, based on probables at other times, lacking in OT references, and without solid exegetical or theological support.  I was also troubled by Storms’ logic based on experience and emotional appeal (I’m thinking of the logical fallacy of “playing to the gallery”).

Here are some phrases I found unsettling:

“To reject spiritual [charismatic –spl] gifts, to turn from this immediate and gracious divine enabling, is, in a sense, to turn from God. …In denying them, we deny Him” (p. 13).

“If you are not earnestly desiring to prophesy, if you are not praying for an opportunity and occasion to speak prophetically into the lives of the church and other believers, you are disobeying God!” (p. 111).

“It is a sin to despise [charismatic – spl] prophecy” (p. 141).

I also disagree with Storms’ discussion of faith.  He says there are three different kinds of faith: conversion faith (the faith through which we’re justified), continuing faith (the daily faith we have), and charismatic faith, which “appears to be spontaneous and functions as the divinely enabled condition on which the more overtly supernatural activities of God are suspended” (p. 60).  Storms says charismatic faith is not given to every Christian, and it is a special faith that enables a believer to trust God to bring about a sort of blessing not promised in Scripture (p. 61).  Storm then goes on to talk about five levels of faith for healing.  To divide and dissect faith in this way is unhealthy at best.  Here Storms is at odds with the historic confessional understanding of faith: there are not “faiths” that we have as Christians, but “true faith” in Christ alone for justification by grace alone.  I’m not saying that Storms is denying justification by faith alone, but his discussion of faith is not in line with the Reformation; one should remember this when reading Storms’ other works.

I don’t recommend this book, obviously.  I realize that Reformed theology doesn’t have all the answers to Paul’s discussion in 1 Cor. 12, but its answers are better and more biblical than that of charismatic theology.  This book has reminded me of this fact!  As Richard Gaffin and others have said, Scripture is sufficient for us today; we no longer need prophets and revelations.

Sam Storms, The Beginners Guide to Spiritual Gifts (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2012).

shane lems
hammond, wi

Owen on “Enthusiastical Ecstasies”

  I really appreciate this section of John Owen’s discussion of regeneration in his book, The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and Power.  Since the arrival of Pentecostalism in the West around 100 years ago, some people have wrongly taught and thought that regeneration and conversion have to do with elation, ecstasy, frenzy, convulsions, or some sort of trance.  This causes a lot of problems in the Christian life.  Not only is it a distortion of the Spirit’s work, it also causes Christians who have never been “enraptured” to wonder if they’re really Christians.  Even worse, it makes some Christians fake ecstasy so they can say they had a “conversion experience.”  John Owen cuts through these unbiblical aspects of what we know today as Pentecostalism (which has roots in the radical Anabaptist movement after the Reformation).

“The work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration does not consist in enthusiastical raptures, ecstasies, voices, or any thing of the like kind.  Such things may have been pretended to by some weak and deluded persons: but the countenancing of such imaginations, or teaching men to expect them, or esteeming them as conversion to God, while holiness was neglected, is a calumny and false accusation, as our writings and preachings fully testify.”

“Therefore as to this negative principle we observe that the Holy Spirit usually exerts his power in the use of means, and that he works on men agreeably to their natures.  He does not come upon them with involuntary raptures, using their mental powers as the evil spirit wrests the bodies of possessed persons.  His whole work is rationally to be accounted for, by those who believe the Scriptures and have received the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive.”

“Indeed, the efficiency of the Spirit in quickening our souls (which the ancients always termed his ‘inspiration of grace’) is no otherwise to be comprehended than any other act of creating power, for as we hear the wind, but know not from where it came or where it goes, so is everyone that is born of the Spirit (John 3:8).  But this is certain, that he works nothing but what is determined and declared in the written word, and that he puts no force on the faculties of our souls, but works in them and by them suitably to their nature.”

In this same section, Owen later exhorts pastors to know what the Bible teaches about the Spirit’s work of regeneration (giving life to a spiritually dead person).  He says that if a pastor doesn’t know what the Bible teaches, then all sorts of things will be substituted for the truth, and everyone will be tricked into thinking they’re regenerate when their not, or think they are not regenerate when they are.  This is profound.  If a pastor thinks regeneration is about visions, emotions, ecstasy, tremblings, and tongues, he will preach towards those things and the people will attempt to get those things.  That is a seed-bed of legalism, pride, and/or despair.  Legalism because those things are said to be necessary; pride because those who have them think they are higher on the Christian ladder; despair because those who don’t have them will be unsure of their salvation.

Reformed Christians are not putting the Holy Spirit in a box when we agree with Owen above.  We are avoiding legalism, pride, and despair by focusing on the “ordinary means” the Bible emphasizes when it comes to the Spirit’s work of regeneration: preaching, repentance, faith, and the good works (the fruit of the Spirit) that follow.

The Owen quote above is found on page 133 of The Holy Spirit: His Gifts and Power.

shane lems